It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Interview Question Number 1: Parenting Goal

1. Describe a parenting goal that ought to be universal. No matter what part of the world you live in, regardless of your worldview or socio-economic status, this is a goal that all parents share in common — though they may never have thought about it.

There are so many good values that could be universal: kindness, creativity, consideration, tolerance, respect, courage of your convictions, respect for wisdom… These, however, are too specific. For a universal parenting goal, we need something more…universal…in scope.

When we embark on any project, we are advised to keep the goal in mind. If it’s a particularly large and complex project, there will be subgoals, steps along the way to the end. But never must you lose sight of the end goal, or you will be bogged down in trivialities, distracted, and discouraged long before you achieve it.

Which is why I decided on this nugget of parenting wisdom as my universal:

When we are blessed with a child, we must never forget that we are raising an adult, not a child. Yes, you have a child at first. However, the goal of this whole endeavor is to provide a fully-functioning, emotionally healthy, responsible and giving adult citizen of this planet.

Thus, in everything we do, we need to keep the long view in mind. Of course, we all succumb to the convenience of expediency once in a while. Now and then, we give in to a tantrum, we bribe bad manners, we turn a blind eye to sibling bullying. Now and then, we take the short view. But in general, we need always to be aware that this tiny person is another ADULT in the making. Which traits do you wish to encourage? Which traits need strengthening? Which need to be channelled into more appropriate expression? Which need to be minimized? What kind of adult human can you encourage and mold from the raw materials in your child?

Each culture could apply this principle in ways appropriate to the strengths and weaknesses of their society. Some cultures do a superb job of imbuing their children with the community values of sharing and compassion, but perhaps need more people who can stand up and make change happen.

In North American society, I think we manage to create individuals without difficulty. It’s a strength of ours. However, the balancing weakness is that too often individual self-esteem takes precedence over consideration and deferred gratification. We focus our efforts on creating kids with strong self-esteem. We praise, we encourage, we minimize obstacles.

Too much of this leads to demanding children with a sense of entitlement. They deserve all those goodies, and they deserve them now, and who are you to deny them? A fond and indulgent parent might find their three-year-old’s indignation at being thwarted cute, or, less delusionally, may opt to turn a blind eye, assuming the tot will outgrow it. They won’t, you know. Not without guidance and direction. Such guidance and direction will be vehemently resisted by a spirited child, but guide and direct you must. The knee-jerk anger at not getting one’s way may be tolerable (barely) in a three-year-old, but it’ll be distinctly unappealing in a 12-year-old, and in a 25-year-old? Frightening.

The entitled, impatient, selfish adult is an example of this idea in practice, but only one example of many.

The point is, parents help create the 25-year-old, whether he or she is kind, giving, strong, loving and supportive; or petulant, demanding, aggressive, ungrateful and just plain unpleasant to be around.

So. Never forget. That adorable child in your life? One day – and when it comes, you’ll be startled by how fast it got here! – one day, that child will be an ADULT.

You are in the business of raising that adult. The adult is your goal.

June 9, 2007 - Posted by | individuality, memes and quizzes, parenting, socializing

13 Comments »

  1. Right on, Mary! It always startles me (and don’t take this as minimizing parenting, because I’m totally not) how much child rearing has in common with training dogs. I have big, strong, assertive, dominance-prone dogs – when raising the fuzzy widdle puppies you have to always think “is this thing that is so cute in this 8 pound toddling puppy going to be cute in a 110-pound adult dog?” And that’s the same thing you have to think with the cute little toddler – how cute will this behavior be in an adult?

    Thanks for the reminder!

    Comment by Heath | June 9, 2007 | Reply

  2. That’s a great one, and something I tell to people who have the nerve to tell me I’m the strictist parent they know. The thing is? I’m not that strict. I just have certain expectations of my children. I have a friend who said that she didn’t mind when her kids whined because they were clearly upset about something. I said, “Would you mind if your husband whined? How about your boss?” She looked at me and said, “But they’re just kids!” I said, “They’re kids now but they won’t be forever. How are they going to learn to behave as adults if we don’t start teaching them now?”

    Comment by candace | June 9, 2007 | Reply

  3. i think you are so right, and this is an area in which i think my mom did a great job. she recently commented on a friend’s blog that her goal in raising me and my sister was that when we grew up we would be the kind of people others would want to be around, to learn from, to respect, and to love. my opinion may be a bit biased, but i think she did a pretty good job. 😉

    Comment by Lara | June 9, 2007 | Reply

  4. *standing up and applauding*

    Mary, I love you. That’s one of my soapbox items where parenting is concerned. The flip side of the entitled adult growing from the bratty kid is the insecure adult who emerges from the “well-behaved child”. It’s not my job to have a well-behaved child (as in seen and not heard, aka, silent and cowering. It’s my job to have a kid who actually learns to interact well with the rest of the world.

    Comment by Allison | June 9, 2007 | Reply

  5. You rock. Can’t wait to continue reading your interview series.

    Comment by Lady M | June 10, 2007 | Reply

  6. I knew you’d have a great answer for this one. So many people forget that their children won’t be children forever. They spend their time getting them to be well-behaved children. that’s all well and good, but the bigger picture gets lost. I love reading your perspectives on parenting. Can’t wait for the next interview Q & A.

    Comment by ktjrdn | June 11, 2007 | Reply

  7. Oh, hallelujah. Sure, it may be sweet to indulge your child but we’ve all met the intolerable older child who still acts that way because he hasn’t been given any reason not to… and let’s be honest, everybody hates that kid. (Although I usually feel a smidge sorry for that one too because his parents could have prevented him from becoming so odious in most cases, and now he’s going to hit a wall somewhere, and it will hurt!)

    Comment by kittenpie | June 11, 2007 | Reply

  8. I thought this was so eloquently put — it really gave me a lot to reflect on. Thank you, MaryP!

    Comment by tin cc-ong | June 13, 2007 | Reply

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