This past week, two stories appeared the same day. They seemed unrelated, but led my mind on a strange path regarding some thoughts about parenting.
The first story came out of China, where the government will now permit couples to have two children instead of the limit of one previously mandated. This brought much rejoicing throughout the land as parents immediately started thinking about expanding their families.
The other story evolved from right here in Minnesota, the Jacob Wetterling kidnapping case. As I type this, the police have a “person of interest,” lending hope to the idea that the final fate of Wetterling will at last be revealed, bringing closure to a case that gripped us here for so long. You could sense an immediate shift in how parents watched over their children when that happened. “Stranger danger” was on everyone’s minds more than ever.
What do these two stories have to do with each other? Bear with me here, and I’ll see if I can untangle the devious plot threads I’ve laid out.
I’ve used this space in the past to rant a bit regarding some so-called parenting tactics I’ve witnessed, especially as a teacher. I’ve long semi-joked that folks should have to pass a test before being allowed to conceive. Unfortunately, to procreate doesn’t take any real background knowledge or prerequisite; most people figure out how to pass the test that leads to children.
None of us are really ready when we have children, are we? The most petrifying moment is arriving at home and realizing the nurses didn’t follow you back from the hospital. It doesn’t matter how much you read ahead of time or even if it’s not your first child, it’s still scary.
Raising children is hard work. The amount of effort we need to put in to help shape our children is immense. I couldn’t believe when Jayna entered kindergarten and her teacher told me that more kids than one might think arrive there unable to count to ten. Little kids are such sponges that simple repetition with nursery rhymes and Sesame Street books will get you there in no time. But that’s just it: it does take time.
Reading to young children is so essential to brain development and a child’s future ability that it’s a crime when that potential is hindered. My gosh, we have public libraries everywhere that will loan you books for free, if you just take the time to visit. And once you do, you and your kids will be hooked, if you start at a very young age!
China was certainly trying to reverse an overpopulation problem they had with their old rule. But maybe they also thought that if parents only had one child to focus on, they could spend enough time with the child to turn out a productive member of society. However, there are so many people that are certainly competent enough to do that with more than one that it should prove beneficial to allow more children.
Becky Lassahn, who has provided daycare for our kids from the time they were born, always tells me she wishes Michelle and I would have had more kids. I told her once that a part of being a good parent is knowing when you have enough children to be able to give the attention that is needed. Two seemed like a good number for us. For some families, more than two works, but I sometimes see people who I wonder how they can take care of one, much less the multitude they’ve produced. There are too many kids who come to school without having received much attention and largely have to fend for themselves.
I often think I give my kids more than I should. They have too much latitude and are, at times, spoiled rotten. I should make them work more around the house, I should limit their screen time more, and I should stop keeping so much ice cream in the house. I should say no more often. I don’t try to be friends with my kids, by any means. But there’s that part of every parent that wants their children to live an easier life than they had, and that’s where I (too) often fall.
Another part of that which led so quickly from the Wetterling abduction years ago is safety. We all want our kids to stay safe and often sit at home, fearing what’s happening when our kids are out and about, only breathing clearly again once they arrive home. We protect to a point where we might overprotect. Sometimes we shelter our kids too much instead of letting them experience failure occasionally.
It’s good to smother our kids sometimes and let them know how loved they are. But we also have to stop doing so much for them and start teaching them some basics other than how wonderful they are. I actually had to spend part of my budget this year on stanchions to place by my desk to help herd kids into line if they need some help. A basic skill like waiting your turn eludes over half my student population. Why is that? Why do I have to teach that to 13 and 14 year olds?
We’ll never limit how many kids you can have in America, and we shouldn’t. But we all need to do a better job of preparing the next generation, as we create them, to take on the giant task of, some day, becoming parents themselves.
Word of the Week: This week’s word is hogen-mogen, which means powerful or grand, as in, “The hogen-mogen adult soon realized the great responsibility of being a parent.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!