31 December 2013

Life Sucks. Or Does It?

By conventional standards, I have way too much fun with my children and I like my life way too much.

In case you haven’t noticed, many (most?) people tend to be obsessed with being unhappy and making life difficult. (For a great post on this, see The Cult of Unhappy at Unschooling NYC. My favorite line: We are a culture of people who spend our entire lives doing things we don’t like and bragging about it.)

Not only that, many (most?) people feel compelled to pass this life-sucks-just-get-used-to-it attitude on to their children. 

A close relative to this is the idea of being tough on your kids in the name of good parenting.

There is an overarching belief in our society that if you enjoy parenting and your children actually like you, you must be doing something wrong. There is a plethora of parenting advice that tells us to be mean to our kids in order to “raise them right.” That if you are hard on them now, it will pay off later. 

Granted, my parenting career has lasted fewer than eight years, but I have yet to see how assuring my children’s lives are unpleasant and taxing will somehow grow them into better people.

In short, I don’t believe it is my job to prepare my children for disappointment by disappointing them.

Now, of course, I’m not opposed to having realistic expectations for behavior, attitude, responsibility, etc. We certainly don’t want to just float through parenting willy-nilly without attempting to impart any wisdom or basic life skills. It’s more the method that bothers me. The idea that firm and kind cannot coexist. The belief that if you aren’t harsh you must be a pushover and there’s no in between.

Here’s what, in my limited experience, I have seen:

When I am nice, they are nice. When I get snappy, they follow suit. 

When I keep my own spaces neat and organized, there is no power struggle with daily clean-up. When I let things go, they let things go. 

When I get overwhelmed and bark orders at them or expect too much, they sass back and treat their siblings poorly. When my requests are reasonable (and conveyed gently) and I’m willing to lend a hand, they cooperate pretty easily. 

When I genuinely enjoy my “job" (parenting) they genuinely enjoy their “job” (learning and growing).

Notice a trend here?

How about instead of thinking we need to prepare our children for the drudgery and suckery of adult life, we simply treat them the way we want them to treat others and (gasp!) help them to succeed instead of thinking every little thing has to be a cruel life lesson? 

Your children will become what you are, so be what you want them to be. 
— David Bly

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