Sourc:e: WSJ, Jul 2016
Human learning contributes even more to the variability of our children. Our parental investment and commitment allow each generation a chance to think up new ideas about how the world works and how to make it work better. Childhood provides a period of variability and possibility, exploration and innovation, learning and imagination.
What we need to talk about instead is “being a parent”—that is, caring for a child. To be a parent is to be part of a profound and unique human relationship, to engage in a particular kind of love, not to make a certain sort of thing.
The most important rewards of being a parent aren’t your children’s grades and trophies—or even their graduations and weddings. They come from the moment-by-moment physical and psychological joy of being with this particular child, and in that child’s moment-by-moment joy in being with you.
… Instead of thinking about caring for children as a kind of work, aimed at producing smart or happy or successful adults, we should think of it as a kind of love. Love doesn’t have goals or benchmarks or blueprints, but it does have a purpose. Love’s purpose is not to shape our beloved’s destiny but to help them shape their own.
What should parents do? The scientific picture fits what we all know already, although knowing doesn’t make it any easier: We unconditionally commit to love and care for this particular child. We do this even though all children are different, all parents are different, and we have no idea beforehand what our child will be like.
We try to give our children a strong sense of safety and stability. We do this even though the whole point of that safe base is to encourage children to take risks and have adventures. And we try to pass on our knowledge, wisdom and values to our children, even though we know that they will revise that knowledge, challenge that wisdom and reshape those values.
In fact, the very point of commitment, nurture and culture is to allow variation, risk and innovation. Even if we could precisely shape our children into particular adults, that would defeat the whole evolutionary purpose of childhood.
We follow our intuitions, muddle through and hope for the best.
As individual parents and as a community, our job is not to shape our children’s minds; it is to let those minds explore all the possibilities that the world allows. Our job is not to make a particular kind of child but to provide a protected space of love, safety and stability in which children of many unpredictable kinds can flourish.
It’s not easy to be a parent, especially in the U.S. right now. It takes time and energy and money to provide the support and nurture that children need.
… we have to find a way to help parents be parents, and to provide the love and care that all children deserve.
Publishers Weekly, date indeterminate
“Being a parent is simply about loving children,” Gopnik states, except that “love is never simple.”
Kirkus Reviews, May 2016
Her firsthand experience of the complexities of being a parent in today’s society has led her to challenge the accepted view of “parenting.” It is “not actually a verb,” she writes, “not a form of work, and isn’t and shouldn’t be directed to the goal of sculpting a child into a particular kind of adult.”
Rather, parents should simply provide children with a loving, nurturing environment in which they can learn and thrive. The insatiability of children’s curiosity is legendary. As Gopnik notes, research has shown that “pre-schoolers average nearly seventy-five questions per hour.”
Contrary to the traditional parenting model, which sets specific educational goals for children, parents can play a crucial role simply by responding to a child’s questions. “Parents don’t have to consciously manipulate what they say to give children the information they need,” writes the author. They learn through rough-and-tumble play, careful observation of their environment, direct interaction, and the let’s-pretend games they invent for themselves.
“Pretending is closely related to another distinctly human ability,” writes Gopnik, “hypothetical or counterfactual thinking—that is the ability to consider alternative ways that the world might be.” In the author’s view, it is imperative for caretakers and educators to nurture young children’s curiosity, and they should also allow adolescents to experiment and learn by apprenticeship.
Gopnik concludes that recognizing the dichotomy between the goal-oriented carpenter and the nurturing gardener is an appropriate metaphor for our broader cultural values. “Just as we should give children the resources and space to play, and do so without insisting that play will have immediate payoffs,” she writes, “we should do the same for scientists and artists.”