Raising Adults

Last week I was listening to NPR and was quite touched by a short interview with Michelle Obama on her latest book, The Light We Carry. In this interview Obama talked about her mother and the way she was raised. Her mother “had a clear philosophy about parenting, which is unusual for somebody of her generation. She said, I’m not raising children, I’m raising adults.” It reminded me of Dr. Montessori’s writing, “The education of even a small child, therefore, does not aim at preparing him for school, but for life.”

Michelle Obama continued:

“And so I always had an interestingly open and honest conversation with my parents. They encouraged us to talk at an early age, to find our voices. She made sure we felt heard. She made sure that she took our concerns and issues seriously. We were never treated as kids should be seen and not heard.

“It is a hard thing to do to let your kids be. In this era of helicopter parenting, where I think parents are very, maybe, overly involved in their kids’ lives – I was raised to be handed my competence early, you know? My mother raised her – as I write in the book, she says her job is to put herself out of a job early. So she started at a very early age, requiring us to be independent. You know, as early as kindergarten, she gave us alarm clocks because she knew that we were capable of getting ourselves up. She wanted us to feel the power of our competence.

“So from 5 years old, I was setting an alarm. Soon thereafter, I was walking to school by myself. And what that does for a kid, when your parent trusts you, it encourages you. It tells you that if my mom thinks I can do this, then I must be capable. And I’ve tried to instill that same kind of stand by the gate and watch your kids fly – be there for them when they come back. Let them know that you will be their advocate. But don’t step in and try to live their lives for them. And so when I see my kids flourishing in that way, when I see them owning all their choices, and succeeding and failing on their own terms and growing from that process, it is one of the most satisfying experiences.

“It is frightening. It is frightening to watch your children walk into a brick wall. But that’s what growth is. And, you know – and too many parents try to stop that process. And as a parent, that’s a hard thing to come to grips with, is your child grows up and is out there in that big, bad world – is that you can prepare and love them all that you can and you still don’t have control. There are no guarantees that their life is going to work out. And something bad may happen. That is the hardest thing about parenting, is living with that truth. But the alternative is to stop them from growing. So I have to remind myself of that, you know, when I get the urge to step in.”

On Wednesday Saasha and I enjoyed visiting a few classrooms being guests for their special luncheon. Children as young as 2 1/2 and as old as 14 were equally proud of the work they had done decorating the classroom and making dishes such as pumpkin squares, apple pie, butter, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and even egg rolls. These young children are so capable and thrive on purposeful work. Linked here is a list of chores young children may be capable of doing, organized by age.