Advice on Raising Children
The most important thing to remember about giving advice about raising
children is not to…unless asked. I am the father of seven nearly perfect children
and nothing got me more than someone gratuitously giving me advice on how
to raise children. There was the rare exception of someone who actually had
My daughter Amy is sponsoring a StoryWorth site for the family. She sends me a question a week which I answer and then invite the members to view. This week’s question was interesting and I thought I would share on the web site.
parented more children than I but mostly this unasked for advice came from
people with fewer, substantially fewer children. Don’t get me started about
people who had no children who thought they could give me advice.
So just in case someone reading this asks my advice, here it is. Give your child
the space to become the autonomous and loving person he or she is meant to
be. At the beginning and for many years after that, parents create the space
within the child experiences other people and her or himself. Initially that space
is intimate and centered on the family. As the child grows and begins to be a
person in the world outside the family, the space widens and expands. Parents
play an important role in constraining and expanding that world as they sense
the developmental needs of the child. As the child engages with others, he or
she begins to differentiate into a person apart from the parents. This can be a
difficult period for the parents because it foreshadows the desired yet often
feared goal of parenting: independent children who no longer need their parents.
With seven children—the first six born within seven years—this process of
differentiation was very clear. Early on each one was different in many ways.
The first two were twins and their mother and I discussed and decided that we
would try our best not to treat them as twins. We gave them distinctly
non-twiny names—Sean and Brian—and tried to overcome the temptation to
dress them alike. We even named the older—by two minutes—with a name that
would come after the younger one’s name. We both had in mind Catholic
schools that always organized students alphabetically and wanted to avoid the
older one always being first. That commitment to differentiation carried over to
the remaining members of the little tribe. Admittedly, we were out numbered
and the sheer number of children would have made it impossible to control the
developmental space of each. In fact, what I began to realize, now more than
then, was that the children themselves were creating the developmental space
for each other. Sometimes this was good and sometimes not; the latter required
parental intervention with varying degrees of success.
Throughout all of this development and really extending throughout the
lifetime of parents and children, there must be a perceived reality that parents
love their children, no matter what. It can sometimes be difficult to separate
our feelings about what our children do from our love for them. Whether as
infants, children, teenagers, or adults, children behave like other human beings.
They do good things and bad things; smart and dumb; crazy and realistic;
laudable and forgettable. Judgments about behavior are unavoidable but need
not always be verbalized. Most important, the love of a parent should never be
contingent on behavior of a child. This is important because each of us must
learn that we are lovable and valuable apart from our behavior. We learn this
first from our parents. If we do not learn it from them, it is much more difficult
to learn it in later life.