You Can Do Anything; you know, except everything
In today’s parenting I regularly hear, “I want my kids to feel like they can do anything”. This is a beautiful and wonderful ideal that is true to 2018 America. So many opportunities are available to the rising generation that were only dreams to those past. No matter the race, gender or creed opportunities are abounding. The career opportunities staggering. The dreams of children seem a little less like dreams.
Yet the way we parent these days does not teach, “You can do anything.” We teach caution and we teach fear.
This was demonstrated to me the other day while I was at a park with my own children. They are 5, 3 and 1. I watched as parent after parent followed their own children around like shadows, telling them which challenges they could and could not do. Anything they deemed too dangerous they physically removed their child from.
I even had a parent follow my own children around casting me judgmental glances as I allowed my 18- month old to try any challenged she wanted. At one point she slipped and fell on a particularly difficult obstacle. I picked her up, comforted her as she cried and then told her to try it again. Because I really do believe she can do anything. I do not believe falling is the worst thing that can happen to her. Failing is just a chance to try again. The worst thing I can teach her is she should not try hard things because they make me afraid.
The belief that you can become anything is what formed the United States. Did we fall short, continually. Yet American’s once embraced and encouraged testing the limits of human potential. As I read about our former president, Ulysses Grant (just an aside, his middle name is Ulysses and the “S.” was made by accident and has stuck ever since), the modern parenting fear came in sharp contrast with our history. According to his biographer, Grant, as a kid, was considered very cautious. But at the age of 8 he drove a team of horses for his father’s business. At 10 he transported adults the distance of 40 miles to Cincinnati or as far as 250 miles from home, on his own. This was a cautions kid in the early 1800s.
In the 2018 we require 8-year old’s to sit in a car seat. Do we really believe they can do anything or do we treat our children like they are fragile and should fear the world?
But, you say to my argument, when Grant was born our infant and childhood mortality rate was much higher than today.
To that I counter, in the 1830s broken legs could permanently cripple someone, today they are fixed in a matter of weeks. In the 1900s the flu killed children in masses, today we treat it in a matter of days. Human kind has never lived in a more forgiving world. We have such medical advances to quickly cure ailments that were debilitating in times past. There is medical care within minutes, there is medicine and advancements at our finger tips.
In other words, we live in a world where we should be less afraid of injury for our children than Grant’s did. But we are the exact opposite. We treat our children from the beginning to fear challenges and worry about pain. We teach them that we know what they can and cannot do. We teach them not to trust themselves, not to challenge themselves, not to look at the world through a prism of possibilities. We teach through our actions fear, timidity and uncertainty.
But we shouldn’t. We should teach our children that they can do anything. We should stop fearing pain and injury and start remembering that more can be solved now than every before. We should embrace that unique gift our children are blessed with, the ability to do anything.