A couple of weeks back my mom spent a bit of time with my little love on the sideline of his brother’s soccer game. She’d brought in an unusual pine cone to show him that she had picked up on her way in. It showcased the delicate symmetry and stun of nature — twelve seeds spiraling around a centered seed perfectly nestled in a whirly cone. It’s a marvel to hear her explain how the pine cone works to potentiate future life and it’s instructive with how well she understands it. I couldn’t have explained the process so well but I’m not the naturalist my mama is.
As I witnessed their conversation, his unrelenting questions, and the profound knowledge a parent or grandparent needs to know to satisfy a curious 7 year-old’s natural intrigue, I tripped. Not literally, but almost. I was also immediately reminded of an Einstein quote I’d read the week prior that has been STUCK in my head ever since. When you read it, you’ll know the loud truth in it. And it has me reflecting on the enormous task and wild skill it takes to raise a child. I mean our children are exceptionally creative (unclipped, if you will), wildly ready to learn about the sights and sounds around them, and innocently unexperienced. As parents and their obvious anchor, our children constantly look to us to explain.
Explaining takes great skill, inordinate preparation, and earnest mastery. Perhaps this is obvious, but the skill it takes mesmerizes me. Einstein’s quote rings out like a bell.
If you can’t explain it to a 6 year-old then you don’t understand it.
Most people selling new ideas, explaining complex work challenges, and even those peddling their products often underestimate how well you need to understand to really explain something. Thankfully, there are plenty (!!) of things we all really do understand well. Imagine, for example, how easy it is to explain to your children how to do something you’ve mastered by repetition in life: brushing your teeth, making a sandwich, running up a flight of stairs, how to find a watermelon at the store. But then think on how we fake it with the harder stuff — the stuff our children ask where we do the best we can and often have to admit partial knowledge: “How big is the universe, Mama?” or “Why is that little girl sick?”or “Why don’t we ever see Grandpa” or “How does a stone skip on water?” or even, “What age do I get a cellphone and why not now?” I mean even this physicist (<–lovely little read) had to set up an experiment to explain to his child how and why a stone skips on the water…
Tough stuff to simplify and translate. Watch nurses, physician assistants, pediatricians, technician, phlebotomists or surgeons at a children’s hospital some day talk with young children about what’s about to happen. You’ll see not only profound mastery but a composite of real understanding too. So this is about parenting but this is also about children’s health…
As parents and caregivers and educators to children in any capacity, over time we sometimes have to fake it until we make it (if you’re a nurse or physician or technician, think of the first time you had to explain what a sliver removal would feel like or the true story behind what the poke from a needle full of lidocaine would do). We improve with experience, knowledge and time, of course.
So I guess I’m here today to say this to all of us parenting or caring for children (6 years or younger, 6 years or older): If the clouds seem low today, if you’re feel overwhelmed by the tasks of life and the profound challenges and import of raising or educating your children, or if you simply are standing back and needing to pat yourself on the back. Even Einstein knew it clearly. Explaining the world to a young person is really high stakes, yes, but this is also really quite a challenge. To trim your language, pair down complexity, and translate something obvious –or even more so, something complex– to a 6-year-old requires a profundity of wisdom, knowledge and skill. And we do this allllllll the time.
Congratulations on an ongoing job very well done. Chin up, Parent and Pediatric Heros Of The World.
The moment you realize your children remember everything is also the moment you reconnect w the reality that parenting is a high-stakes job
— WendySueSwanson MD (@SeattleMamaDoc) March 8, 2013