Lesson #4: A child's life's work is NOW, not at some point in the distant future.
When I was in school the prevailing lie that we were all brainwashed into believing was that those who do well in school will go on to be successful later in life. This is the whole 'good job syndrome' --the idea that getting a good job is the highest goal we can all attain. My earliest memory of this refrain being sung at school was in Grade 5: "If you don't do well in school, how will you get a good job?" I heard it for the next 12 years. Then I went to work as a teacher and sang the same tune to my students.
There are two problems with this line of thinking. The first problem is that there are lots of kids who don't excel at school-related learning, so it is very defeating to them if they buy into the belief that success at school = success in life. If you grow up believing that you will be a failure, it's very likely going to be true. The second problem is that it makes kids believe that their life is in the future. More specificly, it means that the only goals that matter will happen when they are adults. If that is the case, what is the point of childhood? Is there no value in childhood, except to prepare youngsters to get a job when they grow up?
If children are really to grow up to be adults whose lives are fully meaningful, then I believe that they must grow up believing that their lives have meaning right now. I believe that their life's work is everyday. The value of this lesson is in valuing the focus of your child's energy for it's own sake, and not for how it prepares your child to achieve some future hypothetical goal.
What I am learning is to value the daily activities that have nothing to do with academics and have everything to do with intellect and relationships and having a good time. A perfect example is the way Anna and Holly can invent a different game everyday that involves emptying all the DVDs out of the drawer under the TV. How amazing that in one week they have used the DVDs to play video store, build castles, make podiums for the princess dolls, be surprise presents for 'their kids' and as a form of currency. Fascinating. I admit that it's hard for me to not get annoyed at constantly having to pick up and put away (after tripping over or walking around) all the DVDs all week long. But I am so amazed by the creativity of a 4-year-old and a 3-year-old that I can deal with the mess. They are living out their lives in the fullest possible way and I would rather pick up DVDs than wipe away tears or pay big money to have them entertained elsewhere. At this stage, their life's work is to play.
Their life's work is also to love and be loved. What a great job!! If only we were all as loving and lovable as children who are free of stress and unreasonable expectations. Whether they ever have a good job, or even a bad job for that matter, is not going to be dependent on how much random information can be crammed into their brains while they are young. It's going to depend on how they esteem themselves and what their personal values are. If they value their own authenticity and their important relationships, and if they know that they are loved unconditionally, then jobs are going to be secondary in their pursuit of their goals. They are going to grow up confident enough to honour their authenticity (by not doing a job that they hate) and to honour their relationships (by not doing a job that puts a strain on maintaining closeness).
I also think that if I honour their authenticity while they are young, the possibilities are endless for what they might accomplish before they are adults. Everytime I think of Craig and Marc Keilburger, who began their Me to We campaign as children, I have to assume that their authenticity was totally honoured by their parents. Those two great young men make me mindful of the fact that kids are people too, and they don't have to reach a certain age, or a certain level of education, to accomplish great things. To be great. To have a great life.
The greatness of my children is now.