Back in 1915, in a letter to his 11 year old son, Albert Einstein wrote:
I am very pleased that you find joy with the piano. This and carpentry are in my opinion for your age the best pursuits, better even than school. Because those are things which fit a young person such as you very well. Mainly play the things on the piano which please you, even if the teacher does not assign those. That is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes.
When Einstein talks about doing something with such an enjoyment that you don't notice that the time passes, he's talking about a learning environment. And I don't know about you, but one of my big hopes each day for my kids is that they will learn. Learn morals and values, learn to read and write, and learn skills that will one day uniquely qualify them for an occupation.
I often make the mistake of trying to control what my kids learn instead of the environment they learn it in. This dad's ego is always longing to adopt the motto that father knows best. Likely out of a desire to be set free from the sobering reality that most days this father feels like he doesn't have a clue. But in my previous post I shared my friend Mike's love for sharing "Foxy stories" with his kids. (Dads Be Sure To Share Your Foxy Stories). Mike didn't write a well thought out script before Foxy took his nightly bedtime stage, it was purely let's see where this goes. He saw Foxy as a way to enjoy his kids and for his kids to enjoy him. He knew in that shared joy there would be opportunities for his kids to learn far beyond the limits of what he thought they just had to know.
I don't know if Mike knew it or not, but he was actually taking a very scientific approach to teaching and strengthening his relationship with his kids. The reality is, and I don't mean to go all brain development on you here, but until a child is well into their teens the part of their brain that allows them to reason and factor in the dad knowledge we unload on them in hopes they'll become as brilliant as we are - well that part of the brain is missing in action. You want to know what part of the brain is there - and dominating every thought and emotion - that would be the part of the brain that tells them what they enjoy.
That's why when kids experiment with drugs and alcohol at a young age and discover they enjoy it, they are infinitely more likely to become addicted to these substances as they grow older.
Likewise, if a child experiments with enjoying their dad, they are infinitely more likely to become addicted to enjoying their dad forever than the one who never sees their dad. And certainly more likely than the child who sees their dad everyday only to be reminded their dad never seems to enjoy them.
Enjoyment is what fuels a child's desire to learn. It builds on their desire to bond.
Please don't hear me wrong. This is not about making a child happy at all costs. Happiness is a fleeting and superficial emotion. It appears when you buy your child an Xbox. It disappears when they get bored with it or they discover their friend has the bigger and cooler Playstation.
Enjoyment is a connection of the hearts. When a father marks the time they spend with their child with a smile or an uncontrollable laugh, a child's heart erupts with enjoyment. That time energizes a child's desire to dream and learn. It encourages them to take on life with such an enjoyment they don't notice that time passes.
We live in a society that more and more teaches us that life is about finding personal joy. Too often, though, those lessons sadly minimize the kind of joy that is found in our relationships with one another. For that is the only joy that outlasts passing fads and things we love one day and shove to the back of a closet the next. It's the only joy that prevails through the stream of uncontrollable circumstances that often take over our lives.
As I continue to grow older many fond memories of my childhood grow right along with me. Very few of them are rooted in the many things I was spoiled with. Nearly all of them are tied to the smiles and laughter from my parents that reassured me then - and remind me now. My parents enjoyed me.