Wednesday, December 22, 2010

DELIBERATE PARENTING


Parenting is hard. But it helps to have a support system like Explorer, my parent participation preschool. 20 years ago, Marlin and I joined Explorer as young parents of two little girls. I’ve been reflecting lately about the impact Explorer, and its emphasis on parent education, has made on the life of my family.

As a mom (and a teacher) I also have many occasions to reflect on my own childhood, and I’m always interested in hearing the stories of the childhoods of parents in our school as well.Here’s a common theme: I turned out ok.  And so did you.  And so did most people that you know, right?  And this is because of (or is it “in spite of?”) the way we were all raised.  Our parents  loved us and did the best they could, and we all turned out ok.

The thing is, we are very likely to raise our kids in pretty much the exact same way as our parents raised us.  Our childhood experiences created our “Normal” setting.  The way we were raised is normal to us, including the parts of our childhoods and upbringing that no longer make sense in today’s world.  So if we don’t make a deliberate, thoughtful effort, we may sometimes make decisions in our parenting which are less appropriate for our kids than they were for us when our parents did the same thing 25 or 30 years ago.

The reality is that, as parents, we need to put some effort into re-thinking things that are a part of our “Normal.”  We need to re-evaluate, re-think, and re-calibrate what is ok and what is not, based on our adult beliefs and values (which may be different from those of our parents, as much as we love them,) and based on today’s culture and generational challenges.

Here are some examples of this type of Deliberate Parenting:

TELEVISION
-I watched quite a bit of tv as a kid, and “I turned out ok.” But tv in the 60’s and 70’s was very different from what’s on tv now. Just compare an episode of Glee to an episode of Happy Days.  Or Southpark to Mayberry.   And I didn’t alternate between tv, computer, and video games all day the way many unsupervised kids do today.  I played hard outside most of the time, and then when it was dark and I had to come inside, I vegged for a couple hours in front of the Brady Bunch. It wouldn’t be very responsible for parents today to allow a kid the freedom to turn on the tv pretty much any time they want, but in the context of that time period, my parents weren’t irresponsible or neglectful.  Just a little indulgent.  Kids who have free reign over the remote today will probably NOT “turn out ok.”

So think about it:  If I didn’t give this any deliberate thought, I might be of the mindset: “It’s ok for my kids to watch all the tv they want, because I watched it and I turned out ok.”  It would feel “normal” to me, based on my upbringing. When Emily and Audra were little, they were as interested in tv as most kids, and I was constantly faced with decisions about how much and what they could watch.  But even 20 years ago, we knew that unlimited, unsupervised access to tv is NOT good for kids. This is even more true in 2011, for all the reasons discussed above. In 1990, as well as in 2011, Explorer can be a helpful source of support for parents who want to create a life for their families that does not revolve around tv.

DISCIPLINE
-Even if we were disciplined with punitive methods or spanking, we may want to think carefully about how to set limits with our kids.  We will probably choose to learn more positive methods for achieving our goals for teaching our kids self-discipline.  But if our default-setting is “Punishment” that’s the direction we will always go when our kids need guidance unless we put deliberate effort into thinking about other options.

FATHERING
-Our dads may have been less involved and more distant, even though they loved us.  But times have changed, and most of us don’t want to let our kids grow up with an un-involved dad, so we have to carefully think about and constantly tweak the roles of both parents in our families.

FOOD CHOICES
-Even if I grew up on a lot of Wonder Bread, Oreos, and Koolaid, I am pretty sure I don’t want my kids (or my future grandkids) to grow up with these unhealthy options. And yes, it takes thought and planning to make healthier nutritional decisions for our families.

SAFETY
-Although I survived an “untethered” childhood (car seats and seatbelts were not the norm in the 60’s) it seems VERY irresponsible (as well as illegal) now for parents to drive kids around without making sure they are safely buckled in. Not that there aren’t moments when ALL of us feel tempted to forget the car seat when our toddler arches her back and screams about getting buckled in.


I’m sure you can think of a million things that your parents did well, and that you want to emulate.  But I’m equally sure that there are things you want to do differently.  In fact,  I’m guessing that your parents themselves will tell you a number of things they hope you will do better with their precious grandkids than they did with you!  I’m already making a list of these items for when my girls eventually become parents!

The key is to THINK.  We can’t run on autopilot all the time, or we risk making some mistakes that could be avoided.

On the other hand, it doesn’t make sense to be paralyzed by fear of making mistakes, or to neglect giving our kids a taste of the best parts of our childhoods.  This is where the support of other parents, parenting classes, a good preschool like Explorer, and resources such as good parenting books can help, too. We all help each other to continually re-calibrate our “Normal” setting, and the fact that it changes as we go along is actually a good thing.  That’s how we evolve.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.  What “Deliberate Parenting” efforts are you engaged in, and why?

Ok, I gotta go.  I’m off to stir up a batch of my mom’s chili for my family.   That recipe, along with an appreciation for Explorer Preschool,  are a couple of the things I do want to DELIBERATELY pass along to my kids and future grandkids. 

1 comment:

  1. Hariharaponlakshmi IyapparajendranJuly 13, 2011 at 1:08 PM

    I completely agree with the screen time restriction for the children and ofcourse the Explorer Preschool is an excellent place for the moms to recalibrate our "normal setting" and rethink what we are unconsciously doing to our kids and what we should do instead depending upon this era and our child'd environment. I am from India and i grew up in a village and in a very interdependant culture and i am know teaching my daughter "self help skills", and how to be independant. the way i was trained for potty training did not work with my daughter. i tried the old method and then stopped and realized i need to change my approach and vola my daughter changed in 2 weeks.

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