Last week I shared my last principle, called contextual parenting. This is a parenting tool I coined for myself when my son was 7. I continually use this principle to discuss issues and opportunities with my children. It suspends impositions of my wants. It draws out a scenery or environment. It’s best relayed through a “story” or “situation,” rather than a “You must…” conversation.
I shared that the starting point of contextual parenting is to define “base contexts” for our families. For example, because our family’s base contexts are happiness and fulfillment, I looked through a lot of books about raising happy kids. In the book the childhood roots of adult happiness by Edward M Hallowell, MD, he takes reference from Jack Welch, one of the business leaders I have read a lot about and truly admire.
Jack Welch was best known as the CEO of General Electric between 1981 and 2001. He came from humble roots and attended a non-Ivy League school. He even had a speech impediment. And yet, he turned General Electric into one of the most successful corporations in the world.
Once he was asked, “What makes a person successful?” His reply, “Grab life and live it to the fullest.” “Whatever you do, grab a hold of life. You only have a short time, so don’t be a dabbler. And don’t get discouraged by the bureaucrats. Just grab life and live it full and strong.” Hallowell interprets this as “an attitude, not a skill”. The attitude leads to the skill, but happiness starts in an attitude.
After defining our base contexts, all we need to do is to draw from them when a question arises. For example, when my first-born Meagan entered the big school, her teacher approached me during drop-off because she was poor in math. I distinctly remember her teacher’s story, that when a math problem was given to Meagan, she would just look up at the ceiling fan while all her classmates answered their papers. A kind parent referred me to a math tutor. After the assessment, the math tutor said Meagan had a lot of catching up to do, and had to put in extra hours on her free day. Meagan would run so fast to her room every time it was math tutor day.
I started to question my decision to enroll her in a highly traditional school. She had shown more visual creative skills even as a toddler, and had very unique reaction to authority when she was in Montessori. Then I recalled my long-term goal of happiness and fulfillment for my kids.
I knew it would’ve been an easier fit for Meagan to be in a progressive school. But I wanted to at least try to “stretch” her abilities in a traditional environment. I also saw a bigger class size as a closer simulation of real life. Even if I knew that this school was one of the most academically demanding, I believed it was good to start “hard,” then adjust if she really wasn’t able to cope. More than that, I liked how the school exposed my kids to being grounded. I believed it was good for my kids to see the hard work of street vendors every day. Since I also studied in the same school for many years, I hoped for my kids to establish the same genuine friendships I was able to build because of pure connections, rather than business backgrounds.
This led me to find a “fitting story.” At the time, Meagan was into fashion and makeup. She would watch YouTube makeup videos and experiment on me. She even asked if she could have a stippling brush, about which I was totally clueless. So I related math to her current interest. I asked her, “When you put makeup on mom, don’t you have to count how many times you applied on my left cheek so you would know how many times you should apply on my right cheek? Isn’t this math?” When she admired clothes in Zara or Adora, I would challenge her and say, “How are you going to make your own fashion if you cannot measure the fabric needed?” The rest is history.
Today, Meagan is in advanced math and represents the school for MTAP competitions. When her varsity basketball practice coincided with her Advanced Math tutorials in Grade 5, she asked her coach on her own if she could just attend one practice day because she couldn’t miss her math. This story is my best representation on my personal process in contextual parenting.
I realize today how ingrained this principle is in my parenting style, because I enjoy getting to discover my kids’ personalities in the process. It’s not always easy to formulate a story for every issue our kids face, so it helps to apply both a “growth mind-set” and a “no pressure” mentality from the start. I always remember that contextual parenting was never meant to be a solution. It was meant to be a process of discovering the most appropriate fit for my kids in a given situation, with the hope that the moment becomes a positive building block for their future.
I can understand the fear this may bring to parents because there’s really no clear right or wrong. Moreover, we often don’t see the immediate effects of our decisions. But the way I look at it, it keeps us attentive. It makes us more “awake” to the reality that each child is unique and special. And we can only do our best to lead them to the brightest and happiest future life has intended for them.
Happy “contextual parenting,” everyone.