Quiet day in MayhemVille today... Woke up at the lake, bright and early. Came *this close* to trying a morning swim. It's not quite warm enough for a solo swim just yet, but soon, soon. Did some work, had breakfast, then packed, boated and drove home. Early lunch, one hour of karate, trip to library and Whole Foods (tried the organic blueberry/maple pork sausages - WOW, are they awesome), came back home for some work and homeschool supervision (today's assignment: the two big girls had to teach the youngest all the karate stuff she needs to know to move towards her new belt; some days the kids catch a break), then back to the dojo for another good tournament team training session. Helped teach the little kids' class with the two big girls (the youngest is still in the little kids' class, but not for much longer, especially if her sisters teach her well), then home for some ice cream and tea before gently collapsing. So far so humdrum. Typical Monday. But two things happened today that made me reflect on one of my parenting rules, and they both concern the Eldest. First one happened both yesterday and today during tournament team training, where she's been hitting the gas pedal hard and showing some real intensity and willingness to pay attention to what we tell her and do her very best to put it in practice. She even got praised for working so hard today by our head coach, who is not easy to impress. I commented to him that it was as though she'd found a switch somewhere inside her and had decided to flip it on. I believe that making the national team and qualifying for the Worlds has given her a mighty kick in the patootie and she now seems to believe that she is indeed able to accomplish difficult things if she works hard enough at it.
The second one happened in the little kids' class, where she was given one student to teach by herself. This was the second time she'd been given a student to herself. As I explained to her afterwards, this tells me she did it right the first time and is now considered trustworthy enough to be allowed to teach on her own. "It's a wonderful opportunity you have there," I told her, "to be considered trustworthy is very precious indeed. You've earned it, and you should do your best to keep it, because you'll find it very rewarding to be trusted like this."
She was beaming 60,000 watts of course. She loves being thought of as responsible (it's a first-born thing). But to be honest although she's only 9 and a half the road to this trustworthy status was not always very smooth for her. She's been wanting to help teach for a long time, and she has been working as a junior helper for a good two years now, but it's only recently that she's really found the inner strength and discipline to take her role of helper and junior mentor seriously enough. I am immensely gratified that she now has a very real reward for all the hard work she's put into it.
And this brings me to the parenting rule: Don't ever hesitate to give your kids difficult, challenging and *real* goals to achieve. Ideally the kids themselves should have a great deal of input as to what the goals should be (e.g. qualifying for a particular sports team, or winning a piano contest, or getting published, whatever), but you the parent should guide them towards something real and meaningful. Make the kids reach. Don't let them settle for mediocrity. Be honest with them about where they are on the progress scale towards their goal and never - ever - give them empty praise. Always assure them that you love them no matter what. Tell them you're proud of them - always. Even if they don't win or make it, you are darn proud of their efforts. Help them find their inner strength. Ideally you should lead by example, too. Show them how much work you put in to achieve your goals. Let them see you struggle, doubt, then let them see you defeat obstacles. Show them that being discouraged sometimes is a perfectly natural reaction. That it's OK to doubt, but not OK to give up. And you'll see, one day, your baby will accomplish something awesome and you'll be so profoundly happy - not just for them, but with them.