Friday, January 28, 2005

My great wisdom

Yes, after a grand total of seven months of parenting, I think I'll benefit the world with my theories on child-rearing.

That's not enough time to learn much of anything. Still, I've been a parent as long as D1 has been in the world, and she's learned quite a bit in that time. Even if she hasn't learned much of substance, she's learned what kinds of things there are to learn: how to communicate and how to move. I think, like her, I've at least learned what it is I need to do.

I need to love her.

Don't I already? Sure, I get warm fuzzy feelings when I look at her (when she's clean, happy, and I'm not too tired). That's not love.

Love is ministering to her needs when I don't feel like it. Love is training her when I don't feel like it. Love is incredibly hard work.

I think this is where any book of advice on parenting, or any system of parenting, runs aground. Any system of parenting can be turned into a vehicle of parental selfishness. I could easily schedule D1 (who really is very compliant) to stay out of my hair most of the time so that I could do what I want to do. I could just as easily ignore her until she demands my attention, then give her what she needed to shut her up. (I fail in one or both directions practically every day.) I personally am not the sort to do it much, but there are others who will instead hover around, creating emotional neediness in their children so that they can have the gratification of meeting those needs. Any of the above could find books of good advice to justify their approach.

And the only way to avoid it is to love her like I need to. I do think parenting needs to be child-centered--not child-run, but child-centered. The parent is there to serve and train the child; the child isn't there to serve and gratify the parent. Of course, this means training the child to be obedient, to work hard, not to demand attention and all that--but it has to be done for the child's good, not the parent's.

I do have a fairly structured approach to D1's day, and I do want very much to train her not to fuss to get what she wants. But I keep revamping the structure with the primary goal of anticipating her needs, so that she doesn't need to fuss to get what she needs. (As she gets older, she gradually has more chances to learn to wait for the things she wants.) It's hard for me to do this--especially with giving her attention. But when I do, we're all so much happier.

The goal in parenting is not some middle ground between authority and love. It's the extreme of both--authority that, when asserted, is absolutely consistent and just; mingled with love that is incredibly delighted in the child and shows it every minute of every day.