Thursday, February 17, 2011

No Little Bravehearts

Most of our children will need courage to just make life work, bravehearts who meet every day's challenges and fears with grace and strength.  While lofty dreams and world changing passions are the arenas where bravehearts play, so are the dreams and passions and feelings in homes, offices, workshops, schools, and smithies. 

There are no little bravehearts; there is nothing ordinary about a life lived with courage.

I see it every day in the eyes of students walking into school.  Many are mustering the courage to say "Hi" to me, and that is before they even get in the door.  Leaving mom, writing ideas that are shared in a group, working a math problem on the board, walking past someone she likes, telling a friend not to do that...the pinpoints for courage each day go on and on.  They are what a successful life requires.

The blacksmith in the poem below isn't famous or changing the thousands.  But he is facing the world and forging lives, stroke by stroke, day by day.  While the poem doesn't say much about courage, as you read, think about what it takes for the blacksmith to keep going.  Think about your children and yourself.  Often the courage to put one step in front of another is greater than that of a famed hero.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow shows the courage in everyday life in this poem, "The Village Blacksmith."  Here is to the many who are bravehearts in every day life, courage and faith beyond understanding just to keep going, making a difference where God places them.

"Under a spreading chestnut tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.

"His hair is crisp, and black, and long,
His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
He earns whate'er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man.

"Week in, week out, from morn till night,
You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
With measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
When the evening sun is low.

"And children coming home from school
Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge,
And hear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly
Like chaff from a threshing-floor.

"He goes on Sunday to the church,
And sits among his boys
He hears the parson pray and preach,
He hears his daughter's voice,
The Village Smithy by Konstantin Rodko
Singing in the village choir,
And it makes his heart rejoice.

"It sounds to him like her mother's voice,
Singing in Paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipe
A tear out of his eyes.

Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night's repose.

"Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought!"

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

"Don't do anything for a child...

...that he can do for himself."

Prof Hendricks
Before "Helicopter Parents" and "Cuisinart parenting" intruded into children's development, Professor Howard Hendricks was telling us, "Don't do anything for a child that he can do for himself."

New college students have the lowest level of emotional health in twenty-five years according to a recent study by UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute.  While economic factors may affect them, this is the same group of students who often grew up with "Helicopter Parents" (hovering over all parts of their lives) and, as John Rosemond calls them, "Cuisinart Parents" (who have blended their lives with their children in all of the details which includes micromanagement and enabling.)  It is no wonder if these students feel like they can't live their lives and become overwhelmed when so much has been done for them.  Many have learned to be helpless.

"Learned Helplessness" is a state where one feels he or she does not have adequate control over surroundings and gives up.  These children learn that they can't (why else would mom and dad do everything for them?) and they don't learn skills and develop confidence to enter life's frays.

This is the state of a "lost heart," that Paul warns us about in Colossians 3:21:  "Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart."  Why try when you don't think you can or it is has always been done for you?  And, how do you face life in college or alone when you never learned how because it was done for you?

Let's give our children bigger boxes of life to handle year by year.  Let's only intervene in problems if they will harm our children, remembering that working out problems and facing fears usually helps them grow rather than harms them.  Support and train, but don't do.  Or, we rob their learning and courage. 

In the mid-seventies, Martin Seligman said that we can change learned helplessness by replacing it with "learned optimism," a shift in mindset from lost heart to braveheart.  Our children can face life with optimism by doing it in increasingly large chunks while at home and by developing the skills and courage they need along the way.  They shift from learned helplessness to learned optimism if they know we support them and that we believe in them enough to let them face real life without hand holding and speaking for them.

"Prof" Hendricks, a leader in education and family, told us decades ago to not do anything for our children that they can do for themselves.  Still timely and powerful advice today.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Tiger Mother and Success

Amy Chua and Daughters
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua has gotten a lot of attention.  The author has said things like "the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish, and shame the child." Chua said that it was her custom to call her daughters "garbage" when they displeased her.  She complained that Western mothers were pushovers and she encourages long hours of work on homework and piano to achieve A's and the high level of success expected of her children.  And, no sleepovers.

Since Building Braveheart's subtitle is "The Key to Your Child's Success," I thought it would be good to clarify what I mean by success.  My definition of success is much more about developing great character, especially following God and doing a good job with the gifts each child is given.  To follow Him and to do a good job with what you are given requires trying, the habit of a braveheart.  This is opposite a child who has lost heart and given up, which can happen with too much pressure to succeed in the ways Amy Chua promotes.  When a person tries, in faith, he grows and develops and becomes the best he can.  Pleasing God is the ultimate standard of success.

Even success by Amy Chua's standards is best achieved by a focus on pleasing God, having great character which is possible for everyone, and being a good steward of what you are given, also possible for everyone.  If you try and do your best with what you are given, you can't do more. The person focused on pleasing God has a freedom to go further and engage in ways that those focused on Chua's standards often can't do because fears distract them, similar to a basketball player who makes mistakes because he focuses on the score more than listening to his coach.  At its best, Chua's success is achieved by using fear and domination in the lives of her children.  But, what happens when that pressure is removed?

Success should not be measured by being better than someone else in sport, money, or grades.  Those are essentially by-products of doing the best with what God has given.  Even if a person never succeeds in sport or grades, but follows God and does his best with what he is given, he is a success, a good steward of his or her time, resources, and place.

One of my favorite columnists, John Rosemond ( says what follows about "CTM" (Chinese Tiger Mother):

"This all seems like unmitigated, indefensible emotional blackmail to me, but then I am a Westerner and therefore an unmitigated parenting wuss.  I do not understand what it takes for a child to achieve success in life.  Is this cultural chauvinism or what?  Chua describes her parenting style as if she is being totally unselfish, but I suggest that she is all about her."

"This CTM stuff is more about Chua's ego than it is her kids' success."

"She lives through her children.  She even freely admits that she and her American husband do not agree on how to raise the kids, but when he objects, she simply argues him into submission.  The Chinese Tiger Mother is also a Tiger Wife."

"At the Crux of my disagreement with Chua is her definition of success."

Rosemond concludes, "She's fixated on grades and other material accomplishments (one of her daughters played Carnegie Hall in 2007).  I want a child to pretty much--with some coaching and correcting of course--find her own way in life.  I'm all for the child learning through trial-and-error what path is right for her.  Chua is about choosing the child's path and keeping her on it no matter what.  I think character is more important than material success.  Chua believes that character is forged in the struggle for material success.  We agree on nothing."

Success is about character.  A child with character who has courage faces the world and tries.  This child discovers that he can, he explores, and he is drawn further. This braveheart is able to love, for which he was created. The child with heart becomes the best he can be because he is willing to try new things, meet new people, stretch his legs and stand for something beyond herself.  He becomes a success, not because of a domineering mother but because of character, especially the courage to try and keep going.

P.S.  You might enjoy the New York Times column, "Amy Chua Is a Wimp," that says it is easier to focus on piano than to master the social skills of a sleepover, skills that serve well in future achievement: