I remember the first day my oldest son went to school. All of a sudden, there was a period of five hours in the day in which I didn’t really know what he was doing, which kids he played with and what he said, absorbed and experienced during those hours.
Obviously, some of that could be pieced together through conversations with him, his teacher and some sneaky observation, on occasion. But after five years of knowing exactly what he was doing nearly every minute of the day, the process of letting go was beginning.
My children are now 18, 15 and nine. They are healthy beings with generous souls, prone to spontaneous laughter. They continue to provide me with the purest feelings of love and joy that I have experienced in this life. I’m not sure how much I have done right over the past 18 years, but I guess I haven’t done enough wrong to turn them into reckless sociopaths.
The truth is, I have never read a single book on parenting.
I am prone to improvisation, so when I started having kids, I saw it as an opportunity to make it up as I went along. Because of life circumstances, I did most of the parenting myself, so I had ample opportunity to bend the learning curve at impossible angles. And we have made it this far, stumbling and wondering along the way, with scraped knees, bruised hearts and a satchel full of the most incredible memories that anyone could possibly need to brighten up the most melancholy days.
Not long ago, a friend who is my age and about to have his first child asked for some advice on parenting. I’m not sure where it came from, because there was no conscious thought process involved, but I instantly blurted out:
“Teach your children how to make decisions.”
I have realized lately, especially since my two boys are wandering through adolescence, how quickly we lose control of their lives. The older they get, the more time they spend out of our sight and supervision. Starting from that first day of school, our children begin to develop their own, independent lives and the best that we can hope for is that they make responsible decisions.
Like it or not, our kids will have to make their own decisions about drinking, using drugs, watching pornography, having sex, having safe sex, developing relationships, being honest, kind, generous and compassionate (and a million other things).
If we can bestow them with one gift, it is the ability to decide what is best for themselves, those around them and their world.
Obviously, decision making doesn’t happen on its own accord. First, we must lay a foundation of values. Without values, all is irrelevant. We must teach our children from the time they are born about respect, honesty, compassion, tolerance, responsibility, generosity, solidarity and a host of other moral and ethical building blocks, essential to the life worth living.
Next, we erect sturdy walls of critical thinking. I didn’t realize how important critical thinking skills were until I got down the road a bit, but now I can see how crucial they are to constructing a mindful life. By teaching our children critical thinking skills, they learn to analyze options, create priorities, weigh outcomes and ultimately, make decisions that will have the most favorable results. This might sound heavy for tiny children, but we build this into our daily routine with our children. Critical thinking skills can be applied to deciding what to eat, which toy to play with, which friends to invite, which clothes to wear—and a plethora of other microscopic decisions that we make every day.
Finally, good decision making is overarched with creativity. Creative thinking skills are not the antithesis to critical thinking skills, quite the contrary. When applied together, creative and critical thinking patterns will provide our children with a virtual survival kit for mindful living. Creation is the art of nature and utilizing our creative energy is a way to emulate nature. Creative thinking skills will help children to imagine the unimaginable, to create new and unique answers to ancient questions. We must teach them to study the creation of nature and to integrate creativity into thought and action. When children learn creative thinking skills, they will learn to make decisions that are congruent with the ways of nature.
Then, of course, children need to practice. This is perhaps the hardest step for many parents. We typically want to control our children’s lives when they are small, deciding what they eat, what they wear, where they go, what they see, hear, smell, taste, touch and think. To a certain degree, for safety, this is necessary. However, from the day they are born, we must begin to prepare our children for independence. Letting children begin to make decisions helps them to put into practice their values and their critical and creative thinking skills. Children must understand that decisions affect themselves, the people around them and the world in general.
When our children learn to make responsible decisions, it doesn’t just mean that they will be able to choose which shirt to buy; they will learn how to decide which career path to follow, which relationships to invest in, what substances they allow to enter into their bodies, which actions will make this world a better place. They learn how to have the most positive impact possible on everyone and everything around them.
Everything we do as parents comes down to this—let us teach our children to make decisions that will light the world.
Author: Peter Schaller
Editor: Caroline Beaton