In a July 2010, Sunday comic strip, "Luann" by Greg Evans, Luann and her brother, Brad, are looking at a card for their parents. Essentially, the card said they were perfect parents because they let them do whatever they wanted, gave them everything they could, always understood and supported them, .... The next scene is the two of them looking at each other in a quizzical manner. In the last frame, they are both laughing awfully hard. That strip gave me food for thought: What makes a perfect parent?
To begin, I reasoned, there are no perfect parents. I cannot imagine a parent or parents making the right decision for eighteen years. And it gets harder to accomplish with each additional child. Further, it is incomprehensible to me, that two parents would agree on everything. So, for the sake of this discussion, let's say that there is a range that roughly runs from bad to exceptional -- excluding the criminal and evil parents. Therefore, I began to wonder what makes a parent(s) achieve an upper range assessment?
If there is one thing everyone could possibly agree on it is that "love" is the most important thing a parent can give a child. And it doesn't matter how much a parent loves them if the child doesn't know it. The easiest ways for a parent to show love is to hug them frequently and tell the child often that you love them. It's important to understand that loving, is not synonymous with giving them things and letting them do whatever they want.
Before delving into other topics, let's first examine divorce. While I believe that a happy marriage is better than separated parents, however, I think, staying together for the kids' sake alone may be more detrimental. Children can sense parents' emotional separation, even when there is little or no arguing. Divorced parents that explain carefully to their children that the divorce was NOT a result of them or anything they did, and that they still love them very much will go a long way to helping them adjust to the change. They should discuss raising the children and reach joint decisions they can both stick to, live with, and enforce when necessary. Divorced parents need to remain cooperative when it comes to their children -- put the children first. When a parent, married or divorced, tells their children what a lousy, bad, horrible, or other diminutive term their spouse or ex-spouse is, they are hurting the children. Parents that attempt to use their children to get back or hurt their spouse or ex-spouse are among the worst possible parents.
Following love, and perhaps as important, is a parent's general behavior, and like love, it can't be over emphasized. It is "Crucial" to remember that actions speak louder than words and lead by example. They both say the same thing and parents should follow them well. From parents' behavior, we learn things that last a lifetime, even when they're not good. When a child is faced with a parent's bias on a daily basis, it becomes a part of them, and it becomes hard to overcome in their adult life. On a not to serious bias was my father's preference for vehicle gas. He was convinced that Sunoco was the best gas for a car and I haven't the slightest clue why. He would risk running out of gas to find a Sunoco station when we were traveling. In California, and probably in all other states, all gas is regulated and except for small additions they are basically the same for regular gas, as well as premium. I suspect in my father's day, like now, there really wasn't much difference either. Still, if I were to pass a Sunoco station today, I would have the urge to stop there; it also always makes me think about my father. During the nineteen-fifties, when I was a teenager, it seemed to me that there was a lot of prejudice, that included religion, race, and nationality. People changed their surname so that they could get a job in certain professions. De facto segregation was commonplace in large cities. Children growing up during this period were faced with a constant barrage of prejudicial views, usually devoid of fact, on the streets and at home. I know now, it was plain and simple stupidity, yet I find I have to fight it at times.
If a parent tells a child to obey rules/laws and to be honest, then lies or breaks a law, like speeding, the parent is saying I really didn't mean what I said about obeying the law. The child will conclude that the parent really meant it was okay if you don't get caught. If you leave a restaurant or store and realize that the cashier gave you more money back than they should have, what you do about it says what you really believe. If you're kids are there and they know that you received extra money and you turn around to return it, you're telling your kids that honesty is really important. Keep it and they know it's not, at least to you. I could provide hundreds of examples like this, examples that demonstrate to our kids what we really believe and expect. There are a few things you will tell you child they can't do, that you do. Examples: Drive a car, drink alcohol (hopefully not at the same time), vote, enter into legal contracts, get married, and other things that are age related, i.e., legal after you pass a certain age. What's important is that you explain why you are allowed and they're not. Give the kids credit, they understand more than you know. It's vital that you are truthful, and your reasons are sensible. Tell a child that they need more sleep that an adult because their body is still growing, and studies have confirmed that younger people need more sleep. Now, kids are quick to find ways around things. The child might say, "Why can't I have a beer? Nobody will know." I would reply, "I'll know and if I let you, I would be wrong."
To teach our children good manners, speak correctly, and develop appropriate behavior we had a point system which worked for several years, while our children were the right ages. They started out with a hundred points and received additional points for doing what they were supposed to and lost points when they didn't. At the end of the month the points were turned into money that they could spend any way they liked. The major difference with our program was that they could get points if they caught us doing what we said shouldn't be done. If they caught us speeding, using bad or incorrect language, not washing our hands before dinner, forgetting to put the seatbelt on, and other similar behavior they got additional points. It made us practice what we preached and set a proper example. The times we would falter, you can bet they would catch us. We never excused it and told them we were wrong. By admitting we were wrong, I, no we, were teaching our children to accept responsibility for their actions. We became more conscious of our actions and made an effort not to repeat them. Whether a parent(s) uses a system or not, encourage your children to point out things you profess are wrong when you do them.
I would guess that every family with two or more kids will have an issue with one or more of them feeling that one or both parents have a favorite and it's not them. I broach this subject because good parents won't have favorites, and should the parents suspect that one of the children thinks it is happening, they will find out why the child thinks there is a favorite. Then they will carefully explain why it seem so, but really isn't. Keep in mind that a person's perception is their reality. One of our four kids told their mom that one of the other kids was a favorite child. My wife told me, and we decided to see what they all thought. We had them sit down around our dining room table and gave each one two 3x5 cards, one had mom written on it and the other dad. We then directed them to put on the appropriate card who was that parents favorite and why they thought so. One said the middle son was dad's favorite because he did more sports with him. Another said our daughter was mom's favorite because they did more together. The youngest said that the oldest was a favorite because he was allowed to do more -- like stay up later or go out alone. The oldest said the youngest was a favorite because he was allowed to get away with more. Suffice it to say there were eight favorites for eight different reasons. Only one felt they were a favorite of one parent. One by one we explained why it appeared that way. Each explanation went something like this: Dad played more with the middle son because the oldest was now involved with girls and wouldn't want dad tagging along. The youngest and our daughter weren't into athletics at the time and had other interests. When they left, they all had a new perspective and understanding.
When I was a facilitator of a “Seven Habits of Effective People” course, I told this story. One parent said to me, “My children know I love them the same.” Personally, I wouldn't bet she was right. Bottomline, don't assume you know what's on their mind. So again, as a general rule, don't think you know what's on their minds. If you ask them, you accomplish a few things. You may actually find out what they are thinking or want, you are sending the message that you care and are interested in them, and it helps form the communication bonds.
Communications is one of the most difficult things to do when we are interacting with others. Communications with your children is like speaking to someone that is speaking another language and listens with selective hearing. Just how different, really depends on the parent. When talking to your child about issues, remember you are the “Parent,” the mature one. You must remain calm, speak firmly but softly, and stay on topic; -- no one wins when anger gets involved. Use rational, reasonable, and appropriate information.
Let's talk about crime and punishment. Setting limits and standards, along with consequences are especially important. While establishing limits may not seem like you are saying, "I love you," but it does. Besides, as long as you live in a society, there will always be required forms of acceptable behavior. The limits you set and enforce will provide the framework for the rest of their lives. Again, it's important to explain why you set them. When you discuss things with them, find out what's on their minds, their desires, and goals. Parents need to be incredibly careful and refrain from offering judgment and telling them what to do, in these discussions. It's about communication.
While I was growing up in Brooklyn, I noticed that when kids bragged about their parents, they would tell us what their parents wouldn't allow them to do or what they had to do. Here's a few examples: If my dad found out that I stole something, he'd kill me; My mom won't let me play until I finish my homework; My parents want me home by ten or I'll be in deep trouble; If I don't get passing grades, I may never see the light of day again; . . .. I don't know when I realized it, but I know it was before I had my own kids, that what we were saying is, "Our parents love and care about us."
While children are growing up the relationship between a parent and a child should be just that—parent and child, not friends or buddies. It's okay to participate in activities with children, such as sports, games, and events.
Support and encourage. Avoiding pushing.
Avoid, like the plague, using "Because I said so."
The goal of a parent should be for their children to grow up in a loving stable environment. For them to become well adjusted, happy, and productive members of society. For them to have self-confidence and be loving parents to their children.
Successful at what they choose to do or be.
As I age, I find it more-and-more difficult to understand people. I don't know whether they're prudes, ignorant, small minded, stupid, or zealots. Parents complained to the Sesame Street producers that Katy Perry’s Outfit was to risqué for the program. See "Only in the Mind of the Beholder" in my "Currents." The dress she was wearing was about the same as a typical figure skater’s outfit, except it was perhaps a bit longer. They, the parents, complained that it was inappropriate for children of Sesame Street age.
You can view the sequence of Katy Perry on Sesame Street - on YouTube.
I'm reminded of the story I heard about an artist that painted nudes. He and his wife were worried about what their three-year-old daughter would think if she saw him while he was painting. The inevitable day came. The young girl burst into his studio while he was working, following closely behind was his wife, who was trying to catch and prevent her. The girl looked at the model from head-to-foot, place her hands on her hips, defiantly, and then turned to her parents. With a scowl on her face she angrily said, “If she can go without shoes, why can't I?”
The point being that young children and toddlers don't see the world as adults do. The fact is they have no concept of sex and what risqué is all about. By the time a child would view the outfit Perry wore as risqué, they wouldn't be watching Sesame Street.
It makes one wonder if their child (parents that complained) go to the beach or community swimming pools or their own pool for that matter. Do these parents prevent the children from watching figure skating, gymnastics, the circus, . . .. I could go on-and-on, naming typical events where the participants are minimally dressed and not considered risqué. Maybe we should forbid cheer leading! I think that risqué is in the mind of the observer. I guess what really bothers me is that it seems like even the most innocuous things or words offend someone. I worked at a place where the boss’s secretary didn't like the word “gal,” so it was forbidden to be used. If parents really are so concerned about what their children see on TV, then they should complain about the commercial where kids are behaving badly and the parent is smiling.
Pi’s Axiom “You cannot hide or hide someone from life; it happens.”
I believe when parents over-react to many things, they actually hurt their children. As parents of four, we strove to impart the necessary values and knowledge that would provide our children with the skills to be successful adults and good citizens. I have observed, both as a child and adult, that parent that TRY (try is a failing word) to hide or prevent a child from seeing or doing something, only makes it more appetizing to the child. They will find ways to see or do whatever has been restricted. While we allowed our children a great degree of freedom to choose, view and do, we did set limits. Make no mistake, in the end children have to take some of the responsibility, if not all for the way they turn out.Rules