I can’t pass a bookrack without looking at the titles, always searching for information to fill the many holes in my store of knowledge. Last week, I saw a title that promised a successful child if you applied just three principles. Wow, wouldn’t that be wonderful if it were true? With the twists and turns that accompany each child’s perceptions and personality, it would take at least 300 bits of knowledge and wisdom to get through the first month successfully. But I am drawn, without fail, to lists!
“50 Steps to Getting Your Home Organized”
“7 Steps to Losing 50 Pounds”
“The 3 Quick Ways to Get Rich”
I kick myself if I actually purchase such a book, because it is always some version of the following:
To get your house organized in 50 steps is to throw 50 things away in each room
The seven steps to losing 50 pounds is not to eat one bite for seven days, and
The three ways to get rich are 1) find money 2) steal money or 3) marry money.
I cheated this time and just looked to see what three things I needed to know to produce a successful child without buying the book. It was easy:
1. Be sure your child knows you see him
2. Be sure your child knows you love him
3. Be sure your child knows you appreciate him
EXCUSE ME! These are easy to say but hard to do, and how do you know how to do these things for each individual child? I only had three children, but I did help to raise some others; no child is like another, and the way to each child’s heart and understanding is very unique and almost impossible to figure out. I feel that people who over-simplify information in this way make it even harder for young parents who are struggling to do the best that they can and who won’t know if they have done it “right” for many years. People rarely just have one child, so it fast becomes a “juggling act” on the part of the parents to see, love and accept each child. I once kept siblings for a time who were in a difficult chapter of their lives; our family was seriously interested in helping both children to feel loved and accepted. One of the children was most content when he could stay at home, have no schedule and be surrounded by his new family; the other was motivated and engaged and happy when everyone was going out the door together to do something really “busy” and exciting. I never did figure out how to speak love at the same time to both. It’s one thing to know what a child might need; it’s quite another to understand the child’s personality well enough to see how our attempts are being interpreted by the child. When a child feels he is not being seen, loved or appreciated, I can guarantee you that he is not going to use those words. I once told a concerned parent when her child said, “You don’t love me,” that she could rest assured that the child did not really feel that way at all, because a child who really believed that would never use those words. It’s not all right, in my opinion, for a child to say to a parent lightly or in anger, “You don’t love me.” The parent should say rather abruptly that those words aren’t true and if they are said again the child will be punished for lying, but that parent can know that the child does not believe that he is unloved. Children who feel unloved by a parent would be too afraid to say those words, fearing that they would hear affirmation of the fact.
When I realize the wrong perceptions and misinformation and lack of information that I had as a child, I wonder at the fact that I came through with any semblance of sanity. Adults didn’t explain things to children when I was little, and I was one nosy one, so I just made up facts when I wasn’t given them. No one told me that my mother’s father had died when my mother was 5 years old or that the one in his place was not her real father. This man’s new family was more important to him than the four children that he inherited through marriage; I probably could have understood that had I been told; I just assumed something was wrong with me when my “grandfather” and many of my aunts and uncles liked my cousins better than me. It all worked out because my mother’s siblings favored me, but it was unsettling. Other things like divorce, affairs, nervous breakdowns and suicide attempts were never talked about to children either but, of course, we heard half-things. It was several years before I would swallow any pill I was given, because I got part of the story that my neighbor died because he took pills.
Today’s children probably hear too many things explained, but children fill in the blanks of their knowledge the best they can, so the best attempts by parents are often misinterpreted. One child needs 100 percent attention, one needs much alone time, one responds to gifts, and one feels loved when encouraging words are said. On a different day, these roles can change. What’s a parent to do? Our job is to do some things for them, some things with them and let them learn to do some things for themselves. It will certainly take more than buying a “how-to” book! I don’t have to tell you, young parents, there are no guaranteed three or 300 secrets to successful children, so love them hard, talk with them often and pray even more.
(You can reach Pat Bryson at firstname.lastname@example.org)