March is Parenting Awareness month - definitely a big subject. There are probably as many styles of parenting as there are parents. So I decided not to focus on the how of parenting but rather to focus on that part of parenting I consider to be the vital part of parenting - the part that lives on.
When I was a kid, it was perfectly acceptable to let your kids sprawl on their bellies in the luggage compartment of your station wagon with the back window wide open, playing a board game while you travelled. It was OK to run into the grocery store for an hour, leaving your kids in the car. It was OK to swat your kid's behind when he kicked his brother. It was OK for teachers to paddle your kids with a wooden paddle. My mom joined us on the roof to sunbathe after coating ourselves with baby oil and iodine. We jumped on our bikes, hair streaming behind us and took off through traffic for the other side of town. When my children were babies, we were taught to lay them on their bellies, swaddled in a blanket.
Now for today's world. ... Kids are in car seats, booster seats or seatbelts. If you leave your kids in the car or swat a behind in public, you're liable to show up on YouTube for the world to see. We slather our children with sunscreen, put helmets on their heads, and parents fear SIDS every time their baby rolls from "Back To Sleep" to his belly.
Let me be clear. I am not faulting all of these changes in recommendations. They have a good basis with an end result of safer children. But these are part of what you would call society-driven parenting and vary with culture and era. I'm sure there will be future changes in things we are taught as society changes and as more knowledge is available. Certainly nurturing your child and doing your utmost to keep him safe is an important part of parenting. I'm thinking, though, that vital parenting is not so much the how but, rather the way your values manifest and live on in your child. This part is about how you love your kids and pass your values on.
Let me use my family as an example. My parents were Hoosiers, born and raised in rural Indiana farm country who were also medical missionaries to Central America. These are the things I internalized and credit to their parenting - I learned it's OK to pay your medical bills by giving the doctor (my dad) some chickens - money isn't everything. I learned the color of a person's skin or the language he speaks doesn't change how trustworthy or loving he is. Everybody's hearts are the same color. I learned your family is your center, throughout your whole life, and people who love each other hug and praise each other a lot. I learned being trusted means telling the truth and vice versa.
What does all this mean? It means "love your kids." Find things they do right and tell them regularly. If you love ice fishing, quilting or music, share it and pass that love to your kids. Be kind to your neighbors (and your babydaddy/babymama/ex's). Don't badmouth them within earshot of your kids. That way, hopefully, your kids will be kind to their classmates and not rip them to pieces on Facebook. Be kind to your children, even when they're on your very last nerve. Whether your family roots are Finnish, Tribal or Hoosier, like mine, plant them deep in your kids so those roots will support them as they grow. Kindness, patience and empathy are the tools of vital parenting.
That being said, kids are the most frustrating creatures on earth. Accept it. They were not put in this world to make life easy or to love us, respect us, obey us or please us. They're here because we put them here. To get an end result of love, respect and obedience, we have to make sure they are living what we want them to learn. No matter what kind of parent you've been in the past, if you love your child, your child needs to know it. This includes young children, teenagers and adult children who've come back home.
Children Learn What They Live
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
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
Editor's note: Sherry Gilliland is a pediatrician at the Baraga County Memorial Hospital Physician Group.