I struggled with the idea of becoming a parent when I was pregnant with my son. After he was born and I first held him in my arms and looked into his eyes and my heart opened. The kind of heart-opening that yoga instructors tell you about. The cheesy, ‘namaste’ kind.
So, suddenly I had to become an expert in parenting.
In college, one of my favorite classes I took was in the UT Child Development department. The class was actually part of an on-going, 5-year longitudinal study on parenting types. My “job” was to watch videos of parents being interviewed, and then watch the “5 years later” video of them playing with their child(ren) and I – as objectively as I could – analyzed their behavior on a scale in the areas of
The theory is that certain types of parenting leads to insecurity in children, which can be observed in how they play and act. The initial findings are that, unsurprisingly, when parents are involved and engaged in their child’s play, the child displays higher signs of intelligence and confidence. Taking the time to explain to a child why they would want to take a certain action or not rather than just saying “don’t do that” or “because I said so” seems to help children develop more creativity. Those children were less clingy on their parents and they actually smiled more often. You could say they knew their parents were there for them, but felt safe to explore their environment on their own.
Isn’t that what we want for our society? People who can think independently from the crowd? People who are really happy and care about others?
My theory, based on my studies and my own experience as a parent, is that children need their parents to be consciously focused on their health and happiness to end up as a “well-adjusted” adult. Of course, at times even the best parent is ready to read their kids a copy of “Go the F**k to Sleep.” But, in general, most of the time, we – as a society, not just the parents – are responsible for creating lasting bonds with the youth.
How we are parenting our children directly affects the quality of our society.
As one friend of mine succinctly put, “There is so much BAD parenting advice out there!” When my son didn’t sleep through the night at over one year old, I had a friend (a different friend) recommend a book for me. I read the intro, which summarized that I was to put my son in his crib in a room on the other end of our house, and let him “cry it out.” No way. I am not going to judge anyone who does this…well, maybe just a little. I think if there is a little voice in the back of your head saying “No! Don’t do this! This is not right!” Well, maybe we should listen to that voice a little more. That voice told me there was no way I was going to do that to my son. I did one night and I felt TERRIBLE after 10 minutes.
Humans are the only species of animal that sleeps in a separate room from their young.
I have heard that babies have different types of cries. Their initial cries for food or for love are actually gentle little cries. If those cries are ignored, then you get the big cries. The inconsolable cries. The cries that make people turn and look your way when you’re at the grocery store. Not that this has ever happened to me…seriously, I hate to sound judgmental, but when my kids cry at the grocery store, I immediately make the way to the bathroom or the exit to tend to their needs. I leave my cart. F**k it. My kids well-being is more important than some cart full of food. When I hear someone’s baby crying painfully at a store while the parents are shopping, I want to look them in the eye and say “Your baby’s hungry! Duh! Why don’t you take him out of his stroller and hold him at least?!” But I don’t say anything because, really, who knows the whole story. Babies can also be colicky and cry for unknown reasons as well.
I think many types of mental illnesses are rooted in un-attached parenting. If a baby feels ignored or unloved or that their needs can’t be met, how are they going to grow into a well-adjusted, confident adult? This could even be a cycle that perpetuates itself. One generation of ignored babies raising another generation.
Spanking is another time-honored tradition. I have good friends who are adamant that to raise a child well, you have to “put the belt to him” at a certain age.
Most of us parents, we just do the best we can. But I say to always err on the side of loving kindness. This doesn’t mean letting your child do whatever they want, but setting logical boundaries and taking the time and concern to explain why. You are your child’s greatest teacher. Growing the trust that your child has is #1. That way, when they are teenagers they will come to you when they need help, and when they are grown, they will take care of you.
Here’s the cycle of life: adults take care of the babies, who should then take care of the adults when they age. In other cultures it is expected that the children take care of their aging parents, but in the US we ship them off to the retirement home to live their final years all alone. Maybe some elderly people want that, but most do not. Many fall into a deep depression when this happens.
What do you think? Do we need to re-draft our ideas on parenting in the US to create a healthier society?