Monday, March 16, 2009

By way of contrast

I have just been witness to two examples of parenting that were in such stark contrast to each other, that I can't get them out of my mind.

The first was a woman with three kids, standing behind me in the supermarket queue. One of the kids hugged her from behind and, apropos nothing at all, declared, "You are my Mumsy." This is obviously something that happens often, because the mother replied, without missing a beat, "Indeed I am, and you are my girl." Not five minutes later, in response to something I must have missed, that same mother was fixing all three of her kids with what I can only describe as 'that look'. You know the one. The look that says, "I'm warning you...' but still has a twinkle in the eye. The three kids were grinning sheepishly back at her. I laughed and said, "I know that look! I have kids of my own," to which she replied that she was making the most of the look while it still bore results. I think in family that affectionate, when it obviously matters to the kids how their Mom feels about what they do, 'that look' will be effective for many years, yet!

As I was packing my groceries into the boot of my car, a couple passed me with two kids. I didn't see what the kids did, but the reaction from the mother was, "You stupid girl!" I had to bite my tongue hard, because I was only witnessing a single incident, but every nerve end was jangling. The girl in question was labelled... and by the person whose opinion probably matters most to her.

I belong to the 'criticise the action not the child' school of parenting. "What a stupid thing to do!" while still not very encouraging, is a long way from being inescapably labelled a stupid person.

Let me hasten to say that I haven't always got it right and I still fail daily. I am no paragon. In fact, I am deeply grateful that I am counterbalanced by John's more phlegmatic nature, and that I don't have to handle this alone. Not for the first time, I am reminded at the enormity of the task of parenting and I am in awe of single parents (among which are numbered my own mother and my sister) who manage without burning out completely.

We have an expression in South Africa that translates as "my harvest is still green in the field." In other words, I am not really in a position to give advice on this, because my child rearing is still ongoing, and much may yet go wrong!

It made me think of the Dorothy Law Nolte's guideline for raising children. It's probably very cheesy... until you're a parent... or until you realise how much your own subconscious responses are the product of your upbringing:

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

When I got home from the shop I had to find a pretext to get my boys in the same room as me, just so I could look at them with my head cocked to one side and do a stock take of what it is they're learning from John and me.

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