051816Margaret

My friend and former legislative colleague, Rick Glazier, an education advocate extraordinaire, fought for students and schools on both the Cumberland County Board of Education and in the North Carolina General Assembly. When others bemoaned student achievement and behavior, Rick often said this: “Parents send schools the best children they have.”

This simple, yet profound, observation resonates with me on several levels. All parents, whatever their circumstances, want the best for their children, and all children want to please their parents, even though it is sometimes difficult to discern both desires. Life and its attendant busyness get in the way, as do the maturity and life skills of both parents and children.

Like every mother on earth, I have wondered since my first Precious Jewel drew breath whether I am guiding them on correct paths to help them become productive adults with work and social skills and nurturing relationships. I suspect most parents meet our maker still wondering if we really did the best we could. Advice to parents abounds — some better than others, of course, but a recent find makes great sense to me.

Business Insider, which bills itself as the world’s largest business news website, ran a recent article asserting that “Science says parents of successful kids have these 13 things in common,” featuring a lovely photograph of British billionaire Richard Branson with his smiling mother. Based on research from leading universities from Duke to Stanford, BI’s tips are common sense but not necessarily easy to accomplish, at least they were not in the Dickson household. The words in quotation marks are BI’s, and the comments are largely mine.  I have omitted two for length.

Successful parents “make their kids do chores.” I know, I know! Chores often generate whining and procrastination, and it is often easier and more efficient to do it yourself.  But if your Jewels are not doing chores, that means someone else — probably mom or dad — is. Not realistic training for life, because mom and dad will not always be around when the Jewel is an adult.

“They teach their kids social skills.” It is a no brainer that children with social skills are more likely to succeed in the real world, because they cooperate, are kind and understand the feelings of others. They are more likely to earn a college degree and hold a full-time job, and less likely to get arrested, use unfortunate substances and live in public housing.

“They have high expectations.” Parents, no matter their own circumstances, who expect big things from their children, including college, are more likely to have children who fulfill those expectations.

“They have healthy relationships with each other.” We all know this. Children do better in stable, non-confrontational environments than those in conflict-ridden homes, whether that home is in tact or not. Acrimony and divorce follow children into adulthood.

“They have attained higher-educational levels.” Monkey see, monkey do. College-educated parents are more likely to raise college-educated children.

“They teach their kids math early on.” A study from Northwestern University finds that “mastery of early math skills predicts not only future math achievement, it also predicts future reading achievement.” ‘Nuff said.

“They develop a relationship with their kids.” Parents who respond sensitively and promptly to children’s needs nurture children who feel secure to explore the world around them, a positive attribute as they grow and develop.

“They’re less stressed.” Children are little barometers. They know when parents are anxious or troubled, and science has found an “emotional contagion.” In other words, we “catch” feelings from each other, and no parent wants to spread stress and anxiety.

“They value effort over avoiding failure.” This is your mother’s old bromide — you will never know until you try. The worst that can happen is that you will fail, but you will also learn something. Mom is right on this one.

“The moms work.” Oooh!  This is an angst inducer, one taht women have been arguing for generations. Having worked throughout the Precious Jewels’ childhoods and often feeling guilty about it, I told them they were THE most important thing in my life but not the only important thing. And a bonus here, Harvard professor Kathleen McGinn says, “There are very few things … that have such a clear effect on gender inequality as being raised by a working mother.”

“They teach grit.” This is what your mother called “stick-to-itiveness.” It is imagining the goal you want and committing to making it happen, like going to college and working in your dream profession.

Rick Glazier is right. Parents do send schools the best children they have, and — for better or worse — it has fallen to schools to help fill in some of the gaps. It is important that the rest of us understand that while learning is a lifelong process, the formative learning occurs early.

Our Precious Jewels are, in fact, largely what we make them.

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