I watched a documentary movie this weekend called Who Are The Debolts and Where Did They Get 19 Children? You can find it on netflix or Amazon, and it will give you the secret to parenting and raising exceptional kids. It starts circa 1973. Dorothy and Bob marry, the second marriage for both. Together they have 4 biological children. And then the fun begins. They decide to adopt and adopt and adopt and adopt until they finally have 19 children. I know...seriously! I have an only child! The children they adopt were complicated. Some came from the last airlift out of Vietnam, traumatized both emotionally and physically from war. Some were from Korea, and some from the US. All had special needs. Many had serious physical disabilities. One of their daughters, Karen had no natural limbs, using prosthetics for both her arms and her legs. Other children had polio, or missing limbs and seriously handicapped, others blind. Like I said this is a complicated family. I cried the whole way through. (but in a good way)
What was their secret? Their secret and the gift they gave to their kids was that every single one of them, no matter how disabled, were expected to be their best. Not over and above, and not with pressured expectations, just with the belief that they were "able" to do whatever they set their minds to do. Bob and Dorothy would be there to support, but not cajole, convince or coddle. It's hard even to describe the "ableness" of these disabled kids, because they believed and saw themselves as mobile and as intelligent and as independent and "able" as any non-disabled child. Watching 9 yr old Karen, putting on her prosthetic limbs and then dressing herself was a feat worthy of an Olympic medal. Watching kids manage a grand staircase with crutches and braces on their own is awe inspiring. Watching the absolute love and affection shared among each other, and watching the fun these parents shared with their children support the notion that raising kids who believe in themselves, who want to challenge themselves to become the independent and successful adults we want all our children to become is really quite simple. Allow and encourage your kids to take risks and to challenge their comfort zone, provide support and expectations without pressure, and have fun...lots of fun.
Maybe you see your teen as having a rough time of it. Covid has certainly contributed to major stress in our kids and in ourselves. Maybe he/she struggles academically, or socially, or suffers from depression or anxiety. Or maybe your family is in crisis with a divorce or major illness in in the family, and you're worried that your teen is overwhelmed with the family situation. Do you find yourself having lower expectations of them, worrying about stressing them out? Sometimes kids can internalize these low expectations and begin to think, well if my parents don't push me it must be because they really don't think I can do it, whatever the "it" is.
Or, on the other hand, do you have extremely high expectations, and anything less than almost perfect is not good enough. A number of my college students have described these kinds of expectations from parents. One of my students, having received a B+ on a major paper was devastated, and in tears worried that her father would be mad. He expected her to get all A's.
Sometimes in our effort to help move our children forward, we "over help." When they need to do volunteer work we find it for them, making calls to friends or colleagues that might take them on, or summer jobs we put out all the feelers to make that happen. We edit their papers, give them the topics they should pursue for big projects, or pay them for good grades to help motivate them. The problem with this kind of "help" especially in our current culture of instant gratification, is that our teens never learn to deal with the slog of the actual work it takes to live a life. "Alexa....am I right!!??" The pride kids feel after doing something they didn't think they could do is what drives us to want to challenge ourselves more. Recently I ordered an exercise bicycle from Amazon. It came in a million little pieces. As I laid it all out, I thought, well I'll never know what its like to sit on this bike! But somewhere down deep I said fuck it!!! I can do this.!And an hour later I was pedaling away. "I did it all by myself" and honestly I am still feeling the pride and glow of accomplishment.
I did some research to see how the Debolt kids in this special family fared as adults. All of them were living and working independently, most married with children and in loving relationships. Bob and Dorothy sold the family home in Southern California and retired to Northern California, wishing their kids well in their successful, and independent lives.
I walked away from this movie with so many life lessons. But also seeing the damage that our present technological culture is reaping onto our children. This was 1973, no computers, or cellphones. Kids were outside in nature, playing and discovering. The house was full of music and art and creativity. Bob and Dorothy took time for each child individually, making each of them feel important and unique. They opened the doors to the world both physically and metaphorically and expected that their kids would master it...and they did
Also I'm booking winter and spring zoom parenting seminars for schools, companies and community organizations. firstname.lastname@example.org for more info!
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