I read an article some while back that was essentially arguing that much of our parenting is for naught, because children’s characters are hard-wired into their DNA. They are who they are, and nothing we do will change that much.
Of course, I rear up in resistance to that idea.
Sort of. In fact, I do think they come with their little characters pretty much intact. They are not ‘blank slates’; rather, they are a mystery which is gradually revealed, a basic form which is refined as the years go by.
I believe, however, that parents have a huge role to play, and that very article provides the key. While just about every character trait — kindness, propensity to anger, stubbornness, generosity, and many, many more — all do seem to be pretty much genetically-dictated, there was one trait that was not. There was one trait that was very strongly influenced by nurture, by family. And that one trait makes all the difference.
The trait is self-discipline.
Now, self-discipline is in some disrepute in this largely adolescent culture of ours. It’s associated with being a boring, dull nay-sayer. Who wants dreary, dull, no-no-no self-discipline?
People who know it’s self-discipline which separates the people who consistenty wonder “why do these things keep happening to meeee?” from those who feel largely in control of their life, that’s who.
We are notoriously poor at teaching self-discipline to our children. We tend to see it as the grinding down of a child’s spirit, the steady encroachment on their personality, the ceaseless winnowing away of who they are into who they should be. It is not.
Self-discipline acknowledges who a child is, all their flaws and their potential. Self-discipline gives the child the tools and abilities to overcome (or work around) their weaknesses and allows them to glory in their strengths.
Self-discipline starts — a parent encourages its development — when you tell your two-year-old, “You may be angry, but you may not hit mama.” And then, when they rear back to take a second swipe, you grab that offending hand and repeat. “You may be angry, but you may NOT hit.” When you tell that same child that if he/she chooses to be awake in the middle of the night, they may NOT keep the rest of the family awake.
Self-discipline grows some more when a parent holds back from helping a child who is experiencing frustration when they can’t tie their shoes. “You can do it. I’m going to the bathroom right now. If you keep trying, I’ll help you when I get back — but I bet you’ll have it all done by the time I’m back!”
In each of these instances, the child will probably be unhappy with you. If your goal as a parent is to keep your child happy, you will be very poor at this. If your goal as a parent is to raise an adult who has the skills and abilities to be confident and competant to manage their own life, you will persevere. Because your vision is on the long-term goal, not the current hiccup. (No matter how loud and outraged that hiccup may be in this moment.)
Self-discipline is evidenced when a tot stomps their feet and says, “I’m MAD at you!!!” but doesn’t scream or hit; when a child decides for themselves to finish a necessary task rather than go out with their friends; when your teen saves her own money for a project of her own design; when your young adult stays sober because he’s chosen to be the designated driver when he goes clubbing with his friends.
We all have to learn to consider others, to rein in our nastier impulses, to persevere in a task in order to succeed — and generally, these are not our natural inclinations. Generally, these skills do not come easily.
Ironically, if you’re willing to let your child suffer unhappiness as a necessary part of learning all these things, if you’re willing to let your child be frustrated and exasperated as a result of their own actions and decisions — you will end up with a child who is, overall, happier than the child who was always protected from the bumps and bruises of life.
Self-discipline is the way to go. Because being a grown-up, a real, full, card-carrying, non-apologetic grown-up, is a good thing. I would rather be an uncool adult, confidently in control of myself and my responses to the happenings of my life, than a perma-adolescent, knowing all the ins and outs of the “right” clothing, music, cars and gadgets, but buffeted, outraged and confused by the world around me.
And that’s what I want for my kids, too.
So, their DNA may present you with the essential outline of the child. DNA predisposes you to a quick temper. Self-discipline holds the anger in check and/or expresses it constructively. Self-discipline fills in the gaps, enriches the strengths, mutes the flaws, finds a way to cope with weaknesses. Creates full, happy, empowered, considerate adults who continually seek to grow and develop into a better, fuller, more complete version of themselves.
It’s a lifelong process, but it’s the only way I’d want to live.
She liked it last week.
Why are your cheeks bulging like that?
Is that all the tofu that was in your bowl? How did you eat all the vegetables and rice without swallowing any tofu?
If you don’t like the taste of it, swallow it fast.
Have some water.
The longer it’s in there, the worse it tastes.
DON’T be talking to me with your mouth all full. There are crumbs shooting everywhere.
You’re drooling. Close your mouth, please.
Have a raisin.
Swallow, silly girl, before you drown in drool.
You may leave the table when your mouth is empty.
You may play with the other children when your mouth is empty.
You may do a puzzle with us when your mouth is empty.
You may get down for your nap when your mouth is empty.
You may come sing with the rest of us when your mouth is empty.
You’re drooling again.
I can’t talk to you right now. I’m reading to the others. Let me know when your mouth is empty.
There! All gone! Good for you! I knew you could do it!
Normally I do not go in for gimmicky kid-stuff, but are these not the CUTEST damned things you’ve ever SEEN???
I have yet to decide whether they would help a finicky eater shovel that food in, or whether they’d be so good for construction they’d never accomplish any ingestion. And I rather suspect that the extra length required to stick a vehicle body on the stem of the thing would increase the already significant challenge of actually getting the utensil into the mouth. Fully loaded.
But CUTE? My lord, they’re cute.
Malli sits on a small purple box. Nigel stands in front of her, bending at the waist so as to peer into her open mouth. He taps on her teeth with the red vinyl-coated baby spoon in his hand.
“What are you doing, guys?”
“I am opening my mouff for Nigel.” I turn to Nigel for elucidation.
“I am being a dentist.”
Ah. Nigel was at the dentist last week, so of course, being a toddler, he’s going to practice reality, decode the experience, play with it until he understands it.
“I’m cleaning Malli’s teeth.”
“What does Malli have to do?”
“She has to open her mouth and don’t bite and then I will give her a toy. But she has to don’t bite. That’s very important.”
“What happens if she bites?”
“Then the dentist stands up and rubs his hand and says “No biting” and maybe you won’t get a toy and maybe he will put a thing in between my teeth so no biting.”
Hmmm. The play/reality line’s a bit smudged here. I think Dr. Nigel’s Dentist may have had a teeny mishap last week.
Rules: Go back through your archives and post the links to your five favorite blog posts that you’ve written.
Link two must be about friends
Can’t do it. I never mention my friends here!
Link three must be about yourself
Nor do I talk much about myself. But how about this one I wrote on my birthday a couple of years back?
Link four must be about something you love.
OOooo. Another opportunity to link to my wedding post!
Post your five links and then tag five other people. At least two of the people you tag must be newer acquaintances so that you get to know each other better.
I don’t tag people: I ask for volunteers. Anyone care to volunteer?? Let us know in the comments so we can come check you out!
I was not born with three arms. Contrary to the children’s beliefs, I do not have an extra eye in the back of my head, either, though I am content to let them continue in this misapprehension.
Given my calling in life, these lacks are clearly an oversight on someone’s part, but I do my best despite my handicaps.
In truth, I don’t really need eyes in the back of my head: my ears do just fine.
That sudden silence?
The desperate stillness?
That intake of breath before the wail?
All bad. Well, that latter may or may not be bad. The longer the intake, the worse the wail. Which may or may not be proportional to the level of injury. If no wail follows the bump and the intake, this is very, very bad.
I can usually determine if the resulting injury will be mild, moderate, or severe by the quality of the “thud” that preceded it.
A happy murmur, a steady roar, the bam-bam-bam of trotting feet?
All good. Loud, but good.
So. Eyes in the back of my head? Can’t argue they’d be useful, but I get by without them.
That third arm, though? Just think how much easier it would be to change a diaper while leading the crew in a rousing round of “Three Little Monkeys”. I could probably zip two snowsuits simultaneously; I could certainly hand out snack to three children at the same time. I could write someone’s name on their craft while tying someone else’s shoe.
The list goes on and on and on.
It would have come in very, very
handy useful about a half-hour ago, when I was on my way upstairs with a basket of clean laundry. Clean laundry, folded only that moment on the dining room table. Clean, folded, still a little warm from the dryer. Nigel leaps into my path. But I do not spill the basket. I merely sidestep and stop.
“I peed, Mary!”
He’s still fresh enough into the potty training that his output requires celebration. We peer into the pale yellow depths and we cheer and clap and hug. And then, since I’m going upstairs anyway, I may as well take the potty with me to tip in the toilet upstairs. Yes?
I will not burden you with the details. Let us just agree that it would have been very, very useful to have that that third hand right then.
I’ve put in my order. I’ll let you know when it arrives.
As gifts. Oh, my.
Aren’t these great? Hike yourself over there and start ordering!!
No, I don’t get a cut of the proceeds. This is just Mary, in her ongoing quest to de-Earnest the parenting world. A little tongue-in-cheek is an essential parental character trait.
For this post.
Go over and, if you don’t have time to read the whole thing, look at the picture. (But it’s not a long post, and well worth the read!)
See that sad, sad face? What parent wouldn’t melt in the face of such pathos?
A parent with an eye to the goal, that’s who. A parent who sees their role as developing positive character traits in a child, not maintaining the child’s minute-by-minute happiness. A parent who understands that, in order to BE a good parent, you will sometimes, necessarily, unavoidably, inevitably make your child unhappy.
Boooo…. That’s one of the parts of parenting we rate “difficult”.
See, children aren’t born rational. They don’t know about deferring gratification. They don’t understand cause-and-effect. They don’t do/know any of this till we give them the opportunity to learn it.
And don’t be thinking they’ll be thanking you for the opportunity.
The story has a happy ending, and if young Ian hasn’t learned the lesson 100%, it will only take one or two repeats and/or reminders before he does. And then his happy mommy will never see that face again! Well, not over this particular issue, anyway …
Well done, Mamacita!