Sunday, July 5, 2009

Child-rearing a la me

Raising children is, on one level, all about letting go.

They start out so completely dependent upon us for everything- food, shelter, movement. We are their protector and their filter. But soon enough they gain a little independence in the form of controlled movement. Reaching, sitting up, crawling and evenutally (and usually long before we're really ready) walking.

As they grow up and learn to communicate and eventually head off to school, we're forced to let go a little more. No longer are we their only source of information. Now it's school and other kids and the internet and TV.

Our job as parents is to steer our kids towards being responsible, independent adults. Even while they're in elementary school. Our goal should be to provide them with the skills they need to navigate the world. Those skills are not suddenly granted them when they turn 18. They have to be learned. They can't learn them if you do everything for them or isolate them from the world.

I've never been one to lean towards over-protecting. There is only so much that I can protect my children from and indeed some things that can only be learned by doing. So, my philosophy was this: what I was going to let them read and which films and TV they could watch would progress as they did. This meant that if my kid could read it and understand it, she could read it. Not that either of them was reading material that was completely adult in nature in elementary school but they were reading above grade level and eventually that led to more mature subject matter.

There's so much information out there that it's really impossible to filter it all. So, for the most part, we didn't. They simply weren't interested in the news and generally left the room. When they did stay and watch something that was "more mature" in its content, we talked about it. They had no problem telling me that what was in the movies and TV wasn't real. Seriously, today's kids are more sophisticated than we give them credit.

My husband and I also made an agreement to never talk down to our children. We didn't lower our vocabulary to their level.  We eschewed baby talk except for perhaps when they were truly infants.  As soon as they were verbal, we stopped.  I was often told that I was expecting too much from my children. I think it was in part this refusal to change how I spoke when talking to them that made people assume I expected them to be little adults.  I am a reasonably educated person with a teaching certification so I am fully aware of how children learn and progress. I also believe that children mimic what they hear and learn to expect from themselves what you expect from them.  Dumbing down my language and avoiding "sensitive" topics was something that I was unwilling to do. Was I careful in how I spoke? Yes. I made particular effort to avoid describing their fellow students, especially in  elementary school, by ethnicity. I was determined to avoid using the racially charged language I grew up with and made every effort to raise my children as color blind as possible.  We also didn't believe in keeping things from them. We went through some pretty rough financial times and we discussed as a family our budget, certainly by the time they were in Middle School.

All these things come down to learning to see your children as individuals who will some day become adults.  Whether they're responsible adults capable of taking care of themselves and contributing to the world depends in large part on you.  Being a parent is a tough job. And one that never truly ends.

We protect our children from dangers while they're toddlers. Don't touch the hot stove. Don't run without looking where you're going.  When they get older it's all about looking before you cross the street and don't believe everything you're told (even though we expect them to believe everything we tell them). By the time they're teenagers we've lectured them about being safe while driving and dating and please God don't use drugs.  If we've attempted to shelter them along the way or treated them like children incapable of thinking for themselves by the time they become teens, they'll be unable to handle what the world increasingly expects of them. Or they'll rebel. They'll be so determined to prove to you that you're wrong about them that they'll prove you right.

It's all about letting go. Not only do they need to know how to make mistakes but you need to accept that  the choices they make won't necessarily be the ones you'd make. Those choices won't always be mistakes, either. Indeed the person they become may not be the person you dreamed they would be, that image you held in your head as you gazed at their sleeping form in their crib may bear no resemblance to reality. It's fine to mourn the passing of that dream but in doing so don't forsake the living.  Embrace them and accept them.

And let them go.

1 comment:

Chris said...

I think you said it for all of us who have gone through it....feel like I'm going it again through my grandgirls!! I think you are right on.