This time of year emphasizes change as we contemplate next steps: whether your child is going to sleep-away camp for the first time, leaving Turning Point to begin high school, moving from preschool to kindergarten. Even mundane details like noticing that your child’s pants are shorter can invoke a strange sense of sadness and distance from our child’s current identity.
I remember the first time I felt a palpable separation from my son, Jack. He was about two years old, we were at the Oakland Zoo, and I put him on a ride with little capsules of cars that gently went around in a circle. There were no seats for parents on this ride. I can still recall tearing up as his delight in this new experience meant moving away from his babyhood. I can still feel in my body his separation from me. Our children grow up and away from us. They are supposed to do this. Our goal as parents is to become less important as they become more independent. It starts early and does not stop.
We feel both proud and sad at each milestone that marks this journey, and we wonder if we are doing what’s right, if our needs are hindering their growth, if we are raising them with morals and values, if we are hovering too closely or giving them too much autonomy. The world is becoming increasingly complex, with fascinating challenges our children will have to address. And as fast as the world is changing, it seems our children are changing faster! Often it feels like there is so little time to furnish them with the tools they will need.
We know that children who develop healthy self-respect and empathy, and who live by values, are, as adults, successful and “popular” in the best sense of the word. Colleges and employers reflect this; they are increasingly interested in candidates who are strong collaborators and communicators, versus those who only possess a specific skill set or pedigree. At Turning Point we help children develop qualities such as resiliency, self-awareness, agility, and collaboration because we know these qualities will help provide the foundation for the various transitions inherent to adulthood. Not insignificantly, it also makes them happier and more well-rounded children, too!
Before our children are even born, we wonder who they might become. We imagine the path their lives might take, and typically this path is shaped by our own very best hopes and dreams. We put these dreams in context… maybe she will attend this college, and maybe he will do that for a career. Creating context is perfectly normal when we are faced with a blank slate. But as our children grow and develop, the slate we created for them early on becomes less relevant. When we are unable to let go of the specific outcome or trajectory we always imagined for our children’s future, we unintentionally diminish their personhood, and limit their possibilities. As parents we have to summon the courage to wipe that slate filled with our own hopes and dreams clean, so that it can become wonderfully filled with the child’s own potential and direction.
So, what do we do? We persist. As our children encounter challenges, such as applying to high school or studying for an upcoming test or developing a science fair project or standing up for themselves, we can help them by demonstrating our own ability to tolerate discomfort. Anxiety is a “given” in this process, and while too much of it is unproductive, in small doses it is actually helpful… after all, the job of anxiety is to alert us to potential threats, allowing us to evaluate and respond to them in appropriate ways. We can keep our anxiety in a healthy range by demonstrating to one another that we are on this journey together, that we understand and accept each other’s challenges.
Certainly, mustering the courage to believe that what is meant for our children (and for us) will work out the way it should, is tremendously difficult. The key is not to have blind faith, but to have some faith – both in our children and in ourselves.
That feeling I can still physically replicate in my body, of the moment I felt Jack developing his independence for the first time, still echoes in me every time I watch one of my boys experience a milestone moment of independence. I can’t say it gets a whole lot easier, but it does get less unexpected. In the end, we succeed when we emulate the qualities our students work so hard to foster every day here at school—bravery when we are afraid, curiosity when we are uncertain, and faith when we cannot see the path.
As a parent, I thank you all for traveling on this journey with me.
Dr. Laura Konigsberg
Head of School