Before I became a parent, I thought I fully knew what it meant to unconditionally love another individual. Probably because I was a newlywed who was so twitterpated (see Bambi) that loving my new bride was a cinch. She was pretty, she liked me, and she never (well, rarely) threw tantrums or did anything that drove me crazy. As a wise man once said:
“It is easy to be [loving] when things are calm and life is good and everything is going smoothly. The test is when there is real difficulty, when there is pressure and fatigue, anger and fear…Can we be [loving] then?”
As my wife and I began to have children I remember thinking that I was a pretty patient guy. HA! I have found that my patience was the equivalence of Captain America before he was injected with the stuff that made him ripped. I was a complete wimp when it came to patience!
Raising children can be one of the most deeply rewarding yet exhaustingly difficult experiences one can have. Sometimes, however, we try to make parenting easier by using quick-fix strategies that can actually be bad for our child’s development. Let me illustrate with a personal experience.
Moms Complain Too Much
Several years ago, I worked as a tennis instructor while preparing for graduate school. My employer at the time pulled me aside and said
“I don’t know what all these moms are complaining about. I raised two boys on my own and it was a piece of cake!”
He then went on to tell me his “wise” methods for making child rearing easy, which mostly involved providing for his sons’ physical needs (i.e., food and clothing). That conversation stuck with me over the next several years as I studied and worked with parents who all seemed to be having a much more difficult time than this man had had with his boys. I wondered: Did he have a special pill or a magic wand to make parenting easier? Did he have the stuff Captain America was injected with that made him emotionally and psychologically buff? If so, he could make a fortune if he shared his secrets with the world!
Real Parenting is Not for Wimps!
Through the years, my former employer’s philosophy on the ease of child rearing has become increasingly foreign to me. My wife and I often have often encountered difficulty in raising our four children. If children just required physical care like needing a roof over their heads, clothing on their backs, and food in their bellies, then I would agree with my old boss. Child rearing isn’t that hard; in fact, it’s not that different from having a pet!
However, providing for our children’s emotional and intellectual needs requires a continual herculean effort. Parenting expert Alfie Kohn put it this way:
Even when we’re trying to meet all of our child’s needs, we may give in to the temptation to seek for quick, easy answers when difficulty arises. The advanced industrial and technological age in which we live has only fueled this craving for quick solutions. Additionally, we may dismiss a really strong, evidence-based parenting principle because it requires effort and patience to see its effectiveness.
If I could summarize a lot of the questions I hear from parents regarding their children, I believe it would be something like:
“How can I get my child to do/not do ____________?”
The implied assumption in such a question is that getting our children to start and stop certain behaviors is our end goal as parents. We just need to find the right technique to merely get our children to do whatever it is we want. Sounds easy enough to me!
Except we parents know that our children are much more than a series of desirable and undesirable behaviors. Perhaps we parents should be asking something more like:
“What does my child need, and how can I meet those needs?”
The Stuff of Growth Was Never Made of Ease
We want them to become something, not just jump through our hoops. Unlike Captain America’s transformation, we must always remember that
If we want to help our children improve, we should seek to improve too. Let us always remember that growth in any area of life is gradual, and it cannot happen without some opposition. There’s no serum or pill that can cause anyone in your family—including you—to become something overnight! Keep a long-term perspective. Avoid any parenting advice that may cause you to neglect any critical area in your child’s development. With work and sound evidence-based principles (not quick-fix strategies), you and your children will get there — a little at a time.
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