2/09/2009

Handy Parenting Tips

The world is in such a state of turmoil these days, it is no wonder that modern parents have no idea how to raise their children. Should little Johnny take Tai Kwon Do, Judo, or Karate classes ? Should I enroll Suzy in a Montessori program, or does that smack of elitism ? Would it thwart little Videlia's sensibilities if I told her to stop pinching her baby brother ? Isn't potty training just another form of oppression by "the man" ? I want my little Ashley to be a vegan, but worry that breast-feeding her would taint this by exposing her to an animal based by-product. I want to personally select each teacher my student has for his entire academic career, based on my own personal perception of who is a "good" teacher ( informed entirely by local gossip) but am not sure how to tell the school officials of my choices. My little Jason just practices and practices his violin, for hours each day, but seems to have no natural talent in music. He also hates it. What should I do about it ? You can see that the number of issues parents face, each full of dire consequences for their offspring, grows exponentially. What is a modern parent to do ?
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There are those who turn to parenting manuals for guidance. There are those who ask their friends, neighbors and relatives for advice. The one thing I have noticed, no matter which camp one tends to fall into, is that only one thing is for certain : These people will ignore whatever advice they are given, whether from a respected source such as Dr Spock, a trusted friend who has successfully raised children, or a popular manual that is on the best seller list. These people will continue to make ridiculous choices, and proudly flaunt them as evidence of something (just what exactly, escapes me ; their own creativity ? laziness ? strength in the face of adversity?). To illustrate my point of view, I present several real-life scenarios taken from friends/co-workers/relatives of mine:
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1)"Elvira" * has a son, five years old. This son has not successfully been potty trained yet , because Elvira never really wanted to deal with all that hassle and mess. She also has difficulty saying "no" to him, or suggesting that he do anything, really. So Elvira's son, "Braxton" continues to mess up his pants at daycare, and poops on the floor of his room, in the backyard, in the car, etc. Elvira spends lots of money on gadgets and gizmos, like "pee-pee" targets for the toilet, instead of taking a couple of days to teach her son what to do, and what not to do. The daycare keeps threatening to un-enroll him if this situation isn't successfully resolved, soon....and next year he starts first grade. I remember 1st grade, and a little boy who pooped in his pants each day. No one wanted to sit by him, b/c he smelled really bad. What do you think is in Braxton's future ? Elvira bemoans this situation on a frequent basis to friends, family, and co-workers. It is clear from her comments that she somehow hoped the daycare or the grand-parents would take care of this situation for her. Yet time continues to pass, with the situation unresolved. Do you think little Braxton will magically decide to poop in the potty someday, all on his own ?
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2)"Fred" and "Ethel" * have a daughter, "Allison" *, who is two and a half years old. Although they come from a wealthy, educated, professional family, Fred and Ethel have unusual notions of parenting. Their daughter Allison still does not speak a single word, because her mother follows her around 24/7, anticipating her every single wish and taking care of it, so she never has to ask for a cookie; instead one appears magically in her hand. Allison is not allowed to ever watch tv, not even "Sesame Street", because it might corrupt her little mind. Allison only recently started walking, because her mother never put her down, ever, until the past couple of months. She carried her every single moment she was awake. Yet in spite of what seems to be a situation of hyper-vigilance on the mother's part, Fred and Ethel have made the decision that they will put Allison to bed each night at 6 pm, no matter how tired, or not, little Allison is. This is because Fred and Ethel want to continue to dine, for the rest of their lives, sans children. Instead of using the traditional British method of ensuring this goal - hiring a nanny, and sending the children off to the nursery to dine with Mary Poppins - Fred and Ethel have built a giant baby-gate that covers the doorway of little Allison's room. So each night, they put Allison "to bed", and she pops up immediately, goes to the gate that blocks her doorway, and cries piteously to be let out......while mummy and daddy dine in the other room. This goes on for hours. Repeated family interventions have not impressed upon Fred and Ethel that little Allison will never be socialized to behave with adults in this manner, and that this form of behavior is, in fact, abusive. Fred and Ethel have been signed up for parenting classes, given numerous popular parenting manuals, all to no avail. They also have no exit strategy for this process - what will they do when Allison is old enough to take down the baby gate, but wants to eat on the floor with her fingers b/c they have never taught her otherwise ?
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3)"Billy" and "Bobby" *, brothers, decided the other day while their mother "Janice"* was careering down the highway at 70 mpg, to unbuckle themselves from their seat belts and climb around inside the car, playing, throwing things, and smacking each other with toys. Unsure of what, exactly, to do, Janice kept driving till she got to school and dropped the boys off. That night, their daddy "Mike" took them to McDonald's and let them play in the bounce house, because mom was so tired and stressed out from the hectic day she just had with those mis-behaving kids. Now I don't know about you, but had my kids done this - and in fact, they probably did, I just don't remember it - they would have only done it once. You know why ? I would have stopped the car immediately, pulling over to the side of the road as soon as I could do so safely, yanked each kid by the arm until I could get a firm grip on him, and spanked him thoroughly. It is not "P.C" to admit to spanking kids anymore, but there are times I feel it is justified, if not over-done, and this is one of them. I'd have thrown in some good psychotic screaming, as well, (I'm a big fan of the mental anguish caused by hearing the phrase, " Just wait till your father hears about this ! "), and sent them to their rooms when they got home that night - certainly never have rewarded them with a trip to McDonald's for behaving that way. My kids would have known exactly what they did that was wrong, and what would happen to them if they ever did it again.
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These situations, and so many more, are ones I hear people talking about every day. I don't claim to have a lock on the world's most perfect kids - lord knows mine have caused hubster and myself plenty o' stress, over the years, and will probably continue to do so , as we navigate these tricky teens years with them. I will tell you what I think has helped me immensely, as I have raised my children : whenever someone, be it family member or friend, has given me a good piece of advice on how to resolve a particular problem of child-rearing: I have taken it. So much thanks goes to Carolyn, Adriene, Martha, Becky, Debbie and Carol, especially, who offered me useful ideas just when I needed them the most. I tried what you suggested, and it worked. I can never thank you enough.
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* All names have been changed to protect the guilty

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