The Worst Parenting Mistake (and what it has to do with global warming)

Sure, there are compelling arguments to be made for “dropping your child off on someone’s doorstep” or various other forms of child abuse for the “worst parenting mistake,” but don’t those kinds of errors really deserve their own category? My parenting pet peeve is when parents set the bar too low for their children.

Sometimes, it’s true, you need to tell children they can’t do things. For example, I’m often finding myself telling the 4-year old girl, M, that she can’t hit her little brother T (who is 2). While theoretically, of course, she can hit him (and does), I want to emphasize that that behavior is so far outside the realm of acceptable behavior that she should not even feel like it is an option. Use your words, I tell her.

Kids are shockingly strong, durable, and intelligent–if given the opportunity to be. They are also shockingly annoying–if given the chance. And while I’ve watched M do quite astonishing acts of throwing away the yogurt container and asking nicely for a snack and even saying please!, I’ve also been informed to keep my expectations of four-year-olds a bit lower than that.

My high school’s motto was Positive expectations yield positive results. (How’s that for progressive education?) While I thought it was really cheesy back when I went to the school, when I left, I was faced with the harsh reality that most of the world has negative expectations. And guess what? … negative expectations yield negative results.

Expect your four-year-old to scream at the dinner table and she almost definitely will.

Not topically relevant, but it would be a shame to lose this place, no?

The other night at this very same dinner table, over the screaming, the adults at the table had a conversation about global warming. I mentioned a study I had read about recently in the New York Times article, “By 2046, Coldest Years May Be Warmer Than Hottest in Past, Scientists Say.” It’s a disturbing idea, yet it’s already been suggested by a huge body of research. This is just a different way of explaining and framing the narrative–hopefully making it even more compelling to a general public which is still reluctant to take action.

But why? We know there’s a problem. Many people point to a climate change denial as a reason we haven’t made much progress in reducing global emissions. However, more people than ever are coming round to the notion that climate change is a real problem that will become tangible very, very soon. Yet it is only a small subset of these people who actively support action to curb climate change. Even fewer have devoted themselves wholly to this endeavor.

Again, I can only say I’m including this because this is one of the kinds of views that inspires me to care about the world.

One of the reasons I think people are slow to adjust to the concept of climate change is that it is far easier to tell ourselves we can’t do anything about it. Urban farming is becoming increasingly popular because I think people see it as a way to build household-scale resilience. On a larger level–the level that is ultimately going to make more of an impact–we don’t have systems of transportation or energy production that are particularly sustainable. Infrastructure of this scale needs to change, but how can individuals go about changing anything?

I don’t have the answer. However, I do have positive expectations. Sometimes.

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