October 17th, 2011


Kid Thoughts

Recently, chinders and I visited some new friends[1] and raided their bookshelf. One book I flipped through there, then put back on the shelf because I clearly needed my own copy, which I have now got.

It is called Becoming The Parent You Want To Be: A Sourcebook of Strategies for the First Five Years, by Laura Davis and Janis Keyser. The first few chapters are an overview of the general principles they think are useful for basically everyone, followed by chapters on specific issues such as sleep and toilet training learning. It is about the right level of hippie-granola for me; parts of it are more hippie-granola than I tend towards, and parts are less, so overall it balances out about right. It's also remarkably non-prescriptive for a parenting book, which I appreciate. It recognizes that different parents, different families, and different children will require somewhat different approaches to similar underlying issues, and provides a range of tools for dealing with upsets and changes. It contains lots of illuminating little stories and quotes from the authors' parenting classes, and does a good job balancing those between mothers, fathers, and other caregivers.

Wow, I sound like I should be selling the thing. Anyway, I am slowly working my way through this book, taking it in bits because it inspires lots of thought, especially the early chapters, which include interesting questions about your parenting values and experiences. I shall now record some of said thought, mostly so I have it later and can refer people specifically to it if needed. But if you find it interesting and would like to share your own thoughts, feel free.

My primary parenting goal is to raise functional, self-reliant adults. Therefore I should encourage the acquisition of life skills both specific (cooking, doing laundry, using public transport, coping with finances) and general (navigating to locations both familiar and new, making independent decisions, resolving conflicts, researching new ideas). This is more complicated than "protect my child from everything that could possibly go wrong" or "have a well-behaved, obedient child", but I think it'll work out better long-term.

Values or traits I particularly wish to encourage are:
* Kindness. My benchmark here is my sibling, age 8 or so, giving half zir sandwich to a panhandler.
* Interest in the world. That could be science or exploring or whatever; curiosity is good.
* Appreciation for nature.

My parents were overall quite good at these things (along with a bunch of other stuff that is so basic I don't even think to mention it, like gender-neutrality[2]), so for the most part my basic instincts and first responses should be about right. However, there are a few things I want to do differently:
* Less mocking. I did all right, but statistically speaking it's hard on most kids. This will take work from all of us, because it's a difficult habit to break. For instance, we make fun of the dog all the time for being a drama queen. He's a dog, so he neither understands nor cares, but if he were a small child we wouldn't want to do that. The frustrations he experiences -- his walk was short and is over now, everybody is eating dinner and not playing with him, his favorite toy is broken and up on a shelf where he can't get at it -- are in fact frustrating things that it is reasonable to be sad about, and his means of dealing with those frustrations -- sighing and looking sad -- are the best possible way he could express those feelings. So go, Emo-Dog! He's doing a great job. But it doesn't make him not funny, and I'm going to need to work on keeping my giggling and snorting out of audible kid-range, when it is Emo-Kid instead.
* Emotion coaching. This is a technique for helping children develop a variety of strategies for coping with strong emotions. I wound up with basically one: going to my room until I calmed down. It's effective, but it's not always possible, so making more strategies available to my kids sounds like an excellent idea.
* Managing the transition to independence. During college, the set of things my parents covered costs for and the set of things they didn't cover or didn't plan to cover in the future meant that, while I didn't have immediate monetary needs, I did make most of my decisions about part-time and summer jobs based on whether they paid. They didn't have to pay much, but they did have to pay. That turned out not to be the best set of choices, in the long term. I don't know what I want to do differently -- what my parents did would have worked excellently had I been graduating into the same circumstances they graduated into, and those circumstances will have changed again by the time I get to that transition from the other side -- but I want to remember to carefully investigate the actual economic factors on the ground at the time, and be prepared to adjust my launching speed as necessary.

Things I am particularly looking forward to doing with my kids include:
* Working together with them. Cooking, particularly, sounds like fun; also things like volunteer projects.
* Museums and zoos and hiking and whatnot.

[1] I hope. It may be slightly perverse to meet someone new and react, "Hey! You're a cranky introvert too! Will you be my friend?" but hey. We cranky introverts have the reactions we have.

[2] Speaking of which, does anybody have a recommendation for parenting forums or community blogs that are actually by-god parenting forums, instead of mothering forums? Offbeat Mama is adorable, but it's right there in the name! I want to be able to refer male coparents or caregivers or parenting friends to things that don't implicitly exclude them. Also, I myself get twitchy in single-gender spaces because I don't actually belong there.