The Art of Parenting

Daddy says parenting is an art not a science. I agree, just from being a kid once myself and now working with children. It is so difficult to know just what to say, how to say it, and what to do with kids. You want them to explore who they are, learn new things, and to be independent and responsible. But, unfortunately, all children are different, their needs are different, and the environment they are growing up in is different. There isn’t an ultimate how-to guide to raising perfect kids. So all a parent can do is their best.

A couple weeks ago I had a big argument with Dad. It was ugly and we both said a lot of hurtful things. But there was one thing in particular that he said that really made me stop and think. He said, “I made the mistake of thinking if I raised you and your brother like adults, you would be adults by now.” The reason this made me reflect so much was because I don’t think my parents raised us like adults at all! I will say they spoke to us like adults, there wasn’t a lot of goo goo ga ga that I can remember. Whenever genitals came up in conversation, they used the real words, but I don’t think they treated us like adults.

I’ve never had chores. Chores are meant to teach kids responsibility, handwork, one’s role in the family. I never had chores and I never really learned these lessons. I never had to keep a clean room, I never had to make my bed, I never had to do the dishes or take out the trash, nothing. So when I consider my parent’s assessment of my brother and I being lazy, part of me wants to say, “duh.” All my friends had to do things, but we never did.

I never had to stick with any activity. If I wanted to dance, I could. When I wanted to quit, I just had to finish the year, then I didn’t have to do it anymore. I didn’t have to explain my reasoning or choose an alternative activity, if I didn’t want to, I didn’t have to. I realize it may not be wise to force children to stick with a sport or instrument, but it isn’t helpful to create the expectation that when things become difficult or no longer fun, you can just walk away. Adults have to do things they don’t want to do all the time. Plenty of people don’t like their jobs, but they get up and go to work everyday because it is expected of them. Making a kid continue an activity, can help them understand and accept this fate as an adult.

My parents also never taught us good social skills, now my brother and I have difficulty relating with others and spend most of our weekends at home. I have many memories of coming home complaining about someone at school and Mom saying things to me like, “you don’t need them” and “don’t be friends with people who annoy you.” For much of my life, people have been tools of survival, not fellow creatures in this world trying to survive and thrive. I never learned how to value other people and their troubles; instead, it is all about me and what someone can give me. Similarly, I was taught all men are drunk, drug addicted, violent, rapists. Thanks Lifetime Movie Network. I was never taught the values of honesty and emotional connections. Men can’t be trusted and women are all annoying. As a result, I’m 24, alone, and fearful of the intentions of others.

Finally, Keith and I have spent time talking about how they weren’t honest with us, therefore we aren’t honest with them until the pot has boiled over. I used to think, Mom and I had very honest and open conversations, but as I reflect on my teenage years, the only things I spoke to her about were things concerning other people. I never told her about my struggles, unless I’d already solved the problem myself. When I sought her advice, she usually told me to throw people away. I never talked to Dad about things unless they were accomplishments, but never struggles. Mom and Dad never showed us how to deal with challenges, they didn’t create an open environment where it was okay to struggle. Keith has said, he asked Dad about certain things in his past and Dad would say, “I’ll tell you when you’re older.” This isn’t something you say to someone who you are trying to “treat like an adult.” As my brother and I have entered into adulthood, we are learning new things about how our family isn’t perfect. We realized, we don’t know anything about our parents or their failures. The problem with this is we think they’re perfect, therefore we have to be perfect. But we aren’t perfect, but we can’t tell them we are struggling until it’s too late.

Since I’ve spent all this time bashing the art of parenting in my own life, I want to say one of the greatest things my parents taught me, the value of family. They did create a space where we learned to value our extended family. Mom made a point to take my brother and I to see my grandparents about once per week as children. As a result, we have a very close relationship with our maternal grandparents. While my grandfather was in his final years with Alzheimer’s disease, I was with him most days. I call my grandmother just to say hi, and go to see her when she is sick. They also built a home where we were comfortable being, although we were never allowed to have friends over. Family movie night and Sunday breakfast have always been important to Mom and Dad.

I had a lovely childhood, as I can remember. But I struggle now, as an adult, dealing with Dad thinking I’m lazy, shallow, and stupid since he raised me to be lazy, shallow, and stupid. But how long can one blame the failures of their parents on their lack of positive character qualities and values? Probably not much longer. I know the problems, I know the root of the problems, it is now my responsibility to solve them. But how?

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