Valerie Rice | February 13,2021
We have all heard the adage about children not coming with instructions. We have also all promised not to turn into our parents. So what do we end up doing? Well, we model our parents’ style, that’s what. We already learned how to parent growing up. Luckily we can unlearn that as well. We, the bright and rational beings that we are, can research and change our behavior. I was blessed/cursed with the need to raise myself during my adolescence and it did not go well, so when I had children of my own, the only option I had was research. Let me tell you what I discovered.
WHAT ARE CHILDREN?
Seriously, think about it. For centuries adults have seen children as miniature versions of adults. This is not the case. Children are developing humans, unlike other mammals who are born and off and running within hours. The human brain takes 25 years to develop. 25 years. Which means that from birth to age 25, a human is not able to think or act like an adult. The fact that we assume at the age of 18 or 21 the human should be treated as an adult is laughable and terrifying. These numbers are arbitrary and set by legal regulation of activities such as voting, smoking, and consuming alcohol. It has nothing to do with maturity. I personally find this ridiculous as parents often shove their offspring from the nest too soon thanks to these regulations while they are still developing and society imposes high expectations on people not yet ready for the weight and impact of adult responsibilities and repercussions. It is simple biological science.
A DEVELOPING PERSON
It is important to note that a developing person is not property. I mean, we accept the fact that a grown person is not theoretically property (don’t let’s go there prison system and capitalism) but we often see children as pawns of parents because of the belief that they should learn to obey. I hate that idea. Children are learning, yes, but they should learn to think critically, make choices, and problem solve. If a child is treated as property and ingrained with blind obedience the ability to function independently in adulthood is hampered. Sure, the parent’s life gets easier, but is that really the point of parenting? Nope. So repeat after me : Children are not a parent’s property. Parents are to teach, not train.
Simple. Much like you would deal with any other person, show them respect. Yes, I DID just say they are not small adults, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve respect. Here are a few tips to make it through parenting. 1.) Ask : Always ask your child to perform a task instead of ordering it to be done. This shows the child that their time is as valuable as yours and that you respect their effort. If they refuse, explain in age appropriate terms why they need to help out. A simple explanation will usually work. 2.) Consequences instead of punishment: instead of yelling and punishing, just roll with it. For example: Pretend you asked a kid to do the dishes and they refuse, even after explaining why they should, shut your mouth. Next time they need to use the dishes, remind them that the dishes are still dirty and their task is incomplete, but as soon as they are done they may use your dishes again. 3.) Please and Thank You: If you expect your children you use these words, you have to use them too. I use the word “please” when asking my children to do chores and thank them when they are done. It shows respect and gratitude.
THE BIG ONE
Apologies. This needs a section all its own. We, as parents, are not perfect. I think that many of us were raised by Boomers who spent their lives behind a facade of perfection. When we arrived at the doors of parenthood we realized that we had no idea what was going on and it was all a lie. Much of the advice we get from our parents seems counterintuitive and we are on our own. Let us take the time to break the myth of perfection in our elders. When you screw up, let your kids know. Many times I have lost my cool and yelled at a child. I have also punished a child for something they did not do, or said something cruel, and so on. In each of these instances it was necessary to take the time to calm down, gather my thoughts, and construct an apology.
An apology does not place any blame on the person you are apologizing to. You say “ I am sorry for (insert action). That was uncalled for. (explain why you were wrong). I hope you can forgive me. I love you. I promise to work on myself so that it doesn’t happen again.” Do NOT try to justify your actions. You are not perfect, but do not make excuses and NEVER point out things the child has done. They can accept it or not, that is up to them, and they may need time to calm down, too. Remember that you actually have to try and not repeat the behavior.
Not only are we trying to avoid passing ourselves off as all-powerful beings, we are showing our kids that parents are humans. We also want to model appropriate behavior so that they, too, will be inclined to own up to and apologize for their mistakes. Additionally, allowing yourself to be vulnerable will bring your children closer to you and help nurture their sense of empathy. We can’t expect them to understand personal responsibility, humility, and empathy on theory alone.
Raising children is hard. Helping mold responsible and functioning adults is even harder. Everything you say and do in front of them gets absorbed and turned into a part of them in some way. So think of the most ideal adult, and model that behavior. Think of the best relationship ever, and try to create it with them. Yes, you have to set boundaries and enforce them. Yes, you have to be consistent. You also have to be loving and accessible and human. I wish we could, and if we work together we will, raise a generation without severe trauma and parenting issues. Until next time: Be Well!