The Parenting Experiment
How is your parenting experiment going?
In the past 18 years of being a parent I have finally worked out what parenting actually is - it's an experiment!
Sometimes throughly researched, sometimes intuitive, sometimes flying by the seat of my arse, thinking on the spot, kind of experiment!
There are lots of different types of parents running different types of experiments as we speak.
Experiment 1: The Wonder Child
These are parents are force feeding their kids plates of achievement for breakfast. Obsessed with them being the best, having the best and hanging out with the best there is nothing these parents will not do. They see the kids as an extension of themselves and have invested a good deal of their self worth in the child’s outcomes.
Risk - Disappointment and disaster.
These kids often melt under the heat of expectation.
There could be years of therapy ahead for these kids to ‘undo their knitting!’
Experiment 2: The Free Range Child
This kid is largely free to do what it wants with a few boundaries. They choose their friends, their clothes and their spare time activities. Without any boundaries they often skip around pulling in and out of things.
Risk - Abstract & unreliable.
They are often left feeling like no one really cares what they do which can lead a lack of self belief.
Experiment 3: The Adult Child
This kid is in charge. It is opinionated and parents ask what it wants for dinner.
Overwhelmed by choices they melt down constantly because all they really want is someone taller to make a fucking decision and stick to it!
Risk - Entitled and misguided monsters.
These kids are in charge of way too much which often sees them tap out and become in charge of nothing as adults.
Experiment 4: The Inconvenient Child
These kids are in the way - they are dragged around and are often ignored. They believe they don’t matter because they don’t. The people that ‘had’ them don’t have time for them.
Risk - Feeling guilty for being alive.
They are either motivated to get out and make their own stuff happen or they never do much as they don’t think they are worthy.
Experiment 5: The Good Child
More rules than hair follicles - these kids are told what to think, what to say and what to do. They are seen and not heard and raised in old fashioned environments where they fear their parents and the consequences of being themselves.
Risk - They are shut down before they get a chance to open up.
The most interesting part of all these experiments is that regardless of ‘the style’ of parenting you decide to go with you have no idea what hidden time bombs are sitting inside your child waiting to go off. Your method may work with one type of child but not with the other. The 'one stop shop' style of parenting is unlikely to work across many children. My four children seem to have very little in common. They have matured at different ages, developed at different paces and would have never responded to a one size fits all parenting philosophy.
Flexible and flowing is something I have found helpful - in my experience, ‘principles’ and hard and fast ‘rules’ are not helpful. Making your youngest child wait until he is 12 to get a cell phone because thats what they others did is not necessarily relevant when times are changing so quickly. After nearly two centuries in the job, I no longer feel the need to justify my parenting decisions and have decided that being happy is more relevant than ‘being right’.
So how is your experiment going?
19 years ago we had it all sorted. Surrounded by books and lots of well meaning advice, my husband and I had the path set - there would be University, definitely sports superstars, they would have tidy bedrooms and their would be holidays with everyone enjoying each others company. Ha!
For a short time they were compliant. They ate apple slices and watched the videos I chose for them. And then they didn’t. They developed personalities, they announced that they had rights and that often my ideas were ‘lame’.
The rebel in me was quite delighted to meet these spirited wee humans, but the busy woman trying to get through the day part of me, just wanted them to do as they were dam well told and get their washing off the bloody floor!
I have four children - four brilliant, talented, naughty, flawed humanbeings in my care. I say in my care as I realised early on that they are not ‘mine’. Yes I conceived them, grew them, birthed them and am housing them but that doesn’t not make them ‘mine’.
Well before I had children, I was given a copy of Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet.
This book had a huge effect on me and I still refer to it and Gibran’s philosophies.
Of Children he wrote:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.
I love the line that ‘you may given them your love but not your thoughts' - as an adult it has taken me years to sort through the thoughts in my head and throw away the ones that were planted there by others.
'You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you' - is a great line that many parents could do well to learn from. It is not your child’s job to make up for all the things you didn’t achieve. I have watched dance mums and sports dads desperate to have their children achieve all they never did or could.
Having spent years in the personal development industry I have seen the results of misplaced parenting. Adults whose heads are stuffed with other peoples ideas, riddled with doubt as the only thing they can be truely certain of is that they must be wrong and not good enough. That nothing they ever did was enough and that as it was impossible to meet the ridiculous height of the bar they simply decided to stop trying.
I see ‘Flightless adults ‘who don’t believe that they are capable of achieving anything. In an effort to keep ‘them grounded’ their parents permanently clipped their wings.
All parents want their children to ‘go swift and far’ and I honestly believe that there are no parents who ever mean harm or don't want to do things for their child’s well being. The problem is that parents who are not functioning well are not the ‘stable bow from which an arrow can fly’.
Stable parents and large dollops of self awareness are what is needed for our children to have a hope. Parents that do their best to keep themselves well and open to the possibilities that their little humans propose - are the ones who will win at parenting.
What is your big picture plan for your kids?
After 18 years of playing this game I have decided that I want mine to be able to take care of themselves - to be mentally, physically and emotionally able to handle the world and whatever it throws at them.
I want them to have courage - the courage to stand up for what they believe in, the courage to try the things that they want to do but mostly the courage to be 100% themselves.
I have decided that my parenting style is loosely based on that of a Mother Bear.
My cubs can do what they want. They can grow and learn and try new things.
I will be close by ready to help them and protect them most of the time.
They can wander out into the world and do what they think is right - until they do something that is not acceptable and I will yank them back, swipe them with my paw and chat about what we have learned. I don’t promise that I will fix their problems but I do promise that they will never have a problem that they have to face alone. I promise that no matter what they do I will love them - because at the end of every long day that is really my only job.