Sunday, October 6, 2013

"Just fine."

"Just fine" seems to be the standard many parents set for themselves as the goal for their kids. It's certainly the yardstick they measure success by, if you listen closely.

"I smoked three packs of cigarettes a day, and I am/my kids are just fine."

"I beat my kids' asses all the time, and they turned out just fine."

"I went out with my friends all the time. I left my kids with a babysitter/family member, and they turned out just fine. It's important that mommies and daddies get time away from their children."

"I let my 5 month old baby cry it out at bedtime, so he would learn that bedtime is bedtime and I won't be manipulated by a crying baby... besides, he sleeps sooooo much better now (and so do I ha ha ha ha). He'll be just fine. My mom did it to me, and I'm just fine."

"I had my kid forward-facing in a carseat at 6 months old. She survived. Back in the day, they didn't even use carseats at all!"

"I gave my 4 month old baby ice cream and chocolate and french fries all the time! It's just a taste, it's not going to hurt them. They'll be just fine."

Or better yet, "I gave my 4 month old grandbaby ice cream and chocolate and french fries behind their mama's back. It's just a taste, it's not going to hurt them. They'll be just fine, I did it with their mama/daddy when they were little. What are you calling that ambulance for? Allergies aren't a real thing. Kids are too weak these days. It's just a little swelling, he'll be just fine. He needs to learn how to eat real food."

Here's the thing, though: I don't want my kid to be just "fine," or to claim success as a parent if she merely "survives." Many times I hear parents claim success when I have heard them talk about their kids before, and know that things aren't all peachy. They've sobbed and stressed over their kids' asthma or chronic bronchitis or serious allergies, but if their kids "survived" then they are "just fine" and their parents' smoking habits aren't an issue. They've been astounded at their adult childrens' relationship troubles, legal troubles, substance abuse troubles, and/or issues with depression or anger, or frustrated at their laziness/weakness but they are alive, therefore "just fine" and the choices they made as parents could not possibly have contributed. Deep down, after all, they're "good kids." Then you hear "I don't understand why my son acts this way towards me. I did everything I could to raise him right, and this is how he repays me. I made my mistakes [but you will never catch me being specific about what I did wrong or what I did, if anything, to fix them--other than saying I made mistakes/am not perfect], but that was in the past! It's time to move on." In my opinion, a lot of these parents are full of shit and too stubborn or ignorant to see anything from any perspective but their own. I bet their children would tell an entirely different story of what their life was like growing up.

I do not expect perfection, from myself or anyone else. But I am constantly learning how to be a better parent, and not simply from "my own mistakes" or from how I was raised or how you were raised or how random Facebook friends were raised or how they are raising their kids or how 8 million assholes on the internet were raised and are raising their own kids. I learn by constantly seeking real information, finding and reading research studies on development, different parenting tools and techniques, etc., and seeing how I can make things work in my own family. And it's not easy for me since I am already a "long-term" thinker. I see how parenting styles have changed and not changed over the years, I *know* and *see* how people romanticize their own childhood as this magical period where things were done X way and that's just how it was and everyone was "just fine." (Except, of course, for those who weren't.) I know that laws and recommendations change constantly, so I focus on things that do not change. Physics, anatomy, and stages of child development.

Flying around those three things are all the research that is always being done. The more we study, the more we know. The more we know, the better we can do. I don't find it a point of parental pride (or any kind of pride, for that matter) to stick to what you know because that's what you are familiar and comfortable with, or because that's "how it's always been done" or "how it should be done," because other people did it and didn't die. I refuse to let that be the criteria I set for myself as a parent. I'm not going to let myself get lazy in things like safety issues, especially when it comes to carseats. I'm not someone who could shrug it off as god's will if my child dies in an accident because of something I could have prevented (an improperly installed carseat or forward-facing too soon--I'll keep her rearfacing as long as possible, because *physics applies to everyone*). The fact that I have heard people defend doing things that are unsafe because "If their child dies then it was God's will" makes me absolutely sick, and furious.

I'm not parenting by a minimum standard. I'm not banking on the idea that kids are resilient, so parents can be sloppy. I will make mistakes, and I will own up to them and apologize for them to my child. I have said before and will say again, she is not simply an extension of me, she is her own person and as such deserves just as much respect as anyone else. It is my job to teach her, to help her attain her goals, to meet her needs, to keep her safe, and to make sure she is prepared and confident to face the real world. It is my job to model kindness and empathy and compassion as well as strength and grace. She will learn that there are consequences for her actions without me screaming at her or insulting her or hitting her. She will be kept rearfacing in a carseat until she has reached the limits of which it is safe to do so in her seat, which can go up to 40 lbs rearfacing. Hopefully that will be close to four years of age, when her bones and spinal cord are much more able to withstand the force of impact in a collision than they are at two, let alone one. I will continue to promote a secure attachment (shown time and time again to lead to the most happy, healthy, well-adjusted adults) by babywearing as long as she wants and I am capable, by being respectful of her needs, her feelings, and her limits as well as much as possible, by listening to her, following her cues, by being there for her, and by not expecting things from her that are beyond her capabilities physically or developmentally. And trust me, all this can be done without raising an "entitled brat," which is the most frequent "warning" given to parents who choose more gentle (NOT permissive, that's a shitstorm all in itself) parenting techniques over parenting by force or fear. And studies have shown over and over that if you parent by verbal, emotional, or physical force you are indeed parenting by fear, and no matter how sweet and loving you are the rest of the time the damage is done in the other times. Fear does not equal respect, and it does not equal intrinsic motivation.

I don't want my daughter to be "just fine." I want her to be amazing.

*Edited to add: I know not everyone will "agree" with my words here. I am fine with that. I know other people make different choices in how they raise/d their children. I am not saying they are shitty parents for doing things differently, or for doing things without having researched other options. If you are not 100% confident in yourself and your choices, it is always prudent to check out other options to see if something else sounds more right to you. I am happy to point anyone with questions towards some of the information I mentioned.

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