What Really Matters

People often pontificate about “what really matters”. This is often described as interpersonal relationships with family, time with your spouse and children, or letting go and allowing yourself to enjoy life. It’s used in a way that subtly demonizes your efforts to get ahead, become better than you are, and achieve more.

Do not let this happen to you. Of course your family matters, and making sure to spend needed time with your children must be a priority. However, contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to spend all evening with them; in fact, if you do, you’ll actually be hamstringing their own ability to explore their own world and define who they are as a person. Most children feel freer to explore when they are alone, something that becomes the center of most arguments once they reach the dreaded teen years. This is not advocating neglect; there is a balance to be struck. The key is to spend time with your children in meaningful, preferably scheduled, blocks of time, that allow you to focus on them for that time period, and then focus on building your success at other times.

See, children watch. They observe. They’re actually better at observation than most adults give them credit for. A child that watches their parent work toward building a good life for them, will likely seek ways to build their own success. A parent can help build on this by creating and allowing opportunities for the child to be challenged. Sometimes those challenges will result in the child failing; they will need instruction, or encouragement, to make another attempt. Sometimes you will need to show them, others you will need to let them figure it out on their own.

Sometimes, they will get hurt. Pain is something most parents don’t want their children to face, and in many cases will prevent them from doing things that are marginally dangerous in the hope that they can shield them from pain. This point is illustrated most, well, pointedly by Dr. Jordan Peterson’s rule “Don’t bother children while they’re skateboarding.” You must allow children to do things that can get them hurt, while attempting to avoid allowing them to do things that will get them injured. There is a difference.

Hurt is pain, scrapes, cuts, superficial wounds. Most childhood incidents involve hurt, where they come in with a scraped knee, sprained ankle, a cut, a bee sting (assuming they aren’t allergic). They pushed their limits, and they learned where they were. These hurts are often found during normal play that pushes limits such as bike riding, hiking, sports, skateboarding, swinging, monkey bars, nerf gun wars, foam sword fighting (you knew I’d work swords in here somehow), and roughhousing. All of these things are healthy things that push the limits of the child’s abilities.

Injury is when things are a little far. This is when you have to deal with broken bones, concussions, or the like. First, it must be noted that these things will happen. No matter how adverse to pain a child is, or how little they push their limits, they will run into injury at some point. This doesn’t make you a bad parent, and it doesn’t mean the child necessarily did anything over-the-top; a missed landing after a trick that went bad, perhaps an unseen obstacle in the woods; a hole dug by a woodchuck (groundhog for those that don’t live in Vermont). No matter how it happens, that’s when you step in and do what’s needed to patch them up.

These experiences teach children what their limits are, and build the confidence they need to gain their success. In a world without rites of passage, we need to provide children, and adults for that matter, opportunities to push their limits and risk hurting themselves to prove that they can accomplish something hard. For me, it was three years of fencing training and a brutal ten minute test. For you, it might be doing the Spartan challenge. For your children, it might be a kick-flip. In both cases, you’re building on your future success, by building your confidence; and watching your children accomplish something hard, or having them watch you do the same and seeing that they can too, is what will build that confidence.

Because that’s what really matters.

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