Tuesday, March 6, 2012
The Myth of the "Right Way" to Raise Children
This may come as surprise to some of you, but it turns out that I am not a “crunchy parent”. Can you imagine my surprise to learn that I do not fit in with the latest parenting trend. Shocking, I know. I don't do trends, or fads, I do not get on band wagons, and I absolutely refuse to drink the Koll-aid, so I do not generally fit in well anywhere. But the “crunchy” thing got my attention a week or so ago and got me thinking about parenting and raising kids and just what way is the “right way” to raise them.
I have been raising children for over 25 years, and have raised 5 of my own, so I do have a little bit of experience in the matter of parenting. I have also read dozens of parenting books and probably hundreds, maybe thousands, of articles and blog posts on the subject. Not to mention, countless television shows, interviews, and a few actual college courses as well. So I have a little bit of background on the subject of parenting beyond just popping out babies. And the one conclusion I have come to about the exact “right way” to raise children – it does NOT exist!
I breastfed all of my children for at least the first few months, some longer than others according to what they each needed, not because it was a “trend” or “the thing to do”. It was what I needed to do for each of them. I think every mother should be encouraged to breastfeed if she can and, if she wants to, but that should be up to the mother, its no body else's business. And for those who find it “offensive” when mother's feed their children in public, I just want you to know I find it offensive when you eat in public too, but you don't hear me bitching about it so STFU. Don't like it? – Don't look at it. It really is as simple as that.
I used cloth diapers with two of my children as babies, but not out of any real “environmental concern”. We were poor, I could not afford to buy disposable diapers all the time, especially with two in diapers at the same time! And when we lived out at “The Farm” (aka “Camp Purgatory”) we didn't have waste removal services (no garbage man) out there. We had to haul our refuse to the “sanitary landfill” (the dump) or dispose of it ourselves (incinerate it). Now if you have ever smelled a disposable diaper burning, then you will understand that this is not an option, and if you have any idea how many diapers a child can go through you will understand that storing them up to haul to them dump is also not an attractive alternative. Cloth diapers were our only practical choice. So I do believe that cloth diapers are a fine way to go, if you can do it, but my goodness there is nothing like the freedom of the disposable ones. What somebody needs to do is figure out how to make then biodegradable cheaply and yet still be functional, that would make everybody happy I think. Too bad the only economically feasible solution for that is currently illegal.
My point is that I do not care what you think, I do not care who you are, or what qualifications or authorizations you think you have, if you do not understand that every child is different then you do not understand anything about raising children. There is no one “right way” because there are no “right” children. Sorry, they do not exist, or if they do, they are extremely few and far between, and I have certainly never met one.
Children are little people. Every single one is different, unique. This necessitates a different way of dealing with each one. You give to each one according to his/her needs, and expect from from each one according to their abilities, that is a good way to think about it I guess. If I had tried to raise my intellectual, empathic child in the same way that I raised the child with the strong physical/spatial intelligence somebody would have been miserable. The only wrong way to raise children is to put them in a box, either metaphorically or actually. Unfortunately this is exactly what a lot of people do. I hated sending my kids off to school. I hated seeing them in that box. I hated what the teachers had to do in order to try to make sure all of the children fit within their box.
Children need love, acceptance, nurturing and guidance. I have tried to raise my children with love, respect and honesty, and just a touch of intimidation when necessary. Today, my oldest son is my best friend, but my youngest sons still know that mom is the boss (along with dad of course). All of my kids have eaten junk food, and spent way too much time sitting around playing video games and watching cartoons, but none of them have ever been over-weight or unhealthy. I smoked during my pregnancies, and guess what? - the only child who ever had any health problems - actually died when I quit smoking! Now I know I cannot prove that the stress of quitting smoking caused my son to be still born, but no one can prove to me that it didn't either. So if it is not your baby in a woman's belly – STFU about what she chooses to do or not do when she is pregnant.
I guess my thoughts on raising kids are kinda like my thoughts on everything else in life - all good things in moderation, and mind your own freaking business. I am never going to be a perfect parent. I accept that. But my kids are happy, healthy, (mostly) reasonably well-adjusted people who know their own value. Did I make mistakes? Yep! Still do, probably every day. But that is okay, no one is perfect. Should I have my children taken away from me because I smoke around them, even though they are perfectly happy and healthy? I don't freaking think so. Should someone else be allowed to tell me what religion I must teach my children? Or what food I have to feed them? Or what lies I have to tell them? I don't think so. Unless you have proof that I have actually harmed my children in some way, stay the freak out of my parenting, and I will be happy to stay out of yours. And no, that doesn't mean that if you don't like my parenting, you get to stalk me and invade my privacy until you find proof of “harm” either.
I know there are really bad parents out there who seriously damage their children's fragile psyches, but there are a lot of pretty decent parents who damage their kids too. Every parent is gonna make mistakes because they are human beings. Fortunately kids are resilient creatures, just like people. If you don't try to stop them from being happy I think they will be fine. There are certain basic human needs that we all have, like the need for love and acceptance along with food, clothing and shelter. That is the most important thing to remember in parenting I think, the problems usually seems to occur when people miss out on that acceptance part.