Let me begin by saying I have a great life. I get to write and speak on leadership issues, making organizations of all kinds better. I get to pursue a PhD in a subject I love. My wife Dawn is a teacher, currently working as a sub in our district. Our oldest is an Eagle Scout, an athlete, an IB student at CDA High and is currently in Washington D.C. as a Senate Page for Senator Larry Craig. The other three of our kids are a couple of years behind, but on similar trajectories. However, if you think Dawn and I have it easy as parents you would be wrong.
In all times, in all places parenthood is quite an adventure. In times past, raising a child to adulthood was sometimes as much about luck as good parenting. Mother and child surviving childbirth, avoiding common diseases and injuries, hunger, and political strife all took their toll.
While statistics tell us our chances of successfully raising a child to adulthood in the US has gotten better, as parents it is still an adventure. For most of us, our definition of success has changed. Long ago, keeping a child healthy enough to learn a trade and earn a living was the goal, over time helping the child obtain a high school education defined success. After WWII, the G.I. Bill began to change our standards of success when large numbers of Americans were able to obtain college degrees and the Veteran’s home loans made it easier for many to own their own home.
Those veterans raised the parenting bar in expecting, for the first time, that their children would go to college. The greatest generation’s children raised THEIR children to go to “good” colleges, and the race was on. Ask almost any parent now and they will tell you their hope is not that their child will go to college for an undergraduate degree, but that their child will go on to a professional school such as law school, med school, vet school, or to get an MBA for example.
Getting in to these schools has become so competitive that kids begin competing for advanced classes in Jr. High; earlier in many places. In addition, many schools are now looking for “well rounded” students; consequently kids must be in a variety of activities, preferably as a leader in some of them. Many universities are now looking for service hours in the community as well.
For those of you who do not have children in school allow me to provide an example. I am an educated person and was in advanced classes in a good High School, but my experience does not compare to my children’s. This year my son and his seventh grade classmates, learned how to do Punnet Squares (a technique to determine all the possible combinations of genetic alleles) in a regular science class. I learned to do this same technique as a High School senior in a college level, advanced biology class. You may accurately extrapolate this acceleration of knowledge across all subjects.
So what does this mean for parents? The first thing it means is you need to be there for your kids, not just physically but emotionally as well. A stable, nurturing home life, reading to them every chance you get, making sure they see you read as often as possible and letting them know you find education important are early keys to success.
One of the ways we increase our odds of raising great kids is to do high adventure trips with our kids such as our trip across the US two summers ago www.cdapress.com/altman and our upcoming trip from Rome, Italy to Edinburgh, Scotland this summer. We also do shorter, weekend excursions. The purpose of all our trips are education and family time certainly, but they are also about removing our kids for a time from influences that can make parenting harder and replacing those messages with our own. No one reading this column will agree with me on every issue, but hopefully this column will be a source of resources and advice to parents and the families they are part of. It still takes a village to raise a family and I intend to make this column a source of help and inspiration to everyone in our village.