Our children are little (or sometimes not so little) enigmatic packages. We are so often perplexed by them, not knowing what to do when they behave the ways they do. And we receive so little information about how they are thinking. So, much of the time we are forced to make assumptions only to later find out how wrong we were in guessing. Parenthood is fraught with dilemmas and most of us put enormous pressure on ourselves to be perfect parents. Well, relax, there is no such thing as perfect parents, so just enjoy the moments, trust your children to be the best they can be, and above all else, try to do as little damage as possible!
Now, that’s the hard part because doing damage innocently comes almost naturally to most of us. Why? Because we are control freaks when it comes to our children, and our control delivers trouble to not just our children, but to ourselves as well. Control works hand in hand with judgment and when children feel judged by us, they begin to believe less in themselves and in their own potential, they lose touch with their inner child, their inner director that is their best guide. They grapple with how to dilute our judgment of them and so they defensively try to be whatever it is they think we want. (Later, they try to be whatever it is their friends want them to be — it’s called “peer pressure”.) Unfortunately sometimes the price the child pays for this is a loss of self, something we never imagined when we thought we were only giving them constructive criticism.
What we need to understand is that children grow and develop best when nurtured. Children respond to words of encouragement even in moments of misbehavior. A quiet adult voice that says to the child, “Looks like you need to take care of yourself,” as the child is guided to a safe haven offers opportunity to correct the current behavior without escalating the situation.
We can’t MAKE our children do what we want, but by using kind words of encouragement we can foster an environment of cooperation, respect, and harmony within our families. Isn’t that what we really want anyhow?
When my husband asked his 89-year-old aunt about what she learned from life she replied that she didn’t know her lifetime would pass so quickly. When my mother talked to the parents of her second-grade students, she would tell them that their children had already lived one third of the time they would live at home with them. As we parents acknowledge the passage of time; we must face the speed with which our children grow, change, and develop into adults and somehow learn to deal with that.
Probably one thing we can do for ourselves and for our children is to try to make the time we share as full of meaning as we can. Of course we can’t and shouldn’t run ourselves or our children ragged by trying to make every moment filled with something. Our world is already too frenetic and we do have a tendency to over plan and over schedule our children. So I’m not talking about activities for us to share; I’m talking about making the simple moments the ones we cherish.
Simple moments are all around us. I’ve written many times about family dinners and the value and importance of them for every family member. This is the time near the end of the day when we gather as our nuclear family, whatever its constitution is, and share food and thoughts. It is when we discuss not only our day and our impression of it, but also our hopes, dreams, plans, and even our values. Daily family dinners bring something to our families that nothing else can or does.
Another wonderful way to give meaning to our times together is to tell stories to our children. In a time long ago, when people had no TVs or computers or electronic games, families would sit around and tell stories. The stories would be about many things – sometimes tales of funny things that had happened to a family member. My grandmother used to tell me such things when I’d beg her, as I regularly did, to tell me a story. First she’d say, “A bear ate Grandma,” and tell me that that was a real “story”, meaning “a fib”. And then she’d tell me a jingle, “I’ll tell you a story about Mary Morey and now my story’s begun, I’ll tell you another about her bad brother, and now my story’s done!” I’d moan and groan and then she would finally tell me something about one of her relatives that would be interesting to hear. Of course I didn’t know most of these people. By that time many had died, but the stories brought them to life for me. I can almost hear my grandmother’s mother-in-law, who emigrated from Germany in the mid 1800s, say in her broken English, “You plan and you plan and something comes along and puts a hole in your pants!” Oh, my, how I’d laugh at that! And yet what insight it gave me about how life does sometimes wreak havoc on the best-laid plans, and the fact that my grandmother told it to me in a story form helped me to accept that quality of life and to learn to move on from it.
But the stories I loved the most, the ones I begged for every night when my grandmother spent the night with us, were the stories about Uncle Lloyd. It all began with an old framed print of a baby, you know the kind, those prints people who couldn’t afford real paintings used to frame in rough brown wooden frames, no matting around them. The portrait was pretty large, about 16×20, and it looked like a watercolor of a cherub, only more human so you knew it wasn’t an angel. It hung prominently in her bedroom and when she’d walk past it she’d remark, “That’s Lloyd when he was a baby.” It really wasn’t, but it reminded her of him anyhow with the rosy cheeks, softly curled light brown hair, and innocent blue eyes. I always had that image of him in my mind as she started her stories even though when she began to tell me the stories of Uncle Lloyd he was already a middle-aged man.
The stories all had emotion in them, some were just plain funny, some were historic telling of a time when my family lived on a farm, others were heartwarming, jerking at my own heart strings and making me tearful, while some were sad enough to break my heart as I felt them breaking my grandmother’s, too. But most of all, these stories of Uncle Lloyd helped me to define who I was, where I’d come from, and what my stock had been made of. That’s the stuff the simple moments clarify, and all of your children deserve those stories from you, and you deserve the joy you’ll get as you share them.
Director/Elementary 1 Teacher