My primary care doctor and his wife, who is also a physician, are having their first child. All of that education, all of that professional experience will be on the table now … and I think that both will appreciate any advice that they can glean from their relatives and friends, especially after they find themselves sleep deprived and unable to put whole sentences together.
Child rearing is one of those things for which you can’t practice, at least for the first child. I am the oldest of four and was heralded as a perfect baby sitter because of that. Wrong conclusion. I am the oldest of four each born one year apart. My knowledge of child rearing was limited to watching my mother do herculean feats of restraint and bottomless resources when her four were sick or squabbling or naughty. Actually, remembering back, naughty, squabbling and throwing up were kind of a triumvirate of ordinary.
But why am I writing about this? Well, I just read a post by Erica Hourigan Leubner about allowing children to do “the hard things,” to fail, learn and develop resiliency. At least that is what I think she said. And I agree, but with some additions.
Human children learn as they grow. There are few, if any, instinctive behaviors for the child of a homo sapiens on which to rely for survival. Parents and those who function as surrogate parents are the replacements for the instinctive behaviors that are part of the genetic inheritance of other occupants of this planet. Human children have a long developmental period that follows the development of their brains, which, according to the most recent pronouncement, can extend into the adolescent years.
Margaret Mead, one of my heroes, says it clearly. Children are born into a world that is foreign to their parents. When I was a child, there were no computers, no television, no cell phones. Heck, a modern convenience was having a furnace that was fired with oil rather than coal. My parents taught me to live in that world. That world has disappeared, save in memories.
My grandson, Tommy, who is 14, has asked me about what it was like to live in the “80s” as if the “80s” were somewhere near the disappearance of the dinosaurs. I was the mother of young children in the “80s.” I had very little knowledge of the world that they might be living in. We had a cathode ray tube TV. We had a telephone and a rotary dial telephone. Libraries still had card catalogs and our street was always full of children outside playing … but there were inklings of change. I had bought my oldest, who would have been in his teens in the “‘80s” a TI 99 computer and, while I had no clue about how it operated, I watched him finagle it and produce an American Flag that waved and said Happy Birthday Mom. I knew that this was something to keep an eye on. Email, text messaging, Youtube and its immediacy of information and the mendacity possibilities of social media were still to come.
I have no idea whether my parenting prepared my kids for adulthood. They seem to have survived well, producing their own questions about how to raise children for an unknown future. The question still reverberates. How do you prepare your offspring for a time, place and technology that doesn’t yet exist? Well, Erica’s pronouncement is right up there with my idea of preparation for adulthood: try, take responsibility for trying and learn that you won’t succeed every time.
Failure is learning. I, however, would add that as a parent, I am always available whether the kids want it or not, as a mentor, a coach, a guardrail. I encouraged trying new things, within reason. Reason is what you think it is. At any juncture, how a growing child interacts with all of the options that the world offers, the parents can offer guidance, coaching, etc. with respect to the possible outcomes of choices which can be anything from financial cost to physical harm. One must accept that there will be eye rolls , sighs and mumbles at what can and has been thought of as interfering. But children do need to “do the hard things” and learn from the fact that they tried and, if they failed, they can try again.
Being there for one’s’ children is as important as the option to do the hard things. It teaches them that we are all a part of a larger community. Our actions don’t only affect ourselves, but they reverberate in the lives of others. That is an important thing to learn. A very important thing. It is what holds society together.
But, the areas where I can offer any support are gradually being eroded by technology and changing culture. So, I am sitting here wondering what I can contribute to the future lives of my grandsons…Right now, I am sure that I can teach them how to tell time when the clock has a minute and an hour hand, how to use a rotary phone and I can translate from cursive writing to printing. The rest they will have to teach me.