Just This One Time

Just This One Time . . . (1,263)

September 8, 2011

Even though I had the privilege of being a parent to seven sons—four of my own making and three I adopted—I have always made it a practice to avoid giving advice on the subject of raising children. I feel that the process is so personal, so individual and so sacred to the family unit that trying to manufacture principles that work across the board is not only futile, but often a bit arrogant. Yes, to me parenting is a lot like salvation—something we take on for ourselves and handle with a bit of fear and trembling.

That said, I have noticed a phenomenon going on with the fresh crop of care-takers that does concern me. These parents are the children of the baby-boomers and grew up believing that taking care of the kids was an arduous task instead of a human process to be taken in stride with as much good cheer as possible. Yes, the baby boomers have parented a generation which is nearly overwhelmed with the natural order of having off-spring. Too bad.

So I am going to humbly offer two suggestions on the issue and this pair only, for all time. Both suggestions revolve around the word “convenient.”

Good parenting is NEVER doing anything that is inconvenient to yourself, lest you pass on the impression that your children are a burden instead of a delight.

How do you do that? you may ask. Make sure the house is set to an adult temperature of behavior rather than a childish one. For let us be honest—our particular batch of “be fruitful and multiply” are going to spend most of their years as grown-ups, not as children. Nowhere in the real world is anyone going to spank them. Nowhere in the business world do we have “time out.” Nowhere in the working world are we sent to our room to think about our actions.

The adult world is very simple—it boils down to one phrase: “Learn and earn.” If you’re willing to learn how things work, what matters most, and discover the parameters of the project, you will earn the right to participate, the respect of others, and ultimately, get to enjoy a piece of the profits. If you refuse to learn, you are simply left out of the benefits and end up earning less than everyone else. The sooner your children adapt to this axiom of behavior, the more congenial your household will be and the less inconvenient having the little rascals around will seem.

How do we apply this practically? If your kids’ room is a mess, you can explain that the rest of the house does NOT resemble their room, and we that we want the entire house to have a similar look. They don’t have to clean it all at once, but they do need to offer a plan on how they are going to clean it and then honor their own promise. If they don’t, they fail to earn opportunities, allowance, payment or respect. I think children should be allowed to negotiate a deal—as long as they are faithful to their word. When you allow them to do that, you see two magnificent results: (1) they learn to make things better; and (2) they learn to be trustworthy.

So the first suggestion is to make sure the household is set to the mind-set of the adults living there, and not geared to those under the age of eighteen.

The second suggestion is to make sure that everything is NOT convenient—for your children. Just as you have provided for your own convenience, you need to make sure that life is inconvenient enough to them that they will avoid being spoiled, presumptuous and overly-expectant. Surprise them. Involve them in things they haven’t done before. Ask them to sit and enjoy something that is out of their present culture, possessing some historical quality and a part of YOUR life.

Ideal parenting, in my mind, is creating a life for yourself because you have earned it and then finding a way to include your children in that life, where they have the ability to use their own personality as long as they respect the impetus of the household. Simply stated, make the house convenient for the parents and just inconvenient enough for the kids that they garner the power and lesson of “learn and earn.” Then you won’t dread being around them and they won’t sense that they are a burden to you.

For instance, if your son wants to try out for the soccer team, take him to the store and show him how much it costs to buy socks, shoes and shorts. Let him look at the bill. Don’t make him feel bad about it, but give him some tasks to allow him the sensation of earning his chance to be a soccer star.

Every evolution will seem painful at first—especially when your organisms have been stuck in the mud. But the sooner you can teach your children to “learn and earn,” the more quickly you will have a house that is convenient to the adults, and just inconvenient enough to the offspring that they will become better people. Without this, the children run the house, the parents are bedraggled and the kids are confused and bewildered by the responsibility of being in control.

Like I said, this is a one-time stop-off. I suppose I shouldn’t promise I’ll never do it again, but if I do, it will be with the same fear and trembling that every parent feels in the pursuit of trying to build a good human being.

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