Parenting the Big Picture

It seems that most parenting books, in any given parenting philosophy, focus on the outcome. Do this, and your children will do that. Don’t do that, or your children will do this.

To some extent we all parent with the outcome in mind. We’d be all Lord of the Flies about parenting if we weren’t. We want our kids to be free thinkers, strong, independent, happy, smart about money, responsible, kind, empathetic, and on and on and on. In other words, we want them to be everything and in perfect quantities of it all.

Practically perfect in every way

Most parents realize that that particular goal is ridiculous and we’re setting ourselves and our children up for many issues if we keep holding to that ideal. But still, there is a part in many of us and a huge part in some of us who want to, for better or worse, tie our parenting prowess and skill in to how our children behave and who/what they become.

A big issue with this is that you people just don’t know what you’re doing! To raise money smart kids, you should give them an allowance to manage. No, wait. You should make them earn that money through chores. Wait, chores are part of being a family so you should only have them earn it through extra chores and not regular ones. Wait, no, there are kids as young as 5 picking cocoa beans somewhere out there so if Junior wants a new pack of Pokemon cards, he better get to work.

See what I mean? So many ways to get to the same outcome and yet we stress and debate and weigh our options as though one of those ways is the best (one clue, it isn’t the last option I presented). Demand respect and your children will respect you. Wait, no, respect your children and they will respect you. Make them say I’m sorry so they’ll learn humility. No, wait, model apologies and they’ll learn sincerity. Wait, have them beat the crap out of each other and let the conch sort it out. Oops, sorry. Lord of the Flies moment.

Besides there not being one agreed upon and proven method to get from point A to point B, there are a few dangers of letting outcome based parenting take over. The major one is that it takes your child clear out of the equation. If you are respectful, gentle and kind, then your child will behave respectfully, gently and kindly. Period. End of story. The child and the child’s strengths, weaknesses, personality and own life experiences are meaningless. That’s pretty much the opposite of the outcome we want, isn’t it? To render our children meaningless in our quest for perfection in our parenting would be missing the mark <— understatement of the year.

Another danger is that we then take the “outcome” and turn it to judge the parenting. If a child hits, the parents did something wrong. If a teenager tries drugs, the parents did something wrong. If the child qualifies for a full ride to college, the parents did something right (and if you can tell me what that is you did, I’d appreciate it). Again, we’re taking the child and his strengths and weaknesses out of the equation but now we’re also judging others.

A third danger of the philosophy of outcome based parenting is that we take the “outcome” and turn it to judge ourselves. We usually call it “mommy guilt.” I did it when Xander first presented his delays. I clearly didn’t talk to him enough, engage him enough, read to him enough, etc. At the time I didn’t know it but I was presuming that I had some type of control over his neurology. Clearly, I didn’t have any more to do with his developmental delays as I have credit for Eli’s parlor trickesque ability to do math computations.

So what’s this parenting thing all about if we aren’t here to push and pull our children down a path? If they are who they are, why bother trying?

She’s just happy to be here.

Any given human being is born with strengths and weaknesses. What we hopefully teach them is how to use those to be good, to be kind, and to be productive. We do teach our children to love. We teach them to trust. We help form the filter from which they will process everything they see and hear and feel. We teach them that it is not only ok to be different from everyone else, but it’s imperative to peace that we allow others to be different from us.

When we see our children fall short of our lofty ideals, we need to take a step back and see the whole picture and make sure that whole picture includes the unique person they have always been.

4 thoughts on “Parenting the Big Picture

  1. I adore this post! So true, and so important. I do think our purpose as parents is to keep them safe (as in mostly unharmed in any lasting way, bruises and scrapes certainly present life lessons otherwise unlearnable), and help them with the social, learned skills (empathy, love, kindness, a sense of humour etc). Its hard though, with all the other pressures. But what a lovely reminder of an article. Thank you! :)

    • There are a lot of pressures. It’s hard to keep the big picture in mind when your bigger-than-a-toddler is having a meltdown at the park and everyone is staring at you. I have to have this conversation with friends every so often to keep my goals clear in my head.

      • Been there. Surrounding yourself with friends who can sympathize and/or “get it” is the biggest help, imo. Anytime I see a parent struggling with a child in mid-meltdown, I look over at them and smile like, “Not only have I been there, but you’ve got nothing but love here.” I wonder if people who shoot horrible, ugly glances at you in those moments know how hurtful they are being. Or, if the people who look at you knowingly and smile know how helpful that is.

        ~Daniél

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