Friday, September 4, 2009

(parenthood) business not personal

(An old friend was asking some very serious questions of herself and her parenting, so what did I do? Made a smart remark, naturally. She was wondering aloud about taking your kids behavior personally, and being responsive to them. I told her a parent should never take (mis)behavior seriously. Which isn't true. This is what I meant....)

Okay, I was being a bit flip there, a leftover from too may years as a magazine writer. Sometimes as a parent you have to take your kids’ behavior personally because you are the SOURCE of some of their struggles. You should deny them the fun of automatic weapons, for example.

But one also has to remember (and honor) one’s own adulthood and life experience. Your kid is six? So’s mine, and if so inclined, she will howl at the vast injustice of being denied almost anything. I believe she is her own person, and I think I take her very seriously, but there are many things she is just not ready to do for herself. This is a loaded phrase, but I really do know better, and I know (mostly) what’s best for her. The trick, as you allude to, is knowing when you are asking too much as a parent or not listening well enough or pushing your kid too hard. That’s one of the most difficult parts of the job. Hell, I’d say listening, in and of itself, is one of the most difficult things about being a person.

You wrote that your “elder child’s development has changed the game” on you, and I think that’s brilliant. I would restate it though: parenthood (and kidhood) is itself the game that moves as you play. It sounds like the tagline for some old Parker Brothers game, but it’s true. Knowing how and when to listen to your child changes as they develop and grow. You do have to stay awake. But asking questions of yourself—maybe even answering them—is a form of being responsive.

My harder work right now is with our three year old. Like me, she can be a motormouth, but she hasn’t really gotten the hang of listening to other peoples yet. This has caused me to think of Jesper Juul, who wrote something to effect of, ‘If you kid isn’t listening well, maybe you’re not saying much worth listening to.’

So I’ve been chewing on that lately.

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