Time magazine asks the question: What is it about families that have a bunch of super-successful children? And the answer is fascinating.
First of all the author, Charlotte Alter, defines success in an interesting and effective way: Leadership, service, achievement. I like that definition. I have said that we each have our own definition of success, but I’m thinking that maybe we all can share this definition of success.
Alter concludes that a commonality among all families is that the parents left the kids alone. They expected the kids to live a successful life, and they expected those kids to use their freedom to make good choices for themselves. (Of course, the first thing I noticed was that no kid was a cello prodigy.) These families all had bigger goals than focusing on the success of one kid. These families had goals of their own, as immigrants, or activists, or survivors of an early childhood death. Each family put the family unit ahead of individual accomplishment.
Childhood arguments were regular, and often bloody. And family dinnertime discussions were animate and often argumentative. And, maybe most notably, no parents were divorced.
I can’t help thinking, after the article, that I’m probably not these parents. I’m divorced, and I’m putting too much emphasis on one child. I’m too involved in my kids’ lives to qualify as one of these parents of super families. But I like the concept. And the fact that these parents were much more lax with their kids than most parents gives me more confidence to let my kids do what they like and skip what bores them.
Ian Bogost is the king of video game philosophizing, and his newest book, Play Anything, is about how we can make any mundane task a game and thus make it more joyful. At the same time, we become more mindful and disciplined even in everyday activities. Play gives meaning.
Bogost’s premise makes sense to me. Parents who leave kids alone to do what they want end up having kids who turn everything into a game. How much? How far? How big? Kids create challenges for themselves and each other, in the form of games, and the scenarios play out in the form of joy.
Another common theme among successful families is parents who are confident about their own vision for family. I can do that. It’s not too late for me to stop doubting myself. I want to model for the kids that having faith in one’s instinct for choosing a life is a rational and good thing, and I’m doing it. Starting today, maybe.