Or how do I teach “Look at it, listen to it, smell it, touch it, and then, if nothing else goes wrong, lick it.”?
The question of my personal parenting purpose has been hanging around in the back of my head for some time. I mean, what is the essential skill or skills I want to make sure my daughter has? I don’t mean reading, or driving, or other crap like that. There are professionals out there to teach that stuff. I mean essential skills like self-reliance, self-evaluation, courage, kindness — the important things you can’t just leave to teachers and television. So when I received this comment from a friend (one of the most astute people I know and an avid girl gamer to boot, which becomes relevant later) it really hit home. This is what I’m supposed to teach her as a mother! “Look at it, listen to it, smell it, touch it, then lick it.” It strangely encapsulates the best skills of assessment, planning, deep thinking, empathy, problem-solving, courage, and wonder that I’d like my daughter to have by the time she’s 25 or so. (I can discuss why 25, but that’s a different post.)
But how to teach these things? I have no idea. I’m not even sure I can do all of them. Maybe I do them sporadically, but not often and I definitely don’t do some of them well. I could collect parenting books, but they seem to lack many concrete steps or to be fixated on skills that I’ve got a handle on. Responsibility? Easy. Fair play? Life’s not fair, do your best, and get over it. But assessment? How do you teach someone to accurately judge their own behavior and that of others? And yet, without the ability to self-assess you can’t improve, and without the ability to assess others, you can’t connect. This is important stuff! Ack!
So I’ve thought of two strategies.
First: Grow a gamer. By which I mean that I intend to teach her how to play and why to play. I’ll make sure she understands rules, how to make them, when to break them, and why they exist. I intend to see that she plays regularly, at least as much as she works. And that sometimes she does both at the same time. Play, activating the imagination, engaging others in a joint world, not only entertains, it stretches the mind, allowing children to try out different approaches until they find the one that works. I know that my friend’s adage is familiar to roleplaying gamers of various stripes: it is the basic approach to any trap. It is true, almost everything you need to know in life you can learn from D&D — including that sometimes the rules are ass and should be thrown out wholesale.
Second: Recruit experts. I have friends who are very good at one or another of these skills. I know some brave, emotionally tuned in, forward thinking people. Exposing my daughter to each of them at their best will provide her with the examples she’ll need to follow as she develops her own versions of these skills. There’s no way I can exhibit all the techniques she’ll need and it is 100% likely that the way I do it won’t be the way she does it. So, outsource it! Consider this a warning friends and family: I’ll be asking you to exhibit appropriate behavior while spending quality time with my daughter. I don’t mean you can’t smoke, drink, and carry on in her presence. Please do those things. I do mean she’ll be watching and learning and if you can’t be an example, you’ll make a hell of a warning. And that’s good too.
There’s so much to know in life, so many mistakes to make when raising a child. And I can’t be responsible for all those mistakes. The rest of you will have to fill in your fair share.