I always count myself blessed to raise my kid when I was barely a kid (mentality-wise). It had been a worry-free ride, thanks to the lack of knowing better of parenting.
I spent my childhood in a dystopian society that almost collapsed. We grew up with minimal adult supervision and were largely neglected by our parents during my pre-teen years.
Then, one day I became a new mom in a new world. I was in a situation that was lack of parental references and role models that I could trace back.
One day, I sought parenting advice from a local mom, with whom I built a close rapport through work.
I forgot what I was asking for. But I remember she took in my questions, paused a bit, and then wrote down a list of books for me to read.
I was in silent shock, as it had never occurred to me until then that raising a kid needs to consult a list of books from scholars.
Looking back, I am curious about my questions to that mom. Those questions must have revealed how poorly I was prepared to be a mom, in my good-hearted Canadian mom friend's opinion.
I did not read any of the books she recommended, and our daughter turned out to be more than ok growing up.
While I've been very proud to be her mom, I honestly don't think I played too significant a role in raising her to be what she is now. I call myself a lucky mom who was neglectful with a blessing.
She self-taught herself many skills by watching YouTube. She quickly gave up her lucrative 9–5 corporate life, invented her brand of skills, and sought out business opportunities to feed herself, thrive, and have fun on the way.
Now I am much older and wiser, should I be given another opportunity to raise another kid, I would have been paranoid and worried and second-thought every move I would make on my child's behalf.
How should I prepare this little new person well enough to face the challenges of this world and find a proper place for themselves?
A few days ago, I met a mom in the office who brought her 3rd-grade son to meet us. She said she wanted to expose her son to a real software engineering world as he was very much into programming and aspired to become a software engineer when he grew up.
"Isn't it too early for that?" I secretly asked myself while trying to make my daily jobs sound exciting and essential to this boy.
The boy is handsome, bookish, calm, and soft-spoken. He showed us how he used an MIT open-sourced platform to build a small game and commanded us to play a few steps in his game.
Even though he is nearly ten years old, he has already acted and talked like a thoughtful 20-year-old programmer in our office.
"He will be attending a summer coding camp on the Stanford campus this summer to be taught by the professors." His good-looking mom informed us proudly.
When we gave the boy the encouraging woos and aahs for his small game tricks and this Stanford summer camp news, he accepted them with constrained pride. Another sign of his unusual maturity beyond his age.
Once again, I secretly asked myself, "isn't it too early for this?" Besides, what if the fast-evolving black hole like chatGPT will soon replace all these petty skills he built on coding?
I would be a paranoid mom for a good boy like this one.
What are the lifelong sustainable fundamental skills we need to prepare our kids?
Curious, observant, tenacious, empathetic, and with relatively good raw intelligence.
What if your kid lacks some, if not all, of these essential attributes I listed above?
To make matters worse, the current K-12 education and even the college education matrics have the danger of falling far behind as obtaining and retaining knowledge is becoming so cheap and easy these days.
I would have a lot of reasons to be sleepless night after night if I were a mom of pre-teen kids at home.
When my daughter was eight, she was identified and recommended to participate in a "gifted child program." It was a city-wide experiment program, and she was to meet with other K12 kids of all ages once or twice a month.
I went to the interview with the principal of the program. I raised my concerns about the vast difference in the kids' ages in this program. I was naive to assume that the only thing left to teach these kids was probably some college algebra textbooks.
I remember the principal smiled very tolerantly and warmly upon hearing my concerns.
"No, no, totally not that kind of thing we are going to force upon these kids."
"These kids were identified as having above-average intelligence and raw talents that should be cultivated and developed beyond traditional K12 textbooks and plans. Certain aspects of these kids' growth are in common that we want to pay closer attention to and forge plans to help them grow."
She then carried on the conversation with more abstract concepts above my listening comprehension grade. When I shook hands again upon leaving the principal's office, one most important things I knew for sure was that my daughter would not compete with a 9th-grader-gifted boy in learning Multivariable Calculus. That made me finally sign the acceptance forms.
Then, over the following year, whenever I asked my daughter what they were doing in that program, my rarely fazed daughter always replied, "nothing special."
Then we transplanted to California. In the first couple of months, my "gifted" daughter struggled in her classes, and one terrible teacher even yelled at her for being a" slow" kid. I was so appalled that I went to the principal's office only to find that teacher had quit already.
"She does not have the passion for teaching." The principal apologized and explained.
Fortunately, my daughter was not destroyed by that comment but survived and continued her journey to become the cool, aloof, and a bit snobby kid she always was. Time after time, I wonder if that unusual "gifted program" she went through played a trick on this.
Looking back at how I was growing up in my pre-teen years, I benefited greatly from grouping with older kids and spending lengthy time mingling with them, learning many of these non-textbook life skills from these kids.
No matter how smart I was among my same age group, the older and wiser kids always had means to keep me grounded and humbled. On the other hand, our youngsters in turn helped the older kids to be empathetic and caring and developed the leadership skills uncannily.
This is something our modern society is missing and lost at the cost of the future health of social systems. And most K12 education programs around the world generally lack such "gifted programs" to forge the organic growth of these essential life skills mentally and physically for our future generations.