D waved me down. I stopped the lawnmower and walked over to my 7-year-old to see what was going on. To my surprise, he and his 5-year-old brother were in their pajamas. J was out for the evening, and I had to mow the lawn, so I left them in the house with the TV. I had figured that I was going to have to come in to wrest them away from the TV when I was done with the lawn, but here they were.
“We watched our two shows and then turned off the TV, just like Mommy told us.”
“And you got your jammies on by yourself. You should go brush your teeth, and I’ll come in when I’m done with this last part of the lawn.”
“We already did. We’re ready for bed.”
As every parent knows, there are many frustrating moments in parenthood: the tantrums, the whining, the times you have to pull the car over because the kids are fighting, the broken toilet seats. We’ve had all of those this week, but there have also been moments like I had last night, when your kids surprise you by being more mature, capable, and curious than you expected:
- When I finished mowing, D was reading to M, and he said that M had helped him with the previous book (which is a big deal because M can’t read yet).
- A few days ago, I played chess with M, and he was happy after the game even though he lost (a show of good sportsmanship that I never had at that age, and unfortunately D generally inherited that trait from me).
- After two years of Chinese Immersion education when we hadn’t heard much in Mandarin from D, I overheard him talking about our chickens with two teachers. His side of the conversation was easy, untroubled, and even included some jokes that made the native speakers laugh.
- All Spring, both boys eagerly asked to watch episodes of the new Cosmos and Your Inner Fish, showing so much curiosity and interest in science.
- A cousin celebrated her 18th birthday this month, and D surprised us by making a card for her on his own, drawing a crayon portrait of one of her scenes in a recent play.
- Watching FIFA World Cup games has become a set of exercises in geography, with them asking questions about countries and continents and running to a wall map to try to figure things out on their own.
- M is very conscientious to make sure that we take care of our chickens. He looks for eggs from our hen and makes sure that she and the younger chicks all have enough food and water in the summer heat.
- The boys’ passions for superheroes, science, chess, and making their own games came together in “X-Kids Element Chess,” showing a level of creativity I don’t remember ever having.
These are beautiful moments that fill me with pride, helping me weather the more challenging parenting moments.
A few years ago, I had a Facebook conversation with some friends from my old church youth group, and one of them said that it was “doubly more important to make sure that your children are learning the basic tenets of faith and are developing their own relationship with God.” I look at these changes in my children and the growth they demonstrate, and I see matters that are so much more important to me than her parenting goal could ever be. Yes, the boys go to church with J, so they are learning the basic tenets of one version of Christianity (along with Humanism when they go to the Ethical Society with me), but that’s not where they are really growing.
After my friend’s comment on Facebook, I said this:
I don’t think that my job as a parent is to make sure that my children believe what I believe. After all, I could be wrong.
Instead, I see my job as helping my children be good, productive members of society. That means making sure they learn and have good ethics, and it also means making sure they learn critical thinking skills, which are useful in almost every endeavor of modern life, from academics to health to philosophy. If my children grow to be ethical critical thinkers, then I think they’ll be ok, even if they decide their old man was wrong about some things.
I want to raise free-thinkers, and that’s more important to me than passing on my specific beliefs.
Moments like last night, when the boys showed that they were learning how to be responsible and take care of themselves, show me that we’re on the right path. They are becoming little scientists. They are showing compassion to us, to each other (sometimes), and to those around us. They are learning about taking ethical care of animals. They are learning about cultures around the world. They always want to know more.
They are growing to be ethical critical thinkers. The rest will take care of itself.
Note: This article originally appeared on Grounded Parents.