Friday, January 27, 2012

Let That Boy Boogie-Woogie, It's In Him, And It Got To Come Out

Earlier this week, I was at Graland Country Day School in Denver to witness the treat that is Wendy Mogel. Best known for her two best-selling books on parenting young children and teenagers, Blessings of a Skinned Knee and Blessings of a B Minus, Mogel proved her worth as a presenter.  She was hilarious, poignant, thought-provoking, and wise.

Among the audience of 500+, I recognized many faces.  Friends and colleagues from around the independent schools of Denver.  A few folks from my own school in Boulder and lots of people from Stanley.  All gathered to think about our children – those we teach and those we tuck into bed at night.

As parents we could all use a little guidance every now and then. I cannot hope to convey all of Mogel’s ideas and perspectives in these few words (you’ll have to go buy the books for that!), but I am able to share a few nuggets that might get you thinking….

I’m a good parent, I think, and I believe you are too.  We love our kids and would do anything for them. And we’re all a little guilty of over-parenting, over-scheduling, and over-protecting them.  Faced with a barrage of the 24-hour news cycle, we have every reason to be fearful for our children in this crazy world, yet we need to be careful and we should examine how much our creative imagination may lead us to an eensy-weensy bit of paranoia.

Our kids need to learn to swim in the river of life – not just when the weather’s great and the water’s perfect, but when there are rocks or fast currents or ice cold water making life hard.  Our kids need the time to play, to foster their natural curiosity, to go on adventures, and sometimes they just need time to goof off. 

Mogel told one story of a father she saw in a park who prevented his young daughter from touching the snow on the ground until she had her mittens on.  She suggested that the child needed to figure out for herself about the cold, and the dad would have done better asking the child about what would happen if she held snow between her fingers, or looking at the flakes on her sleeve, or throwing it up in the air and seeing what would happen.  We can lead by example by being naturally curious ourselves and giving ourselves permission to play and to goof off.

When our kids come home from school, we ask them about their day, the good and the bad. Mogel advises that we shouldn’t always take everything our children say at face value. “Their job is to cover their butts!”  There is certainly another side to the story and it would be in our best interest not to get too caught up in the drama. Our kids will have great days at school and not so good ones.  We must be careful not to mistake the snapshot of a child’s single day with the movie that is their whole childhood.

It’s okay that our children experience disappointment.  In fact, it’s essential.  They’re hard-wired for competence and they’ll be just fine, in most circumstances.  We can guide them by asking questions like, “Have you ever experienced something like this before?  How did you handle it?  What do you think might be a good idea to try this time?”  Trust them to handle it.  The benefits are endless.

Our kids are wonderful, but they’re also ordinary.  We should let them do ordinary as well as extraordinary things.  They are like seeds that we’ve been given.  We don’t know when they’re going to bloom, or what kind of flower we’ve got, but if we feed them, water them, and love them – and pull away the really big weeds once in a while – we’ll soon enough see what kind of seed and flower we’ve been given.

In the immortal words of blues singer-songwriter John Lee Hooker:

One night I was layin' down,
I heard papa tell mama,
let that boy boogie-woogie,
it's in him,
and it got to come out.
And I felt so good,
went on boogie'n just the same

Thanks Wendy Mogel for an inspiring evening.  My kids are very grateful.

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