Welcome to Lefty ParentNovember 25th, 2008 at 22:23
Hey fellow travelers… whether you are involved with raising your own progeny, someone else’s, or are just playing a role as an adult in some kid’s life, I want to share that experience with you, because there is nothing more profound than helping people (young or otherwise, and even including yourself) come into their own in this world and move forward on their evolutionary path.
Having spent over half a century in this incarnation on earth, and almost half of that as a parent, you can bet that I would have some thoughts, posing perhaps as wisdom, about this very fundamental role in human society, and I wager that you do as well. You cannot go through the experience of helping kids on their journey to agency and adulthood without feeling at times inadequate, moved to tears, longing to have another chance, blessed, relieved and many other gut-checking emotions. It is hard work, and as many have noted, you are more likely to feel guilt and get blame for failure than feel pride and get kudos for success.
For me, the job got easier when I took a deep breath, went back to lessons I learned from my parents and my own youth, and chose to go with my gut. I was raised by two people, my biological mom and dad, who made a decision even before I was born in 1955 to raise me outside the conventional parenting “best practices” of the 1950s. They were no experts on parenting, but their instincts told them that they should do everything their parents did not do, and ignore much of the conventional wisdom of the time, from Dr. Spock and others. So they created an enriched environment with love and liberty in which I managed to grow and flourish. Not that there weren’t rough times. Their own relationship was problematic, and ended in their divorce in 1965 when I was 10. But they both continued their focus on trying to be the best parents they could be for me and my younger brother.
My mom used to say that “kids will tell you what they need”, a philosophy in no way permissive, but was an honoring of the personhood of a younger person, who in the end must chart their own course. My youth was a rich mixture of adventure, imagination, respect given, freedom exercised leading to responsibility learned.
Later as an adult I became a parent myself, wrestling with the conventional parenting wisdom of the 1980s, with its tough love and directed “helicopter” parenting, versus my own instincts in a different direction. In the end, my partner Sally and I agreed to throw away the rule book for parenting and and try to come to grips with the following…
1. As Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge”, and is the beginning of just about everything
2. Life, at its best, is an adventure – not always successful, not always happy, but a compelling narrative worth living and sharing with others
3. Understanding the context that surrounds the situations we find ourselves in is always critical to effectively navigating them
4. There is both creative tension and synergy between looking inside yourself for guidance and being connected to something transcendent and larger than yourself, whether civic, magical, religious, spiritual, universal and/or biochemical
5. We all ultimately have responsibility for our own actions, adult or youth, and given that, are best when we have the liberty to rise to that challenge
6. It is most effective to treat people with respect, whether adult or youth, including offering but not insisting on giving guidance and other help, unless that guidance or help is asked for
7. The education that stays with you are the things you learn on your own initiative, the other stuff tends to be forgotten
So why “lefty parent”? It reflects that creative tension between the politically liberal, left-leaning family and community I grew up in and my own left-handed tendency to think outside or not quite fit in the box of a right-handed world, even the left-leaning part of it.
Unlike some blogs I have posted on – where I never get a response from the blogger to my posts, and the opportunity to have a real forum for ideas is squandered – I commit to reading your comments on my posts, replying with my further thoughts, and fostering the dialog towards our evolution as individuals and as members of our shared society.