Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Science of Parenting

Like most parents, my husband and I want to give our kids as many opportunities as we can. We want them to experience all of the ups in life, and none of the downs. We want to protect them both from the world and from their own mistakes.

Of course that's not possible, and even if it were it wouldn't make us good parents. Hard as it is to see our kids struggle and fail, we know they have to be allowed to experience disappointments  so that they can grow and mature as individuals.

An issue came up for our family recently that put our parenting philosophy to the test. We belong to a science club. The kids enjoy going, and usually come away having learned something. Our club hosts an annual science fair. We participated last year, and fully intended to do so again this year. We even got as far as conducting some experiments and planning more. That was before the Christmas break.

The glitches started with the new year. When I was planning for the school-year, I assumed that certain activities that the kids take part in would follow the same schedule as last year. I was wrong. Instead of beginning again in late February or March, K-boy and M-girl's drama club started in early January. The science fair itself was scheduled months earlier than it was last year.

These changes left us far more busy, and with less time to finish the science projects than I had planned. BadDad and I told the kids that we'd be pressed for time to get ready for the fair. We also told them that we expected them to do most of the work themselves, with age appropriate assistance from us. The kids insisted that they wanted to do the fair and would get the work done. Against my better judgement, I went ahead and signed them up to participate.

Several weeks went by, during which we were quite busy with school-work and activities. Since M-girl and D-boy are only 8 and 5, I helped them with their experiments. K-boy set up his own (multiple times, as he didn't keep good records of his observations the first time).He had little bags of food all over the house, so he could observe the conditions under which mold will grow. Both BadDad and I repeatedly offered to help him with planning his report and display if he came to us with specific needs. He never did. We became increasingly concerned that he was putting off the harder part of preparing for the fair.

We gave K-boy a deadline. One week before the fair we wanted to see an outline, clearly showing how he was going to set up his display and reports. Against my hubby's wishes, I went so far as to print out information about topics related to his experiment, and handed them to K-boy. I sat him in front of the computer with websites that I found for him, and made him read them. He just didn't seem to be making any real progress on his own.

The deadline came and went. K-boy still insisted he would be done in time. By this point, I knew I needed to help M-girl and D-boy finalize their projects, or we wouldn't have them done in time. It was a typically busy weekend around here. None of the kids mentioned anything about their projects, or spent any time working on them. On that Monday, BadDad and I made an executive decision. We told the kids that we were pulling out of the science fair this year.

The kids, of course, were disappointed. As parents, we felt we had no choice. This is when they need to be learning the values of hard work and time management. Yes, we could have stepped in and rescued them, doing the reports and displays for them. We could have done a great job too! The only message that our children would have received though would have been that procrastination and laziness pay off. Someone will do it for you. That's just not what we want for them.

We're hoping that 'the science fair that wasn't', will prove to be a bigger lesson for them than attending it would have been.  After all it's a lesson that is better taught now, while they're young, than years from now in their adult lives. In the end they accepted our decision with good grace. We've already told them that they can sign up again next year and we'll be there to support long as they're really trying their best.

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