My two oldest kids have been invited to take part in a Model United Nations program at the UN in New York.
My wife and I are excited about this, but our kids weren’t so sure.
Specifically, my oldest was (and usually is) suspicious of anything that adults organize on his behalf. In fact, the mere fact that something is being presented to him as “educational” makes him highly suspicious of its content, and, ultimately, poorly motivated to pursue it.
Today we sat down and had a talk about this. Their teacher back home has sent them a variety of projects to complete in order to prepare themselves for this event. These projects make logical sense, but in the end, they really are make-work.
So I laid it out like this.
First, I understood that they were getting old to just “do what they were told.” And I didn’t want my kids to grow up to be merely obedient, people who follow orders well. In my mind I visualize the “good German” in the World War II era, and I want none of it. I want them to have the opportunity to be leaders, and to otherwise self-direct their lives as I strive to do.
I also knew that they had already indicated to their teacher and to us that they were going to pursue this project. If they backed out now, it might cause their class back home some problems, and it would, frankly, disappoint me and my wife.
On the other hand, this really was their decision, and if they were not going to be 100% committed, then they should back out now. Anything that they pursue they should pursue to excellence. I told them that what they do and how they do it is a reflection of their personal standards of quality. In fact, it is a measure of the how they perceive their own value. So, they needed to do it right or don’t even start.
I and their mom would accept and respect whatever decision they made.
My oldest decided to do it. I asked him why. He said he would not let his best pal back home down by leaving him to carry the load without him.
My daughter was more tentative, but she also decided to go through with it.
For the rest of the day both worked enthusiastically on this project. In fact, we all worked together.
They will be representing a West African country. My oldest decided that he would wear traditional dress to the UN, not a suit (he hates them). Our research uncovered that this would be appropriate.
So why am I telling you all of this?
During our time together, I have learned a great deal about my kids. I thought that I knew them well before we left, but now I know better, and feel better about my role as their father and mentor.
I learned that kids need to choose their own path, and not have it handed to them in nice neat curriculum packets.
I have learned that my kids don’t need to learn “stuff.” They need to understand the world, and to find their own way in it. They need to find what they are passionate about, and to pursue that, even though they may be quite uncertain whether or not they truly know what they are talking about.
They need to understand what it means to make a commitment, and the consequences of completing or failing to complete that commitment.
They need to learn the self discipline that it takes to get through the hard parts so that they can reach the good ones.
I have discovered that they really already know all of this. They just aren’t willing to go through the hard parts in order to get to what I think are the good parts.
In other words, kids have to set their own personal goals, based on what matters most to them. And they can’t do that when we, as parents, assign their goals to them like household chores.
As their dad, I try to subtly discern their natural passions, then encourage them to develop personal goals built around those natural passions, and finally to help them to discover healthy methods of exercising those passions in pursuit of their goals.
This type of learning and living environment is contagious.
My younger son got into the act next. He loves the weather, so after talking we all decided to visit the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma, on our way back east. That’s the facility that tracks severe weather and, especially, tornadoes, across the US. And tonight, we watched the movie, “Twister,” to get into the mood.
Learning is fun when your kids lead the way. The first step, however, is to trust them to lead, and to bite your tongue while you get out of their way.
Can you manage that? We try. Sometimes I think we even succeed.
I measure our degree of success by the gleam of light in my kid’s eyes. If it’s there, we must be doing things right. If not, then they are either sick or, more likely, we are suppressing them. We are getting in their way.
At least, that’s the way I see it. I hope that we are doing things right. And I hope that you are able to glean something useful from our experience as well.
All the best,