Articles by Debashis Dutta – 7

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The Parenting Empowerment Program – Week 3

Homework Review

Hello again. So, how did last week’s assignment go? To summarize, you were to come up with a list of qualities and characteristics you want your children to have when they are older. And each of these was to be placed on a separate (small) paper. Did you fare well? I said that you should have at least 20, and possibly you could come up with 50 or more. I wonder how many of you came up with hundreds.

Just like last week, I’ll apply this to my own situation and me. As you know, I have a six-month-old daughter, Anjuli. Although she’s young, so far I find her to be quite a neat little creature. She likes to play and squirm and roll over and spit. She seems to have somewhat of a temper and demonstrates it well. She gets cranky when she’s tired and when she’s got some gas pain, she can really scream. Anjuli is a happy-go-luck baby who really seems adaptable and doesn’t “make strange” with people other than her parents. She is very well loved by her grandparents, uncles, aunts, and many close friends. And she is simply the centre of the universe for her mother (Adrienne) and I.

When I think of Anjuli, I’m focussed on the “today stuff” -diapers, feedings, crying spells, doctor’s appointments, visits with relatives, watching that she doesn’t get things in her mouth, making sure the cats are ok with her, cleaning when she throws up, burps, buying diapers, trying to guess her mood, toys, organizing, safety, car seats, high chairs, play mats, reading time, bed time, education funds, being positive around her, middle-of-the-night waking times, breast milk, cereals, etc., etc., etc. Indeed, our lives have changed. We (and all parents) can be overwhelmed at the amount of responsibility it takes to raise a child. The “today stuff” never seems to end.

I know that all the “today stuff” that Adrienne and I do for Anjuli is truly an investment for her “tomorrow,” her future. I know that my wife and I are working hard to provide a foundation and environment in which Anjuli can grow and learn. I know that all the thinking in the here-and-now will make for a springboard for our daughter so she can prosper in her own way. But what are the elements of Anjuli’s foundation? What makes her springboard strong and versatile? What does Anjuli’s “tomorrow” look like?

Although I know that Anjuli will shape her own future, I want her to have some qualities and characteristics that may ease her job. Here’s part of my list:

sense of humour kindness gentleness honesty
respectful of others generous leader law-abiding
spiritual strong independent self-reliant
prosperous can ask for help values family not shy
physically healthy clear thinker self-disciplined hardworking
respects self friendly healthy choices  receives love
in tune with self dedicated can give love follows rules
knows right from wrong caring committed respects elders
creative multi-skilled cooperative charitable

There are 36 right there – and there are more and more. I’m sure that if all of combined our lists, we could come up with thousands of characteristics. Actually, I would love to know some of the characteristics you’d want in your child. Now lay these qualities out and just ask yourself the question, “Is it at all possible for my child be these things?” Your answer ought to be a resounding YES.

The two desired outcomes of parenting

We believe that parents generally want the same things for their children. So, my list will probably be similar to yours. I want to suggest to you that all the work you do as a parent to instil the qualities you want in them comes down to only two desired outcomes for your child. In other words, every little thing you do as a parent has only two long-term goals. These two desired outcomes are to assist the child to feel loveable and to help the child understand that they are limitable (social control, not ability.) Consider it. When you look at all the characteristics and qualities you wish for in your son(s) and/or daughter(s), when you boil it down to very, very simple goals, there are only two outcomes – wanting your children to feel loveable and wanting your children to feel limitable.

Wanting your child to feel lovable can very simply mean just that. You want your child to feel loved. However, what does loveable mean for that child’s tomorrow? For your child to feel loveable when they are much older means that they can look at themselves honestly and be quite able to find qualities that make them a good person. This is where all the self-esteem and self-concept kinds of theories come in. All the self-nurturing that an adult does comes from the early work their parents do to enhance that self-image.

It’s not just saying to a child, “I love you,” although that certainly is a great start. More importantly, the message needs to be “I love you because you…” Mentioning specifically what you love about what your child is doing, saying, feeling, thinking gives them a clear idea that about what is they are doing that you are noticing and your praising. And yes, there are times when it is important to say “I love you because you’re my kid” – this unconditional love statement is also extremely valuable. It implies: “You know, there’s really nothing you have to do to have my love. I just love you. Period.” I think that identifying what special things you like about your child helps them to build on these strengths so that later on, they capitalize on these.

Wanting your child to feel limitable is also important. The goal here is to convey to your child a message that there are rules in life to follow and guidelines to abide by and limits to which they must adhere. This is the “social control” function of parenting. In the child’s youth, rules and limits assist the child in knowing what’s right and wrong, how to behave in different social circumstances, and recognizing that there are consequences (good or bad) for various types of behaviour. Helping them, as children, to understand that they are indeed limitable, helps them to know, as adults, how to “fit in” with society and how to prosper.

When you put these two concepts together, it looks a little like this:


parenting goals

Pretty neat so far, isn’t it? Pretty simple too, eh? So, why is it such a struggle when it comes to parenting? Well, I’m going to suggest that (for now), it’s the lack of balance between the loveable and limitable that ends up messing things up in parenting. Let’s play with this a bit. Imagine if all we did as parents was to do the things that made children feel loveable. Heck, we’d have a bunch of egomaniacs in the world who’d have little understanding how their behaviour affects others. All they would do is brag about who and what they are and not be really able to celebrate successes and strengths in others. They’d be so incredibly self-focussed that nothing else would matter. They would do things to others just because they felt like it or because it felt good.

Or, what if all we did as parents was to make feel children feel limitable? I think we’d have a bunch of lifeless machines. There would be such an order to the world, that everything would get done, but there would be no personality. The world would run just fine, but there would be no spirit. The adage “all work and no play makes Jack/Jane a dull boy/girl” comes to mind. With a sole focus on limits, consequences and control, transgressions could lead to abuse and violence. Most of all, there would no creativity, no soul and no individuality.

Now I’m taking these examples to the extremes of course to illustrate that there needs to be a balance between the loveable and limitable of parenting. That balance is up to you. And I think that some parents focus more on the loveable and others focus more on the limitable and all of that is fine, but it’s when things go wrong that parents needs to readjust this balance.

I have children around me from time to time as a friend, a counsellor, an “uncle,” a relief foster parent, and now as a father. When I’m with a child and interacting with them in any way, I’m always looking for that balance between limitable and loveable. I know that the interaction happening in the present, be it in the context of playing, learning, discipline or just being, is not only purposeful for the present, but also the future. So, when I’m with a child and there is some interaction happening, in the back of my mind, I’m always asking myself, “Is what I’m doing, helping the child feel loveable or limitable and how much? What do I need to do to balance the loveable with the limitable here?” I recognize that everything I do is not only purposeful for the present for also contributes to the future. And I also look at the Spheres of Control from last week, and look at what is that I can do (or not do) to make this balance possible.

Try it for yourself. Everything you do with your child – ask yourself – “Is what I’m doing helping the child feel loveable or limitable? Is it too much of one or the other? What should I be doing to better balance the limitable and the loveable?”

Homework for next week:

1. Think about these four words: GUIDANCE, NURTURING, ACCESSIBILITY and DISCIPLINE.

2. What do these words mean to you in your role as a parent?

3. What are some very basic definitions of these words that come to mind?

4. What are the things you do to provide GUIDANCE, NURTURING, ACCESSIBILITY and DISCIPLINE?

See you next time.

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