Be the Gardener, not the Carpenter for your kids

There is no doubt that we wish the best for our kids. We try as hard as we can and make choices as intelligently as possible. Nevertheless what often happens is that in an effort to give them the best we fall into the trap of micromanagement. We try to control them too much; we decide for them way too often; we try to protect them from all the possible troubles and problems. In a way this a natural wish – to protect your off-spring from everything. On the other hand, the same as micromanaging is a recipe for trouble in the corporate world; micromanaging childhood has many cons which by far outweigh its pros.

In her latest book “The Gardener and the Carpenter” Prof. Alison Gopnik propagates the idea that for the best cognitive development of a kid, as a parent you better be a gardener who nurtures and gives what’s necessary to thrive; rather than being a carpenter who shapes, cuts and constructs. She emphasizes that we need to ensure that our kids have a protected space where they can develop new ways of thinking and acting and most notably – a place where failure is not avoided, but used as a stepping stone. That last point resonates very much with what I believe in and try to vigorously apply (as I already wrote before – here). It all sounds very nice that people must learn from other people’s mistakes; but in reality lessons learned from our own mistakes tend to stick much better. Given that, if we protect our kids from making a mistake, we rip them off a chance of learning yet another lesson.

Along the same line of micromanagement: recently I saw a discussion on a forum about choosing the right university for a kid and saving money for tuition. The oddness of the discussion was that the kid in question was not even one year old… I truly believe that saving up to give to your kids is important. If you have a chance to give them that boost from the start of their adult life – that’s great! However, I also strongly believe that the actual choice of the university is not to be made by parents anyway. Furthermore, what is the point of even trying to make a choice when there are so many years ahead? Even talking about our own kids: our daughter is almost 4, our son is almost 2.5. There are roughly 15 years before they graduate school. We don’t know how the education system will look like. We have no clue what will the ratings of universities be. Yet, most importantly, we have no idea what will kids want. It can very well be that kids don’t want to go to university at all. So what? There are numerous professions and numerous directions of activities where you can develop yourself and succeed without a university degree.

There are a lot of facets to the micromanagement issue for sure and in certain aspects we better control and protect our kids really well (I am now thinking about, for example, Internet dangers). Then again, if we want them to grow into a responsible, independent and reasonable adult, perhaps we need to let go more, allow them to fail, focus on teaching them to learn from their failures and most importantly – in the words of Prof.Gopnik “be a bridge between the past and the future” – allowing our kids to confidently rise above us.


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