In Part One of my Blog, I talked about a question that was answered by 50 parents. The question was, “Based upon your personal experiences with your own children, what is the best advice you could give new parents about raising children?”
This question was asked of parents who had successfully raised their own children. Their children, all over 21, were considered successful in the sense that they were all productive adults who were apparently adjusting well to society. Parents answered by saying love abundantly and discipline constructively along with seven other parenting qualities. They also said that the following principles were important to the success of their parenting.
TEND TO PERSONAL AND MARITAL NEEDS
Several parents specified that personal adjustment was an important first step to effective childrearing. One noted that to relate well to children, adults must be comfortable with themselves. Another parent said that one should not completely sacrifice oneself for the family but rather, “Keep part of yourself for yourself and do something you enjoy.” By treating yourself well, this parent felt, you will avoid the feeling of being mistreated, used unfairly, and overburdened when something goes wrong. A sense of humor about one’s faults and the misfortunes of life was also thought to be an important aspect of personal adjustment.
Love, respect, and faithfulness between spouses provides needed security to the family. Two comments by parents seem particularly helpful:
“A household in which love is openly expressed is a household in which children flourish. Verbalizing love to one’s children is not enough. Parents should make every effort to let their youngsters see warmth and tenderness in their marital relationship. Parents should not underestimate the importance of letting their children know how delighted they are when their spouses enter the house. The morning greeting and the good night kiss set an environment and atmosphere that encourages the same kind of affection in the hearts and minds of the children.”
“A husband and wife are apt to be successful parents when they give their marriage “first priority”. It may seem that the children are getting ‘second best’ from this approach, but they rarely are. A happy mother and father are most apt to have happy children when the children’s rules are clearly and lovingly defined. Child-centered households produce neither happy marriages nor happy children.”
These remarks highlight what many parents are reluctant to admit but what child experts are finding to be true: That children tend to detract from rather than enhance the closeness between husband and wife.
Recent studies have shown that a couple’s satisfaction with marriage and with each other tends to drop sharply just after their first child is born; and with minor variations, stays at a lower level during the childrearing years and only increases after the youngest child leaves home. Thus, the parents pointed out the need to work at maintaining closeness with the spouse by such means as weekly nights out together, occasional weekends alone together, tender greetings, and thoughtful surprises.
TEACH RIGHT FROM WRONG
Several responses highlighted the need for parents to actively teach children basic values and manners, for them to get along well in society.
Parents found the following ways helpful in socializing their children:
The successful parents also stressed that they thought parents should clearly state their own moral values and discuss them with their children.
Specific comments of parents include the following:
DEVELOP MUTUAL RESPECT
The parents emphasized the need to insist that all family members treat each other with respect. First, this means that parents should act in respectful ways to the children. The following behaviors exemplify this respect: politeness to children saying, “Thank you” and “Excuse me”; apologizing to a child when you are wrong; showing an active interest in the children’s activities and TV shows; being always honest and sincere with children; not favoring one child in the family; following through on promises made; and showing basic trust in a child’s character and judgment.
In addition, parents should insist on being treated in a respectful way by the children. If parents treat each other with respect and love and teach the children to respect their parents, a solid foundation will be laid. Another parent suggested: “Parents should maintain their individuality and cultivate their own interests and talents. The time, feelings, and interests of both parents and children should be respected.”
Really listen to your child, from his or her earliest years – which means giving undivided attention, putting aside one’s own thoughts and beliefs, and trying to understand the child’s point of view. As one parent stated: “No matter how busy or involved you are, listen to your child as a person. Listening means understanding and communicating, not the physical act of hearing.” It also means talking your child’s language, encouraging the expression of feelings – both good and bad – allowing the child to show hostility or anger without fear of losing your love.
In offering guidance to children when you have problems, the parents recommended that you be brief – state your thoughts in a few sentences rather than make a speech. They also felt it is helpful to make children understand that, although your door is always open for discussing difficulties, before you offer solutions, you expect them to have thought about the problem and have tried to come up with possible solutions themselves. Other thoughts by parents on counselling children were: “Don’t force your opinions, likes, dislikes. Offer them strictly as your own opinion, not as law.
“Forbidden fruit is always so tempting, so play it low-key with undesirable activities - TV shows, etc. “Kids will usually respect your opinion if you’re honest, and they will tend to follow your guidance unless they just have to “find out for themselves.”
Recognizing that it is difficult to let children go, the parents advocated gradually allowing them more and more freedom or control over their own lives. By fostering independence, you will gain their affection and their respect. Children should be given freedom to make decisions regarding minor matters first; then the areas of decision-making should be expanded gradually.
The parents also observed that children have a continuing need for parental support and encouragement throughout adolescence and young adulthood. As one parent expressed it: “Once your children are old enough, kind of phase yourself out of the picture. But always be near when they need you.”
Developing realistic expectations about childbearing was also mentioned. Parents advised that one should expect to make mistakes and to realize that outside influences – such as peer group pressure – will increase as children mature. Parents reaffirmed the saying that childrearing is a series of “tough times and tender moments.” One parent remarked: “Don’t expect things to go well all the time. Childrearing has never been an easy job; it has its sorrows and heartaches, but it also has its great joys, and that is what makes it all worthwhile.”
Parenting, indeed, is not a simple task, and it is easy to become confused and uncertain at times. The plain old-fashioned “parent sense” stressed here seems sensible and stable compared to the passing fads and theories.
The most important thing that parents in this study learned by experience is that steadfast love must go together with discipline; indeed, one is not truly possible without the other.
Moreover, in order to love and discipline most effectively, it is necessary to spend constructive time with the children. It would seem, then, that while adjusting to changing times, it is important for parents to hold fast to these and other basic, unchanging principles of childrearing.
(Adapted from “Raising Children by Old-Fashioned Parent Sense” by Dr. Charles E Schaefer, a child psychologist. The article appeared in Children Today, Nov-Dec 1978, published by the Children’s Bureau, ACYF, DHEW. Reprinting permission unnecessary.)