Oh my goodness. The bestseller lists seem to be full of child-rearing books again. This is cyclical. Every few years the bookstore shelves seem to fill with books designed to:
a) Make all parents feel inadequate, dull, and generally unfit for child rearing, and
b) Offer scary, misinformed, inflexible, and counter-intuitive lists of strategies that all seem to begin with viewing your child as the enemy of civilization as we know it
It’s interesting to me that the current blast of parenting “wisdom” seems to all be inspired by the parenting techniques from other countries and cultures. First there was the “tiger-mom” book promoting the raising of children in the most extreme style of Asian, or at least Chinese culture. A new one just came out touting the wonders of the French style of child rearing, which promises, among other things, that your baby will sleep through the night at 2 months, have perfect manners, and learn to eat properly. Uh-huh.
Since some of my very favorite people have now embarked on the adventure of raising their own little humans, and I have somehow lived long enough to be entitled to grandmotherly pontification, I thought I would throw my all-American advice into the mix.
- First piece of advice: take all advice, including mine, with a very large grain of salt. This goes along well with my best advice of all, which is:
- Trust your own intuition, gut, leading of the Holy Spirit, whatever you want to call it. This is YOUR child, and YOUR family and that is not exactly like any other child and family on the planet. Your instincts are better than you think they are. Learn to trust them.
- Next, which goes along with trusting your own leading where your child is concerned is: Get to know your child as a person. Even little babies. They have things they like. They have things they dislike. They have things that comfort them and things that frighten them. They respond well to some settings and atmospheres and negatively to others. Every bit of time you spend really getting to know this fabulous and fascinating person God has put in your care is time well spent. My very wise husband always tells young parents that their babies and toddlers are teaching them right now how to deal with them when they are 13 or 14, and he’s right.
- Respect your child as a person, an individual soul, and a child of God. Children are not, no matter what some foreign (or domestic) child-rearing philosopher wants to tell you, just balls of moldable clay ready to be pounded into the proper form. God is the only potter in our lives, and he will use good parents as the potter’s hands sometimes. But God will never, ever try to mold one of his children into anything but an individual with his or her own gifts and graces. Respect means not forcing your will on them, and guiding them as you would like to be guided.
- Have fun. Laugh. Have parties for no reason, or for reasons of your own. Do not consider a day wasted because you didn’t get all the dishes washed or laundry done, if you spent it looking for caterpillars with your toddler, or reading books, or going to the park because the sun is shining and you all need some fresh air.
- Take some time for yourself, and some time as a couple. Find a babysitter you trust. Trade date nights with friends if you need to trim the budget. Time for yourself is important. Do not think of nap time as the only time you have to fold the laundry. Think of it as the only time you have to refresh, whether that means getting a shower, reading a book, praying, working out or napping yourself. When our kids were little, a friend said to me once, “If I were a babysitter, I wouldn’t leave my kids with me. I am sleep deprived, grouchy, dull, and I haven’t had a shower in two days.” Don’t let that be you. Take care of yourselves.
- Pray for your children. Don’t pray your will for them, pray God’s will for them. This is hard, but God knows it and will help you. Pray for the spouses they will have one day. Prayer puts a sweet, strong spot at the center of their lives and yours. You can stand on it and figure the rest out.
- Last, even though the blogosphere has recently been full of young mothers complaining about us old ladies who say it, treasure every minute of this. Don’t pretend you enjoy every minute, but do be aware that these days will go by faster than you think they will. If you are not enjoying it more than you are miserable, you are not a bad person or a bad parent, but you might want to talk to someone about why, just so there will be more joy in your life and in your children’s lives. Sometimes you just need to vent! I can remember being convinced that the days of Cheerios stuck in weird places and graham crackers in the bottom of my purse would never end, but they did. I put in plenty of time threatening to join a convent, or going for a drive to no place in particular just to get out of the house. There’s nothing wrong with that, or with sometimes longing for a day without dealing with bodily fluids and contrary attitudes. But do be aware of what a short, sweet gift this time is.
As I’m sure Sara, John, and Sam would be happy to tell you, I was not and am not a perfect mother. But, the bodies and souls God gave Monty and I to love and cherish and raise up turned out pretty darned well, and I think it is at least in part due to the fact that we got to know them, respected them, prayed for them and didn’t take anything too seriously.