This post began as a spark during a primary school graduation. I drafted and submitted it as an article for consideration. I decided to publish it here today after receiving an application letter to the Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project from the young man, Keondre, featured in the article. He began in his letter by saying that he doesn’t want to be a writer but that his parents thought my workshop might help him develop his writing skills in preparation for high school. I hesitated…was this something he-himself genuinely wanted? But reading on about his love for reading and his uncertainty but openness to seeing what the workshop had to offer, I decided to offer him a spot. That his letter was clear and articulate and honest was a good sign. I publish the post here for the same reason that I wrote it, while there is no single way to parent and we are in this day and age sometimes in danger of over-parenting, there is so much negative written about young people, when I come across the opposite (and I do more often than the headlines suggest), I like to spotlight it. I initially headlined this piece ‘How to Raise a Remarkable Child’. I’m changing it for this post though and adjusting the text accordingly; to ‘one model of effective parenting’ because it is just that – ‘one model’ in a world where there is no single model but lots of opportunity.
All children are, of course, remarkable gifts to their parents, families, and all who love them. It’s all relative. But I’d watched Keondre collect 8 achievement trophies at his graduation ceremony and deliver a pitch perfect valedictory speech. And though I see some version of the ‘remarkable child’ at every graduation, there was no denying that he was among them. The question that lingered, perhaps because it’s a counter-point to the current narrative: who is this child and what are his parents doing right? So, I decided to ask them.
Keith and Julia Herbert are young professionals. He works in insurance and she works in banking. They have two sons. Keondre is the older of the two. When he graduated St. John’s Catholic Primary, it was with an average hovering somewhere between 97 to 98 percent, and with 52 merits and no demerits on his record.
Julia and Keith, both, initially gave most of the credit to Keondre. “What child does this?” she said. “I don’t know if it’s something we’re doing right,” he said. Both described Keondre as very self-disciplined, very competitive, and very organized. They don’t have to push him, he pushes himself.
But whether it’s winning performances at zonal math quizzes, Spellbound, the Rotaract Haliborange Spelling Bee (see above image from the Regional Bee), or a track meet, or reciting two lines in a school production, Julia said it’s important to her to be in the audience, supporting. Which kind of reinforces the point that no matter how much natural spark there is, there’s definitely more to the story; Julia breaks it down to balance, support, healthy eating, and listening.
Keondre’s family, including his extended family, created an environment that supported learning. “It’s not about things; it’s about time spent,” Julia said.
Support, though, should not be confused with pushing. Support is about being there for the child, pushing can be more about the parent. “I am there,” is how Julia describes her brand of support. Support should also not be confused with doing the heavy lifting for the child. I mentioned earlier that Keondre’s speech was pitch perfect; and Julia gives all credit to Keondre. Both parents looked over the speech and did some mild editing, but he had to write it.
Keondre seems to live a well ordered life. When he gets home from school, he does his home work. “You get it done and you get it over with, and then you can play.” Playtime includes a bit but not too much TV time, bed by 8, weekends free; and given how ordered the school year is, she believes in keeping summers virtually free. Keondre plays the keyboard, runs track – placing second, plays video games with his brother, goes biking with his dad, and so on. “I believe in balance, always,” Julia said.
She also believes in pacing. For instance, many parents grapple these days with technology; how much is too much, how much will they be exposed to once they hit the world wide web and so on. Some parents opt out as the children tend to be savvier with the technology anyway. Julia takes a different approach. “I gradually introduce them to technology so that they’re up to speed with it,” she said. She monitors it closely and isn’t afraid to roll it back – deactivating her son’s facebook when she became concerned with the online language, for instance.
“We pep talk him a lot, find out what he wants to be in life,” Julia said. “I’m not going to force him into something he doesn’t want to do.” The interesting thing about that statement: the finding out what he wants to do part, because it suggests that there’s listening involved. It’s important, Julia said, to “find out what they’re interested in and nurture them from there.”
At one point, speaking of what she wants for her sons’ future Julia said, “I’m going to put in the effort to make sure that they become something in life. I just want them to be successful, well rounded.” Our follow up, though was how do you define success; if it’s about listening to what they want, what they want might take them off the well beaten path. Julia insisted she would still support…but, the banking executive says she’d just want to be sure they’ve figured out how they’re going to support themselves, which is fair considering that parenting is a build-up to them being able to stand on their own two feet. “Happy and independent,” as she puts it.
Of course, the Herberts now have high school to look ahead to, the place where social pressures can lead a child astray. But Keith said, “I’m not overly worried because I’ve seen a sort of strength in him, a sort of determination that he is not easily influenced by others.” I suspect that having laid the ground work, if their premonition proves true, they’ll be able to take some credit for that as well.