Practical, Not Political, ParentingUpdated 11.4.2014; reformatted 9.3.2015
This article is the inspiration for the following essay. The article is written by a self-proclaimed liberal mom of twin six year old girls who thinks her liberalism ruined her parenting. She's altering how she parents (as any parent should if what she's doing isn't working, but I'm getting ahead of myself) to better suit the development age of her children. Essentially, she didn't recognize for too long that her children were too young to comprehend and assimilate her theories on life and why it is the way it is.
Consistency in parenting is over rated.That's a section title with which many parents would likely disagree, but let my explain what I mean. Basically I don't think there is any one way of parenting that will work for all children. Neither so-called "liberal" or "traditional/conservative". I have two children, not twins, who have been parented differently because they have different needs, only a fraction of which can be written off to their gender differences.
I'm not a labeler, in general, because I think labels are typically applied to exclude and are too limiting. However, were I forced to label my style of parenting, I would call it practical parenting. I have a core set of principles by which I organize and live my life, but those principles can be upheld in myriad ways. I think that's where too many parents lose the plot. They know what they believe and what they want to teach their children, but mistakenly think that there is "one true way" to do so. One of things I've taught my children is that concept of "many paths." As in, there are many paths to a given destination. If one path doesn't work for you, then look for another.
Of course there are limitations, not every destination can be reached from every path. But I like the idea that there is always another path to be taken, even if you wind up at a new destination. Perhaps that's because that analogy can be used to describe my own career. When I think back on where I dreamed I be doing back in my early 20's, my life today is nothing like that. And yet, I am happy in my current destination— not that my trek is over, of course. When I was younger I adopted the motto, "Stagnation = death," to illustrate my goal never to stop moving forward in life. Then in 2007, Disney's film, Meet the Robinsons, came out about a family whose motto was "Keep moving forward." As revealed at the end of the movie, the phrase, "Keep moving forward," is actually part of a longer Walt Disney quote. I adopted that as our family motto, as it matches the sentiments of my younger self, but in a less macabre way.
Choices have consequences.Because I believe in moving forward, there are always new options on the horizon from which to choose. Which brings us to the next pillar in my practical parenting, choices have consequences. These consequences are very seldom all intended; there are almost always unintended consequences. Recognizing the consequences of choices would seem to be obvious, but too often it is not. Perhaps because recognizing consequences caused by a conscious choice means taking responsibility for part of the consequence. And many parents fear responsibility in my experience. This is how we wind up in a world where teachers are solely blamed for poor student performance.
I haven't written about education in a long while, but my opinion remains the same. Parents are responsible for raising their children, and as education is part of parenting, the PARENT not the teacher is ultimately the one accountable. One of the reasons I haven't written about parenting for quite awhile is that I was waiting to get further into it. When my kids were younger and I would voice the above opinion, I'd get push back from older parents who'd tell me I shouldn't be so certain or judgmental. There's too much in life that's not controllable, and if the child turns out to be a monster, I won't want society blaming me. Of course I won't, but the evidence is too strong that parents have a critical influence on kids, both good and bad. Ultimately every adult is responsible for his or her own actions, but I do question how the parents might have exacerbated a bad situation, or what they could have done differently. And I know that my parenting choices will be (have been) questioned based upon my children's actions and/or performance.
I understand the fear parents can have about their children because I've had those same fears. I don't have the luxury of having "perfect" compliant children. I've needed to be flexible in my approach and to accept that I am often wrong and need to change what I'm doing because it's not working. Rather than seeing this as a defeat, I try to learn and not repeat the same mistake. As I often tell my kids, I try not to repeat mistakes, I make new ones. But I keep moving forward. As do they... so far. There are no absolutes in parenting, and no guarantees of success. But I submit that reacting situationally rather than by some set of arbitrary rules is a better bet.