Monday, March 23, 2009
I am contemplating parenting today (it's about time since I claimed in my blog name that was what I would talk about!) and thinking that it's just amazing how much some people can completely miss the point! To me there is a whole spectrum of stupidity related to parenting ... a whole list of "types" if you will. I have long been clinging to the premise that no one sets out to be a bad parent... no one intentionally wants to screw up their kid. I have even given wide berth to abusive parents allowing that everyone does what they think is best and alot of times even in abusive situations some of those parents truly don't know that smacking their kid around is bad, or leaving them alone too much is bad, or screaming at them all the time is bad. If you were parented that way and never exposed to good parenting then that's your frame of reference. Doesn't make it right or OK but it doesn't necessarily make you some monster.
I have always thought if parents spent more time helping each other and supporting one another then we all might do a better job. I think self awareness is helpful though as well. I think some folks don't see what they are doing as a parent can be harmful if done in extreme ways. Now just for a chuckle let's examine some of these forms of "extreme" parenting. Now my types aren't going to fit any sort of mainstream parenting books because basically the way I parent doesn't fit any particular mold either!
The first type that comes to mind are the "mini me" parents... you have seen them... the baby is 6 months old and dressed in blue jeans and a golf shirt with his hair slicked into a real man-do! Their 3 yr old is wearing high heels, a mini skirt and halter top and looks like a "mini hoochie" instead of a preschooler! They are yelling at their kids for being kids... they are embarrassed when their child fails or isn't the best, fastest, brightest etc because it reflects so badly on THEM! They feed their kids only the foods THEY like, they take them only the places THEY like, and disparage anything the child expresses a fondness for unless THEY like it (read VALUE IT) too. Their kids often become bullies or become so anxious and depressed they can barely function or are miserable overachievers. My kids all have a few friends like this... one friend has applied to a bunch of colleges she isn't the least bit interested in because her parents wanted her too. When asked where she WANTS to go she hasn't the foggiest idea! One child is a honors student in a "gifted" school while her mother comments she doesn't know how she managed to get in or how she manages to bring home straight A's and screams at this kid to stop being "so damn WEIRD" ... same mom endorses the step daughter who is "cool" but now is in a group home because she's gotten into so much trouble (doing drugs, running away, dating a way too much older guy, stealing, lying etc etc) . WHAT THE HELL???
Then you have the "drill sergeant" parent... we have all seen them and some small part of us has envied the absolute obedience their kids exhibit (for a tiny second at least !) until we look into these poor demoralized and often ANGRY kids' eyes! These are the parents who tell their kids what to do every waking moment, never ask their kids what they want, they buy them clothing, food and provide shelter for them and in return the kids do whatever they are told without question. They go to church (which sadly is the place that some of these parents THINK they were taught how to be such good parents!) and never consider that their kids might have a different belief system or ever even allow that their kids question anything about their chosen religion (sometimes these folks cross over into the mini me's!) . We have all known these parents their kids are often revered in the neighborhood because "boy that family has it together... that mom/dad has CONTROL of that family". What we as parents often don't see is their 12 yr old in the bathroom at school putting on the makeup that she was forbidden to wear when she asked at home, their 14 yr old trying out pot or beer because when he asked WHY he shouldn't' experiment he was just told "because I said so" and a few years down the line the now 15 yr old daughter shows up pregnant because she was told "not to" have sex rather than educated about sex and birth control and decision making. These parents don't allow their kids to make any decisions because they control everything and often the parents are so afraid their kids will make a mistake and it will reflect badly on them as parents (the mini me crossover again) that they can't consider giving up any of that control. Their kids are often sneaky and secretive because their parents don't have open communication with them. They also can be raising kids that are so naive they get into dangerous situations because they don't know anything about the world since the control is often so tight they aren't allowed to experience anything until they finally get away. We all know the girl that was an angel in high school and during Freshman year in college is out drinking and carousing all night! The one that flunks out by sophomore year? Or the boy that drinks so much he ends up in the ER because no one ever educated him about drinking but just told him not to? What happens when the parent isn't there telling them what to do?? These parents don't give their kids any tools to navigate the real world... they don't give them a safe place to make the wrong decision and learn from it. This is the parent you would NEVER call if you were out with friends and drank too much to drive home... you would rather risk your life and those around you than face calling that parent and asking for a ride.
The "un" parent.... these parents are often so selfish and self absorbed that they don't realize they ARE parents... they drift through life hoping the rest of the world will deal with their kids so they don't have to stop what they want to do and deal with them. I think we have all been trapped at the park or birthday party by the 5 yr old that is so starved for attention she's decided she's your new best friend? The one that walks up and says "I am thirsty" or " I have to go potty" ...while you are asking where her mother is she's crawled into the host's fridge looking for sustenance. The kid at the park that seems to be there alone and asks to be pushed on the swing or joins your picnic uninvited? These parents when asked why they don't stop their kids from doing something obnoxious or annoying will say "well if the person is annoyed they should tell them to stop" NO Lady this is YOUR kid this is YOUR JOB to parent him not complete strangers while you talk on your cell phone and your 3 yr old toddles down the green way into the woods alone! Sometimes these parents will even suggest that their "relaxed" parenting is allowing their kids freedom to explore and figure out who they are, that they don't want to squelch little Johnny's psyche by telling him "no". Well let me define personal freedom for you in case you are fuzzy... YOUR freedom ENDS where another person's freedom BEGINS! I think all kids need limits... they need to know that there is an adult in charge to help them through the things that are beyond their social navigation skills. They need to feel safe and know that someone "has their back" in all situations. Letting your kid figure it out for themselves with no help is NOT OK. These are the people that abuse the attachment parenting title.... let me clear it up for you.... if your 3 yr old just toddled into the woods because you were too busy talking to Mary Jo about last week's mom's night out then you ARE NOT very attached! Attachment parenting means you are available to meet your kid's needs, you are in tune and attached to them helping them navigate the world at their pace and comfort level... you are allowing them to decide when they are ready to wean, to separate from you etc. You UNPARENTS need to STOP abusing this beautiful process!
The "best friend" parent.... this is seen often in single parents or families where one parent works or travels alot or is just fairly disconnected from the whole process. The available parent makes the kids their best friends, they don't have their own friends and pretty much make sure the kids don't either unless the friend can join into the circle that includes the parents. Sometimes in extreme form this is the parent that buys beer for the kids and their friends because they are all buddies. Often these kids are burdened with all the talk about finances, relationships, job stress and everything else. These parents don't seem to think that burdening their kids with all this "adult" stress is harmful. Sometimes they are even more adult than the parent doing the worrying themselves about the bills, or the other kids while the parent is off partying or making other bad decisions knowing that their "best bud" is back home holding down the fort. Sometimes these parents are the "cool" parents in the other kids' eyes because they don't care if their kid drinks, or they are open to discussing their kid's love life on a more intimate level etc. So... if you are advising your kid's friends about which boy to date, sharing drunk stories, and even making fun of their parents along with them you MIGHT want to check out a pair of big girl panties. There comes a time to grow up and provide some guidance for your children... you can be best friends when they are adults too .... while they are kids PLEASE be their parent! You can have a close bond with your child but still be the responsible adult. Kids NEED parents to be in charge of things like paying bills, maintaining the home (chores won't kill them but they shouldn't have to worry about where the new roof is coming from!) . Kids need parents to help them learn to be adults.
The "velcro" parent... this parent has taken attachment parenting to an extreme, they mean well but are missing some of those autonomous signals that kids give off. If your kid's legs are hitting the ground from the bottom of the baby sling then he MIGHT be ready to explore a bit on his own! This parent is usually a worrier... they are so sure that someone will be mean to their kid, that the kid will get hurt, that germs are out there, that someone will take their kid etc that they sometimes make their kid a nervous wreck. They are the mom's at the first day of school crying on the front steps while their kid is dragging the teacher down the hall trying to get back to them... in kindergarten we see a lot of this but when the kid is in 7th grade the other kids might make their lives a little rough! This is the kid that desperately wants to spend the night at a friend's house but by the time they arrive the mom has spent all day warning them about all the things that could happen and reminding them a zillion times that when they get too scared to stay all night she will come pick them up that there's no way the child can make it all night. Now let me take a moment here to explain that I know there are kids that don't do the sleepover thing well... they try and sometimes it works out for them and sometimes they don't do so well ... these kids usually have parents that have said "you can call me anytime if you need me" and when/if called try very hard to help the child navigate the situation, they support the feelings this child is having and try to help in whatever way they can. This is VERY different from the parent who says to the child " I know you won't make it all night so just call me when you fail". These also seem to be the parents that at some point get so tired and overwhelmed of being available for their now neurotic child that they begin to employ the "sneak exit" which is when you take your kid somewhere and when they aren't paying attention you leave! It saves the parent the crying that they taught the kid but now are tired of... it makes the kid pretty miserable in case you are wondering ! It also makes the kid no longer trust you because you have just shown that you will lie to get away from them. This can start a whole other level of separation anxiety for the parent and child.
The "I am so important" parent is one that I see SOOO often in my area... these parents are SO important they just don't have time for parenting. But don't worry about their kids this "so important" parents can afford to hire someone to do it for them... isn't that fortunate?? You have Dad who is some high powered executive/doctor/lawyer/business owner and works 30 hours a day and travels 8 days a week and never takes a vacation with the family. You have Mom who is just so completely overwhelmed with her schedule.... my heart really aches for this mom.... can you believe she has to manage the nanny, the housekeeper, the gardener, do the shopping, make appointments for the dentist, doctor, plastic surgeon, therapist, hair stylist, manicurist, facialist, massage therapist etc, she has to deal with interior decorators, contractors(you practically have to keep on on retainer so if you need a quick addition to your 6500 sq ft home you don't have to wait!) , she has to interview new nannies, tutors, handle paperwork for getting little Johnny into the BEST schools, juggle the scheduling of little Johnny's tennis lesson, baseball game, lacrosse club, tutor, Cotillion, golf lesson, play dates and so forth and sadly ALL ALONE! ??? I tell you it's amazing she ever has time to have lunch at the club, go to the spa or play tennis herself! Also can you believe her child's school will NOT let the nanny take her turn as Lunch mom? TWICE a year she has to go to the school and help hand out lunches.... it can sometimes take an HOUR! These are the kids that run directly past mom into the nanny's arms when they are upset, some of these kids become real jerks because sometimes that happens when it's made clear to you you aren't a priority in your parent's lives! We all know kids that have 2 expensive sports cars, vacation in exotic places, wear all the latest fashions , have the best toys, attend the best schools, know all the "right" people and sadly are miserable and just want a little of their parent's attention. Sometimes they learn how to do that by getting into trouble because attention is attention! Sometimes they learn that they aren't important and take other risks because they figure no one cares if they are around or not. I am not just picking on wealthy people here because I know plenty of solid middle class and even some fairly poor folks that still seem to mistake material possessions for love. Your kid doesn't need another lego set... they need a parent that will listen to them, hug them , spend time with them doing things or nothing at all. Every moment of your child's life doesn't have to be packed with activities for you to be a good parent. Kids need time to just be kids! Don't sign your kid up for tennis because you wanted to play and never got to, don't assume they will enjoy playing violin because you always wished you could. Before you go out to another meeting on a week night instead of helping with homework and spending time together really think about what's important!
I am sure there are other types of "extreme" parents but these are the types that I seem to see most often that cause me concern. I have vowed that this blog is about sharing information and observations that will hopefully help someone else parent in a more meaningful way, that it will help me examine my parenting and remember that my kids are HUMANS who have their own ideas and needs. So here's my idea of what a good parent is or should strive for in this new not so extreme parenting type.
The "intuitive" parents ... these parents are available for their kids, they put their relationship in a place of importance so that their family is stable and loving, their kids never doubt that they are important and aren't burdened with being "TOO" important. They have open communication with their kids and discuss everything... no topic is taboo, nothing is secret. The parents know their kid's friends and their parents, they know where they kids are and who they are spending time with. They help their kids navigate new situations and share concerns when things don't go well. They provide an example of how to treat others in the way they treat their kids and all those people around them no matter who they are. They teach moderation in all things by teaching their kids to be good stewards of money and of the earth. They are connected, available and thoughtful parents who know when their kids are happy, sad, anxious, angry and can discuss it without judgment. They provide enrichment that supports the interests of their children, they allow their children space and freedom to figure out what they like and don't like and how they want to go through the world. They find ways to say yes... they find ways to facilitate the needs of every member of the family without one being more important of valuable than another. They teach empathy and respect by giving it. They value their children as unique individuals that have likes, dislikes, fears, dreams and goals. They don't use their position as an "adult" to squash the desires or dreams of their kids. They validate their kids' feelings no matter what the feeling is. They avoid the desire to control, protect, shelter their kids from the real world but help them find the tools to navigate at their own pace the wider world. They guide decision making but do not influence it above the opinions of their children. They allow their kids to make mistakes and to learn from those mistakes. They do not value the opinions of the world above those of their family. They love their kids beyond all reason and want the absolute best for them at all times. They do not judge their children in ways that break down trust and respect. These parents are the soft place to fall that children need. These parents teach their children about the "real world" without throwing them to the wolves because they teach them that family is your safety net and the world is the world.
Hopefully this will influence you to examine your parenting on a more conscious level... think about relationships and people before you think about material possessions. I have a friend that lost a young child to cancer... she often tells other parents when they are worried about something being a big deal to think about whether this particular thing would be a big deal in the scheme of the world if their child was to die the next day. It certainly puts it in a different light if you consider it that way!
Hug your kids you can NEVER love them TOO much!