New parents often joke about the absence of an owner’s manual when their children are born. Advice from loved ones and friends (usually) is abundant, conflicting, and overwhelming to new parents. Experts provide volumes of research on parenting as well. What is the point, after all? The reality is, children will grow so they can leave home. The time between birth and the moment when the grown child leaves is the opportunity window for parenting. It is a career, a challenge of personal leadership development, and an opportunity to invest in futures beyond one’s own lifetime.
The parental role is significant at every step. Infants (within the first year) learn to trust or mistrust others for their needs. Toddlers (up to three years) learn to be self-sufficient or generate self-doubt. Children three to six years learn to accomplish some adult activities or learn to feel guilt for pushing parental limits. From seven to 11 years, children learn to be industrious or develop an orientation of inferiority. During the adolescent years, youth begin considering who they are and begin developing self-identity or become confused about their role in the future (Eccles, 2014).
These developmental stages are common to children but each child is unique. Strengths, weaknesses, tendencies, preferences and avoidances occur naturally in children. Each child possesses a natural range of ability, or intelligence. Multiple intelligence theory (MI), pioneered by Howard Gardner, posits the existence of nine types of intelligences (1) musical, (2) bodily-kinesthetic, (3) logical-mathematical, (4) linguistic, (5) spatial, (6) interpersonal, (7) intrapersonal, (8) naturalistic, and (9) existential (Gardner, n.d.). Every child is a blend of primary and secondary strengths. How does one lead children through the complexities of growth stages, natural intelligence, social pressures, family culture, and the like?
Remember the big picture: children grow to leave home. The parenting career objective is to recognize from the earliest days the unique blend of natural tendencies in their children, to understand the childhood seasons, and to provide environments for them to thrive. “During these years, children make strides toward adulthood by becoming competent, independent, self-aware, and involved in a world beyond their families,” (Eccles, 2014, p. 30). Conversely, “ when adolescents are in settings (in school, at home, or in community programs) that are not attuned to their needs and emerging independence, they can lose confidence in themselves and slip into negative behavior patterns such as truancy and school dropout,” (Eccles, 2014, p. 30). “It is of the utmost importance that we recognize and nurture all of the varied human intelligences, and all of the combinations of intelligences… If we can mobilize the spectrum of human abilities, not only will people feel better about themselves and more competent; it is even possible that they will also feel more engaged and better able to join the rest of the world community in working for the broader good,” (Gardner, n.d., p. 31).
This is parenting: the most fun, intriguing, challenging, and rewarding 24/7/365 career on the planet.
Eccles, J. (2014). The Development of Children Ages 6 to 14. Retrieved from The Future of Children: A Collaboration of The Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and The Brookings Institution.: http://www.princeton.edu/futureofchildren/publications/docs/09_02_02.pdf
Gardner, H. (n.d.). Multiple Intelligences. Retrieved from Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education: http://howardgardner.com/multiple-intelligences/