What good parents do

The other day I got an email from a parent (let’s call her Sally) with comments and fears so common that I just had to share them. Sally writes:

“Hi Chris. I want to tell you how much I enjoy your articles and the We Teach We Learn Facebook page. Thank you for providing such great information!

After reading your most recent article I’m curious about neural exercises. We have a 14-year-old who is really doing poorly in school. He isn’t overly enthusiastic about school to begin with, but he also seems to be very weak in some key executive function skills like task initiation, time management & goal directed persistence.

Can you suggest some neural exercises to help him? We are very concerned that our son is digging a hole so deep with his grades that he will have difficulty recovering when (if) he decides an education is indeed important to him.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.”

I actually have a number of things to say about this–so many, in fact, that I’m going to have to break this topic into two parts. Today I want to talk about, and applaud, all parents actively engaged in the struggles and triumphs of parenting.

Next week, we’ll revisit the specific problems of “. . .initiation, time management and persistence.” These are common problems for many adolescents. For the sake of this discussion, though, it’s important to note that I believe Sally’s concerns were heightened by a piece I wrote explaining how adolescents are moving through a critical period of development in which they are actively pruning unused neural pathways, creating a much more efficient brain. The concern for us all is that while what we use is strengthened, what we neglect gets cut.

I think her fear is that if her son doesn’t figure it out soon, he may actually lose skills he will need in order to reach his highest potential later in life–because he’s not using them now. It’s is a valid concern.

But before we get to that, I think it’s important to point out how very lucky Sally’s son is to have a mom as engaged as she is in his development. And by “point out” I mean, “shout from the mountaintops.” She’s identified an issue. She’s probably tried some things, and now she’s doing further research. There are no silver bullets, and for those of us on the front lines, often we feel like we’re fumbling around in the dark. The mark of a good parent is someone who’s willing to try, fail, and adjust–and then try again. Depending on the issue, this cycle may continue for some time.

Sometimes we think that if we are good at it, raising kids should be easy. When things don’t go as planned, we worry about our competence. We think about how much time we spend together, or if we read to them enough, or that last manner of discipline. We fret about TV time, and video games, and if our personal or professional relationships are having an effect on our kids’ attitudes and beliefs. When problems pop up, we worry that maybe we’ve made a mistake along the way somewhere. Maybe, we start to think, we’re just bad parents.

Ironically, this is what good parents do—worry about being bad parents.

Let’s be clear: If you’re doing it right, parenting is hard work. If it’s not, you’re probably missing something. As a teacher, I’ve had the opportunity to witness hundreds of different parenting styles. Every family is different and relationships are as unique as snowflakes, so I’ll never judge any specific approach or choice. But I will say this: My job would be a heck of a lot easier if there were more parents like Sally out there—fighting the good fight, actively engaging in their child’s development.

I’m not saying that we need always be wringing our hands with doubt. No. What I’m saying is that good parents reflect on the choices they are making. They think and worry and research and then act in a way they believe will result in stronger, kinder, healthier children. So take heart parents. If you’re struggling, you’re doing it right. It’s what good parents do.

Founder of WeTeachWeLearn.org, Chris Wondra is just another Wisconsin public school teacher. Email Chris at: mrwondra@weteachwelearn.org.

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