Monday, December 08, 2008

The Goal . . .

. . . Or, Parenting, What's the Point? :o)

Since I've been writing more about parenting issues, I thought maybe I should address what I think the goal of parenting should be. But before I do that, I'd like everyone to know that while many of my parenting ideas come from books I've read, most them seem to come through conversations with my friend and parenting-philosophy cohort (and fellow Objectivist mommy), Kelly.

On most Fridays, we get together with Kelly and her 5 year old daughter, and usually spend hours and hours together, from lunchtime past dinnertime. I refer to our gatherings as Fun Friend Fridays. Fun Friend Fridays are a great way to end our week and we always eagerly look forward to an action-packed day. (Which is why I rarely blog on Fridays, as I'm sure that has been a question weighing on your mind.)

Because all of those kids are right there with us every second, having adventures and sometimes conflicts, Kelly and I usually spend some of our time talking about parenting. We pretty much see eye-to-eye on parenting goals and discipline strategy and help keep each other on track with our goals. So, many of these parenting issues I've posted about have ideas that either came directly from Kelly, or were developed in conjunction with Kelly, or were influenced by some way by something Kelly said, etc. It's so nice to have a good friend like Kelly! (Thus endeth the paragraph where I give Kelly her due and sayeth "Thank You!")

Anyhoo, Kelly and I were talking about the goals of parenting the other day. It really helps me remember what my ultimate goals are, especially when I'm dealing with a cranky unreasonable three year old!

Ultimately, I plan to work myself out of a job. :o) I know I'll probably never stop "parenting" because they'll always be my babies (sniff). But I know that I want each of my kids to be independent rational productive happy adults. That's my goal for each of them. My goal for myself and Brendan is to have a happy, healthy relationship with our adult children.

Identifying the goals of parenting is the easy part. The more challenging issue is figuring out how to parent such that our goals are met. I'm still figuring this stuff out, and believe me, I'm well aware that my oldest is not even 7 years old, so I have years of shiny new challenges ahead of me. So I'm only really knowledgeable to a point here. I think one of the keys to this parenting thing is to give them lots of room and time to "practice" being an adult, while providing a safe and loving environment where they can get support and hugs as needed. And one way to give them practice at being rational is to give them as much control as possible over their own lives and the right to take the consequences, be they good or bad.

So, control and consequences. In Sean's case, this means being allowed to sit up as long as his little body can do it and if he gets tired or startled and begins to fall over--allowing him to fall and experience what happens. Sometimes he cries, sometimes not. Most of the time he doesn't even fall and sits there, happy and proud. That's an easy example, because he's small and his challenges are relatively few, but the same goes for the older kids--generally as they get older, they need more independence and responsibility. It isn't fair to the child, to put yourself in their way, to prevent them getting the experience of dealing with their good and bad decisions . . . and then to suddenly expect them to be a responsible adult just because their body turned 18 or 21.

So, practice being rational. Only, of course, their brains are immature and they don't have so much life experience--hence the need for the parental safety net. The tricky part is that Line, figuring out where and when you should step in and prevent them from hurting themselves or others, or when to give them help without taking too much independence from them, or when to step back and let the chocolate chips fall where they may. The Line is where your action turns from support into interference.

It's hard sometimes, to figure out when to let go of one of our Ways because the child has outgrown it, or when to nudge the fledgling a little closer to the edge of the nest. And to do so in such a way that is kind and respectful, but firm if need be. But I think that the more they can experience things independently and deal with the outcome and act on their decisions and struggle with something they're trying to learn, the better off they'll ultimately be, because they'll have had lots of practice by the time they're grown. I think the parent is like the training wheels on a bike--at first, providing a great deal of support because they're touching the ground, but then slowly moving up and away, allowing the kid to pedal on his own. There if he needs them, but eventually he'll be free of them.

Or something like that. More to come!


Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Oh, yes, you will have many shiny new examples to deal with as time goes on.

One of the great joys of parenting, though, is that when they pedal off into the big, big world without those training wheels, you get the big picture of those little steps you have been taking day by day. I mean, since you've thought about the goals, you have a big picture--but it is like the plans for a skyscraper. When you actually look up and see the clouds passing by the top, then you have the reality. And it is quite wonderful to see. As the Talmud puts it, there is nothing quite so awesome as seeing a human being going up in the world. (My translation).

I think one of the most important things you said in this post is that you must let them fall down and learn what happens. This is critical. And yet, as parents, we want to keep the learning curve shallow enough that they survive to fall down another day. As you say, it is easy when they are little, and harder when the challenges become greater. They help you though, because human children are born with an absolute drive to push the envelope. Our job is to help learn to assess the boundaries.

Now that I have thoroughly mixed metaphors, I'll just say that having raised a successful Chem Geek Princess is a delightful feeling.

Kelly Elmore said...

It is hard to find the line between help and interference. One often overlooked and ridiculously simple way of doing this is to wait and ask. Usually, I just wait until Livy asks for my help. The exceptions are our usual list of when to interfere: irreparable bodily or mental harm and other people's rights. So as long as she is not hurting anyone else or doing some major damage to herself (and I mean major, like concussion type injuries), I wait for her to decide she needs me and ask me to help her. I think the experience of frustration is a good one to have. If she is reaching a point where violation of rights is eminent, I usually just ask her if she needs help. I'll either get a yes or a no. If yes, I ask what she needs me to do. Often she knows a specific thing she wants help with and then I don't overstep my bounds. If she says she doesn't want my help, I tell her that is fine, but she may not hit, scream in the restaurant, etc, etc. If she does these things anyway, I give the help she needs and explain that I will quit helping when she can control herself.

Long explanation, but the basic idea is that Livy is a good authority on where the line is between helping and interfering, and if I ask her, she'll generally tell me.

Kevin said...

Great post. One of the areas of parenting that I struggle with on occasion are the things that must seem completely unintelligeable to my girls (4 and 2.5). That is bed time, why you can't have cookies for dinner, why you have to eat this food when you know you like cheese sandwiches and only cheese sandwiches and, "that chicken has yucky stuff on it so I'm not eating it!"

One of the things I have done, and hope will help in this area, is enshrine "why?" and "what for?" in places of high admiration.

Everything has a why or a what for, and if doesn't it sure will soon after Ashley takes notice.

I am amazed at how quickly they learn, how much they retain, and when they make leaps. That is invent a general principle for how something works by observing the concretes and then apply it to some other seemingly unrelated concretes.

Surely one of the most rewarding things I have undertaken.