“Make an eight. No, not two circles one on top of the other. One continuous line. Two circles is wrong. One fluid line is correct. There is one proper way to write the number eight.” So said my third grade teacher. She was passionate about handwriting.
I was less inspired. And less able. My “continuous line” eights looked like teetering snowmen. Whereas my “two-circle” eights balanced pretty well. Many a missed recess attested to my inability to make satisfactory eights. While my classmates climbed on the monkey bars and did cartwheels, I produced pages of unacceptable, lopsided eights.
That my education was considered progressive by the standards of the day—my poor handwriting did not merit having my knuckles smacked with a ruler—is the subject of another column. For now, I just want to consider that our most deeply held beliefs about parenting could be desperately flawed.
Mrs. A is a vehement vegetarian. Meat is murder. It takes 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of hamburger. Factory farming is inhumane. Mrs. A does not allow a dissenting syllable in her family. Mrs. A's children will never eat a hamburger.
Mrs. B is equally committed to raising meat eaters. God gave humans dominion over animals, she explains. Meat is good for you. Meat has protein. Her children eat hamburgers at every meal.
I promise not to bore you with my opinion on the subject or eating dead animals if you are gracious enough to spare me your opinion as well. My interest this Tuesday is that the vehemence of the opinions may overwhelm kids. What is decided may be less important than how decisions are made. Whether or not meat is eaten may not be as cogent as how strongly meat is promoted or denied.
Eat all the food on your plate. Don’t have sex before marriage. Have a “no, thank you” bite. Believe in God. Don’t go to church. You have to admit that a lot of parenting could be misconstrued as large humans working out their power and control issues on smaller ones. I’m not suggesting which of the examples above are wrong only that some of them must be.
Think about what you were told. How much of your parents' advice do you still find cogent? And what about my 446 columns? How much of my guidance—all of which I feel passionately about—will remain cogent for you ten years from now?
With all the uncertainty surrounding helping—“forcing” is such an unpleasant word—your kids to grow up healthy, maybe the takeaway falls back to the relationship between parent and child. As always, it is easier to convince kids to do what is in their best interest if they love and respect you in the first place. Understanding and being sympathetic to their limitations might be a good first step. Allowing your kids to be part of their process, to have input into the decision making, might also be a great idea.
Because all I remember from 1963 is those missed recess periods--looking longingly out the window at the other children running and laughing in the sunshine. My handwriting is still terrible. The anger of my third grade teacher is all that remains.