Since I’ve been doing a lot of pretty informal writing for the past few months, I’ve been craving something a little more… informative. I’m a social worker–I sort of thrive on giving helpful information. Thus, I’ve decided to talk about parenting this month.
Am I a parent? Nope. Definitely not. So obviously I don’t know everything about parenting. By far. But I do know a thing or two from the multiple parenting classes I’ve taken throughout my education. So I’ll regurgitate a few of the things I’ve picked up, and hopefully I remember it a few years down the road when I have kids.
The whole purpose of parenting is to teach kids to be successful, independent adults. That’s the simplest way to put it. The whole point of parents having their children clean the house, feed the dog, take out the garbage, do their homework, eat their vegetables, get along with their siblings, take piano lessons, etc. is to teach them skills that will be important in adulthood. Through these seemingly menial tasks, kids learn responsibility, punctuality, fortitude, talent, independence, and problem-solving.
The longer I work with kids and their families, the more baffled I become at the range of care given to children. On one end of the scale is neglect. I know children who have been locked in closets. I’ve met a 3-year-old so malnourished that he could have easily passed as 18 months old. Not only are these children being denied the privilege of learning valuable skills for adulthood, even their basic needs aren’t being met. In addition, these children generally carry a lot of baggage with them into adulthood–self esteem issues, trust issues, or maladaptive coping mechanisms (e.g. unhealthy addictions).
On the other end of the scale are hyper-vigilant parents. I like to think of them as Neverland parents because they (consciously or subconsciously) refuse to let their children grow up. They don’t really encourage independence. I know a 13-year-old boy who still occasionally receives help from his mother in using the bathroom. You read that right. 13 years old. I can’t make this stuff up. While this boy does have some issues, he is very high functioning and completely capable of taking care of his personal business on his own. The first time I met him, she announced that they needed to use the restroom, and marched after him into our single-toilet restroom. The second time I saw him, I was very curious to see if she would accompany him to the restroom again. She didn’t this time, but she did hover outside the restroom door while he was in there. When he came out she asked, “Did you do the three steps?” I can only guess at the steps–zip, flush, and soap? Oh, how I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt, but after watching two months of incessant hand-holding, I really can’t. On the slightly less extreme side of this same idea, I know parents who strongly discourage their children from moving out of the house once they’ve graduated from high school. I’m sure these parents (bathroom boy included) honestly think they’re doing their child a favor. But I think we can agree that it really doesn’t encourage successful, independent adulthood.
On yet another end of the scale (imagine a triangle), you’ve got the overly harsh parents. These parents have got the whole idea of teaching independence and life-long skills down, but they get a little carried away. Sometimes they forget to parent with love and understanding. It seems to me that they also tend to have unrealistic expectations for their children–they want their children to behave like adults. I’m fairly sure these parents do love their children, but they show it in an unconventional way, and thus their kids often misinterpret it. These kids tend to resent their parents a little more than the average child and look for opportunities to escape. Sometimes they have no intention of returning.
Obviously we’re shooting for somewhere in the middle of these three extremes, but it’s easy to get lost within this triangle. We want to take good care of our kids, but we want them to eventually become entirely independent. And of course we want them to like us. Is this even possible? Yes. But we’ll get into that later.