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Wiley Wandering

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Should This Holiday Gift/Sentiment be Given 24/7/365?

With the holidays upon us I was reflecting on the notion of what it truly means to keep someone in the center. The notion of centering continuously appeared over the last couple of weeks as I have wandered here and there. In my last blog (Girl Talk, When If Ever Is It Appropriate, Nov 14) we talked about language and how terms like girl infantilize women. We talked about how the acceptance of the term girl by women as non-problematic can easily be interpreted in many cases as internalized oppression not too dissimilar to the way other disenfranchised groups internalize disparaging statements as non problematic as well (gays with the terms “fag” and “straight,” Blacks with the word “nigger,” Whites with the term “cracker,” people with disabling conditions with the word “retard,” etc.) when articulated by in-group members. Our conversation also included phrases that aren’t necessarily deemed problematic (i.e. you guys), but that contribute to keeping men at the center, which means the use of such phrasing subconsciously contributes to de-centering or marginalizing women. On top of all this, I recently attended the third conversation of a scheduled seven that the SUNY Chancellor is hosting in support of situating our higher educational system to achieve its potential greatness. In that conversation with the Group of 200 (the name given the collective of representatives from the 64 SUNY campuses) we discussed some of the overriding goals that should permeate each campus. Two of these goals were academic excellence and student centeredness. Yes, there is that “centeredness” concept again.

While I strive to assist students in achieving academic excellence, I endeavor just as much to be student centered as a college professor and administrator. I take centeredness serious enough to have asked my colleagues in the Group of 200 if it was possible to be student centered and committed to academic excellence if we aren’t pursuing professional development in diversity and social justice. When I concluded my remarks, unlike some of the other contributors who received applause for their contributions, I received an eerie silence. Later, one of the Group of 200 approached me and said I was perhaps a bit too progressive and that the faculty at our colleges were still not ready for that conversation, because of its implications with the problem of academic tenure. While I appreciated his support it none the less left me with one thought, if the desire is to be student centered, then we must exhaust the possibilities to accomplish that goal, even if it means removing ourselves from the center. I’m not suggesting working for free, but I am challenging my colleagues and myself to make sure that we are challenging our students to be the best that they can be when we grade their papers, design courses, and engage them in what often are invaluable discussions about their dreams and aspirations. And doesn't student centered also mean taking the time to get to know ourselves and the never ending influx of students that are quite different from the type of student we were when we entered these institutions of higher learning. In other words, can we truly be student centered if we aren't being professionally developed in the realities that our students, many of whom are a couple of generations away from us, have originated from. Are we student centered if we have no clue that "a stupid coat" is not necessarily an insult or illogical statement, but instead could actually be considered quite a compliment?

Considering all of that, what does it mean to be child centered? As parents, what does it mean to keep our children in the center of our lives? Does it mean letting them watch television or hang out with dysfunctional friends so as to have them think we are cool? Does being child centered mean using our children against our spouse to make a point that doesn’t serve anyone but us? Is it appropriate for us to take a trip, or purchase a new car, or buy a new laptop, when our children could use a new coat, haven’t seen their grandparents in quite some time, or would like a new bed (and due to a sudden growth spurt actually needs one).
Just like the isms (ableism, sexism, racism, heterosexism, classism, intellectualism) that dominate us on very subconscious levels until we consciously unpack them, selfishness or self centeredness is learned behavior, albeit subconscious or unconsciously learned. Many parents were never consistently placed in the center by their parents and therefore replicate the behavior of their parents towards them in their relationships with their children. Instead of talking about their childrens' needs, desires, concerns, or questions, they submit their children to ageism and summarily dismiss their voices as irrelevant, or not worthy of proper consideration, while often valuing input from the outside of someone whose parenting skills would never win an award.

Why don’t we keep our children at the center? When you were a child, how did it feel to be kept at the center, or not? I somewhat recall my mother, who was a young mother relative to her children in age, once telling me that she didn’t remarry and seldom if ever (I don’t recall which) brought men home to even meet us because she had concerns about men she might date being inappropriate with her oldest child, my sister, who was only 16 years younger than her. Some might call that paranoid, but I definitely see it as child centered.

At what point should we stop keeping our children at the center? At what point does it become counterproductive to dote on our offspring, to pacify our progeny?
Those of you who don’t have children yet can’t escape this conversation either. You should be able to relate to being at the center of your parents lives and should be able to recall the joy of how it felt when you were or pain felt when you weren’t. You should be thinking about whether or not you are prepared to place and keep your future children at the center of your lives. After all, if you aren’t prepared to do that, perhaps you shouldn’t have children until you are.

As we approach the Winter holidays that are so often framed by gift giving, what are your thoughts on centering our children, which just as easily can mean putting their needs before ours? Many parents will leverage major bills or encounter significant debt during the holiday season to ensure that their children don’t feel neglected. Is this centering, or succumbing to a culture of consumption? And let’s keep it real, is this “centering” always a reasonable expectation, or often an undeserved act for children who can be quite self-absorbed or overtly spoiled from having been centered far too much.

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Comments

This is a conversation I've had with other parents for years. As a youth sports coach, I see boys, primarily, trying to compete and assert themselves at a very unsure time in their lives. Give me a week on the practice field or court and I'll have a pretty good idea which ones are "spoiled" by the parents and which ones were "centered." The conversations I've had with other coaches and parents usually revolve around this question: are we raising wimps?
In the name of helping children maintain a high self-esteem (not necessarily a "healthy" self esteem) society has gradually removed, not just the consequences of failure, but, the concept of failure, from a child's life. Play a sport - everyone gets a participation ribbon but no one gets a Most Valuable Player Award, or, even a Most Improved award anymore. I've been to tournaments for several sports where, after playing six games in two days, and winning every one of them, the tournament champions received no more recognition than the team that didn't win any games at all. Letter and number grading systems have been all but eliminated at the elementary school level, we're told, so that students who might receive lower grades don't feel bad when they hear comparisons to kids who received higher grades. In short, there are few consequences for under-performing in any aspect of a child's life. By removing the consequences and concept of failure, we also remove the natural human internal drive children might have to do better, improve themselves, or "do the right thing."
Many parents have bought into this hook, line and sinker. Parents are conditioned to believe that any time their child is judged, rated, ranked, excluded, or otherwise “done wrong” that child has been treated unfairly. I’ve seen parents angered to the point of crying, threatening lawsuits, shouting obscenities, and even physical confrontations over the playing time their nine-year-old wasn’t receiving. I’ve even seen parents “out of control” not just over the amount of time spent on the field or court, but even objecting to the POSITION their child was playing. “My [10-year-old] son is shortstop, NOT a left-fielder!” I’ve heard parents blame other players on the team for their own child’s mistake. “It’s not your fault you missed the ball. Johnny should have made a better throw!” These are not uncommon occurrences. To some degree, this sort of thing happens at every game at every level of team sports. Even at the high school varsity level; all you have to do is check out the “Speak Out” section of this newspaper to see that an awful lot of people believe that competition should be eliminated entirely from a child’s life or that their own child’s playing time is more important that the overall success of the team.
All of this does a horrible disservice to children. It teaches them that they deserve things they haven’t necessarily earned. The child who never dribbles a basketball between games has the right to expect the same amount of playing time as the child who has a ball in his hand 24/7. The player who gives minimal effort during practice should expect to be treated no differently than the kid who is dirty and bruised at the end of every session.
Worst of all, this kind of treatment robs children of the ability to deal with failure, disappointment and loss. Success is a lousy teacher. Failure can be one’s greatest mentor. Every failure is an opportunity to improve, to examine oneself, to get stronger physically and mentally, and to come back and try again. Earn (notice I use the word “earn” and not “get”) a bad grade, you have the chance to review your mistakes, make corrections, and learn better study habits for next time. One of the reasons I love baseball is that it illustrates this very point best of all. If you make a fielding error, the nature of the game forces you to immediately assess what you did wrong, learn from it, and resolve to do better next time because the very next pitch might be hit to you and your team will be counting on you to make the play. I’ve seen players completely melt down after making an error to the point where they had to be removed from the game in tears. I’m not talking about losing a big game – I’m talking about just booting a ground ball in the first inning. They have no idea how to cope with or recover from a simple mistake.
Removing the consequences of failure from a child’s life does them no favors. It cripples them later in life. Constantly defending them from every perceived slight only teaches them that mommy and daddy will take care of everything if they feel even the slightest bit of disappointment. Putting children in the physical center of families only teaches them that the family revolves around them as do the planets around the sun. Their gravity dictates everyone else’s movements. Instead, I would assert that perhaps children need to be at the center of our hearts and minds – but not our comings and goings. We need to truly think about what is best for children instead of ferociously striking out at anything that might cause our children to feel badly about themselves for a moment. And most of all, we need to throw out the idea that failure equals bad. When our children fail it teaches them to deal with their own faults and insecurities and shows them how they might need to improve. It’s up to us as parents to give them the tools for that improvement. That’s hard for parents to hear because no parent likes to see their child in pain even for the shortest time. But what’s harder is that a child’s failure might also teach us how we need to be better parents. Maybe that’s the toughest lesson of all.

i agree with card buddy and i think that the problems with oversized expectations by children is multi-generational. i agree with wiley that we must keep our children at the center of our lives and to the degree that it doesnt go overboard that centering should be life long. too many parents live vicariously thorough their children. sports isnt the only place that this happens. i must confess i have been guilty of this myself. most of the time i realize that my daughters grades, athletic prowess or choice of boyfirends is her doing and her responsibility to deal with. other times im not so good at seeing the distinction. but as shes grown ive gotten better at it.

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