Most things we hear about child rearing are wrong
March 26, 2011
OPINION by Roger Freberg
When one first embarks on the role of parenting, hopefully it is with a sense of humility. This is one of the few tasks in life that we are expected to learn on our own. Learning how to procreate isn’t all that difficult and fun, so how hard can being a parent really be; after all, we have so many people offering useful, life sustaining and treasured advice. The problem is that most of the advice you hear or read is just wrong.
After raising three daughters to adulthood and surviving to tell the tale, I have a few cautionary items to share with young parents. Here are some of the many faulty concepts out there that will take you to a place you really don’t want to go:
Wow. Just hearing this makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. The idea of being loved by someone despite all my faults and consistently bad behavior sounds intriguing. But what is the reality here?
People today are fond of separating who we are from what we do, but can you really do that? At what point did local mass murderer Rex Krebs stop being a “good” person making “poor choices” and start being just a totally, all-out evil guy? I bet you don’t know that most mass murderers in our society have moms who still say that they “love them?” Some mothers actual wax on about how their adult children are really “good boys and girls.”
Of course we love our children, but human beings, and nature as well, are totally conditional. “Conditional” is very close to the word that some people are told to avoid and that is “judgmental.” However, life and nature is very judgmental. The slowest bunny may be the cutest and fluffiest, but it’s going to be some other animal’s dinner. Where is the “social justice” here? In raising children, what is reasonable? It’s not bad to have age-appropriate standards for your children and to (gasp) judge them against those standards. It’s not unreasonable to expect your child to EARN your positive regard, instead of handing it to him or her on a silver platter. Young developing beings need structure and before your child can be the accomplished person that you wish them to be, they must first learn to follow. Children can and should learn to act in the kind, thoughtful, pro-social ways that naturally make others think positively. Failing to act when a child behaves horribly is neither a favor to the child, to you or to society. The first step for a child to be loved by others is to understand what it takes to be loveable.
If your little darling behaves like a monster in public, to see the fault, look in the mirror.
PARENTS CAN BE A CHILD’S BEST FRIEND
This is normally not the arena of Dads. Dads tend to work with their children on goal directed projects and skill development. These sorts of things include: the yearly science project, outdoor activities and the occasional “Dad, I need some help and advice.” In case you didn’t know this, this is a gender specific and cross culture attribute that is probably genetic for guys, get over it.
Moms, on the other hand, have a tendency to seek the role of their daughter’s best friend; which is always amusing when you watch it from the outside. No matter how hard they try, Moms are never hip or accepted as a favored peer. Parenting is nor should it be a popularity contest. Parents have to tell kids things their closest friends would never say, and this can cause some hard feelings. They will not understand why you won’t let them hang out with the ‘cool kids’, visit the creek during Thursday evening’s Farmer’s Market to meet such wonderful new people, nor will they understand virtually every other response from your lips that begins with “NO.” Trust me, when they get older they will ask themselves,” What was I thinking when I was 12 or 16?” Kids will have many “best friends” in life, but they only get one mom and dad. Besides, normally, they will thank you later on; or you’ll get some justice watching them try to “improve” on your parenting skills down the road as struggle with their own children!
CHILDREN NEED TO CHOOSE THEIR OWN FRIENDS
This is the ‘Russian Roulette’ of child rearing. Kids are naturally influenced by their peers (some more than others), and if the peers hold values different than those at home, home is going to lose. Even when parents don’t think they’re choosing their child’s friends, they influence this choice every time they choose a home in a particular neighborhood or enroll their child in sports (BTW, soccer is not a real sport. There are lessons that can be learned in both team and individual sports, do both) or summer camp. Kids need to feel comfortable with all types of children, so exposure is essential, but if you don’t want your child to develop new and interesting habits, you need to make sure their friends don’t share values you abhor (also helpful to know the parents as far too many leave and turn their house keys over to their underage children).
BTW, years ago, I was told that the reason that SLO High didn’t have a drug sniffing dog was because of some genuine concern that too many of the parent’s cars were going to get a positive hit. ;)
SCHOOL AND TEACHERS: INSPECT WHAT YOU EXPECT
Do not assume your children are learning everything they need to learn in school, and you might be surprised about what they ARE learning. Read their textbooks. My personal favorite is the middle school social studies book that talks about “tolerant” Huns. I just read recently that Genghis Khan killed so many people that he actually reduced global warming—lands formerly farmed by the butchered innocents reverted to forest. Tolerant? Okay, if you say so….
Educators on the left discovered some years ago that college was “too late” to convert children to their particular take on life. They have remedied this problem by turning their attention to the K-12. Talking with your child about what ‘they heard at school’ goes a long way to addressing the problem. You may not be able to change the school curriculum, but that doesn’t mean you have to live with it. Find subjects and things to talk about that are interesting and expose them to new ideas, technology and meaningful skills. As you become a useful resource, the school fades – as it should — in importance.
THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE SLO
Well, maybe not, but there are certainly many nice places to live. Before you know what you like, you need to get out and look. We made sure our daughters traveled with us at every opportunity. We wanted to make sure they were as comfortable on 5th Avenue, downtown Rio, and Beijing as they were on Broad or Higuera. You’ll notice that the local kids who go away to school (and that doesn’t mean down the road to Davis or UCSB) generally have outstanding outcomes. You may have to take far fewer trips than if it was just the ‘two of you,’ but being a family also means having fun together in meaningful ways.
When one of my daughters snooty classmates bragged about her long vacation in Hawaii and turned her little evil middle school girl-glance to my daughter, my daughter simply responded,”…but have you been to Fiji?”
“The world is a book, and those who do not travel, read only a page.” –Saint Augustine
Yes, Oprah thinks SLO is happy, but she clearly didn’t notice that all of the happy places on this guy’s list were non-diverse. Oops. But what are the other pitfalls of a place like SLO?
Number one on the list is drugs. People don’t seem to notice this, but rural areas like SLO have much worse drug problems than inner cities. Now, this is not as big a problem for far too many SLO parents, who are fond of saying “everybody does it,” or “a little marijuana doesn’t hurt.” But if that’s not your thing, you need to recognize you’re going to get shouted down, and you have to be very vigilant, especially at home.
BEING WITH YOUR FRIENDS IS MORE IMPORTANT THAT BEING GOOD AT SOMETHING
At one athletic even, a young lady told my daughter, “oh, I would never want to be as good as you, because I wouldn’t have enough time to spend with my friends and I would have missed all the good times.” Really? The illogic of this is huge. Not only do hard-working successful kids tend to have lots of friends, but they build their skills, too. Teens with lots of time on their hands tend to find things to fill that time that do not lead to a happy future. My daughter Karla as a young child used to say,” work is good for you!” Although she was really talking about me, I think the idea that becoming successful is coupled with hard work, the development of skills and it all needs to become a habit.
We found the following formula useful: finding something fun in music and art to develop and understand athletics (one team sport and one individual sport), work towards academic excellence, traveling together, eating meals as a family and gathering after dinner to talk.
This was written for the thoughtful parent who knows the importance and necessity of taking an active role in your child’s personal development to ensure a positive outcome, and I hope you feel empowered to meet the challenges of this tough but noble job head on! Having children of whom you are proud is not subject to luck, chance or “social justice.” To see positive results, all you have to do is look around the community to the many parents who are quietly reviewing, enriching and augmenting their children’s education to see what really works.
Roger Freberg is a San Luis Obispo resident who is using his retirement to write a culinary-inspired blog, comment on important local events and occasionally enjoy getting sued for his journalistic excellence.