A child skipping down the sidewalk may be the single most encouraging action you will ever see. That child is what I would describe as ‘fully engaged,’ here and now, fully in the moment and enjoying it. What’s more that moment may not be all that extraordinary; there’s no obvious reason for that kid to be so ebullient, no carnival grounds in sight, no ice cream stand straight ahead. Chances are that life just is what it is for that child for that moment. But it’s more than enough reason to skip.
If that kid is hand-in-hand with their mother or father, even better. That kid is now not only fully engaged, he or she is feeling safe, cared for and secure.
Every parent’s responsibility can probably be reduced to simply providing their child with the most carefree childhood they possibly can. I happen to believe that human beings are natural learners; we enjoy learning and will do so every chance we get, so there’s little need to worry about cramming edification into the childhood years. Simply provide the opportunity, and kids will learn.
No, parents are charged with just making sure their child is loved and protected, experiencing as little fear and hurt as possible. If a parent can do just that much, all anxiety about proper parenting should be gone; your child will be just fine.
Oh, and make sure your kid has as much fun as possible. As the great philosopher of everyday life Kurt Vonnegut Jr. concluded, “We’re here to have fun, and don’t let anyone tell you different.” Actually Vonnegut said “fart around” not “fun,” but let’s not quibble. And Kurt was not referring to just kids on that point, by the way.
Perhaps the single coolest action I saw a parent take during the years I was actively parenting my own kids came at several of the long-distance running meets my daughter used to attend while in elementary school. The parents would of course accompany their children to these after school competitions, then be obliged to stand around awkwardly while their small charges ran the considerable distances involved in these races, often through parkland. When the very tired tykes would reappear, chugging for the finish line, there was a tradition of the parent heading out to meet their weary son or daughter, then turning to trot alongside them, until the finish line was finally attained. Not ahead of the child, nor behind—directly beside, step for step, offering support in a very real and yet not quite literal way.
That’s really the way it should be I think, when it comes to education. Accompany your child to the event, expose them to the opportunity, offer some advice if you’re asked to or so inclined, but mostly just be there to support them as they engage in the process. It doesn’t even have to be verbal; just let them know you’ll be there if they stumble, or fail, to pick them up and encourage them to go on, and to congratulate them when they win, or just finish.
For many years you will be your child’s best friend, and that’s the way it should be, and don’t let anyone tell you different. You’ll be more than that too of course, but you’ll be their confidante, their favourite playmate; there to reliably accompany them through life’s daily adventures. As far as your child is concerned you’re a far better friend than any of the kids their age, far more patient and cooperative, easier to organize, yak with, order about and otherwise demand things from. Heck, you even pay for everything.
And then one day they dump you. Overnight you lose your status as best friend, in favour of those other kids their age. Suddenly you’re no longer cool to hang out with, not really even that interesting anymore, if the truth be told.
It’s a change that’s enough to break your heart, and it’s all part of the glory of living. Raising a child is easily the most amazing, meaningful, rewarding, and heart-rending challenge you will ever take on. If you get through it, maybe try skipping a step or two.