Feed your kids with dreams, not clobber from Cotton On
When my children were babies, we’d lie in the garden, bums in the sun (theirs not mine), and gaze up at the sky. As the clouds drifted, they’d suck their toes and I’d tell them the hopes and dreams I had for them.
“Gobble the whole apple of life, darling – even the core,” I’d whisper into their ears, as they kicked and gurgled then peed on my leg. “Live big, even if you’re always small.”
But as they grew older and we moved further from the ‘extraordinary’ of their births to the ‘ordinary’ of child raising, life became more transactional. “Eat your vegies, then we’ll go to the beach”, “Clean your room”, “Get dressed” became the dominant dialogue, and somewhere between making sandwiches (one with avocado, one without) and laundering, the dreaming disappeared.
But as my eldest storms into her second decade and a teacher remarks she’s not the sort of girl who grows up “living round the corner”, I yearn to reclaim a more macro, less micro approach to parenting; to lead her with passion, spontaneity and vision – hell, I should run for PM – rather than carp about minutiae.
I want her to see what matters to me and then look further and figure out what matters to her. In essence, I’d like my parenting to stand for something.
OK, I sound pretentious, but stay with me. Growing up, my parents had awful taste in music. Car journeys were torturous as we listened to Kenny Rogers and John Denver. But there was a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song that made me listen: “Teach your children well/Their father’s hell did slowly go by/And feed them on your dreams/The one they pick, the one you’ll know by”.
“Feed them on your dreams.” Not macaroni cheese or maths tutoring, or clobber from Cotton On, but possibilities, values, creativity. I love what those lyrics command us to do; it’s big-picture parenting from a time when childhood was about being, not doing.
You can’t drive past a billboard these days without being ambushed by company slogans: “Just do it”, “Because you’re worth it”, the Commonwealth Bank’s “Can” (although when I asked my bank manager to lop $20K off my mortgage, he said, “I can’t”).
Individuals, too, are adopting personal mission statements. “To do interesting things with interesting people while adding value,” is one I heard recently. I’m not suggesting we become all corporate and send out Christmas missives with inspiring slogans. But sometimes – by oneself and as families – we need to step back from the everyday and renew our vision: “Who are we and what do we really want for our kids?”
Friends of mine pulled their children out of school for a year and went travelling around Australia. “We wanted an adventure and to take a break from the real world,” says Jane. Their kids returned confident and motivated; their family knitted tight.
Another friend moved with her daughter to Rarotonga to pick lettuces. She was spurred by the Mark Twain quote: “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Me? I’d like to dance more, laugh more and lecture less. And I’d like to read them poetry. They’ll hate it, of course, but years from now they’ll laugh about how I tried.
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