Friday, November 12, 2010

On Slings, Arrows, and Child Rearing

To understand this article please read this article and then this article.

I don't have any children of my own. I'm not a particularly maternal figure. However, the subject of child rearing is something I have given a lot of thought about. Ever since I found out my fraternal twin was pregnant, I've kept one eye open as I do my usual blog crawls. My niece's well being is very important to me so I like to pay attention and, of course-as new aunts are wont to do-give out unsolicited advice.

That being said, I don't feel like enough reflection is made on the correlation to how people have been raised and how they've turned out.

I was a latchkey kid with a single, emotionally distant mother and two siblings. We lived in crappy neighborhoods, moved often, and were left, largely, to fend for ourselves. My childhood was relatively miserable and not without it's casualties-all of my siblings have, at one point or another, fallen the crushing pressure of a world gone mad. And all of us survived. Not only have we all survived, but I would argue that, though we don't fit your stereotypical models of success here in our early twenties, my siblings and I are some of the most well-adjusted people I know. We have become used to the glaring insanity of the world and know how to move ourselves forward without letting it stop us from doing what we want. We accept our obstacles, get up when we're knocked down and get the fuck over it.

However, I have to admit that this is only with the advantage of an unreasonable childhood. I do still have some problems, and occasionally wish that my parents had taken more proactive roles in my childhood and adolescence. There are pros and cons with every situation, but I have adapted and am moving forward, a little late, but on track.

In contrast, there are those who have been left, quite obviously, without the tools that my childhood equipped me with. One such person is a friend of mine-we'll call him Dick. Dick was raised with two siblings in an upper-middle class suburban home with every comfort. He had a TV as a child-with cable, even!-nice parents who fed him regularly-without making him cook, even!-and the kind of consistent schooling you can only get by staying in one neighborhood for all of your formative years. His parents have expended a lot of energy into forming a loving, supportive family.

Dick is two years younger than me and in college, by the grace of his college fund, and about to change his major for the third time. He has frequent episodes of Psychotic Depression, in which he blames himself for every problem he can think of and he reacts very inappropriately in social situations. He can be awkward and cruel. His parents do try their hardest to help him deal with his illness, but I can't help but feel that their indulgence has lead him to become more narcissistic, and more prone to a pendulum swing between extreme shame and self-importance.

I want to say that this is the only case in which I have met someone with a well-balanced home life and clinging parents who seems to fall apart at the challenges before them-whether they be the monumental issues of what to do with the rest of their life in a college major, or the tiny such as what to suggest for dinner-but it's not. Countless others I've met have fallen onto similar trains of development.

Those who have the most colorful histories seem to always find themselves on solid ground, however the ones who are nurtured extensively (as in the case of attachment parenting, such as with Dick) seem to always be out of balance.

I would liken this phenomenon to walking on a boat. Some have been on a boat most of their lives, learning to step with the ebb and flow of the sea; having been exposed to it they were forced to adapt or fall off. However, some people have yet to learn to walk anywhere but dry land. They feel, as adults, that it's something they should "just know", though their parents never gave them a chance to learn. As they sway back and forth, trying their damnedest to keep their balance, they feel a constant sinking dread that something is wrong with them if they can't walk upright like their less-coddled friends. They try to compensate wildly, often throwing themselves overboard in the effort.

This is not their fault. They need time to adjust, and they need someone to tell them it's ok to not know, but also someone to tell them to get to learning.

I'm an advocate of some tough love. People need to be shoved sometimes. Children need to be nudged, and babies need to be let to crawl free on frequent occasions (with supervision, of course, but only intervention in the case of suspicious behavior-I'm looking at you Amelia-bean!)

If we don't let children make mistakes now, how will they know how to cope with them later in life? A happy child is not necessarily a well-adjusted child. Letting children fall and scrape their knees, or face the dark they're afraid of, or walk on the damn boat will teach them. Scrapes heal and you can get back up; there are no monsters in the dark, it's just dark; the boat doesn't have to be a difficult place to walk. These are things that every child, every person needs to learn, but attachment parenting won't teach.

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