The best parenting advice I’ve received lately actually came from a parent. In the past, I always received sage parenting advice from people who weren’t parents. Because those of course, who aren’t in the trenches, know exactly how to raise a child. I know that I knew everything about parenting before I had kids. Remember that saying, “We plan; God laughs”? I knew exactly how to parent and then God made me one. And now he just laughs and laughs. I imagine some George Burns/Morgan Freeman God sitting up in Heaven saying, “Here, let’s see how she deals with this. Gabriel, go fetch me some popcorn, please. This is going to be hilarious.”
Once I became a parent, I realized that my children were karma for every time I said, “You know what you should do with little Johnny…”, “Here’s my advice for what Suzie just did…”
The one curse that ALWAYS comes true is the one whispered by mothers on the worst day of parenting–the one where you’ve cleaned up too much poop, wiped up too much paint, broken up too many fights and comforted too many bumps. It’s the curse that slips from our lips even though we PROMISED we weren’t ever going say it, “I hope someday you will have a child just like you!”
Even as the words are uttered we know it is too late to take them back. The cosmic dice have been tossed, they rattle on the green felt board of fate and our children are destined to the same curse that has been bestowed upon children since the beginning of time.
And this is a curse that works. I know. Because I have my children. Although apparently, we had some odd fluke of karma because it works even when you don’t say it–or maybe you don’t remember that you said it. Because my mother-in-law SWORE that my husband was perfect. He never did anything wrong. The sainted boy of G Ave. “I don’t know where your children get it from,” she said when the first two were the only two. “XXXX NEVER did anything like that…” referring to my husband. My perfect husband tells a different story, “I was just REALLY good at hiding the evidence.”
Thankfully both his parents passed away without knowing that HE was the reason the entire Montgomery County Fire and Bomb Unit spent several hours at their house. So maybe it isn’t parents that utter the curse, maybe it’s God. Maybe he needs a good laugh.
But the parenting advice that I did receive that I think is most excellent is this: treat children as alien life-forms. The book, Change Your Child’s Behavior by Changing Yours, by Barbara Chernofsky and Diane Gage, has been one of the better parenting books I’ve read, mainly because it relates a child’s behavior to our own. Your kid doesn’t want to go to bed when you tell her? Well, do you want to leave the party when your spouse asks? Son doesn’t do his chores when you ask? Do you ever say, “just a minute” or “hold on” only to ‘forget’ and continue with what you were doing? Ouch.
It’s how, Barbara and Diane suggest, we respond to children that was really helpful–treat your children as if they were visitors from another planet. Think about it–an alien has no idea about how things work on Earth. He doesn’ understand manners, our food is foreign to him, our rules seem arbitrary. Would you yell at an alien for drawing on your wall or would you explain, “Color on paper”? Would you smack his (its?) little alien hand when he grabbed something fragile in a store, or would you explain that we don’t grab or touch things that don’t belong to us?
Once I started looking at my children as aliens (which isn’t really so hard in my case), I saw them in a different light. My FB status has a quotation by Roger Lewin–no I don’t know who he is so don’t bother flaming me like when I’m on FB and the quoter is just to liberal/conservative/white/ethnic/diverse/common for my friends’ comfort. I like the quotation no matter who said it:
“Too often we give our children answers to remember rather than problems to solve.”
If you ask children to simply REMEMBER something without letting them figuring it out for themselves, you will constantly be reminding them to remember (been there; done that; have the scars to prove it). But, if you let them solve things for themselves, they are more likely to remember the task AND the consequences for failing to solve the problem.
The other thing I decided after reading about children as alien life-forms–I think it is hereditary. My frustration level will likely drop exponentially if I remind myself that my husband is also an alien life-form. One with a short-term memory issue. The man has lived with me for HOW many years and still can’t figure out where anything is in the refrigerator.