Thursday, November 16, 2006

Proof is in the Pudding

I was in a bookstore yesterday (by myself! what luxury!) and wandered over to the "parenting" section. It struck me how much of the parenting book industry is simple fear-mongering. If you don't use this technique, your kids will never sleep through the night. If you don't use another method, they'll never learn to be independent. As if child-raising is somehow a one-to-one correspondance where you put X input into the child and you get Y output, whereas any parent (especially any parent with more than one child) can tell you that every kid is different and you can treat your kids the exact same way and have vastly different outcomes.

As a new parent, it's hard not to buy into these fears. After all, we all want our kids to be happy, independent, thoughtful, kind, polite, joyful, respectful, "well-adjusted" people. Our cultural legacy though is one of fear-based parenting, and sad to say, less-than-respectful parenting. Since I looked into my first child's eyes in the beginning moments of my parenting career my children have told me something different. They have told me that treating children with the same respect that you would give others leaves them able to give respect, that you don't have to threaten, intimidate, punish, or "impose logical consequences" in order for kids to understand what is expected of them and eventually be able to do it most of the time (hey, even us adults can't hold it together all of the time). They've been my teachers in this journey, but it hasn't always been easy to keep the faith that all would be okay. Both of my kids have personalities that are challenging, to say the least. Headstrong, sensitive, deeply intuitive, argumentative, they run the gamut of ways to challenge me, and I can say honestly that I don't always manage to rise to the task but I do try.

Having just been on a 10 day vacation in which my kids had to eat and sleep in new and unfamiliar places, put up with long lines, uncomfortable airline seats, hours of layovers, restaurants in which there was nothing on the menu besides lettuce that they could eat (both being dairy-free and vegetarian), and spans of time where they just had to occupy themselves in small spaces and with limited resources, I'd say that our parenting style received the ultimate test. What I discovered is that somewhere along the way, somewhere in those thousands of interactions between the kids and us parents, they have learned everything I hoped they would.

After all, the proof is in the pudding. The hotel staff went out of their way to tell me how sweet and polite the kids were. I've watched them holding open doors, being kind to strangers, and waiting patiently for whatever tasks I had to accomplish in registering and getting ready for my triathlon (the purpose of our visit). I see the concern they show for the caged birds in the hotel lobby, the sea lions at the marine park we visited, and even the clams washed up on the beach. Every day we walk this path together, even the days when it is bumpy, dark, or difficult, I'm glad that I never opened those parenting books, never ascribed to a method besides living joyfully beside my kids and treating them with the dignity that all people deserve. I walked out of the bookstore yesterday with some fun books that my kids will love to read beside me, and nothing more.

1 comment:

Ave said...

I loved your blog post! Great stuff.