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Universal Parenting Principles
by Marina Michaels
When I was raising my daughter, some people were outraged by my methods and predicted that dire things would result from my parenting choices. On the other hand, a few people over the years commented that I was a rare parent because I treated my daughter like a human being. Ironically, some of those who were the most vehemently opposed to my choices ended up having children who had serious boundary, identity, self-esteem, and self-worth issues (not to mention drug, alcohol, and other addictions), while my daughter was and still is a joy to have in my life.
I would love to think that I am not that rare; that most parents will have done the inner work that they need to do so that they are the best, most loving, most respectful parents they can possibly be. Unfortunately, as I've grown older, I have started to see that yes, my approaches, which seemed the most natural to me, are not natural to others. I've come to realize that a lot of people don't have internal guiding principles that they use to base their decisions on, and so they just kind of flounder about at the mercy of their upbringing, emotions, rigid thought patterns, and so on, making pronouncements with no rational basis, or promises they don't keep, or saying or doing unhealthy, disrespectful things to their children that they would never dream of doing to another adult.
And yet raising a healthy, whole, happy child is perhaps one of the most important jobs in the world.
But is there such a thing as a universal principle that can be used to raise a child well? I contend that there is, and you will find it in principle #1. All the other principles that follow are based in that first one.
For that matter, these principles hold whether you are raising your own children or someone else's, and even when you are interacting with any child anywhere.
Note: If you don't "get" what I am saying here, or disagree and say that these are just my principles and that they can in no way be considered universal, then you probably had a less-than-ideal childhood yourself, one in which some or all of these principles were violated in regard to you. That doesn't make it okay to do these things to others. And before you say that it is easy for me to say, I had a rough childhood in which all but one of these principles were violated (the one about naming your child). I know first-hand the damage that is done by violating these principles, and I also know first-hand from being a parent myself the good that is done from following them. I didn't just happen into it, though; I worked hard to get to where I am. You can do it too!
- Respect children as the separate human beings that they are. They are incarnated eternal spirits with lives of their own. Your child is not a toy or a stuffed animal or a doll or a possession or in any way, shape, or form, nor is your child an extension of you. Speak to children with love and respect. Don't scream or yell at them, and never hit them. If you are tempted to do something to a child that you would never dream of doing to an adult friend, don't do it; whatever it is, you are almost certainly violating this principle.
- When naming your child, remember that they will have to live with that name the rest of their life, or until old enough to change it. There were a lot of babies named Summer and Rain and Galadriel and even Frodo in the 1960s—where are they now? Almost certainly living under another name, one that they assumed as soon as they were able. If you are tempted to name a baby something because it sounds cute or because it is the name of your favorite fictional character or because of any other reason than the name is a suitable one that will last the child its entire life, remind yourself again of principle #1 and name them something real. This includes weird spellings of names (for instance, substituting a "y" for an "i" or similar). Also, I've noticed that children who are named after their parents have identity problems and never seem to be completely "there" or themselves —and no wonder. Most parents who name their child after themselves are violating principle #1 in thought and deed. Remind yourself that this child is not you.
- Be aware of and attend to all of your child's needs—not just food, clothing, and shelter, but also other needs as well. If a baby cries, there is a reason, whether physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual. If you can't find a physical reason, at least pick up and hold the child. Being held and loved is an emotional need; babies wont' thrive if they are not held often. Children need to feel that they are safe, secure, loved, cherished, and valuable. Children need mental stimulation as well, which means being talked with (not talked to, but talked with), played with, and read to. And they need some kind of greater reality to base their lives in, whether that is a spiritual or religious path, as long as it is a path that is genuinely filled with honor, respect, and love for all.
- Encourage your child to find their own strengths and to dream their own dreams. Pay attention to what they are good at. Praise their writings, their art, their constructions, or whatever other things they make or do. Don't try to make your child be a doctor or dentist or lawyer or writer or pilot or police officer or whatever it is you want them to be. Your child is not there to fulfill your dreams or to do the things you wanted to do but didn't. Your child has their own destiny. Help them in any way you can to reach those dreams.
- Allow your child to be good at things. Don't compete with your child, and especially don't show them how much better you are than they. Of course you are better—you are an adult with many years of experience doing things. They are new to this world and are only just starting to learn. If you show how much better you are than they, you will crush their spirit and give them cause to feel inferior to everyone. Instead, praise them for their efforts, and encourage them to try new things. This also means, allow them to have a learning curve and to make mistakes. Don't expect them to be perfect at something the first time they try. Especially, don't expect them to be able to do something if they have never been given instruction in how to do it. Take the time to give the right, patient instruction if you are asking them to take on a new task, and be prepared to repeat those instructions a number of times, always with love and patience, until they learn the new task. Expecting children to do something perfectly the first time without instruction is insanity.
- Allow your child to own things. If you give them a gift, such as a toy, don't attach rules and regulations to the gift telling them how you want them to use that toy. It is theirs. Let them play with it or use it how they want. Even this: If they don't want it, let them give it away. Don't force a child to keep something because you want them to have it. Also, let them own their own furniture, clothing, and other personal possessions. This is how children learn to be responsible: By being responsible. No one can learn to be responsible for things if those things aren't under their control in the first place. My rule with my daughter was that if something happened to a possession inadvertently, I would replace it, but if she destroyed it deliberately, then I wouldn't. I only had to invoke the "deliberate destruction" rule twice in her entire childhood.
- Always validate your child's reality. If your child tells you about fairies in the garden or speaks calmly of other lifetimes when "I was the Mommy and you were my child," just nod, smile, and hold a conversation with them about the topic in a neutral, non-judgmental, respectful way. If you have never seen fairies, or even if you don't believe in fairies, that doesn't mean that those fairies don't exist in your child's reality.
- Always be honest with your child. There are no circumstances under which lying to a child is going to do any good. If you child asks questions about sex, answer them with words that are appropriate for their age level. At the age of two, they don't need to know the physical details; just say that it is something that two adults do with each other to show how much they love each other. If your child finds your birth-control devices and asks what they are, tell them. (This also provides an example for responsible sexuality later.) If you have a hard time with this one, and find yourself protesting and explaining to this page (or someone else) all the cases in which you feel you must lie to a child, then remember that children—no, scratch that, everyone in the world—knows when someone is lying anyway. Lying to a child confuses them and weakens the bonds of trust and security that are essential for a healthy parent-child relationship. And before you say it isn't possible to always be honest with your child, think again. I did it. I am not saying I was always honest with everyone else in my life, but I never, ever lied to my daughter, not even once. And if you still have a problem with this one, remember that all lies are based in fear of something. The next time you are tempted to lie, ask yourself what it is that you are afraid of, and address the issues that the answers illuminate.
Copyright © 2007 by Marina Michaels. All rights
reserved. For reprint rights, please see my contact information page.
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