Thursday, June 11, 2015

Parenting


 


Being a parent is probably the single most difficult and definitely the most rewarding experience of my life, seeing what amazing parents my own children have become is my ultimate reward, but recently one of my nieces, now a mother herself, told me that she modeled her parenting style on me. Not only was that a huge and unexpected compliment, it also brought home to me how much our behavior will influence children, and not just our own children. It is a mistake to think that just because they are children, and don't appear to notice, they are not being influenced by everything around them, and in particular, by the behavior of the adults in their lives.

This appears to be the current definitive definition of parenting, according to my research:
"Parenting (or child rearing) is the process of promoting and supporting the physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development of a child from infancy to adulthood. Parenting refers to the aspects of raising a child aside from the biological relationship." Davies, Martin (2000). The Blackwell encyclopedia of social work 
This definition would indicate that parenting ends at some 'adulthood' point. It doesn't. You can't switch it off. At least, assuming the parenting switch is on, it can never be switched off, this wiki is in agreement with me on that point.
"Parenting doesn't usually end when a child turns 18. Support can be needed in a child's life well beyond the adolescent years and continues into middle and later adulthood. Parenting can be a lifelong process. " Wiki.
There is no way to train for parenting. Yes there are all sorts of classes and websites that claim to prepare you, but as every child is different and the learning experience never ends, no amount of training can prepare you. From the moment of conception, everything you do for the rest of your child's life, has a bearing on how they develop, physically, mentally and emotionally. We learn on the job and we never stop learning, and we never stop making mistakes, the hope is that the mistakes are few and do not cause lasting damage - and most of all, that we learn from our mistakes.

Frequently we learn our parenting skills (or lack thereof) from our own parents - and this is not always a good thing, for some it is possible to observe our parents mistakes and not repeat them, but for others the sad truth is that is not always the case. Many people who were abused as children will in turn be abusers but fortunately not all. I believe it takes a mixture of compassion, intelligence and imagination to get past our own childhood experiences and avoid 'visiting' the sins of our fathers upon our own children.

Some people do not have it in them to be parents, other than biologically, and for them the scars they leave on their children can often be lasting and deep.

I found this very interesting article by Kathy Caprino in which she quotes Dr Tim Elmore on the 7 Damaging Parental behaviors that keep children from becoming leaders:
  • We don't let our children experience risk
  • We rescue too quickly
  • We rave too easily
  • We let guilt get in the way of leading well
  • We don't share our past mistakes
  • We mistake intelligence, giftedness and influence for maturity
  • We don't practice what we preach
What is interesting about this list is that the inverse is also equally bad:

  • We let our children run wild
  • We are never available when needed
  • We never praise
  • We accept no guilt or responsibility
  • We burden our children with our problems
  • We fail to recognize intelligence and giftedness 
  • We don't preach - don't communicate and don't lead by example

And with the second last item - many parents recognize giftedness - such as a talent for some sport, and instead of allowing their child to enjoy their talent they push too hard, attempting to live vicariously through their child, taking the fun out of it and frequently destroying all interest the child may have in pursuing the activity.

To that list I can add a few more to produce, not necessarily leaders, but well adjusted adults and potentially good parents.

I believe the following:

Accept responsibility for your mistakes and apologize

It is impossible to go through life without making mistakes, parenting is the same as anything else, we will make mistakes. But by accepting responsibility and apologizing for those mistakes, we not only reduce the damage they could potentially cause, we also teach our children an important lesson.

Sometimes parental behavior goes beyond mistakes and that thin line is crossed into emotional, or even physical abuse. It is a fact that the most abusive of parents will perpetuate the damage they do by continuing to deny they have done anything wrong. This is a very good article on why this happens. For those who suffered abuse as a child, here is an article on how to get past it.

Another good quote from Robert Brault


It is never OK to beat a child.

For as long as I can remember, my grandmother could command absolute attention and perfect behavior with just her eyes. She never raised her voice, she never raised her hand. Chapter One of my book describes how she did it:
"There were rules to be obeyed and the only punishment incurred for breaking those rules was the ‘Look’. It was all she had to do to stop us in our tracks. She would slightly widen her flashing eyes, and pierce our bodies with a stare, nothing more. Just one look and then she returned to the sweet Granny immediately. She never prolonged the punishment, nor even needed to lecture us. We behaved and she forgave and forgot." Peeling The Onion, Chapter One

It is never OK to use a child as a 'weapon' or ask them to take sides

When parents argue, the child should never be drawn into the argument, never be forced to side with one parent. This is most common, and most damaging when a marriage ends and there is shared custody. An inadequate parent will use the child, or children as weapons to hurt the other parent - and they end up doing irreparable damage to the child, and ultimately permanently damaging their own relationship with that child.

There should be consequences NOT punishment

This is a very good article on the difference. Consequences will also be different for each child, and some punishments will devastate one child and have no effect on another. For example I know of a man who frequently locked his very young son in a dark and cluttered garage as a punishment, this child had a fear of the dark and was absolutely terrified for the entire time - in serious danger of suffering emotional injury. When the same father attempted to use this punishment on his second son, the effect was entirely different - that boy had no fear of the dark and an insatiable curiosity, he spent the time happily investigating the rusty old tools left carelessly lying around and climbed over old furniture and clutter, in serious danger of suffering physical injury. Of course, this was most definitely abusive behavior. He was a man without compassion and without imagination, despite his own miserable childhood, he treated his children as he had been treated himself.

The rules and associated consequences for breaking them should be clear

And should be enforced consistently. Children need boundaries and they need to be able to trust their parents to protect them. Setting and enforcing boundaries consistently give a child that sense of security. Boundaries should remain constant.

There should be rewards for achievements

However, as with item number 3 in the first list - rewards should be earned and not lavished for no good reason. Just as in real life - sometimes achievement is its own reward. To constantly praise for mediocre performance is to prevent your child from excelling and also will not prepare them for the real world. Conversely to not recognize effort, but keep demanding more than the child is capable of, will eventually cause them to stop trying.

It is never right to denigrate a child

Most children have fragile egos and building or damaging their self esteem depends almost entirely upon a parents attitude. To denigrate a child, or to compare them unfavorable with their siblings is a major mistake and frequently one that cannot be corrected.

Be honest

Always, taking into account a child's age and what they can handle, be honest. Children can tell if you are not. A simple example: I sucked my thumb, actually into adulthood, and might have managed to give it up, given the warnings of damage to my teeth and germs etc; however when I was about six years old, a friend of my parents told me I would grow a thumb down the back of my throat if I didn't stop. I knew that was not possible, knew he was making it up and as a result, doubted everything that had been said and continued to suck my thumb. I also never trusted that man again.

It is wrong to tell a child a lie because making the truth easy for them to understand is difficult, or uncomfortable. Where do babies come from? NOT from a stork, or under a mushroom. If you can't be honest with your children, do not expect them to be honest with you. That comes under the heading of practice what you preach.

Be a parent

It is possible to be both parent and friend, but be a parent first and foremost, be a parent that your child can trust enough to come to when they are in trouble, be a parent your child is comfortable confiding in. And above all else, listen to what they say to you - really listen.