…On Growing a Child

 

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ooking back at the process of rearing my children I am amazed they have not withered.  But then there are many plants throughout my home and in my garden that have also endured my ignorance and carelessness.

 

I do not know if these words are for those of us who are parents or for the children we have grown.  It is not relevant.   But one fact is relevant.  The fact that if we give them everything we can possibly give them, it will not be enough.  If we are wealthy and provide them with all the worldly gifts we can give, they will find some emotional need lacking and they WILL hold us accountable for the lack.     If the only gift we have to give is love and caring, we will be deemed too protective, too overwhelming, too smothering.  Somehow the time arrives when parents become expendable “know nothings”.  When such times come, and they will ALWAYS come—age 13 through 22 and then again at approximately 30 (after they have launched a career and have their own money), we re-examine our role as children growers. We find ourselves wishing we could re-plant, fertilize differently, or had provided a better environment for strong growth.  We question our job performance, but look at the crop with pride and satisfaction. 

 

It is only at family gatherings where siblings reunion that we learn of our lifetime of parental shortcomings.  Each sibling, in turn, outdoes his peer enumerating horror stories of our failures.  At these times, we feel panic and guilt.

 

Guilt, however, is not the intent of this epistle.  Actually, “Guilt is a Useless Emotion”.  Take those words to a printer and have them framed for every wall in your home.  Live by them too.  It is not enough to display the words--live them, live them, live them.  How and why to live them IS the intent of this writing.

 

Let’s see now, we are told that human beings have been having children since Adam and Eve made naughty in that beautiful garden.  So, why do we still have new books, new psychological studies, new parenting classes, and old guilt associated with child rearing?  Obviously, I do not have the answer and neither do the rest of the authors writing books, psychological papers, and holding parenting classes.  If this discussion were about what I know to be fact, it would end here.  This writing is about observations. 

Eons of On-the-job Training

 

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arenting has been On-the-job training since Cain and Abel.  For Adam and Eve that makes sense.  They were the first parents so they had no mentors.  There were no experienced predecessors to define the roles.  No role models, except for the absolute best role model, God.  This author can identify with our frightened “first” parents—God was not a role model, He is God.  So Adam and Eve had to figure it out as best they could.  The story goes that they were bad parents.  Their son turned to crime—murder.  And, perhaps that is where all of our current problems began. 

 

Observation 1: Each generation of parents “thinks” they know more than the last generation of parents.  If this observation is correct, then the job of parenting may very well have been an OJT position for eons.   The progeny of Cain and Abel may well have needed to avoid learning parenting skills from their parents, but that was then, this is now. Have we, do we continue to relearn parenting with each generation?  I think yes because each generation is convinced that with their incredible smartness (which started when they were 13); their incredible lack of ignorance (unlike that of their expendable “know-nothing” parents); they will do child rearing as it “should” be done. 

 

Observation 2: Most parents, after the child is born, believe that they are child- rearing authorities.  The only time new parents will listen to advice is BEFORE the baby is born.  They are very curious about pregnancy and labor.  They bring the pre-natal pictures to the office and stand around in the coffee room showing each “coffee fetcher”, who wanders near, the marvels of this soon to be child.  Frankly, I marvel at the technology that lets us see what nature is doing.  There is much pomp and circumstance.  There are showers, gifts, flowers and baby visits the first few weeks.  During this time these new, magnificent parents will even allow themselves to ask for advice.  Some of them may even take some of it.  Suddenly, after a month or so, they know it all.  They stop asking questions and openly resent any unsolicited advice.  After all, their child is unique to them.  They are the final authority on care, behavior, etc.  They are correct. 

 

But, and you knew that but was coming. How did they come to be authorities?  Did they study child rearing?  Did they create a child-rearing plan?  Have they interviewed former parents? Have they studied the discipline used by friends and relatives and carefully studied the most effective methods?  Did they create a presentation comparing effects of emotional warmth by mothers versus emotional warmth by fathers?  In other words, did they do the kind of preparation they usually do for a report at the office? If not, they have set up an environment for repeating the same mistakes they criticize in their own parents.    Few other tasks in life are more important than raising children and yet, few humans prepare for the job.  When new corporations are formed, entrepreneurs seldom fail to study why similar corporations have failed.   Yet few “parents to be” interview successful parents; interview well disciplined and well adjusted children; discover the history of assets and liabilities in both the successful and unsuccessful parents.

 

Observation 3: We are ourselves neophytes when we have children.  This observation is not directed at teenage pregnancy--which tragic circumstance is a result of our ignorance.  No this observation is directed at the immaturity of our own self-growth during our baby-making years.  Who we think we are versus who we really are; our reputations with ourselves; our own intense need for affirmation and identity and our inability to give that which we have yet to attain.  On this issue we all must gasp and accept our blame.  Blame not guilt.  We could not give what we did not have but some of us must accept blame in knowing we did not have it. 

 

Our world reeks of low self-esteem.  Sometimes, like a gnarled naked tree, you can see it.  It is there in drug addiction, alcohol abuse, child abuse, and youth crime.  But it is often hidden, as is the gnarled naked tree in summer, by what appears to be success, wealth or social status.  We grow in personal wisdom and self-understanding as we age; too bad if we have our babies when we are young and do not yet have these gifts to give our children.