Parenting is a weird task that gets easier and harder at the same time. Just when you've figured something out about taking care of your child, a new challenge crops up to remind you that you kind of suck at this. Ultimately, the best you can hope for is to parent in a way that leaves your child emotionally connected to you, feeling safe and secure, and tattoo-free until she's 18. Bedtimes, TV patterns, and toy accumulation can be flexible to keep you sane. Just make sure she doesn't get tattooed before she can vote.
I've found the following three articles very helpful over the last few months as my daughter is fully two years old. She's starting to not just have opinions (mainly about how much time she'd like to spend at the park or eating ice cream) but also to forthrightly articulate them to her mother and I. I know that these momentary struggles will pass and we'll be on to other issues like potty-training, homework, driving, and tattoo prevention. So, as she grows, I'll keep the core ideas of these articles close at hand.
This article got some online traction last month in advance of a book about the same topic being released (kudos to Kottke.org for the link). The main point is that the French way of parenting (and living, I'd say) produces children that seem to better understand boundaries and behavior. French children (in comparison to American kids) seem to throw tempter tantrums less and obey parents more. The reason has to do with the boundaries and processes put in place by parents very early on so that children respect the requests made by their moms and dads. From the article:
The French, I found, seem to have a whole different framework for raising kids. When I asked French parents how they disciplined their children, it took them a few beats just to understand what I meant. "Ah, you mean how do we educate them?" they asked. "Discipline," I soon realized, is a narrow, seldom-used notion that deals with punishment. Whereas "educating" (which has nothing to do with school) is something they imagined themselves to be doing all the time.
One of the keys to this education is the simple act of learning how to wait. It is why the French babies I meet mostly sleep through the night from two or three months old. Their parents don't pick them up the second they start crying, allowing the babies to learn how to fall back asleep. It is also why French toddlers will sit happily at a restaurant. Rather than snacking all day like American children, they mostly have to wait until mealtime to eat. (French kids consistently have three meals a day and one snack around 4 p.m.)
The rest of the article focuses on the need to teach delayed gratification - that kids can't have what they want when they want it all the time. It seems as if that lesson can be learned, children can grow up balanced and grounded.
My friend and colleague Anderson Williams penned this piece. About to be a new dad, he reflects back on how his parents raised him and what that means for the way we collectively raise and teach youth today.
While growing up, Anderson heard constant reminders from his parents that he was to make good decisions and was ultimately responsible for those decisions he made. He remembers:
Although as a teen I may have rolled my eyes hearing these words over and over again, I knew what Mom meant, and I knew that she was reminding me of a social contract we had. I got freedom and opportunity as long as I showed that I was responsible enough to handle it.
And, I knew I would be held accountable if and when my responsibility lapsed. I also knew why. There was no question and no fight. I knew what was expected of me and I knew when I had failed those expectations. Candidly, with a teenage son, my Mom knew I would screw up. The question was how badly and how would I respond.
While teaching responsibility isn't like teaching addition, it is possible to teach it in the context of relationships. Then, the idea of accountability is introduced, which leads to any of us understanding how to make better decisions.
Leo Babauta has another insightful post. As a minimalist and a father who understands the world is rapidly changing, he is working hard to homeschool - and unschool - his children. From that, he offers up nine skills that children should be learning. If a young person has these skills, she'll be able to adapt and grow in an ever-changing world. He writes:
9. Dealing with change. I believe this will be one of the most essential skills as our kids grow up, as the world is always changing and being able to accept the change, to deal with the change, to navigate the flow of change, will be a competitive advantage. This is a skill I’m still learning myself, but I find that it helps me tremendously, especially compared to those who resist and fear change, who set goals and plans and try to rigidly adhere to them as I adapt to the changing landscape. Rigidity is less helpful in a changing environment than flexibility, fluidity, flow. Again, modeling this skill for your child at every opportunity is important, and showing them that changes are OK, that you can adapt, that you can embrace new opportunities that weren’t there before, should be a priority. Life is an adventure, and things will go wrong, turn out differently than you expected, and break whatever plans you made — and that’s part of the excitement of it all.
We can’t give our children a set of data to learn, a career to prepare for, when we don’t know what the future will bring. But we can prepare them to adapt to anything, to learn anything, to solve anything, and in about 20 years, to thank us for it.
Go read his other eight suggestions. I feel better about the unpredictable future for my daughter now that I have a list of things I'd like her to learn, other that data or facts that may not be applicable in a few years' time.
4) Okay, one more good one
I was also reminded of this article I read last year, when my daughter had just turned one. In response to another online post about what a four-year-old should know, the author makes a compelling case that being able to name all the planets or having legible penmanship isn't what a four-year-old should be concentrated on knowing. Rather, a child should know that she's loved, safe, and how to imagine. Go read the rest of the recommendations.
Parenting is hard. We need ideas, resources, wisdom, and humor to do it well. Share articles you've found helpful in the comments and let's tackle this great adventure together.