I started parenting with the same values that schools pursue for our children: obedience and politeness. I would consider it a parenting success if people called my kids “kind” and “polite.” Then I heard a story that woke me up to the fact that I was raising kids for the past century rather than the future.
The nastiest woman in my friend’s neighborhood in New York was working in the Twin Towers on 9/11. My friend described her as someone who had no filter and did what she pleased. Her personality and behavior didn’t win her many friends. When the first plane hit her building, she proceeded to the elevators and was met with building officials who met them with messages like “everything is fine” and “you can go back to work.” Everyone turned around but her. She listened to her gut, walked past them, left the building … and lived.
I was shaken. The game had changed. I huddled with my wife to figure out how to raise kids who are respectful but can also listen to their gut and take action when needed. Up to that point, building our kids’ emotional intelligence was a nice add-on but now these things that schools didn’t teach took on much greater importance: knowing what you feel, expressing yourself, saying the hard stuff, validating your own feelings, and standing up for your principles. The biggest challenge rested on myself and my wife to create a family culture that worked, where communication was the top priority. We wanted our kids to grow up knowing that their family (parents, siblings) would support and believe in them even if they disagreed with everyone else in the room.