Funny thing about the title of this post. It’s what I was going to name the book I was going to write when I turned 40, laying out what little wisdom I’ve gained about life in general. Alas, I never wrote that book. Life got in the way.
However, I’m not only at the halfway point in life, but also in child-rearing. Yes, yes, I KNOW that my children will remain my children throughout my life, and that in actuality I’m still only at the beginning. That may be so, but they’ll (hopefully) only be under my roof another 10 or 11 years, and since they are 10 and almost 9, I think it’s safe to call this the “halfway” point.
I have some advice for those who are expecting their first child, or those who one day want to have a child. I give this advice from many lessons learned the hard way. It may be the most important parenting advice you ever receive. It’ll certainly save your sanity. It has two parts:
First, while Mom is still pregnant (or, if adopting, while you are preparing for the child to come home), get a copy of What To Expect the First Year. It will be there as a reference, and, trust me – there will be a time at 2 in the morning when you’re frantically trying to figure out why baby is making that noise, or what that green stuff is coming out of her body. I can’t tell you how many times our fears were allayed by “looking it up in The Book”.
That being said, I advise you ignore half the book. Only take the reference parts to heart. Any time it seems to be “advocating”, close the book, and DO NOT agonize over the fact that you are doing something differently.
This dovetails in nicely with the second part of my advice: Don’t let ANYONE tell you how to raise your child. Follow your gut. People have been doing it for millennia, and amazingly for millennia children have been turning into normal adults.
Funny, this is the ONLY time you’ll ever hear me preach moral relativism. When it comes to child rearing, I am a Unitarian Universalist. All roads lead to well-adjusted adults. Now, we all know there are certain things you shouldn’t do as parents. Leaving your child in a hot car in August while you go into a bar to throw down a few is a good example. Chaining your child to a bed is not a good idea. Any kind of abuse is a definite no-no.
“But”, you might ask, “won’t our child turn into a maladjusted nutbag?”. It depends. If YOU are a maladjusted nutbag, chances are your child will be too, regardless of the parenting philosphy you employ.
You see, the white hairs on my head were not caused by my children. They were caused by my own agonizing over the fact that we were “doing it wrong”, which seemed to be what everyone was telling us from every corner. We didn’t “attach” – adoption puts you at a severe disadvantage in that department. They come to you “unattached”. We [gasp] Ferberized, in fact we did it sooner than most parents. Both of our children were in “big beds” (we skipped toddler beds altogether) at 15 months. Don’t worry, we put the mattress on the floor and had bed rails.
We [gasp] didn’t breastfeed. Once again, adoption puts you at a disadvantage in that regard. Believe it or not, there were some people that actually advised us to do it anyway (there are ways to get a woman who was not pregnant to lactate that I had never heard of, and really freaked me out). We used soy food, which I’ve now learned should make my son gay. We had the kids on solid food before the recommended time. We let them go outside without shoes on.
We were criticized for not introducing enough Korean culture to them, and we were also criticized for introducing what little we did. We used strollers, “the leash”, baby gates, and there were times we actually were sitting down and not holding them.
For those who are squeamish, please look away now.
Ok, the horror’s over – you can look again.
We never spoke to the kids in “baby talk”, we didn’t do Baby Einstein (in fact, we let them listen to country music). We sat them in front of the television to watch Blues Clues while we did the dishes. We, to this day, allow them up to 3 hours of television/video games a night. We put a PC in each of their rooms. We let them eat fast food.
We send them to a Catholic school. This is criticized 1) because we are not Catholic, and 2) because we aren’t exposing them to enough diversity. In fact, at my kid’s school, they ARE the diversity. We don’t have the kids in many extracurricular activies. They are each allowed 1 at a time, and it has to be their idea. Trillian takes piano lessons, and Zaphod plays baseball. I know the lack of extracurricular activities will prevent them from getting into Harvard, but I’ve never really liked Harvard anyway.
There’s lot’s more, but my hands are getting cramped. Trust me when I say, we are HORRIBLE parents, according to, well, almost everybody. We’re pretty much doing, and have been from the beginning, everything wrong.
When pondering this sad state of affairs, I took some time to just sit back and examine my children. Granted, they are a little weird, but in a GOOD way. They are witty and resourceful. My son has a strong sense of morality, and my daughter has a strong sense of empathy. Yes, they appear to be highly intelligent – their standardized test scores are off the charts. But Lintilla and I try to keep it in perspective. We have a family motto: Smart is Easy. Good is Hard.
I went to hug Zaphod last night, and he shrinked away. A little voice inside my head said “See, you should have done attachment parenting! He’s a few steps away from becoming a serial killer!” But then I took a step back. So, he shrinks away from signs of affection, expecially in public. He also likes pizza and booger jokes. These are what we call “normal”, for a 10 year old boy.
There are two broad schools of thought when it comes to parenting. The first views the child as a building under construction, with the parent the architect. The child is molded, shaped, and built, all according to the will of the architect.
The other views the child as a flower, the parent as farmer. All the farmer can do is give the plant a good environment to grow. He cannot make it into something it is not. All he can do is watch it grow, keep it straight, and be proud of the bloom, whatever it looks like.
I choose the latter, but if you choose the former, I’m sure your kids will turn out just fine.
But the most important thing you can do as a parent is: find your path and follow it. Don’t let anyone else tell you you’re on the wrong path. Save yourself the grief. You’ll need it when the kids become teenagers.