This is the church where I work on the weekends. My church gig is funny. I have to sit and listen to the same sermon 3 times every Sunday. This usually means I half listen once and do something else the other two times. Sometimes I plan the coming week’s music and sometimes I write. It’s a quiet place to write. Even though the priest is talking, the words are familiar and soothing and lull me into a meditative place where thoughts come, sometimes unbidden, and get written down in a small journal I keep on the organ.
Recently I’ve been watching the interaction of families. There are some families that can be observed coming from a place of love. They hug each other, share a kiss of peace, and stand close to each other, comfortable in their togetherness. I love these families. Then there are the families that are dysfunctional. Some are too permissive, some are too strict. It hurts me to see the responses of the children in both kinds of families, because both sets of children are neither happy nor healthy.
Here is a set of guidelines to help you raise your kids. I’m not a professional – I just play one on TV… Therefore, this is in no way a complete list, but these things have worked for me. My daughter is a kind, imaginative, compassionate young woman. These are things I did when she was young. There is no order to this list…
1. Encourage Imagination – Children with PSPs in church? No! Children texting their friends in church? No! Limit your children’s access to television, video games, and the Internet. There are VERY few children who really need cell phones. Consider the guns and butter model when deciding what your children will have to play with. Boxes, art supplies, the great outdoors, books – these are all things that will help your children develop their imagination. L Frank Baum, creator of the Wizard of Oz series said, “Imagination has brought mankind through the dark ages to its present state of civilization. Imagination led Columbus to discover America. Imagination led Franklin to discover electricity.” We should take that to heart and realize that we are raising the next generation of Columbuses and Franklins. We need to let them discover as they are meant to discover.
2. Assumptions – Please don’t assume all children of either gender will act the same. Refrain from saying, “all girls are difficult” or, “Boys are easier than girls.” That’s bogus thinking. We should rather assume that all children will act individually, as guided by their conscience, experience and innate wisdom. Every soul is different; every child will react differently to the same stimulus. As a parent, be an observer. Learn how your children react in different situations. Don’t assume your 10-year old and your 8-year old will have the same responses, because they won’t. Also, don’t assume your 10-year old girl will respond the same way as the 10-year old girl across the street. They won’t. It’s not an age thing, it’s a soul thing.
3. Comparisons – Please, please, please, on all that is holy, don’t compare children with each other. “Johnny can do this, why can’t you?” is probably one of the most dangerous, insidiously self-destructive things you can say to a child. When I was a child and teenager, I was thrust into all sorts of competitions – real musical competitions where there was a winner and a loser. While I learned the valuable lesson that hard work does matter, I also learned that I was never good enough and that I would never rise to the top of the pile. After hearing the same thing over and over, I didn’t want to try anymore. So when I was 19 and in Israel for an international competition, I sabotaged my chances by not trying to learn the final stage music. I just didn’t care. I knew I would never be good enough because I had never been good enough. My reward? My father said, “I’m disappointed in you!” This statement was one of the defining moments of my life. Here I was one of only a handful of Americans even permitted to perform in this competition and he said he was disappointed in me. So I gave up. I never competed again. I was totally done and never attained the success I could have had he said he believed in me. The bottom line is encourage but don’t push. Don’t compare children because there will always be disappointment – for them and for you. Appreciate the gifts your children have and allow them to develop those gifts or not. Tell them that you appreciate their achievements and that you are proud of them. It really matters.
4. Exploration – Encourage your children to do what they are good at. Praise them. Help them build up a “bank of positivity” that they can draw on when they fail. At the same time, help them explore new activities that they show interest in and DO IT WITH THEM! There is nothing more satisfying than being with your child when he or she has an “ah-hah” moment. That moment of discovery can be so supremely satisfying for you as a parent. When Louise was interested in astronomy, I would take her to the observatory at New Milford High School to work with the team there. I was there when her first photograph of an asteroid came out of the printer. It hung on our fridge for almost two years before it got so stained that it had to be taken down. That photo reminded Louise that she COULD go into astronomy if she wanted, and COULD do research and COULD follow her passion. It mattered.
5. Explain, explain, explain – Do not be afraid to use the word “no”. However, when you do, be prepared to explain in age-appropriate language why your kid can’t have what they are asking for. Kids have a built-in B.S. meter. It is highly functional beginning around age four. Therefore, think carefully before answering the “why not???” whine. They will know if you are telling the truth and they will be watching your nose for signs of growth.
6. There Is No Such Thing As Perfection – Please, with all that you are, resist the urge to use the bogus maxim “Practice Makes Perfect”. There is no such thing as perfection. It is a lie. It is a sham. It does not exist. Do not hold your children to a standard that is impossible to attain. It does not encourage them to succeed, it only pushes them to please you. Children know that there is no such thing as perfect. They also know that parents sometimes dole out acceptance and love based on performance. This is wrong and parents who do this should be ashamed. Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes better, sometimes it makes excellent, and sometimes it makes outstanding. We as parents must resist the temptation to push our children to a higher standard of performance than that which we are able to push ourselves to. Remember that we are the examples that our children base themselves on.
7. Integrity Matters – Our kids see and hear EVERYTHING we do, whether we think they do or not. If we lie and cheat on our taxes, our kids will think that lying and cheating are OK. If we stop at a stop sign at 2 am when there is no other traffic present, and no police officers present, then we are demonstrating that the law matters. If we drop ‘f’ bombs and call people ‘retards’ or ‘stupid’, we are demonstrating SO clearly that it’s OK to label others. There’s a small book by Don Miguel Ruiz, a Mexican Toltec shaman, called The Four Agreements. Everyone should read this book. The first agreement is “Be Impeccable With Your Word”. We as parents need to use the spoken word only to say exactly what we mean, and always speak with integrity. We must avoid using words to speak against ourselves or others. The spoken word can be magic – it can build up or it can tear down. Your words can create the most beautiful dream or they can destroy everything around you. I would expand Don Ruiz’s agreement to include “Be Impeccable With Your Action.” It matters – it really does.
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