I have been focused a lot lately on children. From childhood illness, to separation, to challenges at work, my world currently feels child centered. Our family now is looking forward to two happy arrivals in the coming months. As a future great-aunt, I am just filled with love and curiosity about the little ones who will join the current members of our next generation: Elliot, Asher and Sophia. I wonder about how their lives will be impacted by the world around them, the values that will come through our own children and those that will be formed by the outside world.
I love the description of family in Naomi Ragen’s book The Ghost of Hannah Mendes: We are planted in old soil, enriched by the lives of so many who came before us, the nourishment is meant to flow through us on to the newest branches so that every branch grows a little taller and blooms more beautifully still.
Our family is fortunate that Meg’s generation shows every indication of growing tall and blooming beautifully. They seem to share the best of our family strengths and values rather than our weaknesses. Universally they care about the environment, a healthy economy, healthy life habits. They care about respect for human dignity. They take an interest in government while maintaining a respectful regard for civility and understanding the importance of forming opinions based on research and study rather than on demagoguery. We have raised them well, and now we rely on them to nurture their own children, nieces and nephews. Understanding that, and understanding that it is they who will have the primary responsibility to shape the environment in which their children are raised, what wisdom can we pass on to them.
My mother used to say that when you have raised a child you become an expert in raising that child, but that it doesn’t really how to raise another child. Of course, every child needs to be raised lovingly, with an early focus on healthy diet and healthy life habits. They need to be read to, to be given lots of hugs, and loving discipline. They need to see modeled the values that have shaped us as strong, productive family. They need to be intellectually stimulated from an early age, and to have parental involvement in the schools where their educations will continue.
But these basic parental responsibilities (and joys) do not directly speak to respect for the uniqueness of each child. Dr. Mel Levine, in his book A Mind at a Time, describes parenting this way: “Some minds are wired to create symphonies and sonnets, while others are fitted out to build bridges, highways, and computers; design airplanes and road systems; drive trucks and taxicabs; or seek cures for breast cancer and hypertension . . . Parents have a special responsibility and joy as they get to know well and to cultivate their children’s individual minds.”
So the wisdom I would want to share with them is that parents support their children best, when they learn to understand and nurture the uniqueness in each of them, helping them to develop their special strengths and to help them to accommodate to their inevitable limitations. As to the future, I can only chuckle that Forrest Gump’s mother was probably right when she reminded us that “life is a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.” I am excited to find out.