Lessons in parenting: Bring a role model of goodness, perhaps faith, to kids' lives
Being a birth parent, an adoptive parent, a step-parent, a Godparent, a grandparent, a foster parent is exhausting and exhilarating.
It might be the most important job we will ever have. Still, we’re not really ready. We’re anxious, yet excited. How do we prepare for this significant role in our lives?
Generations ago, elders provided examples and sometime words of advice — what to do and not do. They weren’t necessarily all-knowing, just experienced with years of practice behind them.
Then after World War II, American pediatrician, Dr. Benjamin Spock changed the world a bit by writing a book to help parents. His book, "The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care," initially published in 1946 had people reading or at least talking about his ideas and then deciding how to parent. After all, Spock gave us confidence. Multiple editions, translations, and spin-off books by Spock followed.
His first baby book took over not only where parents and others turned to for advice, it also changed the book business and perhaps the how-to book explosion. Suddenly, there was a major market for book-buying parents of all kinds and lots of folks jumped on board, including yours truly.
With Co-Author Elizabeth Gregg, I wrote, "Growing Wisdom Growing Wonder, Helping Your Child To Learn From Birth Through Five Years." New York: Macmillan Publishing Co. Inc. 1980. Gregg and I met while teaching in a small private preschool, The Country Play School, in Great Falls, Virginia. She taught 2 year olds; I taught 4s.
Although we were responsible for having enough Play-Doh ready for each little set of hands and knowing the best way to avoid tussles over toy trucks, we both were fascinated by children’s minds. How did they go from a pudgy blob of a baby to a sturdy first-grader ready for school? We kept asking and watching the children in our care develop.
"Growing Wisdom, Growing Wonder" was designed to be a book for parents, and those who work with children, explaining how babies, toddlers and preschoolers make sense of their world. Sales were helped enormously by the preface written by T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., who became Dr. Spock’s replacement as the pediatric guru in the baby advice world. Brazelton’s book, "Infants and Mothers: Differences in Development," published in 1969 began a series of his how-to books, 24 in all, as well as a television show and newspaper column.
When Gregg and I finished wrestling with the complex epistemological query of how knowledge is acquired in young children, which took years to figure out to our satisfaction, we began to focus on the social and emotional lives of youngsters, she as a private psychotherapist and me as an administrator in elementary and middle schools.
More and more, it was obvious to us, and to the teachers we worked with, that children who came to school grasping their already formulated role in society thrived in all aspects of schooling. They understood basic behavioral expectations: respecting authority, following rules, sharing, listening to others and speaking effectively rather than using fists or four-letter words, understanding every person matters, appreciating differences, and managing emotions effectively. They were noticeably loved and thus loved others in return.
Once again, we questioned, how does this happen? I’m convinced, as was Gregg that early childhood rearing practices have a lot to do with next steps in school, on a soccer team, in a work environment.
My advice from years of observing children adapt successfully — don’t treat your daughter as a princess, your son as a prince. This approach, despite being well-intended perhaps, speaks to a child’s role as royalty, not real life as a member of a family.
Rather, teach your child how to be kingly and queenly. Respected monarchs and leaders throughout history, as well as people recognized as insightful parents, are calm, centered and caring. As much as it might be out of fashion today — they live to serve, not be served. They work hard, planning, protecting others and honoring their purpose.
Find a role model for your child — a saint, a sage, a scholar — but truly there is none better than Christ the King or Mary, Queen of Heaven and Earth.
Judy Knotts is a parishioner of St. John Neumann Catholic Church and former head of St. Gabriel's Catholic School and St. Michael's Catholic Academy. Her newest book, "You Are My Brother," is a collection of past American-Statesman faith columns.