Just like in politics, parenting has it’s parties. One party says keep the children institutionalized with psuedo-parents for most waking hours. Don’t let the birth parents have too much influence over the tender children, or they might traumatize them. A cadre of governmentally licensed or religiously approved caretakers are said to be much more capable of handling the children. Parents are sold this idea with cautions about their own inadequacies and promises of more free time to pursue “personal” meaning in their lives.
The other parenting party has a platform built on parents giving of themselves so selflessly that the marriage becomes secondary, a mere utilitarian partnership to provide the needs of the children. Parents who go with this approach are often concerned about meeting every emotional need of their children. To tell them that this is impossible is to lead them to despair.
Maybe these are only extremes, but they get a lot of press. There is much pressure to “join a party.” However, both parties put unnecessary strain on marriages AND the whole family, including the children. Both parties only give lip service to the deeply creative aspect of parenting.
Parenting needs to be decentralized. While most people will agree that it greatly benefits a child to learn self-control, there is not one patented way that can guarantee that outcome for each child. Similarly, there is not one certain ritual that can fulfill the promise that a child will be assured of parental love. This is because it is about relationship and each relationship has it’s own dynamics. It is like gift giving. It is easiest to choose gifts for those you know best.
Each family has unique characteristics and circumstances that affect day to day decisions. One family may view a certain meal time as sacred, an all important time of bonding and communication. Another family may need more flexibility due to the main bread-winner’s variable work schedule. Communication for them might be better if not stressed by an unpredictable meal time and midnight kitchen clean-up.
Some parents may teach their children how to handle money by providing them with certain amounts, then supervising it’s use. Other parents may decide their children will have to earn “their own money.” But there is no obvious line or age or category of expenditure at which a parent should wisely stop providing for the financial concerns of children. The only clear situation is when the parents are destitute and aren’t providing anything. Other than that, there is no moral high ground for how children are taught to be responsible with what is available to them.
Sleeping habits is another category of parenting wherein one set of parents makes another feel not quite adequate. Some children go to sleep easily. Some don’t care where they sleep. Other children really want to be near their parents through the hours of the night, at least before they fall asleep anyway. But each set of parents should be allowed to choose what works best for them and their children. What if either parent ends up truly deprived of sleep because a child is an active sleeper? What if a parent is sleep deprived because they are constantly going into a crying child’s room. Being sleep deprived due to real care needs is one thing, but there is nothing honorable about losing sleep because of being stubbornly adherent to a certain creed.
It is useful and fun to share ideas about parenting, but it probably needs to be done with an eye to principles taught by flexible, creative methods. If someone’s child needs more spanking, it doesn’t mean he or she is a harsh bad parent. If someone’s child is turned by a look and stern word, it doesn’t mean he or she is a good compassionate parent. Just ask me. I’ve had a couple of both kinds of kids. Parenting is like economics: there are a few basic truths, but beyond that the specifics are best handled by those with the most at stake. Parents.