Dutch was in a pensive mood earlier today. When I asked about it, she said that she has been thinking about the uncertainties and difficulties of raising children. Maybe it’s because of the weekend visit to my family, or just the time dealing with a three-year-old Bobolito, and the impending spring birth of our daughter, but every parent has those moments when the challenges that we have taken on when we become parents gives us pause. I feel them all the time too, of course. The question becomes what to do with them.
I have often been tempted to compare my children’s childhoods to mine, and to determine not the make the mistakes my parents made. Since my parents did X, and it turned out badly, the reasoning goes, then I’ll do the opposite of X and my children will avoid some of the problems I’ve had. The opposite of what didn’t work is what works, right?
But if I do that, I think I run a pretty good chance of repeating the biggest mistake my parents made: to see my children’s lives as an extension of my own, rather than as it’s own experience. That is, I can try to give my children what I think I needed at their age, or I can try to give my children what they actually need right now–even if it bears no relation to my own childhood. My reflexes tell me to do the first thing, but when I slow down and pay attention, I know the second thing will work out for the best. Of course, that demands that I see my children for who they are, not who I was or wish I was at their age.
I do believe, though, that there are some sounds guidelines about what every child needs. In my view, every child needs…
1. To know that s/he is loved and accepted unconditionally for who s/he is.
2. To know that boundaries for appropriate behavior exist, and that they exist for the child’s sake and the sake of everyone else too.
3. To play.
4. To know that it’s okay to make mistakes, but that our choices have consequences, often unintended, but no less real because of that.
5. To know that the world is often unfair, sometimes to the point of cruelty.
6. To know that despite–or perhaps because of–#5, we must do what we can to act, to the best of our abilities, with fairness ourselves.
If my children can know those things about life and about themselves, then that’s the best chance I can give them of being decent people in the world.
So what would be on your list?