Several years ago, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop that was based on the Hyde School Program for Character-Based Education and Parenting, and Laura and Malcolm Gauld's book, The Biggest Job We'll Ever Have. Fortunately, it was the type of experience that I find myself referring to when meeting with students, parents and most of all parenting my very own, spirited ten year old. When I attended the workshop, my daughter was four. Now that she is on the cusp of being a teenager, which is a whole new "ball game," I welcomed the opportunity to revisit the key points of the weekend and hope that you may find some value in it as well.
The conference began with the reading of this timeless piece written by Kahlil Gibran in The Prophet:
Your Children are not Your Children
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you.
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love, but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
But seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
As living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
And he bends you with his might
That his arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness,
For even as he loves the arrow that flies,
So He loves also the bow that is stable.
This beautiful and poignant passage set the tone for a two-day discussion about how educators, mental health professionals, and faith communities can work together to help children and families reach their potential. We focused on the "10 Priorities" as a map and compass to help dialogue about a principle-centered and vision-focused way of living that inspires children and adults to become positive, contributing members of their own families, schools and communities. The "10 Priorities" that form the foundation of this character-based philosophy are as follows:
- Truth over Harmony-This is the core Priority of placing personal truth in communication with others, above keeping peace and harmony within those relationships at the expense of the truth. Easy to agree with, harder to do!
- Principles over Rules-This Priority challenges us to define the deeply held beliefs we hold for ourselves and our children. These principles provide an internal guide that informs our behavior beyond simply following rules. While most families have explicit "rules", it is less common to actually define the core "principles" and then hold all family members accountable for following them.
- Attitude over Aptitude-The challenge of this Priority is straightforward in requiring a core shift in principles: attitude over aptitude, effort over ability, and character over talent. In our current culture that is focused on the bottom line, competition, individuality, and status, this is no easy feat.
- Set High Expectations and Let Go of Outcomes-This Priority asks us to aim higher than we think we will reach. If our children give their best, they will ultimately feel good about outcome, whether or not they actually accomplish their intended goals. This shifts the emphasis from the end result to the effort involved in reaching for it.
- Value Success and Failure-In this era of parents who try to provide for their children "the best of everything," it is easy to overvalue success and not allow for them to struggle and fail along the way. In the end, the challenges and failures we experience ultimately teach us the most about, and even lead to, success.
- Allow Obstacles to Become Opportunities-In the face of hard times, we often reach for a different set of external circumstances. This Priority suggests that instead we should wish for a different set of internal attitudes. This is about taking personal responsibility and modeling that for our children as well.
- Take Hold and Let Go-When the going gets tough, the kids need to learn how to "hang on" and the parents need to learn how to "let go". Reflect on the words of Kahlil Girbran: as our children are not OUR children, they are people in their own right, and their problems are not OUR problems. We are here to guide THEM in learning how to become good problem solvers.
- Create a Character Culture-"Sow an Act and you Reap a Habit; Sow a Habit and you Reap a Character; Sow a Character and you Reap a Destiny," by Charles Reade . In practical terms, it is important for there to be a shared understanding which can be facilitated by holding family meetings, and fun shared activities in which the whole family participates. Every family member needs a "job".
- Humility to Ask for and Accept Help-Humility in parenting asks us to see ourselves through our LEARNING as opposed to our KNOWING. When we model asking for and accepting help for ourselves, we give our children permission to ask for help for themselves.
- Inspiration: Job #1-What greater gift could we give to our children as parents, teachers and community members than to INSPIRE our children to reach for their hopes and dreams. We do this through "Truth", or as kids would say, "being real." We also share our own struggles and feelings as well as take risks in order to grow, which models daily character.
I am sure by now, if you have read through the 10 Priorities, your head is spinning and you have a number of questions. I encourage you to take from the information what resonates for you and to even think more about the principles that make you a bit uncomfortable. I have learned through my own experiences that often when we confront what is most difficult for us to look at in our lives, we find that that is exactly where we are stuck. Taking a look at our own parenting pitfalls is hard, but it is doable and it is never too late. Hence, it is "The biggest Job we will ever do."