When you’re a parent, you learn some very cliched phrases as people attempt to give you advice on how to go about bringing up a happy, successful, thriving child. Everyone has advice and they are very happy to offer it, solicited or not. When you’re a parent, you learn to take it with a grain of salt…or perhaps a whole bucket of salt, depending on how persistent the person offering the advice is.
It seems important, at least to me, to also look for the ‘gems’ of advice you can find about raising kids and put them to good, practical use. Even though you might feel inundated with other peoples’ thoughts on ‘how you should bring your kids up’, hopefully it doesn’t desensitize you to the good advice that is out there.
One of my favorite ‘sayings’ about parenting is ‘raise the child you have, not the one you want them to be’. It’s some of the best advice I’ve ever heard, and something I keep repeating to myself over and over again with my two kids.
When I used to daydream, years ago, about being a dad, I pictured myself with a certain type of child. That’s not to say that I don’t necessarily have that with my kids, because I do, but not really in the way I pictured it.
My two boys can be both as alike as ‘twins’ and as different as night and day. They are both very bright, funny, charming kids. They both have great vocabularies. One displays more prowess with physical feats; while the other displays more introspection and creativity. One is very demonstrative of affection, the other is more guarded and reserved. One can fall down and pick himself right back up again, while the other typically falls apart as a result of a minor tumble. One needs to be the leader of the pack, the other is content with following someone else’s lead. Night and Day.
As a parent, I don’t feel it’s my job to ‘change’ any of this. One of my boys used to say that pink was his favorite color. A co-worker of mine asked me once if that ‘worried me’ about him. I asked why it would or should worry me? Pink is a color. There’s no such thing as ‘girl colors’ or ‘boy colors’, there are colors…and pink was his favorite. He was four at the time. Why would I wish to impose a gender stereotype on him at that, or really any, age and take away something that gave him pleasure just to appease some misguided sense of ‘faulty masculinity’ when he’s four?
I was raised by a parent who has a hard time fathoming how she could raise three children ‘the same’ and yet have them all turn out so differently. The answer is simple (though it still escapes her). We are all different people. We all have our own filters and emotional processing systems that gather and interpret information and prompts us to react accordingly. Even identical twins can respond differently to situations. As a parent you can dispense all the ‘advice’ and ‘guidance’ you wish, but if you examine it, you are simply using the knowledge and learning you acquired in your upbringing and how you processed it and interpreted it to guide you. It’s not necessarily a conscious choice we make, it’s simply second nature.
All too often, it can also be overwhelmingly baffling as to why, if we as parents ‘ask for and expect’ something, we just don’t get it. It’s not just adherence to rules or schedules that I’m talking about, it’s beliefs, values, and behaviors. Why do our children do things that are completely contrary to what we think, or teach them to do?
That answer, also, seems relatively simple. They are not us. They are a product of us, either born from our creation or brought into our home via various methods, and of course they will absorb experiences as they go along, but we do, after all, have those experiences so much more ingrained in our personalities….we are veterans of our histories and upbringing. They are novices….absolute beginners. We can take a lump of clay, metaphorically, and push and pinch it into any shape we desire. There will always be outside forces and elements that will alter our creation. They will also take the exposure they receive to those forces and elements and interpret their own beliefs from it, no matter what we try to instill in them.
One of the most cliched sayings I’ve heard over time is ‘children are like sponges’….they absorb so much……and while this is a true statement, even sponges eventually produce an output. In order to truly understand your child, it’s seems, at least to me, as important to examine and try to understand that output, no matter how meticulous you think you are in what they have absorbed.
There are so many things you can choose for your child. What they wear, what they eat, what they watch on t.v., what they read, etc. But in the end, you cannot choose who they are at their very core. You may go into parenting determined that you are going to raise a doctor, or a lawyer, and in the end you wind up with an Indian Chief, no matter how hard you tried for the former. I believe, and this is really just my belief; that it’s not my job as a parent to try to influence, goad, or cajole them into being anything other than the best Indian Chief they possibly can be, and be happy with that choice.
At times it’s hard to constantly change gears between the kids when they are being ‘night and day’…to know how to react and respond accordingly in a meaningful way based upon their personality. True, I’m the parent. I make the rules and set the standard. There are some regulations they do have to abide by. But more importantly, it’s up to me, as their parent, to celebrate who they are and prompt them to be successful in life in whatever way works for them.
One day they’ll be living with their own rules and regulations. One day they’ll find that no matter what I tried to teach them or convince them of over time, they feel differently than I do, or they took a different life-lesson than I intended to pass on to them. They have a long adult life ahead of them. They need to know that it’s okay to think differently than I did, or believe something other than I tried to teach them. They also need to know how to be okay with that; with being someone other than I perhaps raised them to be.
They need to be okay with being themselves.
It’s up to me to show them how, by example, in raising the children I have….and letting them know that if they are happy, if they are okay with who they are, then that’s all I really ever want them to be. The only children, and eventually adults, that I ‘want’ them to be is exactly who they are.
In the long run, we’ll all have won.