A genius possesses rare talents of the mind and heart. They are usually awkward introverts, strange, muttering fellows who boil vast quantities of complex information down to one useful truth. Stephen Hawking nestled the universe into a nutshell. Charles Darwin explained the evolution of all life through the wizened smile of a tortoise. Jonas Salk pondered millions of polio cells and created the tiny vaccination that rescued humanity.
Parenting is not a competitive field, though it often feels like it is. Parents can set a good example, influence, guide, challenge and care, but the control we exercise over our children and the choices they make is finite and limited. A parent’s success cannot be measured by a child’s accomplishments.
Parenting is now complicated in ways that are contrived, ridiculous and totally disorienting. Kids are enrolled in violin lessons before they can tie their shoes. We expect our children to compete athletically before we give them permission to cross the street. Middle school students are hustling to algebra class, but they have no idea where to look for red apples in the grocery store. Adolescents spend their days in virtual worlds, disconnected from the real people and relationships that would give their lives meaning and value.
There are still parents who act with the intelligence of a genius. Though their methods are as varied as their children, these talented parents offer their kids one simple gift: common sense. We admire these parents, because we notice their kids, working hard at routine tasks. They do laundry with gusto and water gardens with joy, because they believe they are participating in something wonderful and worthwhile.
Today’s most talented parents will never be famous. They are ordinary people, chatting with ordinary kids in cluttered kitchens. Their genius is revealed in private conversations, secrets whispered in language young people can comprehend. It becomes public and magnificent when children contribute with confidence. These fortunate kids are strengthened by common sense, inspired by great varieties of dreams that pull them forward from within.