Every generation is unlike the one before it. We were raised in a different time than our children, by different people with different cultural imperatives. Life was different 35 years ago. It was the early 1980s — no cellphones, no email, no smartphones and no internet. Home computers were just arriving. There were fewer two-person working families, fewer single-parent families, and life was simpler and slower.
Now blended families are commonplace, but how to manage the resulting challenges are not. Our understanding of child development keeps evolving. Educational philosophies wax and wane. When I was a kid, December was the cut off for kindergarten. Now it’s getting later (September) every year. Educators want children to be older before they start school.
When I was a youngster, children were to be seen but not heard. Many parents believed “spare the rod, spoil the child.” Kids didn’t have so many toys, because parents were less affluent and didn’t have access to credit cards. Kids had to entertain themselves (and we did!) and there weren’t electronic toys. And children had fewer choices. We didn’t get to decide where we were going to eat or what we were going to eat. Whatever my mom made, we ate, without a complaint.
I can’t say that those were the good old days. There were both good and bad elements of growing up in the 1950s and ‘60s. I’m sure my kids would say the same thing about growing up in the ’80s and ‘90s. And I have no doubt that kids growing up in the 21st century will say the same. I don’t think parents were as self-conscious about parenting as we are today. Perhaps that was both a good and a bad thing, too.
With the internet, vast amounts of instant information and commentary are available to parents. Blogs, interest groups and parenting websites abound. Too much information can make for confusion. Parents may mistake theory for fact. Sadly, a website on how to raise your particular child doesn’t exist — yet.
So, as a parent, you still have to craft your own philosophy. I’m sure it includes some elements of what your parents did, and probably something different too. And what’s more, your parenting approach will change as your child moves through different stages of their childhood. How you parent a 2-year-old is completely different than effective parenting strategies for a 6-, 10- or 15-year-old.
Here are some of my thoughts on developing your own personal parenting philosophy.
Whatever you do, be consistent and predictable. This is probably one of the biggest problems for some families. “No” sometimes means no, but enough noise from your youngster can turn it into a “yes.” This confuses children and makes them anxious. No should mean no despite your child’s incessant pleas.
You’re going to make mistakes, at every stage of your child’s development. Yeah, that’s a fact — get used to it and don’t be afraid to mess up. Just like your kids are going to have a lot of skinned knees, so will you. It comes with the territory, but it’s important to admit your mistakes. It will teach your kids to do the same.
Be the person you want your kids to be. It’s so much easier to say, “do as I say, not as I do.” It’s so much easier to tell your kids what to do than to do it yourself. But those monkeys see and then do, so be thoughtful about what you do.
Read parenting books and websites, but don’t overdo it. You can drive yourself nuts by taking in too much information, advice, strategies and approaches. You can forget about your own inner wisdom. Dr. Benjamin Spock, the famous baby doctor (I met him on several occasions in the 1960s), always said, “Trust yourself — you know a lot more than you think.”
Wise advice, even in today’s world.
Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/health-wellness-library.html.