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How To Build A Better Parent

No one likes to be told what to do. (Just ask a toddler if you don’t believe me.) But that hasn’t stopped anyone and everyone from proclaiming that you are not raising your children in the correct manner. There are books which chastise you for not being more French or feline. Newsstands are chock full of glossy instructional manuals. There was a time when parenting articles were bundled with home economics and fashion articles in ladies’ magazines. That will no longer do. The magazine industry (in all its floundering glory) has produced copious parenting titles. One needn’t purchase a magazine or book however; simply turn on the computer and enter the blogosphere/chat rooms/message boards that long to be heard.

Of course many of these sites are less interested in telling you what to do and much more concerned with daily affirmation. Are you having some doubt about sleeping in the same bed as your baby? Fear not, there are thousands of people out there poised to support your decision. Does using a pacifier make you feel less than? Give it 10 seconds, and someone will vote you virtual mother of the year.

Let’s face it, there’s a lot of noise out there. There are as many people lining up to cut you down, as there are to boost you up. Parenting is a lonely job. There is no boss to hand out an “atta girl” there are no annual reviews or even colleagues. There are hundreds of tiny (and not so tiny) decisions you must make at all times. A little person, even a verbal little person, cannot offer much feedback as to how you’re doing. It takes a village just to quell the loneliness. So naturally, we’re disposed to hearing the chatter (by the end of the day the chatter of adults sounds like a freaking symphony to our ears!) But if there’s any danger in our weakened state, it is that we often only hear what we want to hear. If we are sleep deprived (and shower deprived) and are still being woken up every 3-4 hours by a three month old, we want to hear that we are and will be okay. We probably do not want to hear that we have to let the baby learn to self-comfort. We can’t bear the idea of listening to the baby cry itself back to sleep once let alone every night for a week. Just tell us that we’ll live through this. Well, you will, of course you will, but parenting isn’t really about our survival it’s about helping children grown into healthy, happy, strong adults. However it’s easy to lose sight of that when you haven’t slept for three months.

Put a post-it-note on your computer for when you find yourself shopping online for a perfect parenting book or trolling chat rooms at 2:00 AM. Have the note simply state: “I know what I’m doing” then in tiny script just below “see print-out.” See print-out?

Print-Out:

How To Build A Happy, Healthy, Strong Person

  • Adults are in charge – Flight attendants instruct adults to place the oxygen mask on their own face first for a reason
    • A fulfilling life of your own, outside of your parenting responsibilities is key to allowing your child to grow and to modeling the appeal of growing
    • Adult activities (working, fitness, classes, socializing, dining, bar hopping) should not include children
  • Do only what is necessary for your child
    • A preschooler can pick up his/her own toys. Once children reach school age he/she can make their own breakfast and get dressed. A middle-schooler can do his/her own laundry and cook one night a week. And so on
    • Competence is the primary ingredient in self-esteem
  • Redefine “every advantage”
    • Don’t give your child what you didn’t have, give them what they need
    • Money & stuff is never helpful, life skills and a moral compass are

 

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2012 in Childhood, Media/Marketing

 

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Careful The Things You Do*

Hauling nutritionally balanced snacks to Little Leaguers (who engage in actual exercise for about 10 minutes.)  Creating elaborately themed birthday parties for children who would be happy with a whoopee cushion and a pizza.  Dressing little girls as miniature Mae Wests.  What do these, and many more slightly wacky things, have in common?

When asked, the majority of adults will explain (variations of the above) behavior with the following: “There’s such pressure.”  Such pressure.  From their child?  Visions of a pigtailed girl a la The Bad Seed dance in my head.  There she is in the middle of GapKids/Gymboree/Children’s Place, her $200 doll held aloft prepared to swing; “Buy me the fur shrug or the latte gets it.”  I don’t think so.  If so, someone call Willy Wonka and have him rustle up some oompa loompas.  I think what these parents in fact mean is that there is perceived peer pressure.  That’s right; peer pressure.  That plausible excuse for the pack of cigarettes your parents found in their car, the explanation for shoplifting that 45 (a small disc when placed on a turntable emits prerecorded sound,) and a plausible excuse for kissing that boy in the basement.  But peer pressure in adults?  How does that work?  How does one even keep a straight face?  I suspect that it is not peer pressure so much as it is herd mentality.  Semantics perhaps, but defined as “group think” it makes just a bit more sense.

Very few of us, no matter how many times we’ve done it, feel like professional parents.  Every child, every developmental stage, in fact every day presents new challenges.  Yes, there are some whose very nature is laid back.  They feel confident that their child is well fed, healthy, happy, and curious.  They don’t grasp at enrichment programs as if they were life preservers or buy every latest geegaw and gizmo.  Their confidence might be innate or may be a reflection of their diverse portfolio.  Perhaps all their identity eggs are not in the parenthood basket.  They may have a paid job or not.  They may be married or not.  The diversification is more internal than that.

But these are not the parents hiring aerialists and face painters for a bris.  They are not the ones baking for the school/church/scouts/karate class/soccer club every week.  The parents staying up to create bespoke goody bags for their 6 year old’s birthday party are hearing different voices in their head.  They want desperately to get it right and like the creature in the strange land (that all parents really are) they take every cue and piece of advice to heart.  A cycle is created of external reinforcement.  Where the trouble may lie (if you consider hovering parenting and spoiled children, trouble) is a sense of unease and disquietness.  Look around.  How much of the media noise is about “stressed moms” “mommy wars” or far worse “the hidden drinking life of moms.”  How long do you think it will be before we have a psychological condition known as “stressed mother?”

Feeling exhausted and strained is nothing new.  Mother’s little helper, anyone?  But the angst which comes from losing one’s internal compass is.  What would happen if we tried something new, yet very old for 30 days?  For 30 days, let’s not visit any parenting websites, chat rooms or magazines.  Let’s only talk to our friends and acquaintances about what’s going on in our own lives, not our child’s.  Let’s plan weekly dates with our partners (and hire babysitters.)  If something comes up in those 30 days which really warrants guidance, call a parent, or aunt, or uncle or grandparent.  Look to the elders, the survivors if you will, for guidance, reinforcement and comfort.  For 30 days, do not look to the others floundering in the sea of parenthood for help.

Let me know how it goes.

*Children Will Listen – Into The Woods, Stephen Sondheim (1986)

 
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Posted by on March 1, 2012 in Childhood

 

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