Advice concerning children (Pt 1)

 

Owing to limitations on the amount of material that can be put into a web page, this Section had to be split into 4 parts:

 

Part 1

Introduction

Don’t have any

Big lottery

Wait a few years after marriage

Be strict early

Always be respectful to your children

          A lifetime together

          But children are not lesser beings

          Dealing with toxic situations

          Children change

          Speaking to yourself

 

Part 2

Always be respectful to your children (cont.)         

          Basic truisms

          Let children be children

Explain why they should/shouldn’t do stuff

Always follow through on promises/threats

Try to expose your children to a range of influences

Let your children make mistakes

Let your children try things at home

          Alcohol ?

          Cigarettes ?

          Other drugs ?

          Other risks ?

 

Part 3

Talk about drugs

Talk about sex

          When ?

          Key messages

          Sexual orientation/gender assignment

          Don’t know the answer ?

          Beyond safety

Part 4

Try to teach self control

Talk about money

Don’t expect children to do anything different from the behaviours you have modelled

A very useful thing to instil in children

Children are the future

Introduction

In general I have no problems being described as a “wimp”, but the following Section should dispel any misconceptions that exist on that topic.  Other than this Section, there is nothing on this website about children.  And with good reason.  I’ve managed to get to this point in my life without having had any, so what do I know about them ?

Nevertheless I am going to provide lots of advice about children.

Why ?

Well it struck me that over the years I have seen, heard and read all sorts of things about children that might be of use to parents.  Being a non-parent actually provides quite a good vantage point to observe parenting at work, as it means I have no bias towards anything that I might have done or not done had I been a parent myself. 

I should say at the outset that this Section has gotten totally out of control.  I had originally planned to make a few observations and comments that would have filled a couple of pages at most.  I have actually finished up with a monster Section (albeit in 4 parts).  Because of that I think it is incumbent on me to observe that I can’t imagine any parent would have done even a small number of the things that I recommend in this Section, and I wouldn’t expect any parent to do any more than that.  Perfection in parenting is a wonderful thing, but not for parents who want to remain sane. 

My recommendation would be that you only look at the subsections below that you think might be of immediate relevance to you.  If you think that an idea I have suggested might be of some use to you, well and good, and that has been my whole purpose in writing this Section.

If you don’t like any particular idea of mine, that’s no problem.  You certainly should have no concerns if you have not done something I have suggested, or if you have done things completely contrary to what I have suggested.  That’s also absolutely no problem.  You are the one on the ground, and you are the one surrounded by the reality of your situation.  You are in a much better position to know what is best for you and your children than someone like me.  

Over the course of my life I have seen examples of parenting that, on reflection, I can only describe as doing things in a way that is completely different to how I would have done them, to the point that I couldn’t imagine how the relationship between the parents and the children didn’t end in some sort of divorce.  Despite that, the relationships have survived, and survived to the extent that everything now is “normal”, or as normal as a parent/child relationship can be.  I am telling you that just to emphasize that I am well aware that there is, across the board, no way of parenting that is definitely right, or wrong. 

To put that another way, I am sure that there have been lots of instances where parents have raised children in circumstances where they wouldn’t have done any of the things I advise should be done in this Section, and where the children have turned out fine.  However, I still think that what follows is worth putting out there for your consideration.

So, what’s my first bit of advice concerning children ?

Don’t have any

 

Yes, not a good start by the old curmudgeon !  What I really mean is that I advise you not to have any children unless you have seriously considered the pros and cons.

Now some of you will have wanted to have children since you were almost a child yourself, and nothing or nobody is going to stop that from happening.  Great !  The advice in this subsection is not for you, so you can go to another subsection.

I have written this subsection for those of you who may not be quite so certain.  In fact, the reason I am writing this subsection is that I have come across a fair number of people over the years who have had children, and who in retrospect believe, all things considered, that it was a mistake for them to have had children. 

Having children has all sorts of benefits, many of them intangible.  It also has many costs, financial, emotional and worse.  It will stop you from doing things, and from having certain types of fun.  Sure, there’ll be other types of fun, but often not as good or as frequent.  And there’ll always be that sense of responsibility (and possibly dread) hanging over you.

Now, I’m just going to state the obvious, but sadly from my observation it needs stating: the best time to decide whether you want to have children is before you have any !  You are in for a fairly unhappy life if you decide after you have had a child that you would have been better off if you hadn’t had the child. 

So, that means that you need to pull the finger out and find out as much as you can about what having children involves at a reasonably early stage of your life.  And that will involve talking to people, lots of people, and observing, lots of observing.  And you need to be conscious that children go through different stages, and each stage has its trials and tribulations for parents, so you need to get detail about each of those stages to be able to put together the big picture. 

 

And try to get some living experience with children, either by babysitting, or going on joint holidays with friends or relatives who have children, or helping in some way friends or relatives who have children.  And try to make sure that you speak to people who have different views on this issue.

   

Big lottery

 

As I write this there is still no way that you can have much say as to what any child you have might be like.  If you follow the normal medical processes open to prospective parents, with a bit of luck you may be able to prevent bringing a child into the world who has certain significant health issues.  However, those processes are not failsafe, and they do not necessarily pick up all the possible health issues that a child may have.   

Thus, if you have a child, there is absolutely no guarantee that you will have a child that doesn’t have significant health or development issues.  If you do have such a child, you are in for a life that is likely to be considerably harder and more worrisome than it is for most parents, and the first 12 months of the life of a healthy child are hard and worrisome enough for the parents of such a child. 

So, that is the first aspect of having a child where luck plays a part.

Next, some children are pretty much “dream” children from the time they are born, and others are the opposite.  And I am talking about something that is intrinsic to the child, and that it may not be possible to change, regardless of what you do.  It is something that may affect your relationship with your child even when you are in your 80s, and your child is in their 60s. 

Of course the vast majority of children fall somewhere between the “dream” and the opposite description.  That still means you might have some life-long problems with them.

And, again, the vast majority of children have their “good” and not so good (viewed from a parent’s perspective) phases, and almost all children have a mixture of both at any one time. 

So these are all things where you, as a parent, might be lucky or unlucky as to what your child is like most of the time.     

Now, it might seem that I am being unduly negative here.  Afraid not.  I am being realistic.  And anyone who decides to have a child is being unrealistic if they think that children with problems, be they health, behavioural or whatever, are what happens to other people.  In this respect, if you want to have children, I strongly urge you to go into this with your eyes wide open. 

And please don’t think that I’m saying that having a child with problems is a one-way street.  It isn’t – lots of parents with such children still get a lot out of the relationship. 

  

Wait a few years after marriage

 

I strongly urge you, if possible, to hold off having children for a few years after you marry.  This period before children is really the only time you will have to really get to know your partner, and to have fun together as married partners. 

Once children come along, your life will be dominated by them, whether you want it to be or not.  And it is much easier to parent together if you actually have a good idea of who your partner is.  It’s too late to do that once children are on the scene – you won’t know if what you see is normal behaviour by your partner, or whether it’s behaviour influenced by having children.

In the extreme case where you realise that you have made a mistake in your choice of partner, having that realisation before you have had any children is clearly a good thing, so again, waiting for a bit after marriage is all to the good.

Of course, if you marry someone, and the one of you who is going to bear the children has their biological clock ticking loudly, it is not such a good idea to follow the advice in this subsection.

And if I can just mention one scenario that I have seen a few times too many:  a couple marry, they have children fairly soon after, the children grow up and leave home, and each of the couple are alone together with someone who is a stranger to them.  Many relationships like this do not last once the children leave home.  And that is very sad.

Be strict early

 

This is advice that I have had from parents who seem to have been fairly successful in raising polite ‘good citizen’ children.

The advice is to teach your children to “do the right thing”, in terms of social interaction, at the earliest possible opportunity.  The earliest possible opportunity is usually when your child understands what you are trying to get them to do, or not do.  Ideally they should also be able to understand why they should do, or not do, something, but for many things even that level of understanding is not necessary.

Now, getting a child to do something that they don’t want to do, or vice versa, is not easy at first.  You’ll get rebellion, objections, temper tantrums, screams, tears and whatever else their imaginative young minds can come up with.

The thing is, you will get that reaction regardless of whether the child is 2, 3 or 4.  If you tackle it when the child is 2, and you are successful, it is not behaviour that you are going to see at 3 or 4.  If you do decide to let the behaviour ride when the child is 2, and to try to tackle it when they are a bit older, you will keep seeing it through the rest of their 2s, and then into their 3s.  That’s a whole lot of aggravation that you wouldn’t otherwise have been subjected to.

Somewhere in the 3s, you decide to try again.  Only now the child is even more imaginative and resistant and rebellious (and buoyed by their knowledge that if they put up sufficient resistance, you will fold again).  So after some probably half-hearted efforts, you decide to let it ride again … I think you can see where this is heading.  It gets harder and harder to get the change in behaviour that you are after the older the child gets. 

And you are not doing yourself, or the child, any favours by letting them behave in ways that are going to cause them to have trouble getting on with other children or adults as they get older.

Oh, can I also just mention that ideally the place to have your battle of will and wits with your child is at home, not the supermarket.  The latter gives the child a strategic advantage that is very difficult to overcome.

Always be respectful to your children

 

This is advice that most parents will find impossible to follow.  That will be particularly so if your child is sitting locked in their bedroom or your bathroom having told you to never speak to them ever again, and that, by the way, you are the worst parent in the world and you don’t love them and they don’t love you.  Oh, and by the way, check out ##### [a YouTube, Instagram or similar site] that shows how proper parents behave.

But it is incredibly important advice, and following it gives you a very good chance of having a great relationship with your children for your entire life (once they leave the bathroom and start talking to you again).

A lifetime together

 

Let’s start with that timeline.  Roughly on average, if you have children at the roughly normal time, you can expect to share 50 to 60 years of your life with them.  During the first few years of that time you and your partner will be the most important people in the life of your children.  In some cases that may continue to be the case until your children are in their mid-teens, in other cases that state of affairs may not even last that long, and in some cases it might last a lot longer.

During the first few years, it is natural for parents to treat their children as some sort of lesser beings.  In those years children have far less knowledge, and far fewer abilities, than their parents, and they can be quite disagreeable, both figuratively and literally. 

But children are not lesser beings

 

Unfortunately, what tends to happen is that parents who treat their children as lesser beings while the children are young tend to continue doing that once the children get older.  “I knew more about things then, and I still know more about things now, so I am justified in continuing to pass on the benefit of my superior knowledge.”  Understandable, but so wrong, and so potentially destructive to your relationship with your children. 

Once children have been around for a few years, like 4 or 5, they will already know more about certain things than you (particularly in these times of rapid technological change).  By the time they hit their teens the extent of their superior knowledge will be quite a bit larger, and they will have more maturity. 

 

Now, sure, you will still know more than them in regard to lots of things, and their maturity might still be relatively undeveloped.  But in dealing with them, you will be in a very similar situation to the situation you would be in if confronted by a stranger from a completely different culture to you.  In that sort of encounter you are heading for disaster if you adopt the position that you come from a superior culture, rather than a different culture, and exactly the same applies if you adopt the same position when talking to your children.

By the time someone is 4 or 5, they are well and truly already a human being in their own right.  They might not be able to fend for themselves, but there are lots of instances I have read about where necessity has forced people that young to do so, and they have successfully survived.

Dealing with toxic situations

 

So, what do you do if you are currently in the midst of the toxic situation that I described at the start of this subsection, that is a totally unco-operative child trying to say the most hurtful things they can think of to say to you ? 

I’m afraid the circumstances surrounding such a situation are too various for me to be able to offer much helpful advice.  For what it’s worth, here are some thoughts:

-           If there is no time problem (meaning that you don’t have to have your child somewhere by a particular time), often the best thing is to do nothing for the time being.  Attempting to argue with a child in that situation is just going to be a complete waste of your energy and psychic resources (and theirs).  Let time and eventual hunger do their work – they can be great healers.  Just get on with your life until your child eventually emerges (hopefully you have a second bathroom !).  You then need to use discretion to determine when it is best to raise the dispute with your child.  Immediately on emergence is usually not a good time.

-           Discussions through a locked door should be confined to essential matters only – doors are not a friend to your vocal chords or mental equanimity. 

-           If there is a time problem, your options are limited.  A meaningful threat may be all that is available.  A proposal to restrict access or permission to something that your child needs your help or consent for is the most obvious thing to use here.  Obviously these days the withdrawal of access to a mobile phone would be a devastating threat, but there may well be practical problems in implementing it that you should work through before making such a threat.  If there is nothing else available, consider a proposal to not speak to the child for x days.  With threats, you should try to avoid something that will go on for too long (for instance, x days should only be a few days at most the first time you threaten it).  The proposal to not speak for x days is not likely to appear to be much of a threat the first time it is made.  If you have had to carry it out, the next time it is proposed it should have more clout once your child has a greater awareness of what it involves (and be aware that it will be pretty tough on you as well).  And, as I have mentioned elsewhere in this Section, you have to make sure you carry out any threat that you make.  Of course that is a problem with the vow of silence, because such a vow will severely interfere with you being able to try to resolve whatever caused the problem in the first place.

-           If your child says hurtful things to you, at some point you should let them know that you are not happy: 1) with whatever it was that they said; and 2) that they seem to have no concern about trying to hurt you.  Consistent with what I have said above, the time to tell them that is probably after things have calmed down, although if the opportunity arises in the heat of the moment, that is also not a problem, although it is not likely to have any immediately noticeable effect.

-           When it finally becomes possible to discuss a particular problem, you need to keep in mind that you are in a life-long relationship with your child – you do not want to say or do anything that will cause possible long-term problems for the relationship (for instance, a gloating reference to “I knew you’d get hungry” helps no one).  You want to try to concentrate on things that will smooth the path for your future relationship.

-           It is very important to listen to what your child says, and to address any concern that they raise.  You should also be listening for clues that there may be some underlying problem behind a concern raised by your child.  You should also be prepared to explain how things look from your point of view – however, initially that should not be your aim.  It should only come into play once you have a good handle on what your child is concerned about.

Children change

 

Another thing that is worth mentioning here explicitly is that children are always changing.  All parts of them are growing all of the time, even if that growth isn’t always visible.  The most important thing that is growing is the amount of information in their brain, and their ability to process that information.  That information is being added to every waking second of their lives, and at any time it might result in your children moving to a different level of understanding of the world. 

 

One thing I often see is that parents are not keeping up with the changing levels of maturity in their children.  It means that those who are a bit slow in that respect are interacting with their children in a manner that is inappropriate for where the children are at.  Being at all times respectful of your children is one of the best ways of avoiding this problem, and also in noticing the changes in your children.  Noticing those changes is one of the joys (and happy sorrows) of parenthood I have been told, so it is no small thing to have a way of enhancing your ability to notice those changes.

Speaking to yourself

 

And you should keep uppermost in your mind that when you are dealing with one of your children, assuming you are one of their biological parents, that the child is actually biologically half you, and that the other half is biologically half your partner.  By the time your child is 18, if not well before then, talking to your child is very much like talking to yourself. 

And what age were you when you considered that you could make big decisions for yourself ?  Why should it be any different for your children ?

It might be helpful, on that theme, if you can try to remember how you would have felt when you were 18 if one of your parents spoke to you as a superior.  If your parents are still doing that when you are 28, 38, 48, 58, 68 … well, not a great basis for a great relationship.