A Few Thoughts on Being a Parent (page 3)
Let’s face it friends. Being a parent and having the responsibility of raising kids is no easy job.
Just think for a moment: First there are the babies. They wail, shout and cry and unquestionably let you know when they are unhappy little campers. And it’s the parent’s job to figure out what ails the little tyke. What in blue blazes does this wailing, raging infant for whom I am responsible for its health, safety, and well being want?? Do you want to be fed? Or changed? Or held? Or put down? Sleep? Burp????? Don’t you wish that they could tell you what is wrong?
Well! Wait until they are two or three years old and they do start telling you what is wrong and what they want. And three year olds know what they want and how to get it!!! The word “NO!” from the mouth of a determined three-year-old has stopped many a grown adult in his/her tracks.
A few years later when things start settling down a bit for the parent, the child trots off to school, and after a day or two of traumatic separation, the situation changes. The school age child seems to be more concerned about what their schoolmates think and do than they are influenced by the wishes and concerns of their “old” parents.
And by the time they get to the teens they are flying off at the speed of light doing their own things and thinking their own thoughts—and woe to the adult person/parent who gets in the way and tries to stop the raging torrents of hormones and independently minded teenage wills.
Raising kids is no easy job. But I’ve learned a lot about being a parent in the last thirty-seven years. I did get some help from college professors, counselors, caseworkers, and consultants and by reading “how-to” books (I must admit that Dr. Spock was a great help in the early days).
My real teachers, however, were my three sons. Yes, my children taught me most of what I know about being a parent. I only wish that I would have known the lessons they were trying to teach me when they (and I) were younger. So, in the next page or so, I will share with you some of the important lessons I learned from my teacher/sons.
Lesson One: Punishment is Very Popular With Parents, But It Doesn't Work in the Long Run
How many of us have grounded the youth for six weeks “until he gets his grades up”? Did it work? Could you stand having a moping, whining, complaining youth confined in the same house where you live for forty-two days and fortytwo nights? Didn’t you make exceptions to the grounding….just to have some peace and quiet? And what about sending your daughter to her room until she “calms down” only to have walls to repair, mirrors to replace or have to take a quick trip to the Emergency Room to get stitches and an X-ray of her swollen knuckles? So did that punishment work? (By the way, I think that when most parents use the term “consequences” (like “If you don’t clean your room, there will be consequences.”) they really, really mean “punishments.” (“If you don’t clean your room, there will be punishments.”)
Punishments don’t work because kids usually find a way to “get even” with the person who imposes the chastisement. In physics there is a law that states: For every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. I think this law holds true when parents impose punishment. One way or another kids find a way to get back at parents’ punishment with an opposite and equal reaction.
So what does work? I mean parents can’t just let the kids run wild. There has to be some way to establish and encourage family norms and acceptable behavior so everyone can live in the same house together without open or guerrilla warfare.
My sons taught me the importance of family meetings. These family meetings were the forums where we openly addressed problems and together hammered out solutions. We tried to negotiate differences. And, although we never achieved perfection, things were a whole lot better when we all came together and everyone tried to find a solution that would work out.
Not that everyone always got what they wanted entirely, but we tried to come up with solutions that everyone could at least live with.
The rule was: OK we choose to look for a solution to this problem, a solution where you won’t get hurt, I won’t get hurt and it (the solution) is not against the law. That frame of mind leaves a wide, wide range of possibilities. We got into problems when someone thought that they were “right” and that everyone else must cave in. But we eventually learned that it was better for
everyone in the family when we all settled ourselves down, took everyone’s desires seriously and looked for a mutually acceptable solution.
Lesson Two: Life in the Family Goes Better When Family Members Treat Each Other Like They Do Their Friends
My sons taught me that having a strong, positive relationship between parents and children makes life down on the farm (or in
the apartment) go a whole lot more smoothly.
How did we try to treat each other? We tried to treat each other the way we would treat our friends. That means we would respect the opinions of each other and not nitpick or fight for the “last word.”
The sons taught me that things go much better when we do things together…..things that they and I enjoy doing together. (I even
learned to like Ozzie before he was on television.) Treating family members like friends meant we all had to give a little to get a little.
I learned that if I wanted to be respected, I had better first show my sons respect. (I mean, how were they to learn how to respect
someone if their parents didn’t model the behavior by respecting them first?)
Family relationships are strengthened when family members spend time doing enjoyable, satisfying things together….maybe even going to a concert together (don’t forget your earplugs). Or working in the yard, or the kitchen together.
A strong relationship involves forgiveness (we learned to accept the fact that no one—even Dad— is perfect). A relationship is
strengthened when both parents and children are willing to struggle together through the bad times (as well as the good times) without nagging, complaining, arguing or playing the “get-back” game.
Lesson Three: There Is No Such Thing As “Constructive Criticism”
Criticism is criticism and that’s all there is to it. Any kind of criticism hurts the person who is criticized. Criticism will destroy the relationship between the person who criticizes and the person who is criticized. For example, play this piece of “constructive criticism” over in your mind. What do you really hear the parent saying?
“Bill, I’m proud of you. You didn’t fail a thing this marking period, and you brought every one of your grades up from last time. BUT I think you could do better if you tried harder.”
Dad is trying to be “constructive” with his “criticism.” But it just doesn’t work. Bill has the gut reaction that Dad is getting on down to what he really wants to say ... right after the “BUT.”
“Your room looks fine, but aren’t those dirty clothes over there in the corner?” My sons taught me that so called “constructive criticism” hurts and will put relationships in a vulnerable position.
So what’s the alternative to “constructive criticism?” My sons helped me to learn how not to criticize them and instead to ask a
special type of question which would help them to “self-evaluate” their own behaviors.
Instead of telling Bill that he could do better if he studied harder, a question which will help Bill to selfevaluate his own behavior is usually more beneficial and useful.
“Bill I’m proud of you. You didn’t fail a thing this marking period and you brought every one of your grades up from the last time. Are you satisfied with your grades? How would you rate your accomplishments?” By asking the last two questions, I’m asking Bill to “self-evaluate” his work. By using questions that helped my sons to self-evaluate their own behaviors, I avoided a lot of arguments.
Reprinted with the permission of the NFPA. © 2008 by NFPA. All Rights Reserved.
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