A new-born child, unfortunately, is not accompanied by an instruction manual. In fact, we are lucky it doesn’t, as who would we trust with the authority to dictate such a deeply personal task as raising a child? Even if we were to find someone that we could trust with the directions, from the time the child is born to the time they leave home, much will have changed with the world and surely the child-rearing manual would be out of date. Can we use what we already know, from our experiences in our own lives to prepare our children for an uncertain future?

In the absence of clear directions, we listen to a range of people to try and make the right choices for our children, for our families. I can recall that from the moment I discovered that I was to be a father, there seemed to be a never-ending stream of free advice being offered from well-meaning people. A small portion of it, I actually asked for. A majority of it was contradictory. Nevertheless, when it comes to raising our children, we trust our hearts, receive advice critically and do our best to face the challenges.

Just as we are getting used to raising a baby, we need to adjust to raising a toddler, then adjust to raising a child in kindergarten, a child in primary school and so on until one day that child, thinking they are all grown up, leave the nest and go out into the world to make their own life. Then we need to adjust to being without them. This constant change is one of the first challenges of raising a child, the first of many. Below, three challenges are described which highlight the complexity of this task:

Challenge 1: Our children keep changing. So the first problem with raising a child is that the developmental needs of your child are forever changing. You are always just getting used to one stage of your child’s growth and development and they slip into the next. Just ask anyone who has sent their child to the first day of school. I don’t know how many times I have heard parents say something akin to, ‘I can’t believe she’s starting school already. Where did the time go?’ Whether it is kindergarten, primary school, middle school, high school or university, the emotion is always the same at each new step, especially as each step makes us, as parents, feel older. There is no denying that. The changes are swift and unrelenting and you have to work hard to keep knowing your child throughout this journey.

Challenge 2: Our worlds are not the same. The second problem of raising a child is that we occupy a different place in the world than our child, which is more complex than the often quoted and potentially misleading notion of the generation-gap. It is difficult enough to try and understand the world as it is today for ourselves, let alone how it is for our child. The world of a child is distinctly different from the world of an adult. This adds an additional layer of complexity to trying to figure out what our child’s world will be like tomorrow, next year or in twenty years, but can explore through observations and interactions with their child.

Challenge 3: Our worlds keeps changing. This leads us to the third problem of raising a child in Japan. The world today is not the same as it was last year or the year before. We are raising our children to be safe and happy in a world, the nature of which we are all hopelessly ill-equipped to predict. We need to enable children to understand their world, to develop the skills and mind-set to inquiry independently, so they will be able to come to their own understandings.

All three challenges are experienced by parents all over the world, across all cultures. However, each challenge is encountered by parents in unique ways and this is no different in Japan. These challenges are not problems to be solved. They are how we experience the world, ways of considering the world that can help us when making decisions about how we raise our children.

子育てする上での3つの課題

子供は取扱説明書と一緒には産まれてきてくれません。たとえ子供が生まれた時から巣立っていくまでの子育て本を見つけることができたとしても、世の中が変わりすぎており、そのマニュアルは子供が巣立つまでには時代遅れになっていることでしょう。私たちが経験から得てきたことを、これからの予測不能な未来を生きていく子供たちに教えることができるのでしょうか?

自分が初めてお父さんになることを知ったその瞬間から、様々なアドバイスを受けたことを思い出しました。それでも、子育てに関しては、自分の心を信じ、アドバイスは貴重な意見として受け取り、困難に直面したら最大の努力をすることが重要なのです。

赤ちゃんを育てるのに慣れてきた頃、よちよち歩きの子を育てるモードに、それから幼児、小学生と成長していき、巣立ち、世界へと羽ばたいていく日まで子育ては続くのです。その過程で多くの課題にぶつかりますが、その中の3つを紹介したいと思います。

1 子供は変わり続けます。親はあるステージの成長に慣れていきます。すると子供は気が付くと次のステージへと移っています。子供の成長は早く、容赦なくやってきます。それでも親は常に子供を知る努力をし、理解してあげることが必要です。

2 子供たちは親とは異なる世界で生きています。ジェネレーションギャップという言葉がありますが、子供は我々よりも入り組んだ世界で生きています。子供が生きている世界を親が試し、理解することは困難です。子供たちのこれから、明日はどうなっているのか、来年、20年後をわかろうとするのは、さらに難しいことです。しかし子供たちと関わり、子供を見守り続けることで、子供と一緒に未来を切り開いていくことができるのです。

3 世界情勢は去年や2年前とも異なっています。世界のどこにいても、親は子供の安全と幸せを願うものです。それは将来を予見する術がないからです。このような状況下で親が子供にできることは、世界のどこにいても、世の中の情勢を理解し、自主的に探求できる技術、やる気を備えてあげることだと思います。そうすることにより、子供は自分で理解し、考える力がつきます。

これら3つの課題は、万国共通であり、世界中の親が同じ思いで子供を育てています。これらの課題は解決できるものではありませんが、子供のために正しい選択ができるよう、世の中の情勢に敏感でありたいものです。

Originally published in Mamanpere magazine, Hiroshima (2017)

Three challenges when raising your child/子育てする上での3つの課題