Your job in each phase of parenthoodAug 10, 2022
Have you ever noticed that when you travel somewhere for the first time, the road can seem long and confusing, but then the second time it doesn't seem that way at all? That's because you have markers along the way. You know what to expect and you can gauge your needs accordingly.
Well, today I am going to share with you some landmarks of childhood, so you can feel a little less lost as you navigate these years.
As I look back over the last 15 years of my own parenting and teaching thousands of parents, I see three clear and distinct stages of parenting. In each one, your child needs something different from you.
PHASE ONE: Birth through Pre-K
During this period of time, we are consumed with the newness of our child. Everything is a first, and our desire to protect them is at an all-time high. These are the years when we are busy curating the world for our children, in line with our family's values. (Yes, your family has family values even if you are unaware of them!) We are deciding which brand of bedding to buy, what food they will be allowed to eat, who will babysit etc. Our job is to keep them safe physically and emotionally in the cocoon of our love and our community, and to hopefully inspire a lifelong love of self-led learning.
PHASE TWO: Kindergarten through 6th Grade
At this stage, most of us are no longer able to control every facet of our children's lives. They are venturing out into the world, eating their friend's snacks, and getting into scuffles on the yard without us present. This is the point when we must begin curating our children for the world, in my opinion. This is when they are learning resilience, and flexibility, and when we are no longer asking the world to accommodate itself to our children's needs to such an extent. Instead, our job at this stage is to focus on building our children's capacity to develop the skills necessary to cope with the challenges that abound. We are teaching them how to know when they have had enough candy, how to ask on their own where the bathroom is, and how to deal with not being invited to a birthday party.
STAGE THREE: 7th-12th Grade (and beyond!)
These are the years when our children are really starting to chart out their own course. Hopefully they feel safe and loved for who they are, they have developed the skills of flexibility and resilience to cope with challenging experiences, and they are now primed to be able to curate themselves and the world for each other. During this phase, our job is to help them hear themselves, think well about the opportunities and challenges that lie in wait for them, and then help them develop the executive function to navigate successfully through all of the twists and turns. These are the years they're learning to drive their own car, literally and figuratively, and our job is to hold one hand on the wheel, and one foot on the brake, all while letting them be the ones in the driver's seat.
As school approaches, I invite you to take a look at what grade your child is going into this year, and locate yourself on the map. I hope this framework can be useful to you as you navigate the upcoming year for each of your families, and as you start figuring out what they need — and what you need — in order to feel the deep satisfaction that comes from a job well done.