By Jon Bennion
The upbringing of our own children is something many of us contemplate years before we actually have children at all. There is something about taking a little human being, a blank slate of sorts, and molding them in a particular image of your choosing. Some parents aspire to create a “mini-me,” (See Austin Powers) or in other cases, a version of what they wish they were (See Toddlers and Tiaras). Others simply hope to raise successful, happy kids who can prosper as adults later on in life.
As a student of political theory in college, I will forever remember the story of British philosopher John Stuart Mill. He was the son of a philosopher, historian and economist - James Mill. John was given a tremendously demanding upbringing, and was purposely isolated from association with other kids. His father’s goal was to create a genius intellect, and in many cases he succeeded in this grand experiment.
At the age of three he was taught Greek. At the age of eight he began studying Latin, algebra, and was appointed schoolmaster to the younger children of the family. He composed poetry and enjoyed reading about natural sciences and popular novels. About the age of twelve, Mill studied scholastic logic, at the same time reading Aristotle's writings. He went on later in life to become a member of British parliament, and has been dubbed the the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the nineteenth century. Not bad – in fact, that’s a record that would make any parent proud.
I knew this was such an extreme example, but it gave me a slight impression that I have a lot of control in shaping my future child. But with three and a half years under my belt as an actual parent, I know how wrong that impression is, especially when you are dealing with a micro-preemie.
When our son, Jack, was born four months early, I wasn’t concerned if he could learn a second language by age three. I just wanted him to live. I’m not worried about him reading advanced novels by the age of eight. I just hope he can read one day. Now, as he approaches age four in May, I don’t care if he will ever recite poetry – I just want him to communicate with me. We can do many things to help him make improvements in mobility, eating and speaking, but we are not in control. Jack is not a mound of clay waiting for the hands of a skilled potter.
In some ways, our sanity as parents of a preemie has more to do with our own ability to be shaped by the twists and turns our preemies provide. They may not sit up at the same time other kids do. They may take a bit longer to walk across a room. Some may not string words together into sentences when you want them too. Many may never do any of these things. Others may have no difficulties at all. As parents, we just have to give them as much love, support and patience they need to be as happy as possible.
When it comes down to it, we learn that our children end up molding us just as much as (or more than) we mold them. This approach, I think, leads to happier parents and happier preemies.