Outside of the obvious - safety, love and well-being - I cannot think of anything more important that parents can provide than encouragement. Let’s clarify this just a bit - I am speaking of encouraging them to explore their interests, set goals, and to be their own unique, individual self.
Never tell your children that you don’t think they will like a certain activity, or that it might be too hard for them, or that it isn’t what the other kids are doing! Your child is unique and if he/she feels the need to explore an avenue that the rest of his/her crowd doesn’t see as worthwhile, so what? “Only nerds play chess.” Says who? “All jocks are dumb.” Really?
I have a thirteen year old that I have encouraged to try everything that she has ever wanted to try. Right now she is an excellent soccer player, an avid outdoors enthusiast, an accomplished violinist, an A-B student (mostly A’s too, this bragging mother must say), a chess player, a music lover that enjoys everything from the classics to rap, and a bookworm that not only reads, but also writes. I have never told her that she “couldn’t” (in the sense of capability, not permission) do anything.
This is not to say that she hasn’t tried things that just didn’t work out for her - like cross-country track. She thought she wanted to try it, so for three weeks we got up at 5:30 am so that she could be to track practice at 6:30 am and I stood in our driveway every evening with a stop watch to time her distance runs. After three weeks, she decided that cross-country was not for her.
Now, I believe that once a child starts something, they should finish it. They made a commitment, and they need to stand by it. My first inclination was to tell her that she had to finish out the season. But when I saw how truly miserable she was, I told her that she could quit, but she had to do it herself in a face-to-face conversation with the coach. So she called him, set up an appointment, and they sat down to talk. She didn’t finish the season, but she still had to take responsibility for her own actions. And it was a great learning experience for her.
With all that she has accomplished, what I see in her that, to me, is the most important lesson she has learned is that she loves herself and that she truly has confidence in herself. She isn’t pencil-thin; she has an athlete’s body - and she is comfortable with that. She isn’t worried about what other people think of her. She will express her opinions, even if they differ from the majority. She stands up for her beliefs, even if others make fun of her. And she has a wide variety of friends - from all of the various “cliques” in school.
I will not worry that this child of mine will ever have an eating disorder; or will cave to peer pressure to smoke, drink or do drugs; or will engage in sex because she is afraid the boy won’t like her if she doesn’t. I will be proud that she stands up for what she believes in, even if it means standing up to the majority. If she ever gets into a fight because she is defending the child that the bullies all pick on, I will show up at school and defend her actions, because I will know that she did what she felt to be right. How could I turn my back on a child with such courage?
That is what you are building when you encourage your child - courage, character, self-respect, integrity, honesty, and self-confidence. Isn’t that what you want for your child? I don’t know of a good parent that doesn’t.
So suppose you have the son who wants to play the piano and the girl who wants to rock climb? So what! Let him play; let her climb. Gender roles are passé and that is exactly as it should be. Women need to be strong and capable; men need to be able to take care of themselves in every possible way. Dependence is really not an attribute that is good in any relationship; it only leads to the possibilities of control issues and lack of confidence in oneself. Not a healthy position for an individual or people in relationships.
We have to teach our children how to succeed and the best way we can do that is to encourage them!
I am from a generation where discouragement was more the norm. I understand all too well the dangers that arise when children are discouraged from being themselves and from following their dreams. I realize the destruction that it causes to self and how far into the future it can carry. I am sure that a lot of you are well aware of what I am talking about, having been there yourself.
We have the responsibility of making sure that our children do not suffer in the same ways. And we can do that by encouraging and supporting them in their endeavors. We, as parents, can play an important role in building the self-esteem of our children and strengthening our society as a whole with these wonderful, confident, happy, productive adults that they will become when we encourage.
I dare you - Get out there and encourage your children, starting today!!!
We may be single parents, but combined, we are a might power!