“Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children and no theories.”
- John Wilmott
Traditionally, I’m not a fan of parenting books, especially when they write things like asking your child if their “love tank is full.” Phrases like that just tend to make me scowl in sarcastic disgust and dismiss the author as a flake. As I’m reading The Connected Child, a book recommended by an adoption and foster care group we belong to at our church, I started to think about my parents. I don’t recall them ever reading a parenting book - or owning one for that matter. I do remember Dr. Spock’s book on their shelf but I think that was a requirement of all parents at that time. Maybe the hospitals sent that book home with each new baby. But Dr. Spock just sat there collecting dust on the shelves along with all of the Reader’s Digest books.
But ruminating about this got me to thinking about how different my childhood was from my son’s or my nephews and nieces’. Hopefully this blog entry doesn’t sound like a grumpy old man rambling in irritation about how things were different in his day.
Growing up, we played on steel playgrounds that were on asphalt. There were no shredded tires or mulch for us to jump off our swings onto.
I don’t recall wearing seat belts when we were in the car, even on long family trips.
There were no such things as “play groups” that our mother’s organized to get together with other moms and children. No, we played with whoever lived in our neighborhood. And we played outdoors. Under no condition were we allowed in the house if the weather was nice outside, no matter how hot we were. And if we were hot, we drank that luke-warm metallic water out of the hose. Yum!
We made up our own games or played tried-and-true ones like kick ball, kick the can, or hide and go seek.
On long trips, there were no portable anything (iPods,
players, etcetera). We had to listen to
whatever music our parents listened to and, as kids, we had to make up our own
ways to entertain ourselves. Hence, we
played the alphabet game using road signs or tried to spot the most license
plates from other states.
When we went to another child’s birthday, the only thing we got was a slice of birthday cake and maybe some ice cream. Where did the gift bags required of birthday parties today come from?
When my wife was pregnant with our son, I had planned on using my baby crib for him. Then I saw on a morning show how a crib was unsafe if you could pass a soda can through the slats. So I tested this. I could practically get a soda can side-ways through the slats in the crib I had as a baby.
But reading this book made me wonder if our parents questioned themselves as much as we do today?
I mean, there are days when it feels less like parenting and more like one of those old westerns. In fact, there are days when I wonder which of my child’s personalities will I get to experience: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (a title from a classic Sergio Leone western)? I can even hear the whistling from Ennio Morricone’s score as my child and I take separate sides of the old town like two gunslingers as we prepare for our shoot-out.
And I don’t want it to be this way. Nor do I want for it to be a courtroom debate whenever I ask Benjamin to do something.
In The Connected Child, the authors’ words hit me square in the heart when they wrote, under the category You’re Too Strict And Controlling If . . ., “You tell your child “No” more frequently than you praise him.” Now, I wouldn’t go that far, as I do praise my child frequently, but I do tell him, “No” a lot. Mainly because I get worn down by his constantly asking to do something or make something or go somewhere or a list of other wishes, wants, and desires that he expresses on a minute by minute basis. I get tired and it is simply easier to just say, “No,” then to explain myself or to allow myself to do some of those things which require my time and energy. The book offered examples of finding the right balance between being too strict or too permissive. Although I started reading this book in relationship to our future adopted child, I realized I could put much of what I’m reading in this book to work with Benjamin.
The key for me is that I want to be a good Papa to my son and to be a real part of his life. I do wonder what he will tell his kids about his childhood and what will they look at him askance on and ask, “What’s that?” Like kids today do about typewriters, 8 track tapes, having only 3 or 4 channels on the TV and having to physically get up to change the channel or rabbit-ears for television sets. When I’m a grandparent, I can’t wait to see – and to see how my son reacts to his kids.