The Best Version of Your Kid

Yesterday was our oldest’s fourth birthday. For me, it isn’t just a birthday and time set aside to celebrate my son, but this is an anniversary of sorts for my wife and me. Asher’s birth marks the day we became parents; the day our lives got blown to bits of love and tears and toys and poop.

Every day for the last 4 years has been a journey of learning something new. We’ve gone from figuring out car seats and pack plays, to baby food, to letters and numbers, to preschool. I disciplined one way and Lisa another. Then we got on the same page, only to often drift away when we’re pushed to the end of our rope and forget what it means to have patience.

Asher has, what I assume, is the amount of physical energy most toddler boys do. It’s endless… But he also has a depth of mental energy that I have not seen matched in my limited scope of parenting. At age 4 he is reading at a 1st or 2nd grade level. We bought him a placemat that that had the United States on it. He learned all 50 states and nearly half of the capitals in about a month’s time.

I say this in part to brag about my son because he’s awesome. But the other side of it is that Lisa and I are not the kinds of parents that are pushing our kids to be geniuses and hopefully be at the top of their class. That would be great, all parents want good things for their kids, but we didn’t get a toddler that reads because we actively pursued it out of our will. He wanted it. We just fed a desire that we saw in him.

Of all the lessons we’ve been taught and are currently learning, I think one of the most important I’ve encountered is to let your kids be themselves. At a very early age kids have likes and dislikes that are unique to them. It’s not unique to their age, but unique to their person.

Asher liked trains and buses, but has really gravitated to cars. We thought we’d get him a little Thomas the Train set we he was 2-years-old. He played with it and had some fun with it, but gets way more excited about the various Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars that flood our home. Abel came along and is passionate about Thomas the Train. He’s shown much more joy towards the toy and the TV show than Asher ever did.

In the same way, Asher has tons of stuff animals. He likes them, but hasn’t had an attachment to one like many kids do. Abel has a bear that he cuddles with before bed and wants to have sitting next to him on the couch while drinking his milk in the morning. He’s also more attached to his blanky than Asher.

While Abel has learned many numbers, letters, and colors because of all that Asher has shown him (he’s a better teacher than we are), he isn’t obsessed. At age 2, Asher wanted to be with letters and numbers in the way Abel now wants to be with teddy bears and blankies. We as parents have merely watched for the unique desires of our children and fed them.

We want our kids to play sports, learn an instrument, do well in school, have lots of friends, and be successful in life. They’re noble desires anyone would have for their children. But what I’m learning is that my 4-year-old is his own person even at a young age. I can certainly encourage him in those things and try to give him new experiences, but I don’t want to be one of those parents that “requires” a sport or instrument or whatever for my child because I think I know best.

Our job should be to create an environment that allows them the freedom to thrive and become the best version of who they’re supposed to be. Let them discover who they are. When they step in a direction, we as the older and wiser can recognize it and support their journey and growth.

If tomorrow came and Asher decided he’d rather play with Legos all day instead of read, I’d quit buying a new book every other week and start buying Lego kits and giant plastic tubs to hold them all. I want to let him walk 5 steps in front me so I can see where he’s been, where he is, and where he’s going. If where he’s been hurt him, I can come along side him and point out what he tripped on. When he comes to a fork in the road I can explain some of the options he has but let him choose which way to turn. If I see a giant storm heading his direction on the horizon I can point it out and make him aware, but let him decide to get a raincoat or not.

Being a parent of toddlers and working in Youth Ministry for years I feel I can easily say that parents often don’t believe their kids are capable of what they are. We operate in fear, that is based in our love for our children and our desire to see them do their best. But their best often happens when we stop holding their hand. We guide them by walking close to them instead of yanking them around by the arm.

As we enter another season of learning and parenting (we just registered Asher for preschool. Yikes!) I’m looking back on all I’ve learned about Asher in 4 years. Lisa and I desire to be students of our children. We want to know all we can about them. But I’m also looking forward to how we get to use the knowledge we have. How can we let them flourish on their own while always being close enough to be there the moment we’re needed?

After 4 years of being a parent I think I’m starting to get a handle on how I want to do this thing for the next 15+ years they’re in my house.

Watch, learn, guide, send.

How do you help your kids become the best version of themselves?

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