Monday, December 19, 2011

Parenting is not childs play

One thing I need to remember, my children are not my own, in the sense that I "possess" them. If anything, children are a gift, we have the opportunity to look after them for the time that they aren't able to do so themselves, but in time and given the appropriate resources, we work towards their gaining independance and living their own lives on their own terms.

It's not always easy as a parent to distance oneself from the urge to control. Often it's easier just to say how things are done and expect them to continue to be done in that way, instead of including the child in the discussion and getting to know what works best for him or her. I think this is the sticking point for a lot of parents, who are often desperately insecure in their own ways. Not really knowing what to do or not trusting emotional or alternative insights, a parent often clings to hard and fast rules, given knowledge and an authoritarian life style which is more based on the needs of the parent than of the child.

In many ways we deny the right of a child to develop in its own way. We lumber it with our own expectations, demand that they unquestioningly stick to "the rules" (whatever they might be) and make it perfectly clear that we don't appreciate their thinking outside of any boxes we cherish. I remember all too well my own frictions with my parents with all sorts of issues, although those which mainly stick out are those which had to do with religious upbringing. I could not, for the life of me, get it through to my parents that watever worked for them just wasn't working for me. Intuitively I'd long realised that I simply couldn't fit into the system in which they'd found their own place and however much they would want to share this with me, occasionally in a somewhat heavy handed manner, it had about 0% relevance in my life at that time.

Other issues were constantly being played out, but in hindsight I recognise the good intentions and well meaning attempts to get my scruffy little butt into line with what society expected of me. Unfortunately, perhaps because I was a little bit too forward for my age, I realised that a society was something we created on a communal basis, from the bottom up and not the other way around. There were, and are, no hard and fast rules because the conditions in which we live in are constantly changing, requiring different modes of conduct to solve different problems. I suspect that this is where part of the "generation gap" problem comes from, that the older people in society assume that the world is required to remain the same as the one they grew up in, the one in which they felt safe and the one which they feel obliged to guard in any ways possible. Any new input from the young upstarts are viewed with suspicion at best and often with outright hostility.

Been there, done that. I'm now at the stage in which I try to see how I can accommodate the needs and wishes of my own children in the framework of the life I've built up for myself. I've more or less shed the trappings of a sedate and pedestrian existence, living life on the (constantly changing) terms I identify as useful and encouraging my children to do so also. In some ways they are still stuck in the quiet complacency of old world expectations, all I can realistically do is to show them that there are alternatives, that they can create and work towards goals of their own choosing in the ways that suit them best. It's not only their right that a parent should do this, it's also one of the duties of a parent to look to the most basic needs of a child, to let it feel safe and guide it but also give it enough room to develop in the way that it feels is right.

Which doesn't take away the fact that a child can fall flat on its face occasionally. All people do at one time or another, the most important thing to realise is that what you do afterwards is more important than having failed at any given moment. Failures are an essential part of life, if things go smoothely then nothing really substantial gets learned. Of course, as parents, we need to make sure that any hint of immediate danger is taken away, that no situations occur where a child could be harmed. So we teach about fire and hot stuff, make sure the most poisonous stuff in house is beyond reach, take measures that nobody gets hurt with furniture or utensils and try to identify the challenges a child encounters which are still just beyond its grasp at its age. In the end though, we need to let go. It's not useful to not let the children cook, for example, because they might burn themselves, even though they might be teenagers with a loud mouth. At that point it's time to let go and let them make their own mistakes.

And they will, and sometimes spectacularly so. Like their parents before them, horrible choices will be made, stupid decisions will be upheld and moments of indescretion will be rued long after the facts have been forgotten. We all live, we all make mistakes, we all learn. Giving ourselves space to make mistakes, learning from our lessons and moving on, that's what life is about and that's what we should be teaching our children. Not binding them to the hard and fast rules of a society which existed in the past, the needs and issues of which have become irrelevant in the meantime. Time moves on, people change and children need to be guided but not smothered, in their quest to gain adulthood.

So, I've gotten that out, hopefully in a coherent way. Time to get myself going and make some new mistakes today. Keep well...


  1. LOL! I love that picture about the government protecting and serving the hell out of you. That is funny.

    I don't have kids right now, and I don't plan to in the future, so I'm not much qualified to post my thoughts here, but I just wanted to say I love what you said about not possessing your kids.

    They are just as much free human beings as we are, and though they need some guidance, they don't need totalitarian dictatorship!

  2. Thanks for the encouraging words Fred. You're right, one of the most basic needs for a human being is the feeling of freedom, of being able to make one's own decisions in a personally useful way, and reconciling this with the social setting in which one finds oneself.

  3. wow, that's a lot of thoughts in just one post :)
    on a more serious sidenote: i'm glad to see your thoughts organized and focused again. perhaps it's the writing exercise.

    and also, i think i disagree with the diagram called the spiral in this post.

  4. Hi SzélsőFa, nice to hear from you again. I'm glad I'm managing to focus again, makes writing a lot easier. ;-)
    Yeah, there's so many things to think of, I tend to be a bit selective nowadays and just concentrate on whatever's really bothering me at that moment.

    Why would you disagree with the diagram? In hindsight, I suspect it's less applicable to the post than I would have liked, but I can understand the message included in it.