Responsible parenting: Create memories, not expectations | Austeja Landsbergiene | TEDxRiga


Translator: Ilze Garda
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven Every single one of us here today
knows something about families. Every single one of us is someone’s child, therefore has experienced parenting. Some of us are parents
and have our own children. I have four. As human beings,
we are all familiar with expectations. Expectations laid on us
to succeed in life, expectations at work – to deliver, to be effective,
to know, not to fail – the expectations for parents
to juggle personal and professional lives, eat healthy food, prepare our children
healthy meals every day, participate in sports,
read books every night, and excel at work at the same time. Today, you have expectations for me: to surprise you, to reveal something new, to tell a secret of parenting
you have not known before. You have those expectations. I have been an educator for 20 years,
a mother for 15 years, two master’s degrees, one PhD, running 15 preschools
in Latvia and Lithuania, three schools, author of parenting books. I bet this room is filled with thoughts, hopes, duties, and tasks. It’s like a raindrop getting bigger,
bigger and bigger before it falls. And what do we do? Without noticing, we transfer all these expectations
that we have on our children. When I was opening my first preschool, I was introducing a new concept
of contextual education to parents, training new teachers, and assembling IKEA furniture
at the same time. On one really hot summer day on a campus, a prospective family
was being walked around, and they asked whose girl
was roaming around, the one in winter boots
and a plastic princess dress. I had to admit that I was
the irresponsible mother, because in Lithuania we have expectations
for how children should look and behave. And she was not meeting any of those. It takes guts to be acceptive
of who your child is, to be at peace, to let go. But I also have moments
that don’t make me proud of myself. My daughter is seven,
and she loves to polish her nails. During the spring break,
she had them polished and forgot to remove it
after I asked her to do so. Being the busy mother I am,
I didn’t follow through, and there it was: the end of the break, in the morning,
and my youngest with the nail polish. I got upset since we were
on our way through the door, and I had no time to remove it. I said I was disappointed,
I said I was angry, I shamed her. On the way to school,
she sat in the back in the car, and, instead of being
the happy girl she is, she was quiet. She was not excited to go back to school. She greeted her teacher, and I saw
she had her fingers turned inwards. She was so conscious about her nails. And I felt a stab in my heart. Why did I do this? I didn’t do this because of her, I did this because I was
concerned and conscious of what the others will think of me. Credentials, education and all. Just recently, I counseled a mother who was cooking three different dishes
for her three children every day. She did not enjoy it. She was exhausted,
and she felt unappreciated. I told her to stop. Just stop it. It’s been two weeks. She cooks one meal for everyone. Her children are still alive. She is much happier,
both as a mother and as a human being. And it took so little
to make a big change. The paradox is that more than anything in our lives
we want our children to be happy. We fear judgement,
we fear disappointment, we fear failure so much that we have become constantly worried
and stressed as parents. Today, we expect a kindergarten student to do what elementary students
were doing just a decade ago. On one hand we know that a child’s brain undergoes
an amazing period of development between zero and three, producing seven hundred
neural connections every second. Seven hundred. We want to load
this amazing speed train fully; can anyone blame us? However, we forget one thing. Neuroscientists have also found
that chronic stress triggers long-term changes
in brain structure and function. Children who are exposed to chronic stress
are prone to mental problems, such as anxiety, depression,
and mood disorders later in life, as well as learning difficulties. The famous psychologist Lev Vygotsky was the first to talk about the zone
of proximal development. Children learn best when they are in the zone where tasks
are not too easy and not too hard, where the goals are achievable
with grit, determination, and passion. How can we make sure
we and our children are in that zone? How to achieve that balance where the magic
of joyful learning happens? I think I was approximately
seven years old, and my family and I
were skiing in Georgia. We got up the mountain out there, and there on the very top
was a huge storm. I completely froze
and refused to ski down. My father tried to persuade me,
but there was no way I was going to ski down
in a storm like this. So he told me to close my eyes,
he placed me between his legs, and we skied down – together. He could have made me. He could have shamed me. And yet, he chose to be kind, and that’s what I remember to this day. This is my memory
of my father and my childhood, and it is my motivation to never give up. This simple question, what kind of memories
do I want for my child, keeps me going and should us all: at home, schools, everywhere. Is our parenting founded
on kindness and generosity? Is our parenting founded
on criticism and hostility? What is our habit of mind? What are we looking for? Are we looking for the things
we can appreciate, or are we looking for mistakes? Kindness makes our children feel loved, not the degrees we have, not our concerns, not the number of after-school activities
we take them to every day or homework we check. Kindness – that is our key story
and key memory. Do you remember how many teachers
made a difference in your life? One? Maybe two. Three? Imagine how our world would be different if only three did nót make
a profound difference. Children don’t need a stress-free life. Moderate or good stress, such as studying hard
and learning new skills, builds circuitry
and a more resilient brain. But prolonged stress reaps chaos. Remember – kindness every single day. And for those already posing a question
about encouraging laziness, I answer, “No, it will not encourage this.” Human beings are born
curious and creative. Have you ever seen a one-year-old who gives up on walking? No, they get up as many times as needed, no matter how many times they fall. And they do. Because they are determined, and they don’t fear failure, yet. What is failure? I oftentimes ask parents why they are so stressed
when it comes to parenting. They say they don’t want
their child to be a failure. But we impose our understanding of failure
of mid-20s, 30s, 40s, whatever, to our five-year-olds. They have to enjoy
the carelessness of life. I have recently read a story of a very, very talented and young girl
who got into Columbia, only to have gone missing one year later. She felt guilt and anxiety,
but she could not go on pretending; pretending that she wanted
to do things that she really didn’t. Both she and her mother
felt an enormous stress and then a great relief when reunited
after the girl had been found. It’s a story with a happy ending, a memory created that will last for life. And even though I might have created
an expectation for a magic trick, I have to dissapoint you. Magic is the memory that we create now. I create memories just like you do. There is no perfect day or moment to come. If we keep waiting
for a perfect day to come, it may never come. We will come back too late from work. We will be tired, we will be frustrated,
we will be exhausted and angry, and it may rain when we have planned
a perfect walk in the park. Parenting is spontaneous,
more than anything else. Parenting is about the unexpected
moments of bliss that we savor. When we decide to run a marathon, we don’t run 42 kilometers
on our first try. We may run one kilometer
or just 500 meters. But just like all big journeys
start with a first step, so does the journey of parenting. Hug your child, smile, bite your tongue
when you are going to reprimand. It’s only a dozen of minutes most of us
spend with our children per day, let those minutes count. Let us make those minutes a candidate
for the best memory competition: an experience of unconditional love. Last week, I was in Iceland,
and at a conference I met a mother who said that she used to want her son
to get the very best grades. She also used to tell him that she was too busy
to do the things with him that he wanted and that she considered
were not important – like going for a ride on a tractor
that he was asking her to do. And then she realized
that better grades were her expectations, and the tractor was his. And a tractor ride it was. After a while, his grades improved. She told me not about the grades, she told me about the relationship
she has with her son today, and how letting him go
brought peace into their lives. She was able to create an amazing memory. You don’t need to nót have expectations; always do your best,
and when you do your best: do better. Children will see it
and will live by example. You won’t need to say anything. But when it comes to them,
think about the future, think 10, think 20 years from today. What do you want
your daughter to remember? What do you want your son to remember? Teach them to ride a bike; to unsuccessfully bake a cake
and giggle about it; have a difficult conversation; laugh today when you have gotten
angry yesterday; forgive; apologize; teach values; whisper “I love you”
more often than you think you should and more than you have done before. Dare to create loving memories to last a lifetime. I have come to believe it’s the one thing worth living for. Thank you. (Applause)

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