In my occasional moments of humility, I reflect on what I would do
differently bringing up my children if I had to do it all over again.
Actually, they should be glad I'm not doing it all over again, because I'm
more tired, and they wouldn't get much attention.
1. Somewhere I got it into my head that children should learn how
parents work out their disagreements by seeing both the argument and its
resolution (Okay, not all of the resolution). This was a terrible idea.
The idea "Parents fighting. World crumbling. Child abandoned." is their
overwhelming impression when watching their parents argue, and the content of the conversation completely passes them by. My first son got the greater dose of this.
2. Not having had a father attend my sporting events, I thought it was
of almost desperate importance to show support for my sons by being at
their games. Unfortunately, my training as sports fan was at a highschool
in a mill city, where referee-baiting, barking complaints, drunken cursing,
and sniping with opposing fans were considered excellent manners. I did
get rid of the drunken cursing part, and left the refs alone until the kids
hit highschool. (Mostly). That still left plenty of room for humiliating
my children however, a madman gesticulating wildly on the sidelines,
commenting loudly about absolutely everything that was happening, good and
bad. My second son got the worst of this.
3. I should have taken the car away more. Having disappointed us was usually
enough for all of my sons to straighten up. I mistakenly concluded from
that that my being very disappointed would have increased effect. This is not so. "My parents are disappointed" is an off-on switch, a single quantum to a teenager. There are no gradations. And after age 16, only the car really matters. The sticky part is that if your kids are generally doing good things, what they want the car for will be good things as well. "You can't use the car. OK, you can drive to work but that's it. Well yeah, you can drive to church youth group, too, because other kids need you to drive. OK, OK, work, youth group, and play practice, because I want you to keep commitments you've made. But that's it. Unless we ask you to go get milk or something."
My younger son, a cop, says that the thing he remembers most in terms of discipline is when he was nine and went on a midnight bike ride around town. Once he was back safely I looked him in the eyes and said "X, I am so very disappointed in you."
He remembers that to this day as the most powerful comeuppance of his childhood.
Parenting is a funny business. I'm the oldest of three children and endured all of the first-born 50s-era upbringing rigor that my siblings (of course) missed(Spock, parochial school, drama lessons, etc). To this day my mother has honest pangs of guilt about the way she and my father raised me. In contrast, I think I had a wonderful childhood and have absolutely zero regrets. Go figure. I wonder what will my daughters will think of their upbringing when they are 30 somethings?
"Your children will become what they want and blame you for it."
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