Being a parent means growing together in a relationship. It means getting to know this new little person with the bright curious eyes, heartwarming smile and adorable fingers and toes, a tiny boy or girl who says so much with strings of vowels that we may understand – if we listen carefully.
Raising a child is about regarding him as a complete person, small though he is, someone with many facets, all of which need polishing over the years. He has the same needs we adults do: physical, social, emotional, intellectual and spiritual/moral. As parents, we need to address them all if we want to do the best by our child.
Meeting his needs implies that we follow his lead in each of these areas. We choose activities that suit his temperament (physical needs), let him play with other kids and make friends if he wants to (social needs), be available to him when we sense he is upset or scared (emotional needs), give him age-appropriate toys and books and help him explore them at his own pace, without undue interference (intellectual needs), and lastly, inculcate empathy in him, i.e. teach him to put himself in another’s place and understand how he/she might feel, using this as a guide to tell right from wrong (spiritual/moral needs). This last point, to my mind, is most important as it forms a basis for development of character. Put together, this means we give our child an environment in which he can think freely and understand the world around him, getting to know himself in the process. While familiarising our children with our belief systems is necessary, indoctrination of any sort would obviously be counterproductive to their growth.
Over the years we watch him gradually discover who he wants to be, and work towards becoming that person. If he chooses a life that he considers worthwhile, there will be no obstacles, only challenges. What he needs is our faith in him. Our trust gives him confidence to use his judgment in difficult situations. Our belief in him adds to his self-worth and instills a sense of honour. Integrity in adulthood starts with parents’ trust in childhood, because being ‘good’ is then a given. Conditioning him towards being the person we want him to be, without regard for his natural inclinations, could leave him confused, unhappy and lacking in direction after he finishes the college course we might have talked him into.
As parents, we are concerned about his future. We would like him to be a confident, independent person; be able to earn well and support himself and have a family if he wants one; be a likeable person who will always have friends he can count on, and whom he cares about; be able to ride out the inevitable tough times of life with courage and a sense of humour; be worthy of the trust that people in his life repose in him. Above all, we would want him to find success as he defines it.