I Survived…

isurvived

This meme inspired me to share. I’m sure that many of us alive today survived much worse than what is depicted here. Many of us had to endure the cruel realities of a harsh poverty, illness, homelessness, or worse. People from my generation are probably accustomed to hearing phrases like, “well that’s life,” “suck it up and move on,” or “tears are for losers.” I come from a generation of children that learned emotional blackmail very early. Bullies learned very quickly what would make someone cry…and exploited it. Children learned very early to conceal their emotions…because emotions are weaknesses.

We survived all of it, but did we thrive? Through all of it, are we all good, emotionally available, honest people? I know that we’d like to think we are, but the truth is, we aren’t. We were never taught true empathy, true commitment, and true love because we were too busy hiding what we felt so it could not be used against us.

This meme implies that all of these harmful things should be normal in a child’s life, but is that really logical? Do we honestly think that it is logical to put our children’s lives on the line like this?

The job of every parent is to make life a little better for the next generation. I’d like to think that, as parents, we’re succeeding. Parents, in general, are far more conscious about what is best for their child. Parents today are far more likely to research foods, healthcare options, schools, and other things related to their children than parents were just a generation ago. So many parents today understand a child’s need for free choice and independence–something that was nearly nonexistent when I was growing up. As soon as our government starts caring about our future as much as our parents do, we’ll be set.

Frozen

I finally got to see Frozen yesterday. It was a refreshing change from Disney’s damsels in distress, good vs. evil dichotomies, and other cliches. What bothers me, is what I find refreshing, is exactly what some other parents seem to be complaining about. I’ve seen several posts, blogs, and articles claiming that children do not have the cognitive functions to understand the “subtle nuances” portrayed in a movie like Frozen. Without a clear hero or villain, these people claim that children will become confused, and disoriented. I beg to differ, as I often do.

First, I want people to remember their own childhoods. I may be a bit of an old fart, but I remember quite a bit of my childhood. I remember what I thought, and how I felt. I even remember my thought processes, in some instances, that brought me to certain conclusions. For example: In fifth grade I used to walk via a specific route every day. Along this route there was a girl who would walk home from another school. She appeared to be in her teens, and pregnant. I spoke to her often, and it was clear to me that she had some learning impairment. As a child, I thought that someone had probably taken advantage of her mental condition to get her pregnant. I tried to subtly inquire about her situation, though I knew it was none of my business. I wanted to get her help if she needed it, but I wanted to be sure she needed it first. Unfortunately, I was not able to find that information before I stopped seeing her walking. I remember feeling conflicted. I was a child, so someone else’s sexual experiences were none of my business, period. But, this girl did not seem like she was capable of making those kinds of decisions on her own. I was afraid to tell anyone, because what if I was wrong?

In our imaginative play we do a lot more than just create villains to fight. We used to create entire worlds, whole different times and places, and all new species of creatures. I used to wonder about everything. On long road trips I remember sitting in the car, then catching a glimpse of a child in another car, then wondering what it would be like to be that child. I would imagine riding in that car, then imagine what that child’s house would look like, based on what the car looked like. Then I’d try to imagine his/her room, and so on.

After what I was capable of as a child, the concept that children are incapable of cognitive thought is ludicrous.

Now look at real life. At what point is everything black and white? At what point, in real life, is there a clear hero and villain? I’ll tell you, hardly ever. Almost everything in life is a matter of perception. Sure, every now and then you have a cannibalistic serial killer that really can’t be painted in a positive light, but that is rare.

As parents it is our job to prepare our children for what lies ahead of them in the real world. If we shelter them from the truth, only allow them to see the world in black and white, and not let them see the subtle nuances that are there, are we really preparing them? No. What we are doing is setting them up for disappointment, and even failure.

We need to remember that not only are children capable of cognitive thought, they can decipher subtle nuances, too. Parents should already know this. How many times have you been at your breaking point–everything has just gone all wrong, nothing is getting done, your 2 year-old is pushing all of your buttons right up until that point where you’re about to lose it…that’s when that same 2 year-old does the cutest thing in the world, and balance seems to be restored to your upside-down world.

If we teach our children that there are no true “villains” in the world, but there are a lot of selfish people, and some of them are willing to do really bad things to get what they want, our children can not only look out for themselves, but have empathy for other people, even ones who are driven to do bad things. If we teach our children that heroes are not people who hurt people while trying to save others, or ones who “sacrifice” themselves for the “greater good,” or some BS like that, but someone who shows love and compassion when others don’t…in fact, they show love and compassion in the face of hate, bigotry, and persecution.

We must teach our children that there is no good vs. evil dichotomy. What is there for them, is life. Their lives are their own. They can make anything they want out of those lives, as long as we, as parents, don’t limit their ideas, their creativity, and their cognitive thinking.

Parental Bribery

Parents have been bribing specific kinds of behavior from children since long before any of us can remember. Children respond to this method, so it makes sense. I’ve had people tell me that this is a way to spoil a child. I have a hard time with that. In adulthood, people have to understand how to barter–how to negotiate. What better way to teach a child those skills, than to barter and negotiate with them as children?

Lets look at some scenarios that show this system in action:

We are getting ready to go to the mall. I know that my four-year-old is very curious, and likes to wander off. I sit down with her        to make a deal. I tell her that I am going to bring a scarf with me to the mall, and tie one end to my wrist. If she agrees to tie the          other end to her wrist, keeping her close to me, she can have her choice of reward–either an extra half an hour of TV time                  tonight, or her choice of a game to play.

After getting ready for my friends wedding, we have to traverse a garden path to get to the patio where the reception is taking            place. My ten-year-old son is a magnet for dirt. I make a deal with him that if he stays with me on the stone path, stays clean, and      promises to wait until I can get his shirt and jacket off before he starts eating, I will make sure he gets an extra piece of wedding        cake.

These sorts of deals are not only common, they are healthy. They teach children the vital negotiation skills they will need later on in life. Where these sorts of things go terribly wrong is when parents start using this bartering system for their own personal control, dominance, or selfishness.

When parents make a deal like this, and the child holds up his/her end of the bargain, then the parent does not deliver, that breeds an air of distrust. The child obviously cannot trust his/her parents, and that distrust will extend to the rest of the world. Some parents simply don’t realize what they are doing. They made a promise to extend TV time, then forgot. When bedtime rolls around, they turn the TV off, and get everything ready for bed as usual. The child simply feels cheated. Other parents do so on purpose, with the intent to teach the child that “life’s not fair.” However true that statement is, the last people a child should feel antagonistic towards, is his/her parents.

Bribery with pets is especially problematic, in my opinion. The potential for disaster rises to epic levels. If the thing a child wants more than anything else is a puppy, it makes sense that getting the child a puppy would be the best bribe, right? Wrong! Parents always put conditions on pets, and it’s always up in the air as to whether or not those conditions are going to be the only ones enforced.

The first condition that parents always enact is: the child will be solely responsible for everything concerning the pet. This means walking it, feeding it, cleaning up after it, and making sure that the pet is happy, along with whatever else needs to be done. Of course, many parents make this task as difficult as possible by making sure that the child has many other chores to complete instead of taking care of the pet. When something is amiss with the pet, it is obviously the child’s fault, not the parents’ for ensuring that the child was unavailable for the pet.

Parents often forget that pets are living creatures, not just toys that can be put aside when the child is no longer playing with it. I have actually been to a friend’s house where the mother heard a noise from the daughter’s room and asked, “What was that?” Her daughter replied, “Snowball.” The mom said, “Who?” At this the little girl gave her mom a funny look and said, “Snowball…the kitten you gave me for my birthday…”

The worst scenario, in my opinion, with pets, is unnecessarily breaking a child’s heart. It is one thing not to allow a pet at all. It is something completely different to bring a pet in just to rip back away from that child, force the animal into the wild while the child watches, or keep the animal in bad conditions that the child wants to change, but can’t. If a parent has dogs, and their child wants a cat, but the parent doesn’t want cats around the dogs, it is cruel to let the child get a cat that is confined to a tiny room. The child, regardless of his/her age, will understand the pain of the cat, and want to alleviate that pain. Forcing the cat to live completely outdoors, depending on the environment, is not a much better solution. A child watching a beloved pet turn feral, and turn away from them is very painful for the child.

Scenarios tend to differ with dogs. More often than not, the parents will usurp the child’s position with the dog. The most common “explanation” is, “Since I do most of the work to care for the dog, it’s my dog, not yours.” This ties back into the trust issue we discussed earlier. By giving something, then taking it away, the child learns to distrust his/her parent.

In summary, negotiation and bartering skills are good; they are necessary for survival in this modern world. Teaching our children how to properly negotiate for the things they want and need in life at an early age is a good thing. Using bribery as a way to control, hurt, manipulate, or overpower our already defenseless children is not only wrong, it is not preparing them for anything but prisons and workhouses later on in life. I, for one, would prefer to prepare our children for success, not failure.

The Rabbit Hole

theRabbitHole

I’m a bit older than a lot of people who breech the subject of child rearing. Most people who do so tend to be in the process of rearing children of their own. My children are pretty much grown, the youngest being nearly 18.

When my children were young I was punished for having such doubts as the ones posed above. The idea of leaving my son’s penis in tact was scorned. The concept of sleeping peacefully along side my children was ridiculed. Thinking that positive words were more effective than violence was mocked. In fact, my philosophy concerning child rearing was so outside the norm that I was deemed unfit. My children were taken from me and placed with my parents who had a more “conventional” concept of what child rearing should be.

Now, it seems, more and more experts are siding with me. My philosophy was not so “out there” after all. Unfortunately for my children, that social realization has come a bit too late. Perhaps other children can benefit from it. Many parents still hold tight to time honored traditions such as spanking, forcing their children to sleep alone and enforcing three large, separate meals in a day. All of these may have been practiced by their own parents, but none are healthy for children.

Violence begets violence. When you hit a child, the only things you teach that child are it’s ok to hit and I am bigger than you are, therefore I can hurt you. There are no life lessons that can be taught through hitting.

Fear can be all consuming. Being alone is probably the greatest fear a normal, well adjusted child has. To force that child to remain alone in a dark, scary room by him/herself is cruel. Allowing a child to abate those fears by sleeping in the bed with his/her parents instills a sense of trust and security. It also fosters a sense of confidence later in life.

I’m sure nearly everyone remembers being fed breakfast, lunch and dinner. Truth be told, large meals like that are unhealthy, especially on small stomachs. Children should be fed 5-6 smaller meals in a day with the nutrients divided to ensure that they get the desired health benefits from the meals.

I don’t even want to discuss my position on circumcision right now. Suffice it to say that I think each person should have control over his/her own body. It is not my place to alter anyone else’s body, regardless of who it is.

It seems funny to me that this meme makes it seem as if raising a child naturally were odd…something strange that should cause us to rethink things and then question what we were taught. When I had my children, what to do just seemed logical. Even though my parents harped on me about how I had no business sleeping with my child, it felt like the right thing to do. They threw a fit when I didn’t spank my children, but when I tried it for the first time, it was just wrong, so I didn’t do it. Everything just logically fit together, so that’s how I did it. Unfortunately for me, that’s not how everyone else did it. I truly feel that my abundant love for my children was detrimental for both me and them. Because my way of doing things was not yet main stream, my children were taken and put in a home where they were spanked, forced to sleep alone and not cared for nearly as well as I would have cared for them.

I tried to go down the rabbit hole described above, but my path was blocked by those who are afraid of the future. My children had to suffer the consequences. Who else is willing to dare that dive? All I can do is hope that our society has evolved enough not to block your way.