Thursday, 20 December 2018

The Parenting Dilemma

For Isaac, running around on the ice is almost as natural as breathing but the sport also teaches him focus and perseverance.
There is no such thing as "perfect way" when it comes to parenting, I had been told. It is something that you react to when it happens to you.

When do you let their hands go to teach them how to walk on their own? 
How quickly should you rush to get them back on their feet when they fall? 
What do you tell them when they didn't get the reward for something they worked hard to achieve?

After five years of parenthood, I have found out that there are no 'only way' rulebooks or correct solutions. In fact, my answers to those questions have always varied and a few weeks ago, on Isaac's ice skating lessons I was faced with those dilemmas once again.

It had been 30 minutes unto his lessons and all Isaac was doing was watching everyone else practice their two-foot turn and backward crossovers. It was his second session at Skate UK Level 6 and despite his teacher's approval, I started to wonder if perhaps he is too young to go up that level although he's done extremely well to get there. I started deliberating on whether I should pull him out of the rink to remind him that he was there to have fun.

We discovered ice skating through Sophie, Isaac's 13-year-old friend, who is part of Sheffield's synchronised skating team and have been to national and international skating competitions where they brought home so many medals. During the weekends, we would watch her practice until eventually Isaac decided he wanted to be on the ice too so we bought his first skates in e-bay for £5.

Isaac hitting the ice as soon as he started walking.
That was a year ago now. We all stared skating as a family, with Isaac first joining the Penguin Club where little tots as young as two years old learn to walk on the ice with the help of a skating aid. He didn't need them, he was a natural on the ice and when he obtained all his badges, he was sent directly to Level 2 and eventually caught up to the next level where John and I were already in. But amongst all of us, Isaac reached Level 4 first, although he did stay there the longest but persevered to get to Level 5 which was a different challenge altogether and where John and I finally called it quits (although I did pass and asked for a certificate to prove it!).

As modern day parents we are also wary of the pressures of structured learning for young children. After all, before the Finnish children learn their times table they simply learn to be kids, and their educational system is hailed the best in the world. So we are a bit lax with homework and we don't make him do extra school work at home (because we don't have time). When we do have time, John plays Subbuteo with him or practice football skills and occasionally I would squeeze in Lego building, Dominoes or card games. Most of the time, he's glued on YouTube helping Ryan rake in more millions from unboxing toys.

We don't have time for homework but we try to have some for play.
So to ease our guilt, we take him to football training on Friday evenings, playdates on Saturdays and ice skating on Sundays. It's a packed schedule but the alternative is the 32-inch box that relieves him of boredom while we also try to squeeze in some rest and relaxation.
On Friday evenings, Isaac plays football and learns that teamwork scores higher than personal glory, that's what we try to remind him anyway.

Ice Sheffield's Olympic-sized rinks is probably not the best place to cocoon your child because in there he would have to navigate his way amongst speeding hockey skaters, twirling figure skaters and even leisure skaters who are just out to have fun. But true to the German style of parenting, we leave him be.

Isaac has fallen off his bum a few times and has collided with another skater at least once but he kept coming back. When his teacher didn't pass him for a specific skill, he would ask for another chance to demonstrate that he can do it or if he doesn't understand what he is meant to do, he wouldn't hesitate to ask.

On the ice, he made friends with other children mostly older than him by chasing them around the rink and he beams with pride every time he earns a badge that gets sewn on his skating jumper. In that large patch of circular frozen surface, he gets to do something he is good at and occasionally gets rewarded for it.

So while I was getting fidgety that Isaac was just watching everyone else in their lesson, John the ever laidback parent who was doing audio lessons in Spanish reminded me that his teachers will sort it out. He was right of course, because on the last 15 minutes of the lesson he began showing off his skills and his teacher was giving him thumbs up. Though it would still take him weeks to earn his badge, he has shown us what he really came to learn from these lessons - focus, determination and perseverance, amongst many things.

When his lessons finished we told him that he has done well, because he listened to his teacher and he worked hard. That's all he wants to hear, and as for his reward, he gets a piece of toast with butter and that makes him happy.

There is no such thing as "perfect way" when it comes to parenting but the many alternatives we are provided can sometimes be bewildering. The French Way, according to Pamela Druckerman's French Children Don't Throw Food, is responsible for children who are decorous, obedient and sleeps well. The Chinese Way as described by Amy Chua in Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother is known to produce children who will power ahead in the competitive world. The Danish Way is written in What the Happiest People in the World Know about Raising Confident, Capable Kids. And the Germans raise kids who can fend for themselves (Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children).

It doesn't help that our children's achievements can often give us a momentary high in what sometimes feel like a confirmation of our ability as parents that we forget that what we really aspire for them is to be happy and healthy. And all they need to hear from us is that they've done well for trying hard and doing their best.

So on the next Sunday we are off in the ice rink, I should seriously just sit back and trust that the little boy will just get on with it.

Player of the Day. Occasionally, hard work pays off but he knows not to expect it all the time.

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