Saturday, May 17, 2014

Parenthood: Building a quantity of quality

Almost 11pm on a Friday night, and I've just brought Squealie back from a training session with The Immortals Lion Dance Team in Monterey Park, gotten him showered, fed, & off to sleep.

As I browse my Facebook feed & catch up with what friends are up to, I see a couple of messages in my inbox that catch my eye. One friend is warning me not to spread Squealie too thin with "a whole bunch of commitments that keep him from being a kid", while another is asking how to get their kid into the same activity.

I figured it's probably a good time for me to explain the choices that I've made for my son as far as his extra-curricular activities. So here's my 2 cents on raising kids and deciding what activities are worth getting your kid into... which breaks down to 4 words:


And I'm not talking about THIS particular picture either!

Honoring the big picture breaks down into 4 main questions that need to be answered simply and directly:

1. Does a given activity benefit your child in the long run without needing a convoluted extrapolation for it to be justified?
This is pretty straightforward in my mind. If you're teaching your child to swim, the skill may save his/her life. If you're putting your child into soccer, the conditioning & teamwork skills that he/she will learn will be incredible. If you're giving your child drumming lessons, the understanding of rhythm and ambidexterity gives them tremendous advantages in learning and sports. If you're taking your kid to learn jewelry making (assuming he/she has expressed a real enthusiasm for it), you're giving him/her exposure to a means of expression that may well turn into a viable income stream. If you're bringing your 4 year old child to learn Klingon, then maybe you need to ask yourself whether or not you're trying to live vicariously.

2. Does the activity resonate with the set of core values that your family most identifies with and that will inspire your child as he/she grows into adulthood?
Traditional Chinese martial arts (as I was taught and as I teach my son) are HEAVILY imbued with ethics that cause a lot of cognitive dissonance with the convenient mores of modern American society, especially here in Los Angeles. You're taught to respect, to investigate through training, patience, and polite inquiry (rather than by "questioning" through blurting out & constantly jabbering away like an uninformed contrarian), and to appreciate that every motion has multiple layers of meaning (from the fighting applications, to the restorative value, to the political & historical context). This is exactly in line with the kind of values that are my soul's mission statement. I've fought to have this as part of my life, and I'd gladly give my life to defend my son's access to the profound strength that this gives.

3. Does the activity reinforce key lessons in the other activities that the child is into?
I could very easily create a justification for enrolling my son in a ballet class. It teaches incredible body control, precision, and discipline. The only down side to it, in my mind, is that there's a cultural aspect that he needs more exposure to understand and appreciate in the Chinese martial arts & lion dance that will teach him some body control, similar precision, and discipline, but with the added benefit of learning a cultural legacy and a tactical tool (should the need ever arise in the future).
Also, for me, as a Chinese-American, there's a bit of a cultural bias here. Squealie is enrolled in a Mandarin Chinese immersion school, I teach him a bit of traditional kung-fu at home (bouncing back & forth between Mandarin & Cantonese, depending on what style we're working on), he takes Chinese lessons on Saturdays at the "local" Buddhist temple, and he's very recently become involved with the Immortals. It's not hard to see how those activities overlap with each other.

4. Is the activity different enough that it gives the child variety without being disconnected from his/her other activities?
Considering that Squealie's also doing basketball twice or thrice a week, he gets exposure to dynamic teamwork situations, as well as throwing/jumping/sprinting movement patterns that he wouldn't get as much of in martial arts.
He also usually 2 days/week of the kids' class at the Inosanto Academy of Martial Arts, where the kids are taught directly by the legendary Guro Dan Inosanto himself. While the curriculum isn't focused on forms or rigid discipline, a STRONG emphasis on practical application is inculcated from day 1, and the character & attribute development that occurs in the class is undeniable. While it's non-Chinese martial arts there, it's gives him a different entry point into the same end goal as what I've been teaching him, thereby allowing him to respect and appreciate multiple approaches to the same problem.

Now for the one factor that helps tie all of this together... LOVE.

You need to love your child enough to engineer your life in such a way that you can spend time with him/her in a manner that reinforces the values that should be taught by their instructors. If you're thinking that it's enough to throw your mileage, money, and mouth behind whatever activity and don't put forth the CONSTANT MINDFUL EFFORT to provide your child with consistency, you're just as much of a problem in their life as the "bad kids" that you're hoping they avoid.

Live with ethical authenticity, and you'll lead with inspired integrity. 

The road to raising a good, anti-fragile child isn't easy and is very often fraught with frustration. But understand that the consistency you put in now is key to their understanding of discipline and strength of character in their years to come!