Source: Being Retarded
Well worth reading this article, especially if you (mis)use the word regularly! Let’s have some respect, shall we.
Source: Being Retarded
Well worth reading this article, especially if you (mis)use the word regularly! Let’s have some respect, shall we.
In May, 2014, the European Court of Justice decided that Google must offer the right to be forgotten. That decision, however, leads us to ask, “Do you really want to share your history with the world?” It also begs the question, “What does the world really want to see?”
Let’s take a quick run through the history of sharing.
Communication has always been one of the most important features of human activity. In fact, people are known to have died through a lack of interaction with others. That is why solitary confinement is such a cruel form of torture.
People love to talk. And they will talk about anything and everything. Have you ever looked back on an evening spent with friends? We often describe the conversation as “putting the world to rights,” or some similar local phrase. Yet, if we were to be asked to relate the contents of that evening’s conversations, we would, undoubtedly, struggle to list more than a handful of topics.
Along came the written word, and communication experienced an expansion as people learned to share news with those who live farther afield. Posting letters is an ancient, and valued activity.
When radio and telephone were invented, it was not long before people learned to communicate over the airwaves. They could now pass instant messages to the farthest corners of the globe.
Amateur radio arrived and people started to share personal matters with relative strangers. Yet these were still relatively trusted people. After all, they were a special community of like-minded individuals.
Then came the Internet; or, to be more precise, the electronic bulletin board, used to post messages to people who lived in different time zones.
In its infancy, these were mostly messages of a technical nature posted on university electronic boards. But they soon started to become more personal. This led, of course, to Instant Messaging and Social Networks. Now, people can share their thoughts, knowledge, and experience with anyone and everyone, almost worldwide.
Still, as I mentioned in my post, The Hazards of Social Media, we have to consider any information posted on the Internet as being public, or easy to make public.
Social networks, of course, mean more than just instant short message services. They can include blogs and other forms of personal websites.
Consider some areas where you could put yourself in danger.
Let’s say that you just bought a new music system, TV set, or computer. It is a top-of-the-range model and you are proud of your purchase. So you post photos of these items online for your friends to see.
A few weeks later, you tell your friends that you are going on holiday for two weeks; and the local burglars say, “Thank you for that information.” You come home to find your house cleared of all those nice new items, and several more.
Worse, what if you published an item saying that you were a little concerned about being alone in the house while your mate was away on business. What dangers could you be opening yourself up to, now?
Also, what about those photos that you take on the way home from work, every evening. Do they say, “Look at the route I take from work, every evening. And I walk this lonely path on my own. Come and get me!”
I have long believed that many parents protect their credit card details better than they protect their children.
How many parents do you know who post photographs of their children on the Internet? Oh, they try to disguise the children by giving them false names. Some people only post the initial letter of the child’s first name. Others will use the pet name that the family uses for the child. You know the sort of entries: “This is my daughter, J;” or “Here is a photo of Princess.”
Now, what is to stop someone with nefarious intent approaching your daughter and saying, “Hello, Princess. Mammy asked me to collect you from school, today.” These parents have given away one of the key safety measures available to the child: “If Mammy sent you, what does she call me?”
Another area that needs careful consideration is the question of whether an item should be shared with others, anyway.
In my post, What’s with the Selfie? I asked why so many self-portraits make the subject look evil. Is it the latest craze that I have missed? Or do people no longer care what they look like? If you are going to share a photo of yourself, at least try to make it look flattering. Posting photos of yourself looking as if you are the evil twin do nothing for your credibility, and could even lose you your job.
Another type of post that I often wonder about is the sharing of personal experiences, whether happy or sad. Okay, this is more difficult. The entry that says, “Sorry I haven’t been too active, lately. I just found the new love of my life,” is probably on the safe side. But when the writer goes into the details of his blonde hair, blue eyes, and muscular stature, I often wonder just how true the story is. I also wonder whether I really want to now.
The opposite side is, “I’m sorry I haven’t posted much, during the last week, but we had a bereavement in the family.” This is a little more acceptable as it is reaching out for comfort. Yet I still wonder how many people really want to know.
Sharing personal experiences is more about sharing knowledge and wisdom. It is about helping other people to cope with their lives by sharing your story of successfully overcoming your trials and tribulations. It is not about seeking sympathy. So maybe it would be better to write, “I’m sorry I haven’t posted much, during the last week, but we had a bereavement in the family. I’m so glad I have good friends around me. They have been so supportive.”
Perhaps the worst kind of entry, then, is the pity party, especially when it is accompanied by photos.
I once saw some blog entries, accompanied by photos, updating the world on the progress of someone’s operation. Listen people, these are not photos that I want to see on a public notice board, especially when I’m eating my breakfast! If I want to see the stages of repair and healing I will go to the medical websites. Seeing your stitches, and the resultant scars, is not top of my agenda; and I don’t know many people who do want to see them.
These blog entries also frequently mention the author’s illnesses. Look. I know you want to share your experiences with the world, but if that’s the world you inhabit, then fine. Most normal people really do not sympathize with the “Woe is me!” mentality. Just because you are suffering, there is no need to make the rest of us suffer, too. By all means, share your experiences on websites dedicated to these illnesses; but leave the more public forums alone unless you are going to share the strategy that helped you to successfully deal with the problems.
For example, the Reader here on WordPress makes it possible to select blogs based on key words or phrases. So if I want to interact with people suffering from heart disease, I can. If I want to know how others cope with a child who has autism, I can. If I want to ignore those conversations, I can. Other Social Media sites, however, do not have that luxury. So, if I want to follow a certain person, perhaps because they share information that is important to me, I have to see their lives, warts and all.
So what am I saying, here? That I cannot control what I read on the Internet? Not really. That I am not interested in people’s petty ailments? No. I am concerned. I have my own health issues and I subscribe to channels that provide news feeds related to those issues. When I find a successful solution to my health issue, I share it in positive terms, telling people how it has helped me and encouraging them to consider whether it would benefit them, too. I do not whinge about every ache or pain that I suffer as a result of my health problems.
What I am saying is that we need to be careful what we share. By sharing personal, often intimate details, we are exposing ourselves, not only to danger of physical or psychological harm, but also to ridicule. There are plenty of obnoxious people out there who will think nothing of ridiculing a sufferer, just for the fun of it.
Worse than that, maybe, is the fact that we could be alienating even our long-trusted friends. These are the very people who could protect us from the ridicule; who would provide a safe haven in times of need. Yet, these trusted friends probably already know about our latest medical episode. So why broadcast it to the whole world?
Don’t get me wrong. There are some instances where sharing such information is invaluable. At times of disaster, the telephone network may be down, but we can still post to our social network pages. A message saying, “I’ve lost everything, but I’m glad to say I’m still alive,” is always welcomed. In fact, after many disasters, it was the amateur radio operators, in times gone by, and the social networkers, in more recent times, that have brought the news to the world.
So, before publishing your most intimate secrets, think about what you are saying. Read through what you have written with the eyes of a stranger; and ask yourself, “If this was about someone else, would I really want to know?”
Just over a week ago I wrote about seeing two pigeons fighting over a piece of bread. They were so intent on their argument that they failed to spot the seagull coming in and taking the bread. They ended up losing everything.
Watching the same flock of birds, yesterday, it struck me that there was something else that we could learn from the response of the losing pigeons. They were strutting around in the sun, or simply resting in the spring heat.
But they were still there. They had not suffered permanent damage from their loss. In fact, I remembered that, after the fight, having lost their meal, they turned around and carried on about their daily business. They simply got on with their lives.
Maybe that is something else that we can learn. How important are material things? In fact, how many of us can say that our very lives totally depend on our next meal? Yes, there are people in the world for whom one meal could mean the difference between life and death. Yet for most of us, that is simply not so. In fact, for many people the problem is not that they cannot find enough to eat. Their problem is that they find too much. With the statistics on obesity showing a growing problem, how many of us really need to worry about missing a meal? The reality is that if we were to drop our plate of food, we would simply go and get another.
So what is the lesson? Why make a big issue of a material loss. We were born with nothing; and if you have spent any time in the emergency unit of the local hospital, you know that none of those material things matter when your life is at risk. Plus, of course, the end of life signals the end of using those material things.
Can we not learn, then, to let go when we suffer loss, and just get on with life, instead of complaining bitterly about it? Can we not take the loss with equanimity?
This will only happen if we have the right view of material things compared with the value of life.
It is all a matter of perspective. Maybe we just need a bird’s eye view.
Becoming a parent was a wonderful, life-changing experience. There is no doubt about that. Yet, as amazing as it was to become a parent, becoming a grandparent is even more so. It represents a new beginning in a new way.
Becoming a parent marked a change from a life of relative freedom to a life full of responsibility and, to a great extent, of being much more restricted in what you could do. Staying out late at night was now less of an option. Holidays became much more expensive. Your circle of friends is likely to have changed; you had little in common with your single friends, any more. And when the school run started, you moved into another new group. You should, however, have had a new, powerful support network.
As part of that network, there should have been your parents and in-laws.
The new beginning represented in becoming grandparents is different. You are not as likely to change your circle of friends; your freedom to travel and party is not as likely to be restricted unless you choose to allow this to happen. You may have less money available as you start buying clothes and toys for the new arrival. You may even find that your time is limited if you agree to provide “free” childcare for your daughter or daughter-in-law to return to work. But, in general, you will not lose as much freedom as you did when you became parents.
Still, becoming grandparents is a life-changing experience. You may have wondered whether your family name will survive your children. I know of a number of people who, for many years, said that they did not want grandchildren because it would make them feel old. They repeated it so often that their children started to believe it and decided that the right thing to do would be to avoid having children. Now, those parents have changed their tune. They have realised that their family name is about to die out; they see the pleasure that their siblings enjoy, now that they are grandparents; and they wish they could have that joy.
As grandparents, you have the pleasure of “borrowing” your grandchildren, showing them off to your friends and relatives, having great fun with them, and then, once the tiredness and grumpiness, or even the hyperactivity, sets in, giving them back!
Now things really change in your relationship with your children. Since they became adults, you should have started to be more careful about the advice you give; you should have wanted to let them go, gradually and gently. You will have wanted to retain a good relationship with them, whilst allowing them the freedom to grow and develop their own adult personalities and relationships.
Having children, however, will raise the importance of maintaining that relationship to a much higher level, in the form of what we could call a distant closeness, or a close distance. As mentioned previously, you should have raised your children to develop their own thinking abilities, and that will probably mean that you will not always see things the same way. You also have to consider that your child’s thinking will have been affected by your son- or daughter-in-law’s thinking. This is as it should be. Your child is developing his or her own life. He or she will have to keep that life going, even when you are not around. The new parents will have to make decisions, usually with no time to consult you, even if they wanted to.
Suddenly, you will be faced with the problem of coming to terms with decisions that affect a helpless member of the family; and, at that point in time, all your child’s faults and failings will come to mind. Suddenly, you will remember all the events that strained your relationship with your child; and you will re-align your loyalty with a view to protecting that innocent young grandchild. Your heartstrings will be pulled in all sorts of different directions. You will want to give advice, or even interfere. As mentioned in the previous chapter, this is a danger area.
To repeat, be very careful about offering advice to your grown children. As important as this is when they have left home, it is absolutely essential when they have children of their own. Unsolicited advice is seldom received with gratitude; it is more likely to be seen as criticism. And I speak as one who has experienced both sides of the fence, so to speak. I have received advice, both solicited and unsolicited, and I have offered advice, both solicited and unsolicited. Unless it is offered in the right way, unsolicited advice is often seen as criticism.
So, what is the grandparent’s role?
We will discuss this in the next section.
The previous article in this series looked at keeping the peace with your children when they leave home. This can be particularly difficult when problems arise in their marriage. As a parent, however, it is your responsibility to keep the peace whilst granting your children the dignity of dealing with their own issues. Let’s look at this, next.
When your children leave home, it will often be to get married. And that means choosing a partner, hopefully, for life. Here’s another dose of reality. Your child’s partner will seldom be good enough for your child. At least, that is how many parents will see it. However, your child is not asking you to live with this person. (This assumes that they are not going to share your home, of course.) All your child is asking is for you to accept and respect their use of the judgement skills that you taught them. (This assumes that they used the judgement skills you taught them!)
Even so, it does not mean turning a blind eye to your children’s mistakes. If you have serious concerns about a prospective partner, you should raise these concerns. How many abused women could have been saved a lot of harm if their parents had spoken up. It does not mean that your child will listen to you. But if you have raised your concerns, at least you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you tried your best to protect your child.
One word of caution, though: If your daughter goes ahead and marries “the obnoxious moron,” despite your best advice, don’t say, “I told you so,” when she comes home battered and bruised. That’s not what she wants at that time. Her pride and the thought that you might react self-righteously may be the reason why it has taken her so long to come and tell you. Right now, she will need comfort and support. And, if she subsequently decides to go back to the abuser, at least you will have strengthened your relationship with your daughter and you will be able to be supportive during future incidents. We will look at the matter of abusive partners, later.
Raising concerns may even involve suggesting that the prospective partner have specific blood tests. Some countries have prescribed tests that are legal requirements in order to try to avoid mismatched blood types causing unnecessary harm to babies. This may seem like a good idea, but, realistically, the test is only mandatory if you are planning to get married. If you intend to live with each other, the test doesn’t become an issue, which makes a mockery of the concept, regardless of the fine intentions.
However, let’s say that you discover that the love of your son’s life use to do drugs, possibly including injecting various substances. Or maybe your daughter’s latest flame had a reputation for sleeping with anyone and everyone. Might you want to suggest an AIDS test? Would that not be an appropriate level of concern? After all, your child could be putting his or her life at risk. Also, what would be the risk to any future grandchildren? Maybe it’s something to consider.
This leads to a serious question. Let’s look at a serious situation that creates an emotional dilemma for parents.
Suppose you discover that your son-in-law is abusing your daughter. What can you do? How far do you intrude into their lives?
I cannot tell you what to do. What I can say is that you still need to be careful. Your child’s pride is involved and so is their dignity. Grant them as much dignity as you would want them to grant you, even in the circumstances. Your daughter is being hurt; she is going to need your support. Let’s look at some questions that you can ask yourself to help you to mindfully consider your options.
Before proceeding, I want to make one thing absolutely clear. I am not, in any way, suggesting that any abused woman is lying, or that she is “asking for it,” as some have suggested. If ever someone alleges that they are being abused, the allegation must be taken seriously and it must be investigated. Here, I want to consider all possibilities. As we all know, whilst there is only one truth, our perspective can give us a warped sense of reality. We do not want that perspective to lead us into errors of judgement.
You see bruises on your daughter’s arms and you ask her how they happened. She becomes defensive and you suspect that your son-in-law is harming her. What can you do? Let’s look at the possibilities and how you might be able to get a more complete view of the situation.
The most obvious alternative explanation, of course, is that your daughter had an accident of some sort. You may be surprised that she didn’t mention it, but accidents are, by nature, embarrassing. So for your daughter to fail to mention it is not unusual.
Is it possible that your daughter is self-harming? This has to be considered. There may be other signs, such as cuts or scars. Maybe she has cut her beloved hair into a self-deprecating style. Or maybe she is not taking care of her hygiene as well as she used to. The style and colour of her clothes may have become dowdy and dishevelled. She will need help and you can and should be there for her. It may be that your son-in-law is at a loss as to how to deal with your daughter’s issues, and he may need your support, too. Intrusive questioning is only going to alienate your daughter and son-in-law.
Is this an illness? Bruising can be a symptom of serious illnesses. Maybe your daughter is embarrassed to talk about it. Maybe she has been diagnosed and she doesn’t want you to know, yet. Maybe your son-in-law is struggling to deal with the possibility of losing his young wife. Again, they will need your support.
Finally, there is the possibility that your son-in-law is abusing your daughter. If this is the case, then there may be other signs. Maybe you have noticed a tendency to violent words or actions. Maybe his behaviour or attitude has always been a cause for concern. Maybe their children always seem to be grizzly. The possibilities are endless. However, bear in mind that your daughter may, for reasons best known to herself, be willing to live with this situation and not want you to get involved. After all, have you not heard of abused women leaving their abusive husbands, only to go back to them at some later point in time? And you ask yourself, “How can they keep going back, over and over again?” This is their decision, and you do not want to alienate your daughter by adding to her worries.
Remember, this does not in any way condone or excuse abusive marriage mates. These people must be stopped. But the feelings of the abused person must be considered. Your daughter’s dignity must be respected, and that will mean allowing her to make any final decisions about any action to be taken.
This does not mean that you must ignore the issue, but that you need be gentle in your enquiries. Comment, by all means, but in a non-accusatory manner. You may want to mention the bruises, demonstrating that you have seen them and showing that you are concerned for her welfare. You may want to ask if she is okay. But do not suggest that you suspect anything untoward. That can lead to allegations of slander.
If your daughter is reluctant to talk about it, don’t force her. At least you have demonstrated your concern, and this will make it easier for her to confide in you in the future. If she finally decides that she wants to talk about it, she will know that you are there for her.
Should you call the police? If necessary. Yet, what are you going to tell them? Do you have conclusive evidence? Or is this, in police terms, a domestic matter? Of course, if you were to observe your son-in-law hitting your daughter, you may want to find a peaceful way to defend her. Peaceful? Yes. After all, the last thing she needs, right now, is for you to be prosecuted for assaulting her husband. If anything, that could actually cause a rift between you and your daughter. Still, if you are unable to stop him harming her, then threatening to call the police, or actually calling them, may be what is needed to bring him to his senses.
Once again, though, be sure that you really are helping. Have you ever noted that when two children quarrel, and their parents get involved, the children are back on good terms with each other within hours, or even minutes; the rift between the parents takes weeks to resolve. Getting too involved in your daughter’s marriage situation too early could result in driving your daughter and son-in-law closer together, even in an abusive relationship, while they join in turning on you for what they see as interfering. It’s the, “I’m a big girl, now, and I can sort out my own problems,” mentality. She has her pride and she is entitled to it. If you have warned her of your concerns, then you have done your best, and she is big enough to choose her own consequences, as sad as they may be.
This may not be an ideal situation; but you may have to learn to live with it for the time being. Mindfulness can help you to come to terms with your own feelings in this regard.
The important thing to remember is that your child’s interests are best served by your keeping the peace between you and your child, and, potentially, between you and your child’s mate. You have to be the stabilising influence. Although you may have strong feelings about how your child is being treated, remember that your child has made his or her own decisions and is old enough to deal with the consequences.
This may sound harsh. However, you will see why this stance is essential when we come on to the subject of protecting your grandchildren. Remember, this series is not, primarily, about caring for your children; it is about caring for your grandchildren when your children fail to do so. That means you may have to make some very hard decisions. Getting the relationship right when your child leaves home, and before your child leaves home, will help you to deal with this very difficult dilemma in a calm, peaceful manner; which will help your grandchildren to cope, should the need ever arise.
Before we move on to your grandchildren, though, let’s look at how mindful meditation can help you to deal with your own children and the issues that their actions might raise. This will be the subject of the next article.
Your children will never be ready to leave home. I have no intention of even suggesting that there is any scientific evidence behind that statement. Still, very few parents ever feel that their children are ready to leave home. There is simply no way that they will ever be able to look after themselves. Once the magic laundry basket disappears, and the never-ending food supply runs out, and they leave the bedroom floor littered, in the morning, only to come home to find it is not spotlessly clean, they will be home, again. They will never be able to look after themselves.
It’s not true, of course. Assuming that you have done even a half decent job as a parent, your children will survive. They may even thrive, surpassing even your very impressive achievements.
Nevertheless, most children will, eventually, leave home. Many, if not most, will find someone to love, settle down, and have children of their own. Most of them will do a perfectly adequate job of raising these children, despite your concerns.
Now the real worries start. You will, undoubtedly, see things happening in your children’s lives that cause concern, and you will want to give advice.
At this point, a warning is in order. Be very careful about offering advice to your grown children, especially if they have left home. You may damage your relationship in ways that could be difficult to repair. And there are several reasons for maintaining a good relationship.
On a purely selfish note, you are getting older. At some point in time, you may need to have your child or children around to look after you. Have you ever read stories of people dying alone and not being discovered for weeks, months, or even years? “How can this happen?” you ask. “Where was their family?” It’s simple. Most of these people failed to maintain their relationships with others, especially with their families. This is not a good situation and could lead to an untimely death.
Becoming less selfish, however what about those times when your child looks to you for guidance? Unless you have maintained a reasonable relationship with him, he will not come and ask for advice, even though you are probably in the best position to offer it.
So you need to be tactful when offering advice. There are ways to do this which should not cause offence.
One of the easiest ways to avoid causing offence is to ask a question; but make sure it is the right question. Asking, “Why are you doing that the wrong way?” seldom produces the desired results. It is far better to ask in terms of trying to learn. So you may want to say something like, “I’ve never seen it done that way, before. Is that something new?” You will often get the response, “Oh! Is there another way?” Then, you will be able to say, “We used to do it this way.”
You may also want to reserve, “You weren’t brought up, that way,” for real emergencies. It is antagonistic. I know. I’ve made that mistake! Instead, try the question method, above.
Or you may want to present it as if you are learning something from your child. “It’s amazing how things change over time. We didn’t learn to do it that way. Can you show me how you do that, please.” This is a great option. It displays a reasonable willingness to learn; a willingness to accept that your child may actually know better than you; and it offers an opportunity to discuss the pros and cons of each method.
Now, if you don’t think that’s possible, take a look at a two-year-old using a tablet computer! Interestingly, my two-year-old grandson does not understand the concept of the computer mouse. He has, effectively, been raised with touch screen technology. So when he sits on my lap in front of the computer, or even when I link the computer with the television, he cannot understand why the screen does not respond when he uses his finger to jab at his preferred choice. But his handling of a tablet computer puts me to shame!
If that’s true of a two-year-old, why does the concept disappear when they are twenty two? Or thirty two? Consider this: Have you ever been frustrated because your mother has forgotten how to send a text message from her cell phone – again! If you have to teach your parents, isn’t it possible that your children may have to teach you?
Let’s take a practical example of this. We will discuss discipline in more detail, later. But let’s use this as an illustration.
I was recently discussing discipline with a Social Worker and learned that she went to the same school, but about thirty years later. She seemed to be horrified at the thought that this could happen, especially in “her” school. She certainly never had that experience. Why, the very idea of such abusive treatment was anathema to her; and probably rightly so.
Following the introduction of the Child Protection Act (in the UK) and similar legislation, around the world, parents have been encouraged to think about other forms of discipline. The use of physical punishment has been discouraged; some countries even want to ban it altogether. Regardless of how you feel about that, it does go some way to protecting vulnerable children, even if there are still too many being abused, worldwide.
The result of all this is that it has been necessary to think of other ways to discipline children. Without going into too much detail, parents have now learned that they and their children can benefit from a “time out” period. The idea is that everyone gets a chance to calm down. This way, children are less likely to be harmed by abusive “discipline.” I have found it necessary to glean some discipline concepts from my children, and I have to say that I am impressed by the results. Now I wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that!”
This just illustrates how things change, over time. So, as parents, we must be careful not to assume that our way of doing things is always the best. Our children have benefitted from advances in education that we may have been too busy to notice. Belittling their ability to assimilate and apply the latest thinking on life will not do our relationship much good. As we progress through this subject, it will become obvious that maintaining a good relationship is absolutely essential.
Another way to offer advice may be to simply keep quiet and accept that your children do things differently from the way you do them. Occasionally, this will even prompt the statement, “You don’t agree with me, do you. I can tell. You haven’t said anything.” This may lead to an opportunity to present your views in a more controlled atmosphere. At the very least, it will give you time to accept your child’s choices and to mindfully review your options. More about that, later.
This method is especially effective where there is no risk. For example, if your son was not in full control of your granddaughter on a busy road, keeping quiet may not be the best option. Yet there are many other areas where maintaining a suitable silence is a good idea. Let’s go back to the matter of computer technology.
When I was at school, slide rules were still being used in advanced mathematics. I learned to use proper log tables to process long calculations and discover square and cube roots. My children used calculators. Calculators? Doesn’t that take all the skill out of maths? My grandchildren, however, ask about those quaint little boxes that look like cell phones but don’t make calls. “What’s a calculator for?” They use computers, even from a young age. Who needs a calculator when you can put your results on a spreadsheet and produce a graph with the click of a button? Yes, there is a risk that young people, today, fail to learn their times tables, and that is being addressed in today’s schools. But it may be an area for amused interest rather than contention.
So, before raising an issue, consider whether it is really that important. Your most important task, at this stage, is to maintain a good relationship with your children so that you can be there for them when they need you; and they can be there for you, when you need them, even if that seems an absurd concept, at this point in time.
When your children leave home, it will often be to get married. This will be the subject of the next section.
(By the way, I always speak of “living together” in terms of being married. I make no apologies and offer no explanations, here. If your are offended by the idea, I’m sorry, but it’s what I believe in.)
We left the last article with the thought that everyone involved in raising children has a unique experience, whether they are the parents or the children.
Now think about this: Each of your children had their own, unique experience of life.
Let’s say that you had five children, fairly evenly spaced over a ten-year period. There was only one first child; only one second child; only one fifth child, and so on. The only thing that some of them may have had in common was that the second and third would both have been middle children. Yet even their experience was unique. The second only had one older sibling; the third had two. In addition, by the time you had your third, the first was probably getting ready for school. This would certainly be the situation by the time you had your fourth.
Realistically, though, if you had five children, it is likely that there would be a gap, somewhere along the line. Maybe you thought, like so many parents, that you had finished having children, when the “youngest” was eight, only to suddenly find yourself unexpectedly pregnant, again. So your eldest child could have been a teenager by the time the youngest was born.
Therefore, each child grows up in his or her own environment.
(By the way, so far I have avoided the idea of gender. Please remember that any references to “him” can generally also refer to “her” and vice versa. Any exceptions should be obvious!)
Also, bear in mind that, if you had your first child at age twenty, and the next, two years later, only one child had the experience of having a twenty-one year old father or mother, even if they don’t remember it.
Now, how does this unique experience affect the way each child is raised?
I have already referred to the possibility that your diet, exercise, and rest may have slipped in quality as each child came along. That, in itself, is a cause of differing experiences.
Yet, what about changes in understanding? For example, maybe you were raised with the idea that smacking children was acceptable. So when you had your first couple of children, you carried on in that tradition. However, let’s say that your last child was born after the Child Protection Act (in Britain) became law. Media campaigns would now have made you think about how you disciplined your children. Maybe now you started to wonder whether smacking was appropriate. So you stopped using physical punishment on all your children. Yet, how did this affect your last child; the one who never knew what it was like to feel the sting of a palm on his rear end? We will return to the subject of discipline in a later chapter.
What about advances in food technology, and our understanding of the effects of diet and exercise? Many people in their seventies, today, grew up during the years of the Second World War. They experienced shortages of what many consider to be basic foodstuffs: Butter, eggs, meat, etc. So they learned to eat what they could get. Where I come from, many older people like what is called “bread and dripping.” Essentially, this is bread spread with, yes, you guessed it, the fat that pours off the meat during cooking. In fact, many people in my area would give this some flavour by sprinkling it with salt. I tell you, this is pure cholesterol! No wonder there are so many heart attacks in this area.
When I was in school, I remember the British government sponsoring an advertising campaign encouraging a balanced meal of meat, potatoes, and two vegetables. Today, we are encouraged to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables, every day, and to cut down on red meats. What effect did this have on the way we raised our children? Then, again, we are heading into the first generation that could see the widespread use of genetically modified foods. How will that affect future generations? We don’t know.
Then there is the matter of hand-me-downs, of course. The first child probably had brand new clothes, even if he did benefit from an older cousin’s cast-offs. The second child probably had fewer new clothes, especially if the first two children were of the same gender.
Still. Each of these changes mean that each of our children grew up in a different environment.
The other aspect of raising children is that each parent has an experience that is unique to him or her and that changes with time. After all, who made all the changes mentioned in the last section? You probably improved your children’s diet; you probably improved your children’s exercise regime; you probably improved your children’s educational experience; you probably improved your children’s life experience.
Consider, though, how your experience changed, over the years. Maybe you grew up in a home where healthy and diet rarely appeared in the same sentence. Maybe you grew up in a family whose most energetic exercise consisted of reaching for the remote control. Maybe you grew up in a family that was almost fanatical about health, diet, and fitness. How much of that have you changed since you left home? How much of it have you passed on to your children? How much of it have you discarded in your own parenting?
So it was that you raised what you would like to think of as responsible children.
And then, they left home.
In the next article we will extend the idea of raising responsible children to the way that grandparents can help their children raise their grandchildren. And we will start to look at the way to handle concerns.
This is the second in a series of articles looking at the issues faced by grandparents, especially those who find themselves in a position of having to become parents to their grandchildren. You can read the introduction, here.
The birth of a child is probably one of the most joyful events that most families experience. It is so keenly anticipated for such a long time that most expectant mothers get to the point where they hate to hear that ominous question, “So how long do you have left?”
Why do we look forward to the birth of any child, let alone the first? Is it not because of what it represents – a new beginning? Whether this is the family’s first child or its fifth, the family will be forever changed by the birth. The child represents the family’s future. So many hopes and aspirations are bound up in that little bundle of joy.
Conceived at a time when the parents were at their closest, physically, emotionally, even mentally, they rightly treasure the newly-born child. All those months, maybe even years of planning have finally culminated in a hopeful future.
If you have had the experience, think back to the time when you first found out that you were expecting. How did you feel? Mothers report feeling little flutters in their abdomens. Then again, so do some fathers! If you have yet to enjoy this experience, try to anticipate how you might feel.
For some mothers, the feeling of that tiny collection of cells swaying about inside the womb was a reminder that they were now responsible for a life other than their own. In fact, that very thought may well have caused the fluttering in their partner’s stomach, too! It truly is a heavy responsibility. Just think: You are embarking on a twenty-year project with a view to producing a new, valued member of society who will carry on the great family tradition. At least, that’s the plan.
As we all know, the best-laid plans often come unstuck. Life has a strange way of confusing the issues for us. All that time, attention, and money that you were prepared to shower on your little bundle of joy may suddenly have to be shared between two, three, or more, as further children come along.
As you embarked on your twenty-year project, what thoughts went through your mind? Did you think about the amount of alcohol you were consuming? Did you limit your intake, or even cut it out altogether for that critical nine months, or more? Did you decide to give up tobacco products, or even stronger substances? Did you watch your diet and make sure that you ate the “right” foods and drank the “right” drinks? Did you make sure that you ate and drank in the “right” quantities, and at the “right” times? What about exercise? And rest? Did you ensure that you kept your blood pressure in the right band?
Why? Wasn’t it because you wanted to give your child the very best start in life? Didn’t you want to ensure that your baby was as healthy as possible when it exited from its amniotic swimming pool?
Even when further children came along, did you not do your best to ensure that, although you now had toddlers to chase after, you still had the right amount of sleep and the right amounts of the right food and drink? Or did things start to slip? And do you reproach yourself for that? Of course not. By then you had enough experience to know that the “right” things are actually recommendations, and that there is a fair amount of tolerance in the range of diets and activities that will keep you fit and healthy, and give your child a healthy start.
Still, the years rolled by. Suddenly, as you turned thirty, you realized that your energy levels were dropping. As you turned forty, and you still had teenagers to look after, you learned that this project was not going to be so easy, after all. Yet you kept going. After all, you are not one to let the next generation down.
The aim of all this work, of course, was to raise responsible adults who would carry on the fine family tradition. Your children were going to be everything that you dreamed they would be. So you made sure that, most of the time, they had a fairly healthy diet; that they had a healthy amount of sleep and exercise; and that they studied the right subjects and did their homework on time.
You recognize, of course, that you were not, and you are not, a perfect parent. No arguments, please. You were not and you are not the perfect parent. Neither was I, neither am I. We all mistakes. Yet that does not mean that we failed as parents. We did our best in the circumstances and with the information, resources, and materials that we had.
Just consider this: Accidents and illnesses aside, did your children make it to the point where they were able to look after themselves? Did they leave home with the ability to cook some semblance of a reasonably healthy meal? On the assumption that they survived the first five weeks living on their own, I think it is safe to say that, yes, you managed to raise fairly responsible children. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. Living on fast food may not constitute being fairly responsible, but I think you get the idea of what I mean. And maybe they still bring the laundry home, once a month, for you to process it so that they can avoid purchasing further supplies of socks and underwear. Still, they have survived up till now.
In the next article we will look at the unique experiences involved in raising children.