July 24, 2013 by Julia
It’s pretty hard to TRULY screw up our children, unless we’re psychopaths or extremists.
So I figure if I don’t take any parenting philosophies too far, my kids will basically grow into their natural selves, without me getting in the way.
As a parent, I’m aiming for the middle of the road.
Isn’t that the most inspiring parenting platitude you’ve ever heard?
Don’t get me wrong; I want my children to thrive, and I want to do more than stay out of the way as they grow. I want to shower them with love and affection, to help them discover their own interests and talents, and teach them how to cope with and enjoy the world.
I just think there are many ways to achieve those goals. My way isn’t the only way. And it can’t hurt to keep an open mind while observing parenting styles on the opposite end of the spectrum than my own. I might even integrate some of those stricter methods into my default “Laid-Back Parent” mode, and find myself a little closer to that middle of the road, where well-adjusted children are raised.
I like to read the latest parenting articles and books, glean a few bits of wisdom and add them like supplies to my backpack. I take what looks useful, and leave behind what looks burdensome. My favorite tools to date are: using my intuition about what is right, remembering empathy when my children frustrate me, and remembering to model my most important values, like kindness. But flexibility and humility are also key, because my favorite tools don’t always work.
Phases come and go, and demands change. We may think we have it all figured out because our first kid was so easygoing, and then the second one comes shooting out the womb like a fireball rocket and suddenly nothing makes sense anymore.
Let’s face it; our kids will make us re-evaluate our deepest beliefs about what constitutes good or bad behavior.
Sometimes our best option is to act like an Attachment Parent, or a Helicopter Parent, or a Tiger Mother, or a Minimalist – even if we never saw ourselves that way before. Even if we used to judge those parents at the playground. As long we’re not that way all the time, acting as though it’s a one-size-fits-all perfect formula. Each of those parenting styles has pros and cons. If we watch out for the pitfalls, mix it up, figure out what works best in the field, so to speak, surely we’re doing okay. I believe this is how good parents (that’s most of us) operate, anyway.
Of course that’s easy for me to say, because of my default position as Laid-Back Parent. This kind of thinking comes with the territory for me.
Which makes me wonder at times if I need to push my children more. Am I too laid-back? Fiona enters Kindergarten soon, and she doesn’t read at all yet, which they say is normal, but so many of her friends have already crossed that divide. The thing is, Fiona is not interested in sitting down and spelling things out. Fiona is interested in acting out stories with figures – Legos, Polly Pockets, dolls, whatever. And I LOVE that about her. But I still question if I should be doing more to push her out of her comfort zone, even if she’s screaming and kicking the whole way.
So I talk to friends, trying to gauge if I am crazy for not making her do worksheets all summer, for not forcing her to sit and work on sight words or phonics as preparation for school. The general consensus has been that if I can encourage her to do it with positive reinforcement, fine – but don’t turn it into a battle, because you don’t want her to have negative associations with something so wonderful as reading. And I am thankful for this feedback, from parents who are different than myself.
It’s also easy to clash with our own parents about how best to raise children. The truth is, we’ve got studies on safety and health and psychology on our side – they’ve got more experience under their belts. Both kinds of knowledge are valuable. When the kids were babies, I told my parents that I wanted them laid in their cribs on their backs, without blankets, because these methods have vastly reduced SIDS nationwide. By the same token, I know my parents have pretty much seen it all, and I can talk to them about any issues we’re struggling with as a family. I can vent, or gush, and know that, yup, they’ve been there. They know what I’m talking about. Often this is more helpful than advice.
Of course, sometimes they do regale me with good advice, like this gem I carry in my backpack as I traverse the ups and downs of parenthood. From an email my Dad sent me on March 15th, 2013:
Ju – Thought you could appreciate this (and be reassured!). From review of Adam Phillips Missing Out (New Yorker):
Phillips was lured into [the field of] psychoanalysis by the writings of D. W. Winnicott, the revered child psychologist of mid-twentieth century England. One of Winnicott’s main contributions to psychoanalytic thought was his idea of the “good-enough mother,” the mother who sometimes responded promptly to our needs and sometimes didn’t. The beauty of this concept was that it was so widely applicable – most people had that kind of mother – and also that it bestowed some honor on her. I think that Phillips regards Winnicott’s good-enough mother as not just good enough but the best, because she tells us the truth: on occasion we’ll get satisfaction and on occasion we won’t. We need understanding sometimes, not every time. If we insist on getting it all the time, he asks, “how could we ever be anything but permanently enraged?”
Isn’t that, like, the best?
Mistakes and inadequacies and occasional selfishness keep us in the middle of the road, too. And that’s not such a bad place to be. So take a deep breath, and keep on.