Thursday, January 06, 2011

Back in the saddle

Thanks for everyone's kind comments on my last post.  I'm feeling a bit better.  Fatigue makes it difficult to sustain the energy needed to constantly go against the flow of life.

Now, on to my real post, which I planned on titling:  User Error, part 1 in a series

As I've grown older and raised children to functioning young adulthood, I have become more and more opinionated about various parenting choices.  And I've come to the conclusion that some choices are just wrong.  This is a very unpopular statement these days.  We are so open-minded and accommodating and willing to accept everyone's personal choices that we are uncomfortable coming out and saying that there are some things that are just wrong.  But they are.  And this is what this series, as I get around to writing each segment, is to be about. 

My first example has to do with who is ultimately in control of a household, the parents or the children, because the adults in the house have abdicated their parenting responsibilities.  Let me give you an example.  Say a child has an opportunity to participate in something which fits well in a family's schedule and is in keeping with a family's philosophy.  The problem is that it is something a younger sibling cannot participate in it as well because of age.  (It does not have to be a class, it can be something else that by virtue of being older the older sibling can do/use/have that the younger sibling cannot.)  As parents, we all know the younger child will be disappointed and I will agree it is difficult to see a child experience disappointment.  The trouble lies when the parent opts to deny the older child the privilege because of the fuss which will be caused by the younger sibling.  They are choosing a short-term, easier path over what is the better long-term choice.  In effect, they are allowing the youngest child to hold the family hostage to his or her wishes merely because they have the capability of pitching a fit.

But this way lies madness.  Where do these parents draw the line and at what age?  Does the older child not get a driver's license because the younger child can't have one?  What about birthday parties?  With our virtual twins we have already had to navigate one boy being invited to a party and the other not.  Yeah, it's hard, but it is also part of life.  Everyone doesn't get to do everything.

I think there are several causes at the root of this problem.  The first is an unwillingness to make the hard parenting decisions.  The parent chooses not to make a difficult choice in order to avoid the possible stress of the younger child's disappointment.  Children naturally want their own way, some more than others, and they can be very vocal about getting it.  It is our job as parents to teach our children to inhibit their natural inclinations and to learn self-control and moderation.  The only way this can be learned is through the practice and experience of a child not getting his or her own way.  By giving in to the great big noisy fit (or worse, the mere threat of a potential noisy fit), parents may gain short-term quiet, but they have made it that much more difficult to raise a child that is pleasant to live with and one whom other people enjoy being around.  Parenting isn't for wimps or cowards.

The second root is that there is a confusion among parents as to what fair really means.  Fair does not mean that each child gets to do and have exactly the same thing as every other child in a family.  Fair means that each child is raised by their parents in the manner which is best for that child to grow to functioning and productive adulthood.  Every single child is different from another and has different needs, talents, faults, and abilities.  What is good for one child may not be good for another.  Besides, from a purely practical point of view, it is nearly impossible to give things and opportunities absolutely equitably.  (One of the many benefits of having lots of kids is that it inoculates one against this obsession with fairness.  In my observations, families with two children are at greatest risk of falling into the fairness fallacy.)

Third, I believe that parents have lost the importance of the idea of delayed gratification. There is a lot to be said for learning delayed gratification.  Teaching the younger child to wait for some desired activity is an important lesson for that child.  Children who have learned this concept are far less likely to get into trouble in adulthood.  If you can wait and pay cash for an item you want, you are much less likely to have a problem with debt.  To look at current American society, it would seem the the idea of delayed gratification is nearly an archaic concept.  But it is one that needs to be revived.  You will be giving your children a huge gift if they learn the ability to wait for the best in lieu of satisfying an immediate craving... of any sort. 

Fourth, parents are often unaware of the importance of developmental markers in the life and maturation of a child.  The first year of life, we are hyper-aware of them.  We pay close attention to first smiles, first waves, first teeth and first steps.  The trouble is, as children grow older, the physical developmental markers become fewer and often become external to the child.  School graduations, driver's licenses, college acceptances, engagements, weddings, and having children represent nearly the sum total of what our society gives us as far as communally telling our children they are getting older.  As parents, we need to create other, family-based markers so that our children can see they are maturing and developing.  But to create these, it means that we will naturally be excluding the child who is younger.  But this is not a negative thing.  The older child gets the benefit of attention or benefits that are solely theirs without having to share.  The younger child sees what is in their future and gives them something to work toward and look forward to.  The younger child may complain or grouse a bit, but if we give them their privileges too early or without the necessary preparation, the privileges become empty and meaningless.  We cheat our children.

Last, I think some parents, in ignorance, underestimate what level of behavior their children are capable of.  They aim too low, so that's what is achieved.  Children, even young children, are often capable of understanding more than we expect and the same goes with behavior.  Of course it doesn't happen overnight and it doesn't happen without training and practice, but children can learn good behavior.  I wish parents would expect more from their children and then work with them to make that a reality.
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2 comments:

mom2super6 said...

Excellent post! I always say that children will live up to your lowest expectations. Keep them high.

Dee said...

Here Here!

I was leery reading over this at first but I agree! Children should be expected to do things at a higher level and the older ones should be allowed to participate in things that the younger can't. We do those around here already.

I'd like to also add (maybe I overlooked it?) not all children in a family should be required to participate in the SAME thing. We have tried hard to find the gifts of our children and found that they are not all good at music, swimming, etc. We have placed them with their gifts as best we can.

Thanks for this great post!
Take care!
Dee

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