The power of giving children the space to become themselves

It’s true what they say about your third child getting much different treatment
than your first. Think about birthdays. It’s just so anti-climactic, isn’t it? You’ve
been there before. You have other kids demanding attention, running around
sucking up your time, energy, money and imagination just like that vacuum
cleaner you forgot to run. Who has time to plan a party? Before we develop too
much pity for the short-straws of our families, of course, there is a flipside to all
of this. Your youngest always has more people singing her song because her big
sisters are so excited to celebrate her life. Nothing like when your oldest sat there
alone with his parents watching him eat his first birthday cake; that hardly compares
to being born into a party.

In our family, our youngest child just turned one, which again reminded me of
the word that comes to mind as a baby finishes his first trip around the
sun: wonder. I wonder how it all works? How does a mini human being learn to chew?
How did they agree to play fetch with their parents one day? “You set the spoon on my
tray, I pick it up with interest just before I drop it on the floor. You retrieve it for me,
and round and round we go.” There is so much about this time in a child’s life that
makes me wonder.

I also wonder about heavier things — the future and who they are as people
and who they will become. I wonder about who they will fall in love with and
what instrument they will want to play and what clothes they will wear that will
make us parents crazy? I wonder about their hopes for education and what type
of career they might pursue.

Wonder vs. certainty

Here is the truth: wonder holds the key to this whole parenting game we are
playing; to cultivate and protect a sense of wonder toward our children is one of
the greatest tasks we have. Often I refer to this concept in terms of certainty and

Certainty is the opposite of wonder. When we are certain about who our children
will become we lose the ability to wonder about their future. We simply
fill the gaps, color in the lines and tellourselves a fairy tale that won’t come true.
The parent who lives vicariously through their children risks losing that life when
their child takes a different path. Living through someone else, is no life at all.
Being certain about how your little one will turn out is like closing a million doors
leading all different directions out of a belief that you know best. Years of certainty
and dogmatic belief in a future never realized causes frayed relationships
and shattered expectations.

Cultivate curiosity

Now, consider what happens when we cultivate a curiosity concerning our
children. If we can hold on to a sense of wonder and curiosity, we not only guard
ourselves against unmet expectations but we leave open those doors to what is
possible. They are free to explore and travel and meet new friends and form their own
passions and ideas. This, of course, is the risk involved in every intimate relationship.
The more I can remain curious of my wife’s changing interests, needs and desires the
stronger our relationship becomes. Wonder and curiosity lay a healthy foundation in a family, granting permission to grow and explore.

Imagine if we carried this curiosity into other areas of our life ? How might our
relationships with co-workers improve if we left our certainty at the door and
approached their perspective and ideas with genuine curiosity, to truly understand
another perspective? We need this in our political conversation as well. A
bona-fide curiosity about the other side’s political convictions can help us remember
the original intent of our democracy. We all need curiosity and wonder in our
lives, perhaps most of all in relation to the little ones we have been given the
task of caring for and believing in.

When we look at our children with the permission-giving curiosity of a parent,
we create a space for our children to grow. And in that moment we will
find that familiar feeling of wonder that we created this person and we get to
watch them grow and mature and walk through whichever door they choose.
What a wonderful thing.

Here is the truth: wonder holds the key to this whole
parenting game we are playing. I believe, to try to cultivate and
protect a sense of wonder toward our children is one of the
greatest tasks we have.

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