"Who's going to toughen him up?"
I was asked that question about my 3-year-old grandson who is a lovely, respectful, sensitive boy. Like his mother, he has an extraordinary ability to read people. Sometimes that's a blessing, other times a curse, but I wouldn't change him even if I could. Why? Because someday he might be a fantastic teacher.
When my children were young I rarely thought about what they would be when they grew up. I thought more about who they would be. So we didn't talk much about jobs or how much money a person needed to make in order to live comfortably. We wanted them to get a good education but with the goal of learning how to think in order to live a life of integrity, not learning how to make the most money possible. We didn't hone a laser focus on the need to attend the "best" or most prestigious college. Our goal was to raise responsible, critical thinkers who would go out into the world armed with robust people skills.
We facilitated sensitivity and kindness, gratitude, and gracious behavior. We were the parents not too many kids want. You know the ones, the parents who make their children invite the "weirdoes" no one wants to their birthday parties along with the "cool" kids because hurting the feelings of the outcast children is unacceptable. I recall debating it briefly in my head: Would my value system hurt my kids? Would it brand them as the "weirdoes" no one wants? I took the chance. My father always said there were two kinds of people in the world, those who get walked on and those who do the walking. He preferred to be the former. While I don't think the world is quite that black and white, I understood his point and agreed. I didn't want to raise the walkers.
Much of our parenting philosophy grew out of our professional training. My husband and I were both trained as teachers. We taught for part of our careers. We saw firsthand how children develop and how their interactions guided the people they learned to be.
Our three daughters survived our touchy feely parenting method. We didn't feel the need to toughen them. If anything, we wanted them to be particularly sensitized to the reactions of other people, to be proficient readers of people. And, despite our never having said, "Hey, you should be a teacher, it's a great job!" all three of our daughters are now teachers. We wouldn't have chosen these careers for them. It's not the easiest or most lucrative profession, and it surely isn't one you can foist on anyone, as being a good teacher is more of a calling than a choice.
But somehow our parenting strategies, when our daughters were young and continuing into their high school and college years, resulted in all three making good use of their skill sets.
Chances are you've had at least one terrific teacher whom you remember fondly. She or he was not necessarily the one who imparted the most knowledge to you but certainly the one who was the most tuned in to your needs as a student and a person. Great teachers are by nature sensitive to the needs of others. They are for the most part capable of extraordinary empathy, and are natural givers and nurturers. They're exceptional listeners who are intuitive. But they are also gifted with sufficient reason to temper their empathy with critical thinking and reasonable reactions. Their "EQ" or Emotional Intelligence Quotient is off the charts. It has to be because effective educators don't just work a job, their job is part and parcel of who they are.
There is much discussion currently about schools and test scores and teacher accountability but I've yet to see a single metric aimed at testing what most teachers and parents would agree is one of the most important measures of a good teacher -- how much he or she cares about the students. That's surely not the only measure. Great educators care deeply but also possess the organizational skills and intestinal fortitude needed to facilitate learning in a classroom of 30 or so diverse humans. Caring is just the foundation. Successful teachers also have to be strong, diligent, patient, articulate, creative, and intellectually curious.
In looking at my grandson, I was struck by the legacy of the reach of your parenting choices. If you're lucky and you do the hard work involved, you raise good kids. If you're extremely lucky, you raise good teachers. It may be interesting to ask yourself this question: Who am I raising?
For more perspective from a grandparent's point of view, you may want to check out some of my other articles at grandmagazine.com.