There was a great parenting article in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine (yeah I’m one of those. But only because my husband goes out and buys it on Sundays). The author, Judith Warner, talks about the litany of parenting styles that have come and gone in the past few years. It seems I’ve lived them all and my oldest is only ten. Co-sleeping, Baby Mozart, attachment parenting. And how silly it is that we believe that any of these techniques will have a lasting effect on our kids.
This is not to say that they’re not good. Attachment parenting is, of course, preferable to neglecting our babies. And I don’t agree with the alternative discussed in the article – “Chinese parenting,” with high demands, no praise, and no fun. Happy mediums, people.
But I love how Warner puts it when she says, “The notion that parental choices…have this uniquely determinative effect is…almost adorably quaint, akin to beliefs that cats must be kept out of a baby’s bedroom at night lest they climb into the crib and suck away the child’s breath. But it remains part and parcel of modern mother love.”
It’s true. We like to think we’re starting from day one with the healthiest, most well-adjusted baby there ever was, and we are going to win all the parenting trophies if we just do what these vaunted experts, sending their messages down from on high, tell us to do.
I’ve got a new idea – how about no-philosophy parenting? Just parent. Do what works, teach your kids what’s right. I don’t have the time to live by a philosophy. Or the energy, for that matter.
With every new parenting technique to come down the pike, we think – not just think, we believe, we swallow the kool aid – that what we do is ultimately going to affect how our children turn out. That if we feed them all-natural whole foods then they’ll never crave sugar and always have a healthy diet and never ever go to that bad, bad, McDonald’s. That if we are always soft and sweet and never punish them, they’ll always treat others kindly. That if we fulfill their every wish, their life will be filled with satisfaction and joy.
Ha! (Sorry.) We can’t make the world perfect for them, and we can’t make our kids perfect either. I apologize to anyone who really believed this.
We’re suffering from an overload of professional input. This is why our parents had it easier than us. They didn’t buy into any ideology about raising kids, they just did the work. I don’t think there were a lot of experts back then anyway, except maybe Dr. Spock. It seems amazingly freeing, looking back on it now.
They knew that the world is hard. Life isn’t guaranteed to be easy or fair, and us buying into that notion when our children are babies isn’t going to change a thing. It doesn’t matter how many toys we pull out of another child’s hand at the Mommy & Me to give back to our crying child. There will always be another someone or something out there to grab that toy again.
Our kids grow up in the world they grow up in. They have hundreds of creature comforts and the whole world at their hands. They have some challenges too. They don’t get to run around the neighborhood with their crew. Both parents have to work and being away from home and family takes a toll on kids and parents alike. We are all suffering the strain of a recession and uncertain futures. Will we have our job next year, will we be able to pay the mortgage, will our kids be able to go to college or end up working at that bad, bad, McDonald’s forever?
So here is the bottom line, parenting philosophies be damned. It is our job to give our children two gifts. One is the skills to survive in this world, and the other is the gratitude to appreciate what they have. That’s it.
Of course “skills” encompasses a very wide range of things we need to teach them. There will always be good and bad people. There will always be arrogant parents raising arrogant kids, and they will pick on the meek children being raised by meek parents. I hope that my kids will find the middle ground, and get through it all with a somewhat sane outlook on things (and a minimum of scarring).
And then there’s gratitude. Instead of saying “I want the new video game he has,” I want my kids to be able to look at the pile of 25 games they already have and be thankful. And know that if they want that new video game, they can do some work to earn it.
I want them to know how good we have it, period. While I sit here and write this it is 12 degrees outside. TWELVE degrees!! But I am cozy and warm without even needing to put on an extra blanket. And when I’m done, I’m going to my fully-stocked kitchen to cook a nice dinner for my family. I am blessed. If my kids grow up knowing that life is good because of something as simple as that, I’ve done my job.
Now I’ll take that trophy please.