When I Was Your Age...

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I hate to start off an article with a controversial, perhaps even bold statement, but sometimes the truth just has to be said. So, brace yourself...here it comes. Parents and children often don't see things in the same way! Wow...I can't believe I said that out loud. But there's no going back now...what's done is done...I've said it...it's out in the open and I'll just have to live with the consequences.

Now I know that I caught a lot of you off guard and you are probably reeling from the audacity of the above statement, but do you know what is even more shocking? The fact that most parents often forget this very basic fact of life.

Adults and children ARE different. Their knowledge base, life experiences, perceptions, and maturity are all different. Because of those and many other factors, adults and children have different expectations about life and what they want from it. Basically, expectations are those things that we believe will happen if we do certain things (if you work hard, you will succeed). However, what often happens is that our hopes, dreams, and even fears get added to the mix and when that happens, our expectations take on a whole new level of importance. For example, the above gets translated into the following:

"If you don't make your bed everyday, you won't learn how to work, then when you grow up, you won't be able to hold down a job and you'll wind up on welfare." Ever heard that one before? Ever said that one before?

These little nagging reminders or commentaries are in every adult's arsenal of parenting quotations but where do they come from? Well, if you're like me, you are probably still waiting on your very own parenting manual that comes with each child. Cars have them, VCRs have them, microwaves have them, so kids should have operating manuals too..shouldn't they? But after 21 years I still haven't gotten mine yet. So, if we don't have manuals, we didn't learn the technique there. We must have gotten it somewhere else. There are many other influencers in our lives, but if look hard enough we always get back to the people who raised us...mom and dad.

Parenting styles and expectations are passed down through families and communities just like clothing, expressions, mannerisms, and culture. Although this is a necessary occurrence, what may have made sense years ago may not be relevant today. For example, maybe the reason you set bedtime at 8 o'clock for your children (instead of 8:30 or 9:45) is because that's when your mother and father did it for you. And maybe they set it at that time because that's when their mother and father made it for them. If you did deep family research, you might even discover that this bedtime ritual began many years ago when the family lived on a farm and had to get up early. Now, you live in town but the tradition continues...it has taken on a life of its own.

So, you come to expect certain types of behavior from yourself and your children based on information from many sources, some of which might be quite old and possibly out-of-date. Therefore, the ultimate question every parent should ask themselves is whether or not their expectations are still valid or realistic. To help you decide whether or not your's are, here are some points to consider:

Remember that children live in "the now". Adults, for the most part, understand that actions have consequences that may not occur now, but months or years later. Therefore, the very basic issue of time is different.

A good thing for every parent to do is to have a "reality check" on a regular basis. Ask yourself if what you expect from your children is STILL realistic. If not...change. What was good for mom and dad or number one son, may not be good for this child.

Don't make comparisons between your children or between your's and someone else's. Every child is different and has their own needs and talents. There will always be greater and lesser persons than you or your child. There will always be greater and lesser accomplishments than your's or your child's.
Take the time to get to know your children and listen to them. Their world is totally different than the one of your childhood.

A tough question to ask yourself is "What happens if my child doesn't meet their expectations?". Make a list of how it will affect you, your spouse, and your child. If the impact is going to hurt you (or your spouse) more, then it probably is your expectation and not your child's. Sometimes imposing your expectations on a child might be good or necessary but if it doesn't get positive results, what's the point? CHANGE!

Live your expectations and minimize your words. No one likes to be nagged into doing something. For example, don't keep repeating, over and over that "You've got to pick up your things, every day to have a clean room!" Instead, try doing that yourself and make comments about how much easier it is to pick up things every day. "Boy, I am glad I did part of that today instead of waiting to do the whole job at the end of the week. That way, I'll be able to go and see that movie that I've been wanting to see."

Attitude and emotion communicate more loudly than the words spoken. Children can sense how strongly you feel about something just by way you say what you say. A conversational, even humorous, interaction with anyone, particularly a child, may make your point a whole lot better than being "preachy".

Consistency, rules, organization, and planning are a very important part of learning how to behave in the family and in society. They are essential! However, a wise parent knows when to "make a battle" over an issue and when to forget the rule and be flexible. There is an old adage attributed to a military officer that goes something like this, "Comanding men is like a string. If you push them from behind, you will get nowhere but if you pull them along, by your leadership...they will follow."

Avoid being a perfectionist and allow for failure in yourself and your child. No one reaches their goals and expectations all of the time. In fact, one of the very best ways we learn is by failing and learning from our mistakes. Learn to forgive yourself and them for errors made. Unless you (or they) do something really horrendous, it probably will be quickly forgotten by those around you. Sometimes, the most important lesson taught by parents is not about keeping your room clean or getting home on time but to be understanding and tolerant of others and that being human is to be fallible.

If the parent rushes in to rescue their child everytime they start to "mess up" or fail, who's expectations are being "played out"? Hint-it's not the child's.

Sometimes our expectations are born deep within us. Take time to get to know yourself and dream about what you want out of life. Encourage your chidren to do the same. Dreaming about what you want to accomplish or what you want to become can be the biggest ingredient for success. A dream becomes a goal, a roadmap, and a motivator. If you can dream it...you can do it !

Our expectations for ourselves, our children, and for life in general are all very personal statements about our history and our goals for the future. Each "piece of the puzzle" is a combination of our conscious desires as well as the hidden influences from family, friends, and society. If born from your personal goals and dreams, these expectations can become beacons of inspiration to those around you. If hatched from somewhere else, they may not have the same creative energy or force and may be something you do just for the sake of doing it. Often, this later situation can become a burden for you and those very same people that you want to influence.

Finally, our memories of the "good old days", when we were growing up, tend to get embellished with each telling of the tale. We often get smarter, stronger, and have had a much harder life than any ten other children put together. So, the next time you find yourself itching to make a point with your child and hear yourself starting to say the magic words, "Now, when I was your age...", I ask you to stop, pause, take a deep breath and look into their eyes. If you see them rolling upward and you hear them starting to making a moaning noise...use some self-control...and STOP! I think you will be happy you did and thank yourself for using restraint. However, even if you don't, one thing I do know for a fact...your children WILL be. In fact, they will probably be overjoyed over your choice.

(E-mail Emil at: emilb@charter.net.)

Credits: Emil Baldwin, Jr., LSW

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