MaryangelaEvery spring the students at the now-closed St. Catherine School on the northwest side of Milwaukee would celebrate the end of the school year with a field trip to Dandelion Park in Muskego. And every spring, one young student would remain behind and spend the day in the school office reading or doing other busywork.

Before you feel too sorry for me, let me explain why I’m sharing this tidbit from my past. My parents felt that field trips should have educational value and did not see any academic benefit in letting me spend the day at an amusement park, so each year, when the permission slip came home announcing the trip, their answer remained the same. I’m sure I must have begged and pleaded with them, of course, to no avail.

While I may have missed out on days of fun, as I look back on the experience, I take from it a valuable lesson in parenting and life. The most successful parents are those who rely on their instincts and do what feels to be true to them. Their approach to parenting was never influenced by what other parents were doing. Rather, they made their decisions based on their own set of what was right and wrong, what they determined was good or bad for my sisters and me.

Oftentimes that meant we were countercultural and did not go along with what “everyone else was doing.”

As a child, I recall that could be painful. For example, many of my friends had Barbie doll collections. But not me. Again, my mom did not think Barbie was the role model she wanted for her daughters, so Barbie, Ken and the gang were not part of our household.

By setting standards and sticking to them, even if the decision was unpopular in the family, my parents showed us that being different was OK if it meant sticking to your values.

Using author Marybeth Hicks’s terminology, my parents’ were raising “Geeks,” children who are genuine, enthusiastic and empowered kids. According to Hicks, parents know what’s best for their children, and while it may be heart wrenching to disappoint them, it’s also unhealthy to give into their every want.

In our focus feature on Pages 4 and 5, Hicks, the weekly family columnist for the Washington Times and a frequent speaker on parenting in today’s culture, describes her own household as countercultural, one in which things may be done differently than in her children’s friends’ homes. Because of her approach, her “geeky” kids are genuine, enthusiastic and empowered.

Our story offers specific tips on how to raise faithful, well-adjusted, confident, smart “Geeks,” children she describes as being protected in a “grow-up-too-fast world.”

Best wishes for a successful 2010-11 school year!