• Parenting Recipes Do Not Make Good Children

    Parenting children is probably the most important, difficult, and thankless job in existence. I should know, I am the father of two girls (one is 30 years old and the other is 29). I have heard many people say things about their parenting methods, such as: “I raise my kids the way my parents raised me” (while complaining about the things that their parents did), “I am doing the best that I can” (then get some help), and “children should be seen and not heard” (This was my father’s favorite). Nobody seems to know the perfect way to raise children. Is there a perfect way?

    When I did a Google search for the term “parenting styles,” I received over 52 million results; the term “parenting experts” gave me over 109 million, and “popular parenting books,” provided more than 32,000 selections. This world is drowning in parenting advice - some of it is good, but much of it is not. There are literally millions of people who think that they know better than everybody else how to raise a child. Because of this, people have created thousands of books, hundreds of parenting magazines, and millions of videos. Every one of these people claim to have the answer, but very few actually do, and those few are only correct on a single aspect of parenting. It is like somebody holding one piece of a very large jigsaw puzzle and saying that they solved the entire thing.

    Dr. Peggy Drexler (Assistant Professor of Psychology, Author, & Mother) writes in her article “The Uprising of Parenting Experts”:

    “There's nothing wrong with seeking out help.
    Help is great, and for many parents, necessary.
    But at what point does all this help compromise
    our innate ability to parent?”

    The important thing about getting help though, is that you have to verify that it is from a reliable source. There is no absolute answer on how to raise children; there are misunderstandings and misinformation everywhere - even the “experts” disagree with one another. These “experts” (many of which are self-proclaimed) are coming out of the woodwork (celebrities, parenting coaches, pediatricians, therapists, mommy bloggers, nannies, baby nurses, and even strangers on the street). More are arriving every day (talk shows, radio hosts, books, videos, magazines, and websites). Some have respect as famous authors, and some gain respect due to their profession. The vast majority of the advice being forced upon us is coming from strangers with little or no real education on the subject; they are just shouting their advice from the rooftops for anybody that will listen.

    “When does outside help cause us to question our own
    instincts? When does it matter that most child-rearing
    experts don't account for different personalities, growth
    patterns and situations?” ~Dr. Peggy Drexler

    That being said, I will tell you what method of parenting I think is best, but not yet. According to Kendra Cherry (Psychologist, Teacher, and Author), there are four types of parenting styles: Authoritarian (strict rules with no tolerance or forgiveness), Authoritative (more democratic, responsive to the children, willing to listen), Permissive (indulgent, very few demands, rare discipline), and Uninvolved (basic needs met, low responsiveness, little communication). Having been the victim (and beneficiary) of a combination of all four of these styles of parenting, as well as inflicting some of these on my own children, it is the authoritarian style of parenting that has caused me the most damage. I believe that raising a child using only this particular method can bring disastrous results; some of which would need many years of therapy to heal.

    Amy Chua, a well-respected professor at Yale Law School, recently wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal that describes how she raised extremely successful and talented children. It is clear by this article that Chua falls neatly into the authoritarian style of parenting, but not without results. She is absolutely correct that her method can work, yet it can just as easily backfire. When I was very young, my father decided that since I was naturally strong and muscular, I needed boxing lessons. I had a lot of fun; I enjoyed the exercise, practice, and discipline, at least for the first hour. Because I showed early skill, my father forced me to continue into the second and third hour on a daily basis, much like Chua did with her own children. I eventually became very good at it. 2-3 hours of daily exercise and boxing in the ring soon became tedious and was no longer fun. In her article, Chua says “what Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it.” Unlike Chua’s children, who learned to enjoy the violin and piano as their skills increased, I did not. I learned to hate the entire sport of boxing, and to this day will not even watch it. It was not all bad though, I learned discipline and tenacity from that experience (and how to avoid a punch). My father used a combination of authoritarian, authoritative, and sometimes uninvolved parenting styles. It was common to hear phrases like “because I said so,” “you live in my house, you obey my rules,” or “children should be seen and not heard” (and preferably not seen) from him.

    However, if I shared any of his interests (camping, archery, guns, cars, etc.), he became a role-model in that area; my mother used more of a permissive and authoritative mixture of parenting. Both of them together provided many good, as well as some bad experiences. I knew that my parents loved me, but just as Chua writes in her article, verbal abuse was a constant possibility.

    In addition to being involved in my physical fitness, my father was very involved in my education (mostly as a reaction to bad grades though). I remember an incident at the end of a school year. I was hesitant to come home and show my parents the report card I held in my hand. As usual, I had a substantial amount of comments on it about my unsatisfactory behavior due to my general lack of respect for authority figures. Nevertheless, that is not what scared me: I had a ‘D’ in math. If it had been in P.E., an art class, or even in a shop class, it would have been no big deal. My father used math every day in his job and could not understand how somebody would not want excellent math skills. When I arrived home, my mother was there waiting for me with her hand out. Taking the report card from me, she opened it, sighed deeply, and then gave it to my father. What followed was very similar to what Chua describes in her article: lots of screaming and yelling, calling me “stupid,” and “worthless,” and an entire summer of drills and tests (usually overseen by my father or one of my brothers). I would like to say that this was a unique situation. That it was rare for my brothers and I fall victim to this kind of treatment, but it was not. Academic achievement was very important to my parents; low grades were purely a result of laziness. Chua would claim that this type of child rearing is perfectly acceptable if you want successful children. If that is the case, I wonder why only four of the six boys in my family graduated from high school, and only one of those pursued higher education.

    According to Chua, “Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem” (wsj.com). That might be the case in many households, but just like in Chua’s house, my parents were not concerned with my self-esteem. I am not aware of any parents in the 60s and 70s who had that concern. There was no child welfare department back then; parents told their children what to do and they expected them to do it without any disrespect or questions. In my father’s house, that was the way it was, and it was the same for many of my friends. Nowadays, we have a plethora of organizations specifically designed to protect our children from abuse. We have children filing lawsuits against their parents, Child Welfare monitoring every child, and school staff watching for the slightest cut, bruise and misbehavior. You can be turned in by a stranger, or your neighbors for what they consider “child abuse. You are not even allowed to spank your own child without the fear of having that child (and any other children living there) removed from your home and have the possibility of facing criminal charges. It is no wonder that parents today are more concerned about their child’s self-esteem than forcing them to excel in academics, sports, or music (each of which can get you into college) with verbal abuse, physical abuse, or some other punishment. As a society, the United States has become so fearful of the consequences of raising a child; of who is looking over our shoulder, watching for any mistake that we make, that it is becoming increasingly more difficult to raise the “perfect child.” What we are ending up with are selfish, self-absorbed little monsters that will eventually eat us all, and cause the destruction of this country, if not the world.

    I know that good parents love their children and only want what is best for them. But how do you sort through all the noise coming from the overflowing tidal wave of parenting advice and find information that is actually informative and helpful? In a recent parenting article by Darryle Pollack (huffingtonpost.com), she states “with due respect to Dr. Spock, Dr. Brazelton and now Dr. Sears, no one has figured out a fool-proof method of raising perfect children.” We can add Dr. Phil, Dr. Chua, and many others to this list. Although, I do believe that Chua has it partially right; if we raise our children with more tough-love, and become less concerned with their self-esteem, we might, just maybe, produce self-reliant, community-minded, compassionate, intelligent, skilled adults that have something to give back to society. This is a far cry from what we have now.

    Everybody is looking for a recipe that, if they follow it to the letter, they can guarantee the results. Dr. Pollack sums it up nicely: There are no perfect parenting methods, and there are no perfect adults. If you insist on only following a recipe, I will give you the best one I can. If you want to produce an adult like the one I described earlier, you need to gather your ingredients: The authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and uninvolved parenting styles. Take all of your authoritative style (for a good foundation) and add to it equal lesser portions of both the authoritarian and permissive methods (for monitoring the progress, creativity and free expression). Mix it very carefully, and when thoroughly combined, add just a dash of the uninvolved style (for independence and growth). Let it simmer, keep the ingredients balanced for about 18 years, and if you are very lucky (taking into account different personalities, outside influences, and occasional surprises), you just might be rewarded with the result you desired.

    ~Charles P. Scott


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