Where were you on July 21, 2007? And where are you today?
If the answer to the first question is “flying through a brand new copy of the last Harry Potter book,” and the answer to the second is “trying to fly through the new Harry Potter story while my kids are poking/nagging/shaking me,” chances are you’re a Harry Potter mom (or dad).
We are the generation that grew up side by side with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. We are the people who counted down the days to each new installment, sharing our excitement with millions of kids around the globe. And we are the parents who are ridiculously pleased today, at times to the bewilderment of our children. (“Mommy,” they said when I recently told them about the new story, “we already have lots of books, you know.”
In honor of the publication of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” script, here are seven parenting insights I owe to JK Rowling.
1. “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” taught me to prepare my child for the road, not the road for the child.
“He’s a funny man, Dumbledore,” Harry says at the conclusion of the book. “I think he sort of wanted to give me a chance… I reckon he had a pretty good idea we were going to try, and instead of stopping us, he just taught us enough to help. “
I thought back to Harry’s assessment when I saw that a pedophile attacked some children in our neighborhood. “Protect your kids,” the papers said, and I found myself wondering—how? By keeping them at home? By shadowing their steps? That might work for a year or two, but it wouldn’t prepare them to deal with dangers later.
I realized that Dumbledore is right: I must give my kids the tools to deal with dangers on their own. I must tell them about predators and terrorists, as well as commonplace risks like strife and failures. Sugar coating life would merely postpone the inevitable. The road awaits, and they will either know enough to walk it or they won’t.
2. As “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” makes abundantly clear, the same principle applies to technology. If there are risky objects out there—say, a flying car, a talking book-cum-dark-lord, a computer, or a smart phone—our kids will end up using them. We can warn them off these devices all we want. We can lecture and prohibit and threaten. But unless we want to end up paying a 10-galleons-fine to the Ministry of Magic (or deal with our kid’s skewed impression of porn), we may as well accept the inevitable and teach them how to use technology safely. Because use it they will.
3. “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” taught me to focus on my achievements, not my failures. When Harry berates himself for not clearing Sirius’ name, Dumbledore reminds him that he did save his godfather’s life. “You should be proud of yourself,” Dumbledore tells him, and I repeat these words to myself at the end of particularly long days.
So what if I didn’t feed my kids homemade health food? So what if I let them watch a movie instead of doing arts and crafts? Parenthood is like a constant uphill marathon you can never complete: You may as well focus on the miles you covered today, and keep yourself positive for tomorrow.
4. When Ron comes back to Harry after weeks of fighting in“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”, Harry doesn’t push him away. He understands where Ron was coming from. He knows Ron’s heart is in the right place. So he takes him back no questions asked. Kari Kubiszyn Kampakis writes that raising kind kids begins with being kind parents. It may be corny, but that moment of reunion between Harry and Ron pretty much sums up the sort of kindness I want to live up to—and impart.
5. “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” is filled with parent-figures, and they are all terribly flawed, but ultimately good. Sirius is rash. Molly and Dumbledore want to withhold information from Harry in order to protect his feelings. Both approaches end in disaster. But these mistakes don’t cancel out these people’s goodness. As Sirius tells Harry after the devastating discovery of James Potter’s bullying ways, “Your father was a good man, and my best friend.”
Fifteen-year-old Harry may have a hard time accepting the flaws of his role models. And as parents, it’s sometimes hard to accept our own. But when I love myself despite my flaws, I give my kids something more valuable than the illusion of perfection: I teach them to accept themselves as well.
6. Wrong conduct has consequences. As Harry learns first hand in “The Half-Blood Prince,” ignoring our inner don’t-do-it compass (which for Harry sounds a lot like Hermione) doesn’t end well. Using the Half-Blood Prince’s potion book to acquire undeserved praise, for example, leads to almost killing Malfoy by mistake.
As a parent, I can smooth away the consequences of my children’s choices. And it’s oh so tempting sometimes. The poor kid, I must buy him a new toy to replace the one he lost. The poor kid, how can I not buy him a treat even though he didn’t eat his dinner? But my children’s consequences won’t be within my control forever. I can coddle them, or I can help them develop a little Hermionesque don’t-do-it compass of their own.
7. “He knew what he was doing when he gave me the deluminator,” says Ron in “The Deathly Hallows.” “He…must’ve known I’d run out on you.” And sometimes, like Ron, I can’t forgive my own mistakes. But Harry supplies me with the best possible answer: “No…He must’ve known you’d always want to come back.”
I can’t become flawless for my children. I can’t avoid every mistake, both as a parent and as a role model for my kids. But I can strive to always correct my mistakes and do better. And maybe, seeing as they are bound to fail too one day, this is the best example I can give my kids: Our worth isn’t measured by our failures. It’s measured by our willingness to come back from them.
And that is how this Harry Potter Mom can prepare her children for the road.