Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Kids Are Not Possessions

When my first son was born, I had a sudden awareness - right in the delivery room - that I did not own my child. I had a very clear sense that he was autonomous and that the only difference between him and me was experience. That insight has shaped every significant decision I have made as a parent. I believe that is one of the reasons why my kids have developed into the fine young men they have become over the last 18-20 years.

My one line of wisdom on this is simple - be a guide, coach and mentor rather than owner, controller, director. I realize this may seem glib, but I know it can be very difficult to do. The natural inclination for most of us is to model behaviours we learned from our own fathers and influential adults in our lives. For me that consisted of being told to shut up and do as I was told. I heard the repeated message that children were to be seen and not heard. I experienced the oppression of being a younger (and physically weaker) sibling who saw himself as having little or no ability to make himself heard or understood by his father or older brother. That may not have been the observed reality for others looking in on my life, but it was certainly my own perception. It wasn't until I was well into adulthood that I realized I responded better to kindness than criticism. I needed to be handled with politeness and respect, but didn't know how to ask for it.

As a parent, I repeatedly told myself that life was going to be different (i.e. better) for my kids. They would not live in fear of physical punishment or the psychological threat of such punishment. They needed to be left alone to explore their own world, in safety of course, but at their own speed. They learned how to figure stuff out in their own way, even as very young children. I tried to give them age-appropriate responsibility at every stage in their development, without obessing about things like eating a balanced diet (one of them had food allergies, so we had to accept that his diet would be limited), becoming toilet trained, going to bed alone and at a regular time of night. One of my kids never needed naps - he still doesn't need as much sleep as his brother. There was a cost to this - mostly in the relationship with the mother of my children - but we made informed choices and the sacrifice in our quality of life was worth it.

Bottom line on this topic?
  • Your kid is not your possession. You don't own him/her, so act accordingly.
  • Your kid will respond to and learn WHATEVER you model, so be careful about what you model!
  • Be very aware that you have co-created an independent being, not a clone or a slave.
  • The only difference between you and your child is experience.

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