No one is born knowing how to be a parent. We learn from our own parents, some good, some bad, some downright nasty, horrible, and awful. We look for role models, and sometimes we attend classes on parenting. There are some good books out there but also some that are extremely biased in some way or another.
Over the years, and I have three kids ranging from independent adult to 17 year old Junior in high school, I’ve found that no one knows anything. I could write a book on parenting, I have the experience – AND – my experience is uniquely mine and that of my children. Some of it might work for another person, but odds are not all of it will. Some advice worked and was helpful, some advice made me wonder what drugs the giver of the advice had been imbibing.
I took two Love and Logic classes in addition to a parenting class required by the state when I divorced the father of my sons. I had books and CDs and parenting magazines. I had techniques I practiced and used. I went to lectures on parenting. I considered my own parents who were less than stellar examples, and also the parents of kids I had babysat when I was younger.
I was a conscious, thoughtful, concerned parent.
My boys were undermined by their father’s desire to get back at me for leaving him. He used them at every turn to make my life difficult, but all he really succeeded at was making their lives confusing, painful, and directionless. This was a battle my second husband and I fought directly, doing our best to reinforce self-discipline in school work, following the direction of the child therapists, and making sure there was structure in our home. These were techniques, these were rules we followed.
A personal hero of mine may be known to most as “that guy who wrote ‘The Trouble with Tribbles'”. He also wrote (among other things) a book called “The Martian Child” about adopting his son as a single man. Below is a musing he had today on parenting, and it’s in the same spirit as the book, which I wish I had read when my kids were tiny.
“One of the things I did right as a parent — and it works everywhere else too — was so simple that it should be one of the first commandments of parenting. Or anything else.
The group home parents had told me that they had issues with Sean coming home from school and being badly greeted by the other kids. So much so, that they arranged to bring him home from school first, so he wouldn’t walk into the house and be greeted badly.
So…after he was placed in my home, I made up my mind that part of my job was to change the way he experienced the world. My job was to fill him up with happy memories. So…
Every day when Sean came home from school, I made sure he knew how happy I was to see him. We’d have milk and cookies together, or a sandwich. But I’d make sure that coming up the walk and coming into the house would be a good experience every day — so that he would always feel happy to be home, never afraid, never shut down, never alienated. This was his safe place, his happy place.
I still do that today.
Now … here’s the important part. I might have been annoyed at something, anything. I might have been angry or upset or busy with work, or even on the phone. I’d always put that aside and make sure he knew he was the most important person in my world.
I think that’s one of the reasons we have such a great relationship today. You don’t build great relationships by waiting till they’re grown up — you start on day one and you keep building every day — you never stop.
Now, the same applies to every other relationship. You start out by being happy to see the person. Whatever else needs to be handled, whatever other conversation needs to happen, whatever other issue needs to be addressed — start out by being glad to have that person in your life. If nothing else, it sets context that they are more important than whatever upset you’re having.” – David Gerrold
My category for these sorts of posts is “Survival Parenting”. I chose that name because everything I did, every choice I made in parenting was to keep not only my head, but the heads of my children above water in stormy seas.
Like every single solitary parent on earth, I’m sure including David who is an amazing Father, I made mistakes. I probably made more than a lot of people – AND – it wasn’t for lack of trying. I have one regret.
I regret that I didn’t demonstrate my love for them more often.
Boys naturally grow away from their Mommies, and that certainly happened. I didn’t have to let it happen so easily. I could have let them cuddle a little longer. The laundry was still going to be there. I could pick the toys off the floor later. We could eat dessert first more often when there wasn’t time to cook dinner. I could have made more cookies for them to have when they came home from school. I could have found a way to simply ignore the garbage coming from their father so that they would know it was inconsequential, and that they were really truly loved. Somehow I didn’t get that part through strongly enough while I was enforcing boundaries.
It truly is my belief that David is right. If there is love, acceptance, and valuing the child first, then the rest can come later. The person will understand and truly know that she is more important than the problem and that she will not be left alone to tackle the problem. I believe that if we value the child first, give him that secure base of love, the rest will follow. We won’t be spoiling the child, we will be showing the child that he matters and that he has an impact on his surroundings.
If, as David encourages us, we do this in other areas of life as well, then we set the example for the child that other people matter and have value as well. This teaches the child to be considerate of the people she values.
Look at it this way; I had a friend in college who acquired a puppy, and he was all about the discipline and the rules. So much so that the dog wanted nothing to do with him when he called her to him. She would run in the other direction, he would be forced to catch her, and then he disciplined her for running away. Well, if that was her experience when they were together, what reason would she have to come when called?
If we focus on the rules, boundaries, and discipline first, what reasons do our kids have to be happy to come home? What are they learning from us except that rules are more important than people? Are those the sorts of adults we want in our world?
If, on the other hand, the dog learned that being with my friend was a happy joyous fun thing, she would have been more willing to learn the rules and boundaries to please him and to show him that he was as valuable to her and he was to him.
Pretty simple stuff really.
Not that I am comparing children to dogs … it’s just sometimes easier to see things when we hold them away from ourselves. Forest for the trees and all that.
At any rate, thanks for reading all the way to the end. I appreciate that. And I hope you found something useful here. I always find something useful when I read what David writes.