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Childhood - Parenthood, resurrected views of practically perfect parents

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The experience of being a parent has become the subject of great interest in the two decades leading up to the turn of the century. The term parenting got it’s start around 1980 and today has meaning that turns normal approaches to being a parent into being an adult with a long list of various of responsibilities. There is the responsibility of working- the economic reality of a country at war, not only in the world, but at home with recessions, dips and booms.

Parenthood over twenty years means more responsibilities than the basic family relationship ones; parents are meeting children’s basic needs, but failing to stop there, giving them opportunities and options that make the choices for children’s education, recreation and optimal development vastly more available. It’s a smorgasbord out there!

Adulthood and parenthood began coming together as one entity to serve the needs of an adult centered, transient and casual approach to marriage and family. Who needs to stay married, to stay home, to stay involved, do your thing, you grown-up you!

The research of Wallerstein, Guidabaldi, and other divorce psychologists make much about much, as they sally back and forth showing the effects of separation on children. To no one’s surprise the worse the divorce situation, the lower the quality of family life. The better the situation, the better for children of all ages. The lower the combined income the more stressful parenting and child rearing are becoming still.

Parenthood is virtually at a standstill. If things are going along, just as they have in family life over the past thirty years, why then do parents feel more stress, more intent on consuming, raising children by books and going in a million directions? Parents blame child behavior, violence, school deterioration, bad governmental officials, principals and everyone but themselves. They blame their own parents, their relatives.

Given the level of family rage and anger toward what society has done to them, parents are standing still. It is easier to do nothing exceptional, to push children and make them move faster and do more, than accept the inevitable- having children today puts all children at universal risk for most values that America has historically stood for- truth, beauty, justice and peace.

In times of national conflict, there is no national will or resolution, no peace or attention to the land, it’s conservation or beauty, no satisfaction of home and neighborhood, places where parents feel good and comfortable- a generation of unhappy adults.

The lack of initiative beyond job and family is a sign of being overwhelmed and helpless. This is not a child problem- an adult one. It means that parenthood is where change must take place first before children can be expected to alter their violent and abuseive lack of regard for each other and determination to get even with the  world.

Blame should be shouldered by individual ideas about discipline, older “what my father did to me” methods and approaches to parenting, warring factions, television, providing for children in an over-scheduled and detached way? Is it possible that parenthood is getting less relevant to the society because the nation is continually, since the middle 40’s, a time when war, invasion and intervention around the world is taking the life, if not the patriotism and family values out of parenting?

Not much. But instead of one generation at a standstill, now there are two, and soon there will be three. The predicaiton is that family life in the first decade of the 21st Century will remain adult focused. Parents will be slightly sess inclined to desire immediate gratification, but they will be as oppositional and demanding as consumers as they have been. They will be slightly more willing to wrok flex time jobs to save money on child care, but they will still park children and demand the most quality they can get for their money.

Social capital among adults and parents will remain impoverished and economic wealth selfishly will remain a national problem, leaving parents with little time or room to learn the lessons of global economy that could create peace and equality as national virtues. The results of three factors remain the stumbling block of family life the the job of parenthood: divorce, women and men competing for economic quality and single parents, living on welfare, male income levels sustained, women in dire straits- the stories of parenthood and divorce are as disappointing and unhappy now as they were 20 years ago.

That involved parent participation and parent involvement projects were begun as a result of the progressive nature and funding for Head Start (Holmes School Reform, Comer Project, High Scope, to name a few.) means more professionals are in the field and more experts are telling parents what to do, how to do it and when. The heat is on to push children to be ready for school, to read and write and succeed in school- that is, for income level families above the poverty line.

Lack of school reform has had a long lasting effect on the parenting of today’s children. Schools from the 40’s on did their job of teaching the basics and left the rest to parents. Richard Nixon in 1980 refused to sign the Re-education Act because it, in his old timer mentality believed it invaded family privacy. This obvivious refusal to act created the confusion and delayaed school reform and the impending need to retool teachers and parents to accommodate the information computer age.

More information translates to more pressure to see children succeed. Preschools fill up and barely are the children enrolled that their parents are planning for college.

Choices unknown in the 80’s. “how I was raised” down to the core value of past generations live longer, require more health care and family size shrinks. The dictionary lists “O-Parents” and one-parent and blended, merged and long distance parent. and, the job of satisfying spouse, children, management and self. In the book, How does she do it all,” ……expounds with the comment, “I don’t.” and family, job satisfaction and family, styles of paenting ranging from the over protective to the unconcernd. There are parents who raise their children from a distance, who smother and hold on to them of new and more vast proportions. until the early 80’s, which means the reason parenthood has to be studied, is that we still have a long way to go, without guilt, shame or consensus on what it really means to be a parent.

Bio-mothers and genus-fathers and all grownup adults who raise children at any age and for any reason need to absorb every bit of child developmental and parental knowledge they can cram into their heads. Those who are religiously or Biblically inclined will gain a lot of wisdom reading the stories of children and their parents. Jews, Muslims, Christians, atheists, agnostics, Quakers, the Amish- all that I have forgotten to name- need to really understand how the complexity of child development affects them, and not the other way around.

There is little evidence in the literature with which to make the case as strongly as I intend to make it, that another profound complex child development phenomenon is developing at a ridiculously rapid rate. 35 years of experience and passion for the unique personality of each child and the families who care for her, drives me to tell what I know, and that is simply, provide a proper understanding of the immense variations that account for the impact children make on their parents.

The child, his temperament, his personality straits, his personal quirks, customs and habits are in a profoundly important way, born not made. While brain research has uncovered, quickly and resplendently, scientific measures of behavior that tell us who we are, I have also discovered some secrets of my own. My secret and sacred science lies in educational and psychological realms, in the sociology and ecology of family life.

From the complexity of fertilization to the fragility and complexity of birth, from the dreams and plans of men and women as they become parents, these people have taught me that their children have been the influences on them, rather than the other way around. Thirty five years of home visits and meetings in parks, diners, in boxcars and in prisons, has taught me the secret this story imparts.

You can see it revealed now, or you can read on, but the secret is this: family life may break apart, there may be dark places of neglect and maltreatment, but each family’s legacy to the next is that the courage and beauty of children demonstrate in childhood influences parental development and adulthood profoundly. Their children make parents more honest; they become stronger, smarter, and learn from those in their care there are always better ways to be parents.

There is no one way, no right way to raise a child, who is unlike any other, but decades of family time spent in homes, stores, workplaces and strange and wonderful situations, have provided me with reassuring stories of observationally-based research that point to specific paths parents can take to educate, live with and stimulate the innate powers, gifts, and talents with which all children are endowed.

Of specific research interest to me, are unusual, inventive ways and means of bringing out the best in children who have strengths and abilities that have been ignored or untapped due to differences in their development. These are understandably difficult in some cases to “get at” but get at them we must! All children have unlocked potential, and while that term is overused and sounds like a heavy load to bear, it can actually be quite easily accessed.

Sometimes a leap of faith is needed (I am grateful to Dr. William Sloan Coffin for that expression, which he used in the context of choosing peace over war, in a statement made in Chautauqua, 2003) to substitute one way of Communication over a more conventional one, or a strange but wonderfully beautiful child to tell what he knows.

The reality I see on the faces and in the lives of families is what I call “Life’s personality tricks.” It’s not coping, it’s not learning, it’s just tricks, unique works of behavior and personality that work for a person. How do you or I find them? It is all in the developmental genus of one’s personality and temperament. It is observational and natural and can be done for no money, just a watchful adult caring passionately about bringing out the beauty and worth in a child.

Some personality tricks are educational, some are emotional and intensely personal, others fly in the face of logic. One certainty is that this decade is going to be a rare opportunity for parents to do what I suggest, because a technology of mental and physical care is developing, that will provide real time testimony to o the incredible influence their children have on adults.

Parents who have intuitively discovered the personal and uniquely suited adaptive qualities of their children have a lot to be thankful for today. Leave the history lesson and the relevant nostalgia to me, allow me to touch on those points of reference and touch points (Dr. T. Berry Brazelton’s word and title of his 1991 book.)

While I may tell a few recent history stories, as valuable lessons of history, the previous decades issues deserve only a back seat to the possibilities for the new models of modern family life.

A simple illustration: had to have been up that gave parents the ultimate case of the guilt’s. Before TV, and the queen’s coronation, showing a benevolent and loving Queen mother, maternal deprivation accounted for child violence, misbehavior, and wrongdoing.

Fathers were nowhere to be seen, except on weekends for the purpose of after the day is over style discipline. Fathers blamed mothers and mothers blamed their mothers for the reactions of their children. Manners, meanness, and nasty little Dick and Jane’s showed their true character if there personalities as a collective group.

Childhood was a time of life, not a way of get to know kids as people and prepare them to be learned leaders and future presidents.

Play actually existed as a condition of childhood and even parenthood. Kids just went out and played. No one much cared what they played, but the neighbors were around and the doors and porches open and visible. There are places like that around even now, but they are curiosities and feel oddly disconnected with the every day after school life of children.

Is childhood more than a stage that little people go through (I am indebted to the training of Dr. Albert G. Butzer for the term), then the process of going through childhood and adolescence may be to learn a language of childhood reverting back to the 30’s through 60’s back to free time, home base, neighborhood friends and the amazing activity of youngsters who knew only radio and had to imagine the rest.

The shadow knows was radio on Saturday after cleaning your room. The decoder ring came in the breakfast box, maybe, and dirty hillsides with roots that were the defense lines and borders for boy-girl battles.

All of it was made up, pretend, and imaginary. Most children through the seventies read about and acted out stories. The stories were gory, about the rich and famous, movie stars, and remote. It wasn’t easy to imagine what these glamorous people really were like.

Engaged in pretending and pretend play in general is the way they engage in video games and computer games now.

Ask Dr. Susan