A few days ago we returned from our annual, short, uninterrupted, family trip. It’s a trip we take around this time of the year, where it is only father, mother and children. No sights to see, no family to visit. This year we went to a resort that faces the Indian Ocean eastwards. A scarcity, since most Middle Eastern cities face the west or north. Waking up before dawn is common when the winter sun rises later, and especially since all five of us were in one room. We made our way to the beach to watch the sunrise, something that in my 32 years of life I saw only once some 14 years ago. For the rest of the day I took my children everywhere they wanted, and did anything they felt like doing. We slid down water slides and jumped over waves in the cold sea. We took a short boat ride, we played arcades in the kid’s area, we ate junk food for lunch and enjoyed sugary drinks poolside. Everything they wanted, we did.
For our children, this is considered somewhat of a big deal, since my wife and I try to raise our kids on what is less; of everything except emotion and attention, and quite honestly, for kids, what more do they need? Yes, this can dwell on the boarders of extremism, and perhaps knocks gently on the doors of stinginess, but generally speaking, those who have less in life are the ones that are happier, or a more fitting description would be, more content. Additionally, the majority of the people who fall into the category of “greatness” come from modest upbringings.
There is a lot written on how grateful people are happy (and not happy people being grateful). Begging the deduction that gratefulness is a sentiment coupled with having less. I feel that avoiding the indulgence in what is material, or not doing something only because it is popular, is the best practice for the concept of delayed gratification.
The approach that we take to parenting focuses on trying to instill in our children the sense of enjoying the simple, genuine pleasures of life. We don’t go to malls unless we have something to buy, for us it is not a place of entertainment. Smart phones and tablets have no place around them (I myself have switched to the basic phone and the battery lasts a week!), except on plane rides. (Note this is not applicable to video games for various benefits of video gaming and the possibility of any of our children wanting to become surgeons). We minimize the gifts we buy them, save for achievements and milestones, birthdays and yearly holidays, the gifts are not necessarily toys, and always are coupled with a book.
Instead we sweat ourselves silly playing in the park (surrounded by nannies, where most children stare in awe, unable to comprehend how an adult is present playing with children), riding bicycles, swimming, or anything physical or sportive. Books are in abundance, read to them, or their witnessing of reading happening in the household. A map is hung on the wall of their playroom, and a geography trivia is fed to them almost daily. Emotion and attention is provided full-fledged and at full throttle, in hopes that it might be enough. Their questions are answered, however mindless. Hugs are given everyday to the point where they pull away. At least fifteen minutes is spent with each (talking) child in bed before they sleep, where what is on their mind is on display, and my wife and I are the audience.
While it is possible that the result might be a failure, at which point it would be too late to rectify, but I believe that less is always more. Peer pressure is the single-most damaging part of the human psyche no matter what age we are. The only remedy would be self-confidence, and it is not built by what is on you, but by what is in you.
The result, I hope, however theoretical, would be modest, appreciative, intellectual, athletic individuals, who will learn to cherish what they have, to accept it, and love it. I imagine that my love would make them kind to themselves and still kinder to others. Hopefully that will enable them to have the skills to be successful, not in the sense of being enslaved in return for a hefty paycheck, but in the sense of their capacity to independently support themselves emotionally, socially and financially. For them to be able to hold sustainable loving relationships with people that matter; to be altruistic.
I understand that my aspirations do not differ than what any parent want for their child, but I would like to think that I have a conscious approach to it, in the sense of attempting to foresee how every action, or reaction, would resonate or develop later on in their lives. It might be very possible that they may lack in what their peers might have in terms of personal belongings and exposures – a concern on how they might compensate for this in the future. For the time being I hope the gap is closed in experiences, discussions, love and books.
I struggle daily with these thoughts. I want my kids to stand out, to be different. How am I raising them to be as such, if we did everything to fit in?
Back in the hotel room, after a full day, and as I was combing my eldest daughter’s hair after her shower, I asked her what part of the day was her favorite, and without thinking much, she said it was watching the sunrise. For that overwhelming moment, I felt that I might be on the right track after all.