We need more healthy families. It begins with good parenting; I dare say, parenting is the most important job on the planet. Developing strong family units creates a healthier society of better citizens. It takes hard work and discipline to raise healthy families, and it also takes time and sacrifice.
The depths of sacrificing are not well understood until you become a parent. It is sobering. And don’t many of us feel robbed of our time already? To add to the complexity of time and sacrifice, many parents are sandwiched between bringing up their children and caring for their aging parents and extended family. And finally it costs money to raise children – lots of money.
For these reasons, we sometimes find there is an absence of parents, and in their absence children are learning from other sources and being baffled by TV viewing and what they find on their ”smart” phones. This is not an anti-technology statement. We just have to remember that there is no substitute for parenting. Too often pouring out of these devices are messages that contribute to the developing mind-set that we don’t have to put effort into obtaining our goals – like winning the lottery. This is called cheap citizenship. David Orr describes this concept in his writings on education and the human prospect as: We are not accepting that we reap what we sow. It is the steps within the process that not only enable us to reach our goals, but also acquire experience and hopefully wisdom about our goals. Where are the parents to serve as role models for learning how to sow?
The standards for good parenting have changed. Those of us who are fifty or over probably experienced our parents tending to our outward behavior: making sure we dressed properly, sat up straight, minded our manners, listened to adults and ate everything on our plates. Perhaps simplistic, but that was predominantly the focus. Tending to the outward behaviors has its role, but what about the emotional health of a child and the parent-child relationship? These are now additional duties of good parenting (http://centerforparentingeducation.org/library-of-articles/focus-parents/hard-parent-today-big-picture-parental-responsibility/). Some people think these roles have gone too far – the helicopter parents– and resulted in the pampering of newer generations. We always see the extremes in human nature, but there are many benefits to looking beyond your children’s outward needs, which was mostly all we focused on fifty years ago. That approach wasn’t particularly effective either.
So what is a good balance? If we look at the basic hierarchy of needs for human beings as Maslow describes, we require more than simply the physiological and safety needs. We need loving and belonging, positive self-esteem, and self-actualization (fulfillment or finding meaning in life).
Two areas in which parents can assist their children in becoming good citizens include addressing emotional health and the parent-child relationship. It doesn’t mean you have to go overboard; just seek a balance.
With our child’s emotional health, we can look at the following and ask: What can I do to help my child
In developing a good parent-child relationship, we can look at the following:
The above lists might seem overwhelming. How can we possibly do all this for our children? The following approaches can be squeezed into our everyday life:
1. Just Show Up: Show up as much as you can or be present in another form
2. Be a Role Model: Be their # one role model (even if they “hate” you sometimes)
3. Be Approachable: Let them talk to you about anything (if they choose)
4. Understand the Real Consequences: Learn the real meaning of discipline
5. Problem-Solve: Practice, keep it simple, and decide, even if it is not perfect
1. Showing Up: The first one is easy to understand, but not always easy to practice, given all our other commitments. But by just showing up, it speaks volumes about caring, love, building self-esteem, letting them know that you value them, developing a safe haven so they are not alone, and helping them through stressful times if the situation arises. Be creative with your work schedule or if you cannot show up, how about sending your child a note or text of encouragement? Have someone take videos or photos, so you can share later on.
2. Role Model: If you know that your children are watching you and soaking in every word that you say (despite how it appears), it will help you to become a better person and citizen and, therefore, teach them. This takes no extra time; this one is about quality, not quantity of time.
3. Be Approachable: Juggling between being a friend and a parent is tricky but it can be done. It takes practice and thought. I am my daughter’s good friend, but she often says: “Thanks for putting your mom-hat on.” It helps to simply remember that parents and children are not equal in knowledge and experience: Find the balance where they are comfortable with talking to you, and know when not to judge; remember their age and that they are still developing. You can allow children to negotiate to a degree and make appropriate decisions (not brushing their teeth is not an appropriate decision). And children do not have permission to negotiate with you on everything; then they are in charge and this breeds insecurity. It is not denying them opportunities; it is simply unfair to put that much pressure on them when they don’t yet have the skills. As far as subject matter, if you are uncomfortable with the subject, your children will pick up on that and clam up. If you want them to share with you, you have to do a little growing up as well.
4. What consequences mean: Practicing some sort of discipline for a child’s behavior is healthy, and it is a huge disservice to any child if not practiced. We all need to understand that there are consequences to our actions – good or bad – usually in the form of rewards and punishments. However, so much time is spent on practicing punishments or giving materialistic rewards. Don’t both of these practices leave children and parents feeling pretty much empty? The real punishment and reward is linked to the attention and connection (intimate fellowship of love) between a parent and child. Think about it: Was it the spank on the behind or sitting in our room what hurt? It was more likely the break in the relationship between the child and parent that caused the pain. Was that dollar bill or stuffed animal of any lasting value, or was that happiness and love that you received from your mother and father the real reward? Thus, a more powerful and long-lasting tool for disciplining a child is focusing on maintaining this intimate fellowship of love between a parent and child.
5. Problem-Solving: Practice problem-solving and teach them to keep it simple. The first step is to make sure it is your problem to solve. If it is, define the problem and do not make it bigger than it is. The components of decision-making are: get the facts, analyze the facts, come up with solutions and make the damn decision. Just do it. Accept the fact that the decision will most likely not always be perfect.
In conclusion, there are two sides to the parenting story:
One side addresses, literally: “Where are the parents?” Are they willing to sacrifice? If not, you’ll most likely reap what you sow. Parents need to make an investment in their children. But realistically more often than not, you need time and money in order to be with your child for that investment. So, that touches upon the other side of the story.
Does our society support parenting? In most families, both parents have to work and that is not to make extra money – it is just to make ends meet. Healthcare, education, homes – just about everything – has become too costly for the middle-class. And all of this robs us of the precious time needed for parenting. For those parents facing poverty or having children with disabilities or special needs, the challenges become even steeper.
As a society, we need to concentrate on what we value. Good parenting (and having the time and resources to do it) leads to healthy families, which leads to good citizens and results in a healthier society.