As I’m prone to doing, although the title may have already served this purpose, I’ll start with a disclaimer: I have no biological children. Nor do I have any stepchildren. I don’t even have cousins or nieces or nephews in my family that are children. In regards to the experience of raising a child from birth to adulthood in my own home, I have zero. Other than my work as a therapist, my life is utterly free of child like things (unless you count the occasional SpongeBob marathon). I don’t know the “pitter patter of little feet”, or first days of school, or graduations or tooth fairies or any of that other cliché’ crap we romanticizingly associate with childhood.
Here’s the part I do have though: Through my work as a therapist, I’ve helped to raise, in a manner of speaking, nearly 2000-3000 children and adolescents. Rather than having one longitudinal example of my own blood from which to draw inferences, I’ve had a sample that’s larger than the city in which I graduated high school. Yes, yes, I know it’s not the same thing, but it’s something and it’s a damn big something at that. Next disclaimer: Keep in mind that my “sample” has been drawn from psychiatric hospitals, outpatient therapy clinics and therapy settings within public school systems. One could argue that this sample is not directly representative of the general population. MOST children are NOT suicidal, homicidal, psychotic and/or drug using/abusing. MOST children do not suffer from severe mental/emotional problems. To the point, however…although not the same thing as true parenting and not working with an entirely representative sample, I feel have something to offer in relation to the job of care giving for children and adolescents and some of this I now share with you. For simplicity, I have presented these ideas in list form. The list comprises the MOST BASIC OF BASICS of parenting and care giving. After reading this, you may find yourself saying “yeah, I already knew that…thanks for nothing guy with no kids who thinks he knows how to parent”. However, trust me when I say that I’ve seen many examples of these ideas NOT being applied and this gives me some faith in the validity of me mentioning them.
1. Don’t hit them- On a basic behavioral level, hitting encourages hitting. Through modeling it teaches a child that in conflict, aggression is the proper response. This is not the ONLY problem, but again, most basic of basics here.
2. Don’t touch their private parts in a sexual way- And obviously don’t let others do so either. Sadly, every day I see the long term effects of sexual abuse in the clients with whom I work, both young and old and it’s one of the most damaging things that can befall a person.
3. Don’t use drugs- And don’t let your kids use drugs. That idea of “I figure he’s going to use it anyway so he might as well do it around me so I know he’s safe” is a complete copout and simply doesn’t work. P.S. Yes, marijuana is a drug, synthetic or otherwise, even if it’s “legal”.
4. Don’t use alcohol in front of them- (see rule # 3) Every day I see adults who continue to suffer from being raised by an alcoholic parent(s) and yes this includes what we call “functional alcoholics” (also a copout)
5. Try to stay with one romantic partner- This is a big one. Due to brain development, a child imbues a parent with somewhat “god like” qualities. Theoretically speaking, god is always right. If one god (mom) and another god (dad) split, this inherently suggests a disagreement between two entities who can never be wrong. This causes a paradox in a child’s head from which he or she may never fully recover. Now add into the mix that you’re 7 and you have severely limited cognitive abilities and underdeveloped impulse control skills and we have the makings of emotional/behavioral disturbance.
1. You have to give them food and water- Duh.
2. You have to send them to school- Not only is it a good idea, it’s also the law!
3. You have to give them shelter- And jumping ahead to number 4 on the “DO” list, it’s okay to make them stay in that shelter even when they don’t want to.
4. Tell them “no” once in a while- This may be one of the most important ones here. There’s this myth in American culture and yes, it is a complete myth, that a child who gets what he wants all the time will be a child who feels good and therefore will be a well adjusted child who grows into a well adjusted adult. Unfortunately, this is far from true. Children who grow up with absolute freedom, don’t grow up to be the peace loving, free spirited hippies that we intend them to be. They grow up to be dependent, insecure, anxious adults with poor self esteem because they weren’t given the necessary boundaries with which to struggle against and learn from. The message sent when a child has no boundaries is “you don’t matter”. Without boundaries, a child feels unprotected. When a child feels unprotected, he or she often feels lack of self worth. When a child feels lack of worth, depression, anxiety and a number of other problems are the natural conclusion. Setting boundaries with a child sends the message “I care about you enough to protect you from and prepare you for the world”.
So there you have it. Strong opinions from someone who could be equally be accused of having zero years or several years of experience raising children. We started with disclaimers and shall end with some as well. Again, consider these thoughts as the most basic of basics. We’re starting at the ground level and possibly even lower. As a caregiver, you can and should do more. I’m leaving out millions of obvious things like praise, and affection and attention. This is the barest of bare minimums. However, if you’re not doing these things, love and affection won’t go nearly as far. If you add these things in to the mix as a base then other things fall into place more easily. When applied, I offer no guarantees as I’m rather poor at predicting the future, but I can guarantee a much greater likelihood of your child being a happy healthy one who eventually grows into a healthy, successful adult. Actually since you’ve paid nothing for this blog, I’ll go ahead and put a guarntee out there..a healthy successful child or your money back!! Thanks for reading.
This month, the unrelated song is one of my old favorites and is here simply for shock value and ironic contrast with the blog subject
Check out the unrelated book: The Family Crucible by Napier and Whitaker