Monday, May 02, 2016

An Ugly Truth About Parenting

Have you noticed how many (seemingly billions) websites, magazines, newsletters, books, DVDs, etc. there are about parenting? I'm not even talking about the general stuff about pregnancy and child development. I'm talking about the ones telling you how to deal with problems, how to discipline children, etc.

They don't work.

Well at least, not for all or even most children, and not for long.

If they did work, there wouldn't be so many of them.

Oh, it's easy for someone to stand there lecturing you on how to parent and either you never see them interacting with their own children or it is for a short amount of time, edited. I'm sure they respond to complaints with "You're just not doing it right, or consistently."

But that is not always so. The truth is that no system is going to work all of the time for every child. It may work on one of your children... for a while. Kids adapt. a DVD or a book doesn't. It still tells you to do the same thing it told you to do a year ago. Ever watch Supernanny? Yeah, I wonder how things were going for some of those families a year or two later. Unless your child is stupid, your child anticipates your tactics and adapts accordingly, and being a child is their job. You have a lot of other things to think about in addition to disciplining your child.

This media that promises a peaceful home with well-behaved and well-adjusted children often contradict each other.

Don't ever spank! 
Spank, but with your open hand. 
Spank, but with an object, not your hand, which is only supposed to be gentle and welcoming.

Count out loud to 3 to give your child a warning. 
Don't count as that teaches the child they can screw up twice with no consequences.

Let infants and toddlers cry it out or you encourage them to wake up on the middle of the night and cry until they get attention.
Never let an infant or toddler cry it out; instead, provide them reassurance. 

Never bring your child into your bed.

And that's just the earlier years.

I just love hearing about parents or parental figures (usually a grandparent) that "never so much as raised a his voice" in dealing with brats. Sorry, I don't buy it. Either that person wasn't the primary disciplinarian, or the kids were unusually compliant (perfect future cubicle dwellers and fry cooks), or the man was on sedative drugs or the man was secretly kicking puppies when nobody was looking. Sorry, when I'm trying to prevent my children from killing themselves or maiming other kids, I might get a little forceful in my touching or loud in my vocalizations. Oooh, I'm such a bad parent.

Well guess what? There have been some great parents who have raised several kids, and most of them turn out fine and one of them turns out to be a serial killer. Is it really the fault of parenting? Usually not, in those cases. I mean, once it becomes apparent the kid is a sadist or sociopath it is possible the parent could have done them in, but instead the parent risks dead strangers and nasty remarks rather than going to prison themselves.

My siblings and I were raised in the same home, by the same parents. Yet each of us was very different even at early ages, as my father tried to explain to our elementary school principal.

I recently realized something that should have been so obvious to me before. Not even counting sociopaths and sadists, parents can't raise their children without inflicting some (emotional, psychological) harm, even if minor. You get any adult into therapy, no matter how great of a childhood they had and no matter what great and successful and happy people they are now, and there will be something that you will discover that their parents did wrong that still has a negative or limiting impact on them. None of us is perfect, and none of us is going to be a perfect parent. The ugly truth is, it is just a matter of which mistakes we're going to make in raising our children.

Uplifting thought, no?

Here's the thing. Children used to be born into an adult-oriented world, and put to work as soon as possible in hunting/gathering and largely agrarian cultures. They didn't have the time or freedom to cause trouble. Problem children were simply killed, beaten into compliance, or sold off. Ignorant people today mock the Torah's (that's the first five books of the Bible) requirement that parents get council approval before stoning children. "The Bible says parents can stone disobedient children!" Well, the Torah said they couldn't without council approval. You know what restrictions parents had before then? NONE. Parents could kill their own children for any or no reason with impunity. The Torah put a stop to that. Tradition holds that approval was never given to stone a child.

Do I think children should be killed, beaten, or sold off? No. But when push comes to shove, you can only make your child comply by using physical force (any compliance without it is a willful volunteering on the part of the child), even if it is just restraint provided by your arms, and you can get yourself in trouble for that. And it only works until your child is strong enough or fast enough to effectively resist.

This notion of childhood and then teenagehood/adolescence is a new one. High school isn't all that old, and formal education for most children is a relatively recent development itself. Now we have laws against child labor, and parents have many restrictions in how they can discipline their children. So much of how we order our lives and culture has to do with children, at least in certain ways.

In other ways, the culture subverts what innocence our children do have. If it takes a village to raise a child, isn't it scary how rude, how narcissistic, how destructive the village has become? If we try to change that, what do we hear? "Don't impose your morality on me!" Yet the village keeps trying to overtake the role of parent.

We've created so many problems for ourselves socially.

Maybe this is a long way of saying I really don't want to spend any more of this short life reading books or watching DVDs about how we're not parenting right. I don't want some shriveled old lady who, if she ever had her own children, raised them in a different era, approaching me at church and telling me I'm not handling my disobedient son the right way. I'm willing to listen to what my therapist advises, when it make sense.

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