Perhaps due to my British roots, I am big on good ol’ traditional common sense. For whatever reason, in America people tend to lose their common sense. Politics, academia, diets, and especially in parenting… theories run wild about the best way to do things only to create an extreme worldview that no-one can keep up. The answer, I contend, is not a better philosophy as it is common sense.
Philosophy is important but people do things differently. That is the beauty of this nation. Rarely do you get locked up for your differences, so you can feel free to choose what goals and methods you’d like to use. In the field of parenting, we have become so confused about both goals and methods that the average parent doesn’t know where to start. We end up “winging it” and getting better the second time around because of experience. We might try strange things with our first child—and God tends to give firstborns extra thick blood because of it—but by the second, we settle down a bit. Where we once tried making our own wipes, we now buy Huggies. Where we once ground our own baby food, we now have a jar or two of Gerbers on the shelf with big sister’s graham crackers for back-up. And where we once demonized formula, there’s often a bottle and packet or two of Similac somewhere in the house (just in case). On the other hand, we might be brave enough to try a birthing center or water birth the second or third time around. We might feel grace enough to sling and nurse even if it didn’t work out before. We might take a long maternity leave or join a class soon after birth to avoid the post-partum blues we suspect we’ll have again.
All of this is good. We need to let the religious view of parenting relax a little. Not because we care less but because we care more. We realize how important it is to keep the main thing, the main thing. Stressing over Cheerios versus organic Oatey-Os is no longer worth it. We have to figure out how to tend to a newborn AND help our toddler who is having nightmares. Or our elementary child who is struggling to read. These are the priorities of parenting, and worth our attention.
I write this because I think parenting in America has largely lost its compass. It has lost the fact that we are not raising our children to be children; we don’t need brats, nuisances, trophies, guinea pigs, or the eternal baby. But what we do need eludes us. We don’t know how to get the results we want… is what we want even possible? We don’t know where we’re going so we don’t know how to get there. Expert advice has made it hard for us to answer even the basic questions. All of a sudden everything from childbirth to speech development is under a microscope. Having babies becomes this existential experience that we barely survive, let alone thrive in.
Let me suggest that we are raising our children to be people. They are precious beyond belief, but they will leave us. When they do, our job is to have made them largely functioning people with strong physical, emotional, rational, and moral capacities. If any of these areas are missing, they will be in trouble. We don’t stress over their bodies, feelings, minds, or personalities, but we do look to help them be independent and successful. From day one, we look to make healthy, energetic, bright citizens who stand for something good, know how to work at it, and can withstand the various pressures and temptations of the big, wide world. They will have to chart and navigate themselves through all kinds of choices and storms, as they tread the dear soil of their lives. They will have to give to others but also take care of themselves. They must love. They must give and receive love, or life will not be worth living. This is what we’re looking for. This is where our parenting must take them.
It’s a big job! From the moment they arrive in our eager, trembling arms, we have to prepare to let go. For we don’t really know when our children will leave us. Maybe it will be eighteen years, but maybe it will be tomorrow. Or never. We have to start as we mean to go on, and put all our efforts into believing and obtaining the loving, capable, moral adult we want. If we do that, our parenting can be a success story.
And sometimes achieving that story means abandoning “cool” parenting systems or principles that we have adopted for purely ideological reasons. Or because of pressure. Because if there is one thing that raising a child shouldn’t be, it’s political.
However soon they leave us, and whatever individual potentials they have, they will get closer to the goal as long as we put the effort in. What a blessing! And what a challenge.