It’s been quite a while since I posted to the blog. Life gets hectic and, quite frankly, I suppose I said what I wanted to say at the time. Recently, I’ve been trying to gather my thoughts about what I see as at least some important aspects of modern parenting. Of course it would be impossible to capture all or even most of what needs to be said in one neat written package; how many parenting magazines are out there that have articles every month on some new take on an old issue?
So here, I am going to address one of the biggest factors I’ve seen make a difference in the lives of parents and children everywhere: accountability. I realize that is quite a loaded word. More to the point, I’m talking about the fact that I would be very surprised to hear an example of the “do what I say, not what I do” model of parenting being effective on a long-term basis. Leading by example is not just for sports teams, or the work place – it is perhaps most important in the home.
I do not profess to be the world’s greatest parent, or even just the world’s best father. I don’t think that person exists. We all make a lot of mistakes. Just as with any other aspect of life, the important thing is not only to learn from them, but to teach—to allow—our children to do the same. I am also a very strong believer in clear, open communication as the best way to develop responsible people out of the living beings that you bring into the world. This is not always the easiest thing to do when your kids are, quite frankly, pissing you off. However, there are some choices to be made on a moment-to-moment, day-to-day, year-to-year basis that determine how your children perceive you and therefore perceive themselves as well. I challenge myself—and you, whoever and wherever you are—to gauge the following:
Do you (WE) tend to:
- Guide – or govern?
- Explain when you can – or always simply “expect?”
- Discuss/dialogue – or direct?
- Coach or criticize?
- Teach how to be trustworthy – or threaten?
- Allow them to learn from their mistakes – or simply analyze and emphasize them
- Compliment their good qualities – or complain about their flaws (which are, in all probability, your own)
- Opt for fully engaging interaction and teaching opportunities – or seek expediency?
If I am trying to tell someone how to get from New York to, say, Baltimore, what should I expect if all I tell them is “Don’t go north” and “Don’t go as far as Washington, D.C.?” Should I surprised or angry if they end up in West Virginia, or Delaware, or Pittsburgh? Do I attack for “not following directions” –or do I take responsibility for my own lack of effective communication and re-adjust? Quite frankly, if you as a parent (which from my experience typically means as a person in general as well) are unwilling or maybe even incapable of flatly admitting you’re wrong, I can’t imagine it leaves much room for children to feel they are doing anything right.
Communication is not just a matter or word choice; it is also the way we send messages about openness and accessibility and support and stability. Children¸ especially young and pre-teen, care as much, if not more, about what you do WITH them as what you do “for” them. Everyone, but especially a child, needs to feel as if people are truly listening to them. Tell a child “later” or “not now” or “I’m busy” or “be quiet” or some other infinite variation of “I’M NOT AVAILABLE TO YOU” enough times and later leads to why bother” soon enough; leaving you wondering” “why won’t my child open up” or why is my child shutting me out?” If that kind of thing doesn’t matter to you, then none of this is relevant and you probably stopped reading two paragraphs ago anyway.
Otherwise, all of us with children – or who intend to have children, or interact with them in any meaningful way – would do well to at least reflect on these questions and do an internal check or whether we actually “measure up” the way many or perhaps even most of us expect our children to.