Saturday, February 18, 2012

The woman I would have them copy...

Today's title comes from Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott.  

"A startled or surprised look from one of you when I spoke sharply rebuked me more than any words could have done, and the love, respect, and confidence of my children was the sweetest reward I could receive for my efforts to be the woman I would have them copy." ~Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

Forewarned is fair-warned.
Today is also a bit of a rant, so if you're not interested in my views on parenting you should probably stop reading now.  :-)

I have very distinct views on parenting, some that differ even from my own upbringing (but not much, my parents expected a lot of me and I maintain that is what mattered!).  I believe in a very visible line between children and parents.  I sat at the kids table growing up, and I survived.  I was not allowed to be a part of adult conversation until I was much older, and I survived.  I was expected to do ALL of my schoolwork to an "A" standard, and I survived.  I was spanked for poor behavior choices, and I survived. And the one time I can remember I showed my ass in front of others, I got my face good and slapped, and I survived.

I selected this as the title of my blog because today I'm going to talk about parenting.  But first, I'm going to throw out some disclaimers:
A vision of what some think the perfect mom looks like. LOL!
  1. I am not a perfect parent - not at all!
  2. I am a working mom - I tried being a stay-at-home mom once and it was too hard!  I've entertained the notion again feeling more confident this time (we shall see).
  3. I parent as a team (when he's home and gone) and this, I'm finding, seems to be a luxury and not the norm - team parenting, that is.
  4. I screw up on a regular basis and pray (quite literally) that my son doesn't land on a psychologists couch somewhere someday saying "It all started with my mom..."

 Now that we have that out of the way.

I recently read an article entitle "Why French Parents are Superior".  I wanted to be offended, but as many of you know already, I teach in a public high school.  I was not offended by the title because I watch day in and day out the epic failures of poor parenting.  Once in a blue moon do I see a kid that has gone off the chain into a destructive state and his parents REALLY did all they could do, but I assure you that is NOT the norm.  The expression "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree" is proven all the time.

The crux of the article rested in the concept that American parents are too damn busy worrying about their kids self-esteem and confidence rather than actually teaching them valuable skills they will have to posses in life to HAVE SELF-ESTEEM AND CONFIDENCE.  It's a conundrum, I know. 

I, myself, hate attending group functions where children will be present.  We rarely take CJ to events NOT because I don't want my son to go, but because I do not want my son to witness and then partake in some of the behavior I see around him.  While I do maintain my husband and I expect a lot from CJ, I also maintain that he is a happy and healthy child that still loves to play.  He is not perfect and loses his righteous mind sometimes, but I admit, these faults are small and easily redirected.  If he is not behaving to my satisfaction, I will take him and leave.  I am not so desperate for adult company that I would sacrifice the behavior of my child (and the lesson having to leave teaches) in order to continue to socialize.  I find this is rarely the case in others.  Yet, despite my strict ways CJ continues to thrive socially and academically.  He knows he is smart and loved (and handsome).

From the article, I quote, "When American families visited our home, the parents usually spent much of the visit refereeing their kids' spats, helping their toddlers do laps around the kitchen island, or getting down on the floor to build Lego villages. When French friends visited, by contrast, the grownups had coffee and the children played happily by themselves." 

WHY???  My husband and I do NOT do this.  And when CJ is playing with other children, I will redirect him once if I feel a situation is not as it should be and that redirection usually includes, "If you can't follow my rules, we'll leave" and "I do NOT care what the other parents allow their children to do, those are not my rules".

Now, should we find ourselves at the park for an outdoor extravaganza or in someone's backyard with swing sets and trampolines - run like a wild man, we're in the great outdoors!  But, in someone's home - no.

Other important notes from the article did highlight the struggle Americans seen to have with the French, but parenting was not one of them.  In a particularly interesting passage to me it noted that "...France is the perfect foil for American parenting.  [Their] values are the same...they are zealous about their to them, take them [places]...[they] are involved though without being obsessive..."

Shockingly, the French believe that parents are not at the service of their children, something I think American parents seem to forget.  I am regularly amazed at the service some parents provide their kids.  It's like the parents are on a bell and just wait for it to ring. My son is perfectly capable of getting things for himself.  He is not an invalid.  I do get him things when it's warranted - chocolate milk, for example.  Mostly because he is not ready to handle the gallon of milk yet or tall enough to clear the counter with the top half of his body.  I cook him his meals and pack his lunch (with his help) and I do his laundry (that he folds and puts away).  But I do not get him snacks whenever he wants them, do his homework, or clean his room.  He can do these things, and does them well.  And with permission on the snacks!

The way I watch some parents jump through hoops for their kids, you'd think they HAD to, as if their child was incapable of doing things for himself. I wish I was just talking about toddlers or children, but I see high school parents jumping through hoops for their kids for assignments, homework, teacher discussions; seriously can I just talk to your sixteen year old kid that didn't do crap?  Or have you been doing things for them for so long THEY DON'T KNOW HOW???

And don't get me started on schedules.  CJ has been on one since he was born, even for feeding.  They are the child, you are the adult.  They will adjust to your expectations of appropriate meal times, even when they are little.  The biggest complaint I hear from new parents is that they are tired from constant night feedings, but from parents that establish schedules for their children, they are shockingly more well rested and happy.  Seems to be a connection there.

However, on the other side of the helicopter parents or over-indulging parents, we have the parents that just don't care.  This is the most upsetting of all.  View this little cartoon I stumbled upon this morning thanks to a friend's post:

While the point of it is to STOP blaming the teachers for students inability to learn, the essence of it rests in the problems the children bring with them from their dilapidated, broken homes.  While again, there are instances where the parents really are trying, that is STILL not the norm.  I cannot tell you the number of phone class I've made where I sit and listen to every possible excuse for their child's nimrod behavior or lack of participation or just general apathetic attitude, but never is it the parent's fault.  They've done nothing wrong - it is the teacher's fault, and sometimes the child's fault, but they [the parent] are a picture of perfection.  It is also not their fault that they ignore their child, haven't read to them EVER, don't feed them, clothe them, or speak to them.  It is not their fault they [the parent] went to jail, lost their job, got busted smoking dope at 35 years old, got a DUI, didn't pay rent, or have a phone.  It is never their [the parent's again] fault.  To quote an old expression:  Shit rolls down hill.  It makes me want to vomit.  News flash for parents that don't parent at all:  It is, in fact, YOUR FAULT!

So, to return to the title of my blog:  The woman I would have them copy....  I parent the way I do because I want CJ to see that he is a smart and capable young man that one day will go on to be great.  I want him to have true confidence in his abilities, not false confidence from his parents.  I want him to understand that hard work and determination to accomplish a task will always beat lazy and stupid.  I want him to accept responsibility for his faults and work to correct them.  I want him to be prepared for his life, and I want him to see these qualities in me.  If I do not show them, if I am not a living example of the values I expect him to have, then why should he?  I parent the way I do because I love my child, I love him enough to let him figure things out, make mistakes, and thrive from this type of learning.  I love him enough to let him learn that life isn't always a party surrounded by friends and sometimes you must entertain yourself and make your own party and that's okay.  I love him enough to teach him to cook, clean, and do his laundry.  I love him enough to teach him patience, and I love him enough to say no. 

I will keep making mistakes - that's why it is calling "parenting" which is in an active state at all times - not "parented" suggesting it's done and over with.  But I hope my mistakes will help teach my child, not hinder him.  My husband and I want to give him the best basis for his life - not do it for him or ignore it.  The balancing act is hard but, well worth it.

The French believe in discipline as a form of education, as do I.  "When I asked French parents how they disciplined their children, it took them a few beats just to understand what I meant. "Ah, you mean how do we educate them?" they asked. "Discipline," I soon realized, is a narrow, seldom-used notion that deals with punishment. Whereas "educating" (which has nothing to do with school) is something they imagined themselves to be doing all the time."  We, as an entire society, need to educate our children.

Some last little notes I read in this article are things I think all parents should abide by (forgive my preposition at the end of a sentence here, it was necessary):

French Lessons

  • Children should say hello, goodbye, thank you and please. It helps them to learn that they aren't the only ones with feelings and needs.
  • When they misbehave, give them the "big eyes"—a stern look of admonishment.
  • Allow only one snack a day. In France, it's at 4 or 4:30.
  • Remind them (and yourself) who's the boss. French parents say, "It's me who decides."
  • Don't be afraid to say "no." Kids have to learn how to cope with some frustration.
  • Teach them to wait.  Patience matters and instant gratification is NOT something they should ever learn.  They should be able to pass the marshmallow test (yes, CJ CAN pass this test and you should absolutely read this article - the information is amazing!).
  • Be polite, but firm when redirecting.  A stern tone of voice will not damage them forever and they should understand that the choice they made was wrong.
"If you would have your son to walk honourably through the world, you must not attempt to clear the stones from his path, but teach him to walk firmly over them - not insist upon leading him by the hand, but let him learn to go alone." ~Anne Bronte, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

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