A woman and little girl looking at a dandelion


Teach Your Friends’ Children Well — Because Your Own Kids Don’t Want Your Wisdom

Jul 6, 2018

My 10-year-old is turning into a crack knitter. He started off a few months ago with a basic scarf, and has quickly graduated to hats and, most recently, a shawl in a complex pattern.

What if our children are biologically driven to seek out wisdom and skills beyond their own homes?

He’s mastered knitting and purling, increases and decreases, and a bunch of techniques I didn’t learn until I was at least twice his age. His tension is magnificent. And he’s obsessed: once he starts a project, he focuses on it with laser-like precision, a trait that I generally admire, except when he knocks on my bedroom door at 6:45 a.m. on a weekend to whisper-ask, “Mama? Where’s my knitting?”

I can relate. As a (cough) slightly obsessive crafter in my own right, his love of knitting thrills me. As a parent, it’s gratifying when your child shows interest in one of your passions. So when my son first expressed an interest in learning how to knit, I jumped right on the bandwagon.

Only to be shoved off it, pretty much immediately.

“I don’t want you to teach me how to knit,” my tween told me, categorically. “I don’t like it when you teach me things.”

Well, then.

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I’m not alone in this experience, thankfully. A quick survey of my friends confirms that their own offspring regularly shun their parents’ attempts to teach them things — things that parents KNOW HOW TO DO, often very well.

And, frankly, parents aren’t necessarily always the best teachers of our own kids.

Like the former lifeguard and swim instructor whose kids refuse to let her teach them how to swim. Or the English professor who is not allowed to explain the mechanics of essay writing to her teen. Whether it’s learning how to ride a bike, drive stick, tie shoelaces, ski, swing a golf club, meditate or do math, they describe tears, eye-rolling and general intransigence when it comes to trying to impart their experience and knowledge to their own children. “I knooooowwww!” cries my friend’s daughter as my friend tries to explain a knitting technique to her — although clearly the daughter does not know. When my friend leaves the room to breathe quietly, somewhere else, I explain the technique to her teary child, and she graciously accepts.

We may be less patient, more distracted, more demanding, less forgiving.

And really, I can relate. I still have sense memories of the irrational rage that my father — an electrical engineer — called up in me when he tried to help me with physics homework. I mean, the nerve.

Maybe it’s a matter of simple proximity: it’s easier to act like a jerk — I mean, express frustration — with your family members than it is with people a bit further removed. Learning a new skill and being a beginner is aggravating enough — add to that the weight of the history of your lifelong relationship, with its demands and power imbalances, and you can start to see the potential for things to go south.

And, frankly, parents aren’t necessarily always the best teachers of our own kids. We may be less patient, more distracted, more demanding, less forgiving. We get “that tone” in our voices. I know that my own kids’ whining irritates me far more than the whining of my friends’ children — who are, in turn, less likely to whine with me than with their parents. And so the vicious cycle continues.

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All of which means that my son learned how to knit from his beloved godmother. He cuddles up patiently next to her as she explains the ins and outs of casting on and yarn-over. Every Wednesday evening now, we head to Knit Club at her house, where my son and I work on our projects, and he is the token 10-year-old boy in a group of middle-aged women. It’s awesome.

This, in turn, makes me think that maybe there’s a larger purpose to a child's refusal to learn from their parents. Maybe it’s some kind of evolutionary drive designed to build networks, foster community and relationships. What if our children are biologically driven to seek out wisdom and skills beyond their own homes?

My kid learns how to knit from his godmother, and maybe I teach your kid how to bake, and the neighbour shows them how to change a tire or ride a bike and a favourite uncle or aunt explains how to plant potatoes or code. And, in the process, everybody gets a bit more handy and a bit more independent and a lot more connected — literally and figuratively strengthening the fabric of our society.

That’s not such a bad thing, really.

Article Author Susan Goldberg
Susan Goldberg

Read more from Susan here.

Susan Goldberg is a freelance writer, essayist, editor and blogger. Her articles and essays have been featured in, among others, Ms., the Globe and Mail, Today’s Parent, Advisor’s Edge, Corporate Knights and Stealing Time magazines, as well as in several anthologies, a variety of parenting and lifestyle websites, and on the CBC. She is co-editor of the award-winning anthology And Baby Makes More: Known Donors, Queer Parents, and Our Unexpected Families. Susan is one of approximately 30 Jews in Thunder Bay, Ontario, where she lives with her sons and a changing cast of cats. Read more at susanlgoldberg.com.

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