Friday, July 29, 2011

The Process of De-Parent-Ing

Yeah, so I totally made that word up. It's the only way I can describe what I see as a necessary process in raising our culture's kids. In an era of convenience and efficiency, children have become, according to most in our culture, a "difficulty." Wander through a bookstore and you will see dozens of titles related to methods of either controlling or fixing our children. Coupled with a misconstrued interpretation of religious values in a largely Christian culture, we seem to have the idea that children somehow start off damaged in some way, and nearly every parenting choice we make is some kind of effort to solve the problem of children. From birth, we are told to "encourage" our children to develop properly - tummy time, classical music, baby Einstein; black and white contrasting circles and stripes for newborns to stimulate their senses, bright, primary colors for infants and toddlers, tactile stimulation...only use certain words, foods, and activities to mimic their developmental if by NOT doing these things our children will fail to develop and remain perpetual infants! We are told how to teach them to roll over, crawl, walk, talk, read, write, and count to 10 - and we are offered a number of educational toys to help us do so. We are (unintentionally?) brainwashed to think that kids need us to make them develop normally. We are told that Mother Nature has no idea what she is doing, and that we must take over, for the good of our children.

There are a number of things that children will do, all on their own. With absolutely no prompting from us, children will:

1. Grow
2. Develop
3. Learn
4. Play
5. Eat
6. Sleep
7. Heal
8. Reproduce (eventually)
9. Empathize
10. Love

I promise.

We are a society that values individuality, efficiency, and competition. I'm not saying that these are bad qualities - but unchecked and unbalanced, they simply do not allow for children. We are a society focused on "getting things done" - getting to the end product - with, all-too-often, complete disregard for the method we use for doing so, when, in fact, this method is every bit as important as the final result. We have lost the value of leisure, pleasure, and even simple existence itself. We push our children aside and say, "Here, let me do that for you," instead of saying things like, "Please help me do this." The problem is NOT that our children want to help us wash the dishes, even though we are apparently (for some unknown reason other than the importance of washing dishes) in a terrible hurry; the problem is that we place too much value in breakable dishes.

When my child has a tantrum, it is not my job to put an end to it. He will not tantrum forever. He WILL (as long as I don't interfere with the process) learn to regulate his emotions through social learning and the natural development of brain cells. It is my job to see him through it. It is my job to find out why he is upset (because there is ALWAYS a reason) and it is my job to either help him accept the problem, help him find a solution to the problem, or just let him be upset about the problem for as long as he needs to. It is NOT my job, as a parent, to try and distract him, pacify him, discipline him, train him, or otherwise shut him up for the sake of not disturbing other people (who probably could do with a little more patience and self-regulation themselves) or in order to produce "well-behaved" children (which is something that has become a bragging right - a way to showcase your little pets to all your family and friends and say, "Look what a good parent I am - I've trained me a kid!").

Of course, our culture does not value intangibles. Not really. We spout Romantic ideals of love, happiness, and other equally bohemian scapegoats, but our actions speak much louder than words. We only value honesty because it keeps crime rates down and boosts public morale, which ups production. We value self-esteem because confident workers are hard workers. We value love and happiness - but only if we can squeeze them in while earning a good living so as not to depend on anyone besides ourselves for food and shelter. All children have physical needs and non-physical needs. The physical needs are things like food, shelter, clothing; the non-physical needs are things such as parental attachment, bonding, socialization, trust, love, emotional reciprocity, and security. We have become such a materialistic society that we place the highest value on the physical needs of the child, and neglect everything else. Don't believe me? Which do most Americans think is worse: A parent who works hard 40+ hours a week to feed and clothe their children, but has to send them to daycare and/or school to do so; or a parent who stays home or works minimal hours so they can be with their children, but has to depend on government aid for food and housing? Most people would tell the second parent to get off their ass and go to work. How many would tell the first parent to stay home? Why? The working parent is filling their child's physical needs, but - due to the completely backwards nature of our culture which forces parents to work without their children present - they are often forced to leave the bulk of non-physical needs in the hands of others. The second parent is filling their child's non-physical needs, but leaving the physical needs to be filled by someone else. Our society tells us that one is better than the other, but this is FALSE. ANYONE can give a kid food and a place to stay. Anyone. So why is it that we hold up the working parents who "sacrifice everything" for their kids - who work hard to give them food and shelter, which anyone can theoretically provide, but who are either forced to or choose to allow others to handle education and social development? And why do we condemn "lazy" parents who choose to stay home with their children, even if it means they have to depend on other people to help provide something as trivial as food? If, for example, I pay taxes and do not send my kids to public school, am I not in the same position as someone whose taxes go to another's food stamps? Sure, maybe parent A cannot afford to feed his/her kids. Maybe he/she chooses to earn less income. Maybe the cost of childcare would be more than that parent could earn at a full-time job. What if parent B works full-time and sends his/her kids to public school. Isn't parent B using government money to partially "raise" their kids just as much as parent A? One uses public funds to provide food, while the other uses them to provide education. I don't see people ranting about that - not that they should. Apparently most people in this country think that education is so important that it needs to be provided for by the government...but food doesn't? Is feeding a child less important than educating one? Now, don't get me wrong. I am NOT saying that we should take away public schooling. And I am not - repeat NNNNOOOOTTTT saying anything negative about working parents who send their kids to daycare and/or public school. What I AM saying is that people who send their kids to glass elementary schools shouldn't throw stones at the starving kids down the street. I am a big fan of the village it take to raise a kid, but when most of the people in that village are not interested in raising children, that becomes a problem. The process of de-parenting has to occur on a national scale, because unfortunately, our society, as it stands, is NOT kid-friendly, and whether we like it or not, kids will rule the world someday.