Just throwing a bit of fairly ham-fisted pop psychology out there…get ready for lots of rhetorical and possibly unanswerable questions…
My long term parenting goal (can you have parenting goals? Am I losing already?) is to raise happy children. In the grand scheme of things, the worst outcome I could imagine for my adult child is a life of unhappiness and sadness. Regardless of whatever petty and supersilious annoyances I might have on a day-to-day basis…
“I don’t like that girl he’s knocking around with”
“But why accountancy, of all things?”
“I wish he’d just pull his damn trousers up”
“Would you just rinse the cereal out of the bowl when you’re finished?!”
“Don’t you treat this house like a hotel”
…ad nauseum, I don’t care how they live, what they do, what choices they make – as long as it makes them happy and doesn’t hurt anyone else.
I want my children to be confident, loving, happy within themselves, and well able to communicate their feelings. I want them to learn about the things that they want to learn but also expose them to a broad spectrum of ideas and interests so they know the breadth and depth of life and what’s out there for them to experience and make their own. I want them to feel and know that they’re loved. Even if they don’t want to come for dinner on Sundays.
Obviously, I’m not wholly responsible for the happiness of my future adult children. People make their own choices and live by them. But being a parent means you are responsible for how they grow up. I’m reminded here of the Philip Larkin poem “This Be The Verse”. (“They fuck you up, your mum and dad“…remember it now? 🙂 ) It’s true, but the opposite can be true as well. This is why we freak out at the notion of the responsibility of parenthood. I’d say we’re all fairly clear on what we think our own parents did wrong and what they did right. So the challenge is set!
So let’s say you raise happy children who grow up to be happy adults, does that mean that they won’t be successful? Now, when I say “successful”, I mean, President of the United States successful (completely impossible for an Irish child I know but stay with me), Steve Jobs successful, Oprah Winfrey successful, Melissa Meyer succesful, Richard Branson successful, Madonna successful, Adriana Huffington successful, Anna Wintour successful. Do highly driven, motivated people come from well balanced, happy, loving, nurturing, accepting homes? Or do you need a parent with high expectations and standards, be it encouraging or pressurising, hot housing or supporting high achieving from childhood? Do happy children grow up to be happy adults with a-okay, run of the mill lifes, jobs and experiences? (nothing wrong with that, by the way. In fact pretty damn good).
The reason I like the attachment parenting philosphy is because it’s gentle, empathetic and intuitive but at the same time recognises that your children are individuals who need to be nurtured to realise their own wants and desires, whatever they may be. I like parenting this way because it feels right to me, not because it’s the way I think it should be done. It’s also a nice way of parenting. I don’t like shouting and screaming or fighting and laying down the law in a “my way or the highway” style. I also don’t like forcing anyone to do anything they really don’t want to do. I think there’s reasonable ways of avoiding the stress of all of that negativity. Not easy ways, mind you, but other ways nonetheless. What will the consequence of this parenting be? I have a friend who wants successful – read very wealthy – children. Her hothousing plans are already in place. What’s the consequence there?
So here are my big pop psychology questions:
- Does my parenting style mean my children won’t reach their full potential?
- Does a child need to have a “lack” in their lives to develop the hunger they need for super success – a lack of love, a lack of acceptance, a lack of confidence or validation maybe?
- Do children need strict discipline and an overbearing supervision a la Tiger Mama to raise themselves above the crowd?
- Can you be successful and happy or does a strive for success mean you never are?
- Does any of the above matter?
I think the answer to the last question is probably “not if your children are happy“.