An interesting challenge to all of us who are parents,
and one that can be positively confounding to many of us
is how to raise children with a good ethical sensibility.
Can we raise our children to feel good about themselves,
be good at things, and also be good people?
For example, if a child asks to buy an expensive toy in a store (an all
too common occurrence) a parent is suddenly put on
the spot, and thrown into a paralyzing parenting crisis.
Well, this is an enriching toy and made for his area of
interest (lets say dinosaurs, for the sake of specificity).
One might think, but, he just received an elaborate
dinosaur toy from his grandparents, and then I can
afford it, and he wants it, plus getting him out of this
store will be a nightmare if I refuse. Then, finally, how
can getting everything he asks for be good for him?
All of these conflicting deliberations occur in the space of a
minute, as you are either on your way to the register, or
scooping your screaming child in your arms as you exit
the store, ashamed that your child is the one causing such
a ruckus. These small moments pose large questions
about raising children effectively, and these same
moments often make us wonder if we are on the right
track as parents.
Wendy Mogel, in The Blessing of a Skinned Knee,
suggests a style of parenting that incorporates religious
ideals, or commandments, in order to tackle such dilemmas
as the one presented above, with the intended result
of rearing ethical children.
One idea she poses that seems, on the surface, counterintuitive, yet in a deeper sense
quite profound, is her idea of sanctifying the mundane.
The suggestion is to not only pay attention to the greatness
that our children can achieve, but to realize the
importance of everyday efforts and moments. This is quite
a valuable idea for the many parents hurrying their children
throughout the week from activity to activity, seeking
signs of excellence and a promise of success for the future.
Most parents probably agree that the most precious
moments with their children are mundane: hen you are
all piled into bed together, or playing games together, or
perhaps a moment when you share a joke, a good family
chortle. Yet, do we think of these moments as the building
blocks for success, or as helping our children advance in
the world? The irony is that these moments are probably
more formative, and more predictive of life happiness than
the participation in any lesson. They prepare our children
for loving relationships, for expressing kindness to others,
and these moments give them a radar for the really good
stuff available to them in the world.
Dr. Mogel also coins a term that is quite useful in
describing an ill in American culture, that she calls specialitis.
It is the frequent insistence that our lives, our children,
and thus, we, are special. Again, she poses an interpretation
of ordinary as sacred. It seems that the American dream sets
us up for the affliction of specialitis. We are encouraged by
society to strive for success, to better our positions in life,
always aiming higher. In terms of parenting, the American
dream translates into affording all the opportunities that
could potentially enrich our children.
It is a challenge for parents with means to help their
children find the path to a life of humility and generosity.
Often members of affluent communities are faced with a
pressure akin to keeping up with the Jones, yet that pressure
transforms into keeping up with little Billy Jones,
who may join the Olympic swim team, or tiny Susie
Jones, who excels in recognizing all her letters, and is
already fluent in four languages. When waiting for excellence
to emerge, we are sometimes guilty of overlooking
the wonderful ordinary things about our children. The
focus on specialness can lead us to feel more demanding,
more frustrated when things are not so special, or on
occasion more focused on appearances. The same parents
would like their children to develop humility and generosity,
yet there is a clear disconnect.
So the hunt begins for minor miracles, the smallest
of moments with seismic meaning. Ethics are in the
details, the ways we address others, and each other. Ethics
are in how we handle the toy store tantrum, and how we
communicate to our children that we see their ordinariness
and find it beautiful.
Jennifer Naparstek Klein, Psy.D. is a
licensed child and family psychologist practicing at