When our children are very young and we decide to do any kind of project with them it is vital to remember that it is the process, not the final product, that matters. If it's a craft project it will not end up looking like the pretty picture of the completed project on the pages of Family Fun Magazine. Those pictures are almost impossible to duplicate by anyone considering the projects were completed by a skilled adult artist with all the right tools. If we are baking we need to let go of the idea of perfectly shaped cookies and be glad that some of the cookie dough made it onto the pan and into the oven. What matters is not what we end up with as a product, what matters is how much fun we have along the way, that our child had a positive experience that leaves open the possibility of doing another fun project in the future, that our child got to feel the texture of the dough or select the colors of paint that ended up more or less on the paper. And we need to expect a lot of mess to clean up afterwards, particularly if there is glitter involved.
When we take on any kind of project, supporting our children in expressing their creativity is important. Letting go of the picture perfect finished product and embracing their enthusiasm as they explore the medium and create something that reflects who they are in that moment should be our focus. When we get caught up in telling our children what to do and how to do it, with the expectation that not only will they finish the project but that it will look "right," we often destroy the joy of the process for our children and ourselves. Projects of any kind are best seen as a starting place, a jumping of spot, an inspiration, and where it goes from there is up to your child as you get into the process and start creating.
The idea of focusing on the process and not the product applies to other areas of our relationships with our children, not just art, crafts and baking. In the broadest sense we need to focus on the process of childhood and not on how we want our children to "turn out." We should keep our eyes on how we can meet our child's needs today, not on the person we want our child to become in the future.
This concepts of process and product came to mind after I spent a great deal of time the past two months supporting two of my children through the process of deciding if they were going to go to camp for the first time this summer. If you and I had talked about summer plans back in April I would have said that two of my children would be attending camp, one in June and one in August. When you have to sign up over 6 months before camp begins, there is a lot of time between sending in your deposit and when you have to send in the rest of your payment to process the idea of going to camp. As it turns out, neither of my children will be attending camp this summer, but I think they might next year. I signed them both up for their respective camps, I sent in the required deposits, and in the end I contacted the necessary people to cancel each registration. For one of the camps the deposit, $150, was non-refundable. While some parents might get upset about the time and energy and money spent on something that resulted in nothing, I see it as part of the process. This year was part of the process that my children need in order to get to a place where they are comfortable spending a week or two at camp. The time and energy and money wasn't wasted, it was an investment in the process. If my children never end up going to camp then it was an investment in my children figuring out that they are not really interested in going to camp. The out come is irrelevant, it's the process that matters.
As parents we are here to support our children through the process each day, that's what is important. If that means picking up a child from a sleepover at 2 a.m. or feeding a pet that a child isn't ready to take full responsibility for, or making a snack at 11:00 p.m. for a child who is going to stay up into the wee hours reading a new book, it's all part of the process. When we support our children with unconditional love and respect they can fully engage in the process, and that can bring about some pretty amazing results.