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Parenting thoughts from a childless single woman - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Parenting thoughts from a childless single woman
melwil has a two-part survey up about child development for a class, and needs responses to it. Part 1, Part 2

Since I can't keep my mouth shut on any topic, however little I know about it, I thought, hey, what better than a post by a single, childless woman to talk about child-rearing? ;P

  • Don't play good-cop/bad-cop. The single best example of parenting I've observed (as far as discrete incidents go) was by my cousin, when her little girl was around six. I forget what the thing was that Girl had been forbidden to do; the point is that Girl did it anyway (of course Girl has a name, but the family is very skittish about putting names online). My cousin scolded her--in a reasonable tone of voice--with something along the line of, "Do you remember Mommy telling you not to do that? And why did you do it anyway?"... that was normal. What brought it to brilliance, to my mind, was when she finished with the low-key scolding, and Girl was upset and sorry to have done something wrong. My cousin opened her arms and said, "Do you need a cuddle now?" Girl ran immediately over and was cuddled until she felt better, by the same parent who had done the scolding. I'm certain her father would have handled it the same way. The reason I thought this was brilliant was that it disassociated the idea that love and scoldings come from different sources. (The scold itself, with the iconic, "Explain to me why you did this," was also pretty good, but also perfectly common. I assume every parent has mastered the raised eyebrow and the "Explain yourself" tone, but I've seen too much of the "You wait until your father/mother finds out!" kinds of punishment to think of that as common.)

  • Find out what your child likes. This is mainly for older kids, and I don't mean it in the spirit of those frankly creepy commercials about how you should rifle your teenager's sock drawer. But I often get parents coming in looking for books for their teenagers, and once the urge to say, "Why don't you get her a bus pass and have her come visit us?" passes, I try to ask, "Well, what kinds of stories does s/he like?" I'm flabbergasted how often the answer is, "I have no idea." A kid will always have some tastes that are kept private deliberately, but for heaven's sake, check the posters on the bedroom wall, at least. Spend a day curled up reading together--it's at least as good a use of time as going to half a dozen scheduled lessons (imho, better, but mileage may vary). Talk about movies you see together and find out what this other person who lives in your house enjoys. I mean, good parenting aside, doesn't it get lonely to not be able to say, "Oh, I'm reading this cool book..."? (Or maybe that's just the only child of a single mother talking. Still, the books get left around the house and dog-eared in one way or another. If Tolkien is left pristine on the shelf but Salinger is read to death and requires replacing, that should say something about reading tastes.)

  • There's a point when it stops being "self-expression." I'm not just talking about body piercings and tattoos and so on, though I do think parents have the right to veto that for minors (good approach, "If you still want to do this when you're eighteen and can pay for it yourself, I won't roll my eyes much and you can show up anywhere you want with your piercings appropriately filled"). I'm talking about Dudley-ish bullying and obstinance here. If a teacher says your child is being destructive and disruptive in class, unless the teacher is verifiably Umbridge-esque, chances are, it's the child who needs a good talking-to, not the teacher.

  • Right and wrong matter, not just allowed and disallowed. As a child nears adulthood, it will be time to start looking at shades of gray more closely, but it's impossible to understand gray without a pretty darned good concept of black and white. Asking, "When might it be all right to hit someone?" isn't a question that will make sense until it's been fully internalized that hitting someone is not generally all right. This isn't the sort of thing that schools are structured or intended to teach.

I guess that's enough rambling.
7 comments or Leave a comment
jiminyc From: jiminyc Date: August 3rd, 2004 09:01 am (UTC) (Link)
I agree with all of these and can proudly say they are all routinely practiced in our home.

A few thoughts & comments of my own:

Sounds like your cousin is doing a great job - the good cop/bad cop parenting bit is self-defeating. Presenting a unified front emphasizes to your kids that they're dealing with a set of rules & expectations rather than just battling an individual opinion that can be easily overturned based on 'who you know.'

Talk about movies you see together and find out what this other person who lives in your house enjoys.

AMEN!!! The only thing more rewarding than sharing the books/movies/music/etc that you love with your children is having them share their favorites with you. Every year at Christmas, my Dad has to have a detailed list of what we want for Christmas because he has "no idea" what we like. It galls me to give lists. It turns gift-giving into commerce. If I ever get to the point where I don't know my kids' interests, even when they are out on their own...well, I just can't imagine it ever happening.

There's a point when it stops being "self-expression."

Long long ago in a restaurant far far away, Jack & I were trying to have a romantic dinner when we were interrupted by a pair of young kids crawling under our table and having a sugar packet throwing battle...when we complained to their parents, we got the answer "We're encouraging them to be free spirits." We gave them our profound sympathy for the horrific years ahead of them. Sometimes I want to grab people and drag them to a mirror and say "You see that person? THAT is the person in charge here! Act like it!" The truth is that kids want to know where their boundaries are. Not defining them is an injustice.

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 3rd, 2004 09:12 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, I agree about the gift lists--I know my grandmother asks for them because she feels a little insecure about what she knows (or what might be available) but I hate having to give them. And I've never asked for one--when I hadn't seen my cousin's girls for awhile, I didn't ask her what they wanted; I asked what they were interested in and having fun doing. And that was certainly more fun for me than following a shopping list. ("Ah, so Girl 1 likes art, like her dad... I wonder if she'd like to have ______?") And when I discovered that Girl 1 is a Potterfan, Girl 1 got Magical Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through the Ages, with big smiles from Aunt Fern. I'm dying to see her now that she's almost high school age (her mother is my age; we obviously spread things out a bit), to have a book chat. I doubt she would have put those on a list, but I knew that I could give her something based on something we liked in common.

Agreed about setting limits. Parents who give their children no idea what the shape of the world is aren't helping them be creative. In fact, they're forcing them to devote their mental energy into re-inventing the wheel rather than really finding a beat of their own and grooving to it.
mafdet From: mafdet Date: August 3rd, 2004 10:18 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm betting you that when those "free spirits" are grown up, their spouses and/or employers will want to track the parents down and smack them one. I think it's so important to teach kids manners and consideration, because without them, they won't ever be able to have jobs, friendships or relationships.

Something I saw today on my way to the post office: Two young boys - couldn't have been more than eight or nine - riding bikes on Contra Costa Boulevard (my town's main thoroughfare, a six-lane street with heavy traffic) - with no helmets and no supervision. That was an accident waiting to happen. Sure, it's fine for kids to ride bikes on a quiet, residential street - but on a busy main road with six lanes of heavy traffic? And they should have been wearing helmets no matter what.
vytresna From: vytresna Date: August 3rd, 2004 11:19 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh yes. I would have learned to behave a lot more if I hadn't gotten used to Dad as relatively permissive compared to Mom - doesn't help that Mom's the one who works, either. Of course, Dad's nature is to be lazy unless whatever it is has a deadline very soon (parties, homework, carpet cleaning) and it's too late to change now.

As for disrupting classes, I have a knack for diverting social studies lessons into huge debates. The teachers usually disagree with me on many counts, and slip it not-so-covertly into their lessons, but contest them and the class gets WAY off track. Should save it till after class (if I can remember) - then I get to formulate my argument properly as well. But I want to be watched, as it's usually useless to try and sway the teacher but some spectator might not be a lost cause. Ah, I'll go join Debate.

Er, right, my parents... they tell me to save it until after class (in the rare event that a teacher complains). But do I listen?

Once when I was "disruptive" all I did was question the order of the curriculum ("Why are we putting Woodrow Wilson's domestic and foreign polices into different units?" "Well, if you don't like it, you can just not do all your work and flunk." "Oh, shut up.") and the teacher exiled me from the class and gave me a pureed, easy workload deprived of all war (the other kids groaned under at least two long-term projects at all times). No communication was made to my parents about this, but when I told them they told me to be careful around the fascist teachers. Easier said than done.

Does anyone know good clamming-up strategies for loose-lipped people like myself that don't involve a vow of silence?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 3rd, 2004 11:22 am (UTC) (Link)
Heh-heh-heh. Let me know if you come across one that works.

I was talking about things like punching your classmates and swearing at the teacher, but in terms of that? I dunno. Make yourself wait for three people to answer questions between your own attempts to do?
melwil From: melwil Date: August 3rd, 2004 01:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you so much re. the questionnaire - I'm getting some great stuff there.

The scolding you talk about is very much like the best discipline I'm seen in schools. Be firm, and clear, ask why they did it - then forget about it and treat the child in the same good manner as you do others (obviously hugging is a bit of an issue)

Thank you again!
purplerebecca From: purplerebecca Date: August 3rd, 2004 04:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hear Hear! Good stuff.
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