I would never try to write the definitive book on parenting because there is no proof that we did it any better as Boomer parents than previous generations. I would like to outline my thoughts though on how we tried to be different and our newly discovered liberation of mind and body in the 60s at least allowed us to research ways to be better parents than previous generations because we had better access to information. Did we succeed? Yes I think we did.
My children are all well educated, liberal thinkers who act on their natural traits and accept their uniqueness as individuals. I would like to think that our parenting contributed to their outcome as great citizens of this world and they too will contribute in many positive ways during their journey of life. I bet though that they try and be better parents than us and will try and do it differently again.
Of all the roles we have to face in our lives, parenting has to be one of the more difficult. It should be easy after all, isn’t just about giving a child their basic needs? Everyone thinks they can do it easily, do it better than previous generations especially our parents and better than others but the paradox is that it is not easy. For instance, it requires you to go against innate feelings of fairness when you are dealing with your children and you realize that what you are doing and the decisions you make for your children can be a matter of life and death. Parenting is that serious and is best described as tough love.
Most of us look at the efforts of our own parents and pick it to pieces. They were too hard on us or too soft; they didn’t make us study harder or try harder at a sport; they failed to understand our needs as individuals and should never have laid a hand on us; they argued too much or drank too much; they didn’t care about us enough and they divorced and didn’t consider our needs at the time. We would do it differently, be more successful and our children would be better off than what we were. Does this all sound familiar?
We all think we can do parenting better than anyone else because our children will be perfect. They will do what they are told immediately, never argue, never get into trouble, have perfect manners, consider others at all times, succeed at school in all subject areas and become outstanding citizens of tomorrow. Through all this we will remain good friends, be respectful of each other and love each other in spite of our differences.
I think you have the picture by now so I will cease the sarcastic tone. The reality is that kids have attitude from their earliest years and they are individuals. Your role as a parent is crucial to their positive development.
The philosopher Gilbrand best sums up Boomer parenting in this verse:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows go forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might that His arrows
may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the Archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves
also the bow that is stable.
We need to understand therefore, that it is neither sensible nor healthy for our children to stay with us forever. We have a job to do with them in preparing them for life and we have them for around 18 to 20 years to do that job.
After that, the parenting role should end and the friendship role begins because if we have completed the role successfully then they will want to expand their horizons and will feel skilled and independent enough to want to leave and pursue their own interests.
So let’s not get ahead of ourselves, let’s go back to the very beginning. Go back to their birth and even the decision to have children. Couples should be seating down together then and discussing what is really involved in being a parent.
We need to read some good books on the subject and commit to the effort required to be a good parent. Children do not ask to be brought into the world. It is a decision made by two adults (in the main) and that decision should not be taken lightly.
Parenting will require sleepless nights, understanding, patience and commitment amongst many things and it will change the rather selfish life you have known as a single person or a childless couple. The newly born child cannot afford for you to make a commitment to be a parent and then decide it is too hard and walk away from the role.
The truth is that you can no longer go to nightclubs, parties and many social events and drink in access. You have given up the right to do that when you become a parent because that child needs you for security, safety, love and guidance and it is not a part-time role.
In my journey of parenting, I have seen many young couples not coping with parenthood but one couple in particular were so drunk at a party I attended that they had both collapsed in the centre of a room and yet they had a young child with a babysitter at home.
This is a good example of the pressure that comes from early parenting and how important it is that one parent stays sober for instance and accepts the responsibility of nurturing the child. The unwritten law of caring couples is to take turns for alcohol consumption when socializing because a sick child in need of medical attention during the night will need a driver.
Many young people in the Y and Z generations of today lack direction in life because their parents have given up on the parenting role and given in to their demands .These children have no routine and no boundaries. We won’t get too far ahead of ourselves though; let’s start with the birth of the child and the first phase of parenting.
A committed couple have already prepared for the child as they will have talked about how they want their child raised, where they want to live; what spiritual input they want for their children and general discussions about when to conceive.
Once the time has arrived to have a family then the first step is to be supportive of each other through the conceiving process. Contrary to what you may have thought and heard, it is not easy to conceive as your partner may have undiagnosed problems so if conception is not happening within a reasonable amount of time then a doctor’s advice is needed.
Once we have a pregnancy then the fun begins. Parents must take birth classes and know what has to be done to be supportive of each other during birth. This is not optional and any couple that neglect to do so are risking too much that something may go wrong during the birth process and things can and do go wrong. Too many young parents are putting their heads in the sand on this topic and risking too much through their ignorance.
Women need to know their options when dealing with the pain of birth and guys need to be aware of how they can be supportive during the labour period. Your reward will come at birth and I guarantee you it is awesome moment for the majority of couples to see the baby born
Parenting classes are run in all communities and this is a must for both future parents to attend. Any guy who does not attend is letting their partners down as they need a lot of support during the birth process. That means that every guy has to sacrifice his sport or Xbox game and be there so he can support the birth process. No excuse is acceptable.
The actual birth is something no guy will regret attending anyway even if most women will want to forget it as soon as possible after their trying time giving birth. We guys get to hold the baby in our arms and it is a special moment when they open their eyes and stare at you. It is the moment that defines your future role as they are depending on you and your partner from then on. It is a moment that will be embedded in their minds forever. Unfortunately, it will be one of the last peaceful moments that she will have for some time so enjoy it.
It is very important also that a nursery of some form has been prepared for the baby before it is released from hospital because you want good habits and routine for the baby from the very first night so take the time to make it happen because there is little time for this after the birth.
Lots of stimulating toys placed strategically around the nursery and/or hangers from the ceiling so that their many hours of cot time will have them occupied with something to look at and something to hear.
Lots of different music will also entertain them and placate them which will reap rewards later in their upbringing. Classical music was played to my youngest and he now listens and enjoys it as a teenager. Also, with a little bit of luck and the gift of a healthy baby then they shouldn’t just want you all the time as they are preoccupied.
Okay, you are ready so let’s bring them into the world.
Your Child at Birth.
What a privilege it is to see a child born and indeed be a parent. You will cradle it and look into your baby’s eyes and will be overcome by the realization that you are now responsible for this tiny person surviving and your parenting will have such an influence on how they cope with life in general and how well prepared they are for it. They are unable to cope with any part of life at birth so the teaching faze, your parenting that is, begins.
The first night when the baby is home and the ensuing few months after it are almost like a blur. This tiny person has entered your peaceful home and you can not begin to realize what is required to satisfy the never-ending demands. Constant crying to inform you that they are hungry, wet, tired or frightened will become part of the daily ritual.
You will eventually learn what the cry is for and the many community health clinics, other mothers, friends and families will be both supportive and informative and you will get through it.
Sleep deprivation or lack of sleep for those who don’t want to be technical about it, is a huge problem for the baby and the parents and when the baby finally is asleep then you should also rest no matter what the time. Your thinking will become skewed if you become over tired and the baby may become the enemy.
Use Google and the library for information so you have an idea of your baby’s individual needs and ask for help if you need it. There are no medals for martyrs in this role. In fact, you will be given little praise as parenting is your problem. Solve the problem and that is reward enough. You have done it for your child and no one can love a child like their birth parents. Others give love but nothing like a parent’s love which is unconditional.
There are a few general rules to obey here for the sake of survival. The first one is to make sure there is a routine for the baby. We all tend to be extra cautious in the first weeks and the baby stays in our bed or near it so you can keep a watchful eye on it.
Listen to its breathing and react to cries. You will develop skills to cope but the baby must be put down to sleep in its own bed as soon as possible. There will be a negative reaction at first as they miss your comforting hold but they, and you, need sleep.
The cute stage will stop once the baby has woken you five times or more during the night but maternity nurses and community health will support your problems during this time.
Feeding problems, expressing problems, colic, reflux and many other foreign terms will become part of your life. The first time the term ‘tough love’ comes into your life. You may need to let your child cry themselves to sleep so you can also sleep
The rule therefore for the first 12 months is to seek advice/information as you require and follow a path of routine.
This is a lovely time for couples as many friends and relations visit and the baby receives lots of attention. There can never be too much love but stick to your routine even if you have to be assertive with people and tell them it is time to go home so baby, and you, can rest.
Watch out for ‘Uncle Harry’ or anyone who wants to shake the child and throw them into the air to an extent were they are too hyped up to sleep once the visitor has gone. This does not help your cause in any way.
Look for ways to stimulate the baby by playing soft music or having things from the ceiling so they are focused on their environment. A well prepared nursery will have covered all that. No soft toys in the cot for safety sake and baby is always on their back for sleep.
A good parent must also realize that the baby is held to support the neck and requires special equipment for prams and cars. There are a number of supportive carriers that allow parents to carry baby with them to shopping, socializing, work or training. You can live quite a normal life but you have an extra appendage.
This period will be one of the most frantic, worrying, caring, joyous and fulfilling of your life as you watch the baby grow into stage two, the toddler.
Don’t forget to celebrate the birth with friends and family when you are up to it as it is your moment to show your joy and love for your child. This is the child’s network of support for the future and many of these people will be there for birthdays, graduations, Xmas and special events. We need to celebrate life.
Finally, remember self care. You need time out so find the time and forget the guilt for you are doing it to be a better parent.
Life with a Toddler
Just when you think you have this parenting role all worked out, the baby grows into a toddler and stage two of the parenting role begins. This means back to the reference books and Google because toddlers require a new approach.
No longer is the baby in need of you for everything as they have learned to do a few things for themselves. Like throwing food, toys and any object that can become a projectile, walking to wherever they want to be and doing what they want to do.
They have learned through a series of experiments and tests what buttons to press to receive a reaction from you and that a smile can receive a good reaction but a scream can also receive your full attention. Just as a scientist tests animals for their reaction in a laboratory, a baby tests you every day.
This is the beginning of the rapid learning stage for you and them as the first five years is crucial to their development with motor and cognitive skills or in layman’s terms, the body movements and the way they think.
You need, as a parent, to devote yourself to them. Lots of trips to the park and playgrounds, playgroups, building type toys, books to be read to them until they learn how to read, lots of social interaction with other toddlers, child care, music, art, dancing.
The list is endless but you will be setting them up for a fulfilling life if you make the effort.
It is not easy though. Terms used by parents such as ‘the terrible twos’ have become legendary for good reason but it comes with the role of parenting. It is time for them to learn about discipline. Your reaction to their behavior and ability to cope with it and to use the word NO is extremely important and, as I stated earlier, life changing.
The number of children that have died early because the statement ‘no’ that was issued by their parent in a dangerous situation but was ignored by a toddler because it meant nothing to them. Your voice has to change in tone for certain situations especially dangerous ones.
People will tell you that smacking a child is not to be encouraged. I would agree that if you can get them through to school without smacking them then you should try. But each child has their own nature and some will really test you. My eldest daughter was very willing whereas her little sister was placid.
There are times though that a child is so willing to try you out that you once again have to revert to ‘tough love’ and a light tap on the bottom when your request has not been obeyed in life threatening situations will at least make them think the second time it happens.
To loose a child so early is devastating to all and discipline may help prevent that loss in many cases. You must stay in control and be the parent even if it hurts you. Remember parenting is a role and will not last forever.
I have met parents who have lost a toddler in tragic circumstances and they blame themselves for a long time after the accident if not for the rest of their lives. In one case the family was in the garden together and the child ran onto the road even with the parents pleading with him to stop. He was hit by a passing car which then includes a driver in the lifetime blame game. So tones of voice are important and they must know your serious voice means danger.
Once again you will be supported through this period by toddler professionals if you need it and your doctor or the children’s hospital will give your child priority in an emergency situation. Child care professionals are trained in child development so that is why your toddler should have some child care experience. You need some feedback on your child’s development in case there is something you have not noticed.
Remember the health aspect as they are building an immune system and will be constantly unwell. Hospitals are open all night so do not hesitate taking your toddler to them if you are worried about their health at any time of the day.
There is also a nurse now available 24 hours who you can phone if you are unsure of a medical situation.
Many of these childhood illnesses will disappear as they grow. Allow them time with other children playing or in the yard or park so they are exposed to germs and can build that immunity that will be there for a lifetime.
You will be overawed at how quickly they develop in this toddler period and there really are no restrictions on what learning activity they are exposed to as long as your watchful eye has checked out potential dangers and to pick them up and hug them if they fail some tasks they try. One of life’s lessons is that we can fail at things and move on with support if needed.
Failure is a learning experience in itself and develops their character and understanding of others. We are all individuals and deserve to be ourselves without the fear of being made feel guilty.
Success is also worth celebrating and there can be lots of happy moments for the family as they try and succeed at different tasks.
The School Child
In the blink of eye or so it seems, your children are ready to go to a learning institution of some sort and stage three of the parenting role begins. Whether it be family day care, kindergarten, prep school, child care at first but then the big one- Year One at school.
By the time they are eight years of age then you have developed the man or women you will see in twenty years time so these are important years of development and must be planned accordingly. It is too late to plan their education at high school.
Just as you agonized over what suburb to live in to raise your children, picking a school or any educational group is just as daunting. It is important that you talk to other parents about the culture of the schools you are considering or organisation you leave your child with and perhaps visit the schools and talk to staff at an appropriate time.
We choice a school that was close to a university as the parents were keen to have their children mix it with other kids that were motivated. This was a successful strategy academically as all our children choose a professional career and went to university but they felt the challenge socially as there was some economic snobbery that they had to deal with because of the schools we choose but they survived.
It taught them in reality to be themselves and have others accept you for what you are rather than the importance of the house you live in or the amount of money you have in the bank.
We had no hesitation in visiting the school and talking to teachers to show to them and the children that we were interested in their development.
It was also necessary to volunteer for working bees at school, attend sporting events and serve on the P& C Committee.
There was no pressure put on individual children to succeed. We allowed them to develop at their own pace.
The Teen Years
The final stage of parenting is the teenage years and there is little I can say about these years as they are very much about understanding. Understanding as a parent that your children are no longer just listening to you but to their teachers, sports coaches and their peers as role models. You see, you have already made the foundations for them so they can build their lives on so you can now just be there for them if you are needed.
They will still need your support both financially and emotionally and the many changes to their thinking, their bodies and their way of lives will cause them all sorts of angst and some for you as well I am sure you are aware of.
My best advise here would be to never forget your own teen years and how much your parents annoyed you, to keep the ‘we are friends’ angle going as long as possible and to forgive them when they do make mistakes which they invariably will.
It is important though that you remember that a mature body does not necessarily mean a mature mind and you must fulfill your role as a parent right up until they have become legally adults.
I gave my seventeen year old son and ultimatum that he abide by the household rules or moves out and he choose to move out. At least we choose his new home together and he knew I was not throwing him out but ‘tough love’ means you make your stand against them when you have to. We are still good mates and he confirmed that it was best he left home at the time but he wishes he had stayed a little longer.
The key to successful parenting for Boomers was our ability to treat our children as friends most of the time and talk to them about any subject. You had to be seen as fair and not tell them that they couldn’t do things like take drugs, eat chocolate, and drink if you weren’t prepared to explain to them why they shouldn’t.
I remember one of my daughters at sixteen was smoking marijuana with friends and she could not see a problem. I told her I would not stop her doing it but would ask that because we were good friends that she at least check on Google what the harmful effects of the drug were and if she could tell me that she was aware of the long term consequences such as schizophrenia then I would not stand in her way. She choose to give it away after her research.
There was many an occasion I had to tell them that it was time for my parent role when they did something wrong and as much as it hurt me to do it I had an obligation to play the role of fair but firm parent. It was also pointed out that I really did not want to be the mean parent and would prefer the friend’s role which they agreed was the best role for all concerned.
My eight year old son looking at porn sites is another example. We had a quiet talk and I told him that he was not in trouble for looking at the sites because that is a natural curiosity for his age group but as a parent I had to ask him to trust me that it was too early for that information to come into his life and I wanted him to enjoy his childhood while he could.
There would be time later to expand his knowledge of all things sexual but this was not the time. Further checks on the computer revealed he had listened to me and not persisted with that education.
Today the parent role is long gone and I have four really good friends in my life and we love and support each other whenever we can. Good luck with your journey but I can tell you that it was the best time of my life those parenting years and I loved and enjoyed all of them.