As many of you know, my wife and I recently started our adventure into parenthood with the arrival of Rowan Leigh Bhat on June 9th. In the months leading up to his birth, family and friends showered us with well wishes, but also invariably shared the phrase, “Your whole world is about to change.” And change it has. In the last eleven weeks, my definition of a good night’s sleep has certainly become different. My phone camera roll and social media posts have shifted from panoramic mountain summit shots to a montage of smiles and tummy time from our baby boy that quickly is threatening the storage capacity of my iCloud somehow.
However, of late, I’ve felt that a more accurate description of my experience post-birth of my son has been that my world has expanded rather than changed. After all, I’ve been put in new situations from middle of the night feedings to learning to navigate the airport while juggling considerably more luggage. I’ve added the title of “Parent,” though I have only begun to scratch the surface on that job description. My perspective and decision-making have expanded to consider the needs of the newest Bhat. I’ve gained new vulnerabilities and could never have guessed the pains I would experience when I had to be away from my son and wife for the first time for a week. My expanded world has brought with it expanded emotions and nerves, but also love and support from family and friends. It has also served as a good reminder of the experiences of our kids.
On Monday, 135 will walk (or perhaps storm) through the doors of the middle school on day one of the year only to discover their world is expanding as well. They will likely feel a similar amalgamation of feelings to the ones I described feeling earlier. For 6th graders, the physical space has grown as the previously rarely used middle school becomes home now, bringing with it their own locker space, a new set of teachers, and routines. Though not new, our 7’s worlds also grow in many ways. Whether it’s the time they spend at the soup kitchen throughout the year, first time experiences rafting on the Arkansas or camping at the Sand Dunes, the exposure to new opportunities will bring with it new discoveries about themselves that they never could have known. Eighth graders return to campus meanwhile to discover that the campus now expects them to steward the community, asking them to lead assemblies, teach character education classes to younger students, give tours to prospective families,and wrestle with complex issues around race and gender in their curriculum. Even our recent graduates can relate, heading off to a new community this fall with a larger network of classmates and opportunities to grow as individuals.
Broadening horizons is part of St. Anne’s mission. So as teachers and parents, how do we then support them as they navigate their expanding worlds that are filled with both opportunities and obstacles?
We can begin by acknowledging and supporting their need and desire for growing independence. While they will still follow us at times and seek approval, they increasingly crave the opportunity to be in front and the autonomy to make decisions that will lead to successes and failures. When we give them those opportunities, it sends the message we trust and believe in their maturing abilities.
This will mean, however, avoiding the urge to swoop in and rescue them at every problem or possible misstep, such as when they forget a homework assignment at home, wrestle with their digital lives, or experience conflict with a classmate. At times they will need to learn through experience that their actions have consequences both good and bad. When they come to us with problems, we can listen intently. We can lead with questions to clarify how they are feeling, what they feel their hurdles are, and then let them brainstorm solutions to their own problems. Considering possible impacts or outcomes of those decisions helps them think through their plans. Discussing a possible backup plan or agreeing to follow-up in a few days to revisit alternatives if that plan does not work helps cultivate an understanding of causality. This type of planning and reflection will nurture the independent decision-making they require when they are outside of our watch and will help them internalize the lessons they have learned.
Does this mean we cannot offer tips and insights? Of course not! But we should know that not all of the pearls of wisdom we impart will stick. My dad, a neonatologist, has undoubtedly experienced that with me as of late. Since the birth of Rowan, he has tried to offer me every possible best practice needed to raise a baby well. There’s no question I’ve found myself employing much of that advice, but there are days I have called him expressing confusion to which he has surely thought, “I’ve told him that before! Why doesn’t he remember?” My hunch is this will be the case for you at some point this year. Know that there is a lot going on in our children’s every day lives, and despite their efforts, they won’t always recall all of our advice.
Ten weeks with a baby does not an expert make, but I can say with certainty that successes and failures await me in parenthood. The same is true for your middle schooler as they explore their growing worlds this year. Being a good listener, providing opportunities for reflection on choices they make, and encouraging them all will help them gain the most growth. Thank you in advance for partnering with us each day, and here’s to the amazing growth that awaits them all.