Monday, November 23, 2009

A Privileged Parent

            I believe there’s a fundamental and critical thing that every father and mother has which will dictate the way they parent. It’s called “perspective”. Parenting is a lot of work and wears down the system, and each parent individually has to choose: is this constant wear-and-tear going to be seen as a privilege or an inconvenience? Is it a blessing to be with this child who wears me down? or is it intruding into the other things I’d like in my life (like sleep! or other activities). I have come to believe that this issue is so key as to make every other parenting issue of lesser importance.
            It affects the overarching parenting job as well as individual experiences. When something negative happens, as it always will, and the parents are inconvenienced, as happens constantly, the response they give inevitably will come out their perspective.
            My daughter likes to touch the things she’s not allowed to touch. This morning, by the time my shower was done my daughter was itching to get out of the imprisoning straps that tied her to her little swing. When I let her out she immediately ran off and grabbed the garbage can. With a towel around my waist, I rushed out of the bathroom and gently told her not to touch it as I pulled her away. She then went straight for the dangling Christmas lights in the other room.
            At this point, a parent could scold their child, reprimand, raise their voice, or become stern. I mean, I was still dripping, and hadn’t even shaved yet. That’s the “inconvenience” side. I could also have thought to myself, “Ah, well, she’ll figure it out on her own. I’ve got to shave and get going here.” This “hands off” approach doesn’t draw boundaries and teach the child what’s right and wrong. Obviously, when she’s doing inappropriate things I’ve got to take action. But what kind?
            In this case I looked at her and thought, “Okay, she obviously is trying to get my attention, because she knows these two things are off limits.” She doesn’t yet have the language or understanding to get my full attention through positive means. And if I look at her as a privilege, I’m going to want to enjoy this moment, where she’s trying to get my attention. Here’s a golden opportunity to bond with my daughter!
            So, I picked her up, held her tight, and sang a little made-up love ditty. She calmed down and rested her head on my shoulder happily. She’s a very energetic and wiry child, so it’s wonderful when she wants to snuggle like this.
            Sure enough, the little bonding interlude lasted only a minute or so, before she’d had her fill and was ready to get down and play by herself again. I set her down gently and let her run around as I got back to shaving.
            When I feel that I am privileged to have the opportunity to parent my daughter, I look forward to these moments, whenever they come. No matter how inconvenient they may seem.
            And of course, when I’m ready for these kinds of moments they’re absolutely priceless. This week she learned how to point to body parts.
            “Celia, where are your ears?” Michelle asked.
            Celia pointed to her ears.
            “Where’s your nose?”
            Celia touched her nose. “Your eyes?” She paused, then touched my eyes. I laughed and gave her a kiss.
            In fact, she was able to identify every major body part. Just like that. I don’t know when it happened, but for me it was sudden and shocking. I hadn’t seen a single thing before, and now she knows where everything is! And I am amazed. I am amazed and privileged to be able to see this development in my child. I know that all kids will grow in these ways, but for me to be the guy who watches it slowly creep up day by day, that’s a tremendous delight.
            And for that, I feel like I am the most privileged man in the whole world.

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