It is one of the hottest topics everywhere. Everyone sighs and acknowledges that “children don’t come with a manual”. In the same time, they seem to believe that children come with a bunch of pamphlets and old common sense is dead.
I don’t want to cast the stone because I am far from being without sins. I worried too much, I applied theories like everyone else, I made mistakes, lots of them and I felt like a bad parent and, sometimes, this uneasiness with myself and my decisions made my son’s life less than pleasant. It took me a while to understand what the major issue was. It was the same major issue that I see all around me: it seems that parenting is more about US (the adults) than THEM (the children).
I believe with all my heart that they don’t come with a manual. What works with one doesn’t necessarily work with another one. What works at one age will be destructive at another. Yet, cars are different – different in size, shape, power, torque, yet we kind of drive them in the same way.
I’ll be asking some questions and YOU should be the one to answer them, just like I did it for myself. Some questions seem rhetorical but they are not and if they are you should still try to answer (just like I do, sometimes against the flow of conversation)
- Is parenting about making myself feel good? I heard often “I couldn’t do that to my child. I would feel horrible”. It’s only normal that when the child cries or is upset, the parent feels uneasy, to say the least. We wonder “Maybe I was too harsh, maybe I should have caved in, maybe it wasn’t that important”. “I feel so bad” is, no doubt, about ourselves. In my personal view, if we did something that we know it’s right: lay down a rule, stick to our guns in face of tears and unreasonable demands, we shouldn’t worry about how we feel. It might be hard, we might feel guilt… but we have to do the RIGHT thing, not the EASY one.
- Since we talk about us: Are we really good people if we do not set rules and force these rules against them, and keep them happy ALWAYS and never make them yell “That’s NOT fair!”? If I don’t teach or try with all the means to teach my children to know right from wrong, if he ever wrongs, hurts or gets hurt… then I guess I am not good. Or so I think about myself. Yes, it burns a parent’s soul to see their child crying, but we should never shy away from doing the right thing. If it ends badly because we didn’t do our job, then most definitely we are not good. And, to return to US: aren’t they members of the same family? don’t they have to keep us happy too? Do they learn the right lesson when we give them something for nothing? Love is unconditional, that’s true… but Disneyland, that expensive toy etc. should they also be unconditional?
- Is it a good thing to be friend with your child? While possible, children, in my view, need us to be guidance and authority figures more than they need us to be their friend. Would you heed to the rules a friend would try to make for you? Would you be so responsible as to heed to them just on the base of them wanting you the best, even if you don’t believe that these rules act in your best interest? Most probably the answer is “no”, so when you lose this status of a FAIR boss, don’t ask yourselves “Why isn’t he/she listening to me?”
- Did our parents do such a horrendous job? I constantly witnessing a complete “reinvention of the wheel”… and I see by the results that our wheels become more and more square. Were our parents perfect? Most probably not. Was everything they did wrong? They must have done something right if we ended up well. New theories spring overnight from the forever-multiplying psychologists, sociologists, educators and we experiment on our children, completely ignoring anything from our own education. I not convinced at all that what is new is absolutely necessarily better.
- Do we want to adjust our children to the world or the world to our children? Sometimes, from what I’ve noticed, we idealize our children and build for them the illusion of an ideal world. They are the most important thing for us, that is true, but are/should they be the most important thing in this world?! How can we make the switch in their mind, from being #1 in our house, to being #25 in a classroom? Aren’t they going to have difficulties adjusting? Are we doing well by protesting at school, high-school, college, job that our offspring are not treated as #1?!
- Are we really sure that the world, the universe, anybody else is/should be responsible for them? I was screamed at by a mother when I drove my car about 1m from her 9-year old daughter who was in the middle of the street. She said that I should be careful (wanted me to stop completely) and I reminded her that her children’s life and health is HER and HER daughter’s responsibility, not mine. That sign I see in some neighborhoods: “Watch for our children” is irresponsible. Why would you trust a stranger that he doesn’t hurt YOUR children, instead of making your children capable of staying out the harm’s way?
- Are our children dumber, more irresponsible, and more incapable than we were at their age? We were capable of making ourselves a sandwich when we were 12. They are not, and call us for help in the tiniest of tasks. I feel like going back to a): When we do everything for them, aren’t we mostly thinking about us, not wanting/accepting that they grow and there is somewhat called normality, proved by being capable of doing certain tasks appropriate for their age? Nobody is saying “let a 7 year old cook for himself and wash clothes”… but then again, it’s intolerable that mothers of 19-year olds say “I have a child to raise”, feed them, wash their clothes, hand them money. My personal answer is: if they are more immature, more irresponsible is because we made them this way. They will not grow unless we encourage them to grow. Very few of us would take out of conscience responsibilities; most of us take them upon us because we have to.
- Is it really a good thing to shield them completely and teaching them there are no consequences for the choices they make? This goes in the same line with “do we want to prepare them for the real world or for the world we desire?”. If we miss 2-3 days from work are there no consequences? If we challenge authority – which I did many times in life – will there be no consequences – which I also learned the hard way? If we chose to cheat, lie, steal, will there be no consequences? Then why is this tolerable for our children under the motto “they’re just kids”
- Are children really happier if we set unrealistic standards for all of us? Tennis, karate, violin, art classes – they are a must because something, somewhere (I wasn’t even able to figure out the starting point) teaches us that our children will be failures and not become fulfilled individuals without giving them EVERY opportunity that is out there. Personally, while not being against an extra-curricular activity now and then, I believe that running between classes, ruining our finances and time for this doesn’t make neither us nor them happier and more adjusted. Beside, few parents acknowledge that their children might be… dare we say… average. If they don’t excel at something it means that there is a hidden talent we haven’t yet discovered. At the same time that they acquire all these talents, we forget to teach them to be polite, to flush after using the toilet, to fry some eggs. Because there isn’t much time left of their time, they don’t have the time to read, and get bored, and – yes – think about things.
- What is the constant fear that we might be screwing up their whole future if we take a wrong decision? Only God doesn’t make mistakes; we are not God. We can and should do our best, adjust and apologize when we make mistakes. They are flexible, they are smart, they can understand many things – not all but many. I believe that a more relaxed attitude and faith in a good outcome generates better results. At least this is what I noticed on myself.
Raising a child is not simple… and yet it is. Common sense is. If we act based on the emotions and don’t follow this common sense (ours or history’s), I don’t think we are doing well our job. What I advocate for is simply a universe of balance, of fairness. It is a long and painful process but what I think we don’t want is having in the process of correcting mistakes with more mistakes. I.e. Because we don’t let them grow and become responsible, we have to care for them more than we should have otherwise; because we invest ALL our life in their care and development, we set impossible to attain standards and we are disappointed when they cannot reach them, when they chose to do their own mistakes; because they don’t learn that they are not the center of Universe (maybe of our universe but not THE one) we have to fight teachers and the world to put them in the center of the Universe; they mature very slowly and, when left alone they take the wrong decisions because we showed them before that when one takes the wrong decision there are no consequences… and so on.
I believe we can love them, care for them, keep them satisfied and happy AND also prepare them for real life. If now and then us or them will shed tears for what we believe to be their own good, then we shouldn’t cower from doing what we KNOW is right and less what we FEEL is right (and later rationalize it to be what we KNOW).