What do I want for my children? I think that question plagues every parent at least occasionally during child-rearing . It certainly crosses my mind at least several dozen times a day. Perhaps homeschooling makes that count a bit higher than average, but I doubt that number would be much different if their education wasn’t also on my plate.
So just what do I want for my children? My standard answer is as follows: I want my boys to be productive, contributing members of the world. I want them to be moderately happy. I want them to be tolerated by others of their species. A bit low-reaching — even incomplete? Nope. That’s my list. And it allows me plenty of room to love them unconditionally, correct them when they’re out of line, and teach them algebra and research paper writing.
But what about college? Marriage and families? Church membership? Voting Democratic?
That all sounds fine to me, but those may not be their paths to happiness, productivity, and social acceptability. Take happiness. An Ivy League education won’t seal the deal for happiness any more than learning a trade or working on a ranch in Colorado. Either way, you’re stuck with yourself, and unhappiness with yourself knows no economic, educational, or political boundaries. Happiness won’t be found by gaining wealth, amassing friends on Facebook (really), or collecting every new electronic gizmo that comes along. Sing it with me. Happiness comes from within. Misery comes from the same place. What I want for my kids is an appropriate amount of the former, stemming from a good amount of self-knowledge tempered with love of that self, the others around them, and this universe we share.
Productivity is relative. As an at-home, only occasionally-working-for-pay, homeschooling mom, I keep my self sane by reminding myself that all productivity isn’t tied to a paycheck or an office with a door. Okay, I’d like to also see them in their own homes some day, although a communal farm or Buddhist monastery would fly, too. I’d include financially independent, but who am I to say what sort of partnership them may form someday, what domestic agreements they’ll make? It’s more than a hope for them economically. It’s a hope for their hearts and souls. I hope that the way they live in this world contributes goodness to it, either through their career choices or their general way of being on this planet. I want them to add to the repair end — tikkun olam — more than the breaking end.
My line about tolerance by others is only a bit tongue in cheek. With one child who is somewhat naturally oblivious to the habits of the humans in the world (but perfectly clear on cat social protocol), this is a serious challenge. What passes as cute at ten (and far less does pass than it did at six) looks quirky at fifteen. Nothing wrong with quirky — quirky works for all in this house. But soon, ignoring the ways of the Earth’s most complicated species can make for a lonely life. My younger’s Asperger’s makes learning the ways of the social human a fairly large, life-long project rather than a life-and-learn affair. It takes loads of cues and commentary on what others might be thinking in a social situation. His Asperger’s is going to stay with him, along with his green-grey eyes and love for complexity. I’d not wish any of those to change. Even for my neurotypical older son, getting along with others without being a sheep is a skill to learn and takes time to hone. I’d like them to have friends as they go through life, so social awareness is part of the curriculum.
Ah, if it was that easy. Have three simple goals. Love my children. Live our lives. It’s not. I’m pretty good at rationalizing most of the other stuff I do so it fits those goals, however. Education tops my priority list. Not for the sake of a particular diploma but as a path to choices. My kids have (shifting) ideas about what they’d like to do when they’re older. Neither mentions fast food counter work or anything requiring physical labor as goals, so we stay the course that offers the most options later on: we plan for college. Not the stress-filled, do-it-all, kind of way to plan for college. Not the lackadaisical, do-what-you-want way either. We take the middle way, stressing strong reading, writing, and studying skills and enough science and math to open the doors in that direction should that be desired.
I wish just the social piece was easier. I am not always sure when what I’m asking my younger son is for him and when it is for me. Not the parts about not scratching certain regions in public or considering the feelings of other before making random comments that sound hilarious in his head. I’m good with all of those, and those lessons are good for him. Inhibiting shirt chewing (I often do) or insisting on eye contact (I try not to) are more questionable corrections. Between the Asperger’s and, well, the being a boy thing both guys have going on, much of my girl-based social information seems suspect if not just irrelevant. I’m best when I stick to the standards: listen to others, chew with your mouth shut, and shower daily.
Even with the answer in place, I still ask myself — many times a day — what I want for my children. It’s a reminder of what I hold important. It’s a tug back to what’s truly important in their lives now and what is likely to be important later. It holds me to those snarky, modest goals that aren’t really that modest after all.