Saturday, August 14, 2004

Parenting vs. Raising Your Kids (Part 1)

My partner's best friend and my best friend's partner, respectively, each have a 2-year old. They were both pregnant at the same time, and the babies were born 8 days apart. I love them and they're both great kids; smart, funny, still good spirited. Their parents are pretty grounded and fully understand there is a big difference between parenting and raising your kids.

Since when did child rearing become a science, something that required not only analysis, but could then be put in a book? And is a book, or a whole category of books, appropriate for use in every child rearing situation? If you have to read a book, how prepared are you to have kids? It's not like building a house, something that requires exact measurements, accurate angles and what not. You're bringing up another human. There is poo poo, and puke, there is the occasional blood spill. There is no precision once body fluids are involved.

So what, you ask, is the difference between raising your kids and parenting? Raising your kids is bringing them up with the best info you have, doing the best you can with the resources at hand. You, the parent, are absolutist. There are no choices in bedtime or meal menus. After the age of 3, there are no more rides in the stroller. Wait, you've never heard of the case of the adolescent in the stroller (okay, I'm stretching a bit, but read on)?

I live in Park Slope, a quiet, mostly middle and upper class (depending upon what streets you're on and which avenues border your streets) community that borders Prospect Park, New York's second major park designed by Calvert Vaux. We have at least 3 yoga studios, 3 large health clubs, several therapist offices in the basement of brownstones (townhouses, for you non-New Yorkers), and yes, Virginia, a food coop. The "play date" is big, especially once the school year kicks into high gear -- parents will coordinate to have their child come to your child's house or vice versa so they can play. Parents speak in hushed tones, and many families often hire a nanny, usually a woman between 40 and 60, generally from the Caribbean, to take care of the kids so Dad can play alpha male and Mom can be woman, hear her roar. On the weekends, the nannies go back to their side of Flatbush Avenue, and Mom and Dad take over the child rearing. In addition to the play date, Mom and Dad are quite often seen pushing a child in a stroller. Not just a baby whose walking skills are limited, but a child so big they have to sit sideways in the stroller or their ass will drag the ground. The mega-kid can answer in plain English when asked what he or she would like for dinner. It goes something like this:
Mom: Noah (Adam, Seth, Brett, Henry, or whatever name is trendy), honey, what do you feel like having for dinner?
Child: I think I want pasta with butter and peas.
Mom: You don't want the chicken?
Child: No, I want the pasta.

Now, if you can answer a question in sophisticated enough language, you can get your big ass up and walk. I don't need to play chauffeur. Similarly, you eat what I put in front of you. Since your nanny probably knows more about your child's palate than you do because you're too busy trying to move up the corporate ladder, you're forced to offer choices for dinner, and you silently pray you'll get it right. If you're pushing your kid in a stroller to preschool, you are guilty of parenting.

As I see it, parenting is the desperate attempt to be a perfect parent. You're convinced that your parents scared the crap out of you, forced you to eat carrots, and didn't try to understand you, which made you the whiny, self-loathing, backstabbing snake in the grass you are today. You spent years in therapy wondering if your mother loved you, hoping your father would approve of you, never getting the basic concept that there is no such thing as a perfect child rearing experience. Parents screw up regularly. They are people first. They say things they don't mean. You enter their world subject to their prejudices. They gave you the basics of food, clothing, and shelter, and they hoped they would be able to figure out the extras like teaching you good character, and how to love.

And then there is raising your kids. Raising your kids is the minimum-frills, blessedly imperfect form of parent rearing that does not give a child more than she should have. Whatever food is on the table is what you're eating. Your parent knows you well enough to not force you to eat fish if you genuinely don't like it, but there is no menu to choose from. Your parent is not your friend, and isn't giving wiggle room in matters of discipline. Nap time, homework time, curfews, are not negotiable. The parent is Grand Poobah -- rules are set, and you follow along. Believe it or not, it works.

Letting your kids "express themselves" by running around a restaurant and disturbing the other patrons is parenting. Firmly grabbing your kid by the arm and saying "I am only going to tell you once to sit down" is raising your kids. Allowing your child to ride his scooter to school, followed by your dragging it home is parenting. Walking your kid to school with only the bag and the lunch (because he doesn't need anything else) is raising your kids. Pushing your kid in a stroller to karate class, with said child in a uniform with a yellow belt -- think about it; it takes time and development of skill to earn the next color-- is parenting. If they can study karate and excel in it, they can walk. Walking your child to karate class and practicing your moves is raising your kid.

From where I stand, I think some parents are so relieved to have kids that they treat them like guests -- set out the good china, put the good sheets on the bed, cook the best food, don't yell or you'll wake them. Yes, your children did not ask to be here, and you should treat them as though they are special, because they are, but they aren't your friends. Your kids will occasionally hate you for laying down the law, but that comes with the territory. How many times have you lived with what you thought was a crappy decision only to appreciate it later? I'm not suggesting you feed your kids bread and water and treat them as though they were in jail, but stop trying to create the perfect child-parent experience. It won't happen. Love them and accept that you won't get it right all the time.


Blogger roy said...

"Since when did child rearing become a science, something that required not only analysis, but could then be put in a book?"

Since around the time business administration, journalism, communications, interpersonal relations, etc., became courses of university study.

In other words, around the same time everything ELSE started to get really lame.

Great post, you.

12:39 PM  

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