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How not to raise children

First-Person

Posted: August 3, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 3, 2014 2:00 a.m.
 

I could write a book on the subject – four different ways. I’m an expert!

With constant advice from my parents not to “spare the rod and spoil the child,” with dire warnings of how “we’d rue the day” if we didn’t heed their advice and the Child Raising Merit badge I had earned while attending a youth organization, I’d learned all there was to know about the subject. By the time I had reach the age of 18, I was an expert!

I started my family with great confidence. And then I had them!

When you buy an appliance of any kind, you get a manual on how to use it … in several languages. No manual came with these little bundles of joy.

I’d spent months skillfully and lovingly knitting jackets, dresses, bonnets and booties. I’d read every article and absorbed every old wives’ tale of wisdom I could or lay my hands on.

This was going to be a piece of cake. All I had to do was be firm, loving and consistent, and they’d follow my every command. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work?

We would have the best, most well-mannered children in town. I knew exactly how to bring up children – perfectly!

First child. Well, that’s the experimental one!

We wrapped her in swaddling bands when we put her down to sleep. Talk about a straitjacket! She couldn’t move a muscle. To this day she can’t bear to have you hold her tight.

But I was following the experts who advised that you prevent the baby from sucking its thumb, lest her mouth became misshapen.

Dare I mention the diapers we had in those days – more than 60 years ago? Terry cloth squares, folded into a triangle and fastened over the tummy with one large safety pin.

I guess I took the coo right out of her chuckle a time or two and suffered untold guilt when the pin slipped. To be quite honest, though, I always avoided that disaster, but one mother I knew stabbed her baby constantly to make it lie still. The brute!

Second child, three years later. In the intervening years, I had realized the experts were contradicting themselves, several times over.

If this baby wanted to suck her thumb, that was OK with me. She was a very contented child and was well into her teens before she finally gave it up. Should I walk in on her slumbering today, I still might catch her with her thumb in her mouth.

With two toddlers, if I asked who was to blame for some little peccadillo, that very sweet, cuddly, shy, contented child would burst into tears.

The older one was quick to confess and take responsibility if she were the perpetrator, but would never point the finger at anyone else. Hating to see the distress of this innocent babe, I would allay her fears by suggesting that

“Mr. Wolf” had done it.

Mr. Wolf became her constant scapegoat. She never took responsibility for her actions, and it took years to realize what I was doing and reverse that trend.

Third child, a son, arrived 10 years later from ‘out of the blue.’ His now teenage sisters were ecstatic.

Born into a financially struggling immigrant family, with two fast-growing daughters was no picnic.

My widowed father, now living with us in the United States and who’d sired 16 of his own, had gained a new lease on life with this little bundle. We all doted on this child, and my thoughts ran to another child before he was spoiled beyond redemption.

Sixteen months later, enter our fourth and last child. In later years we overheard ‘the son and heir’ telling him that

“Mummy and Daddy only had you to be a playmate for me.” What awful ideas had we inadvertently put into his head?

How many more mistakes would I make before I learned my lessons? I continued making enough to fill a book.

What should be my penance for my misguided child rearing?

Where was my husband, their father, in all this? He worked very long hours and did a magnificent job in bringing home sufficient money for us to live, though only enough to keep our heads above water.

When he was around, he acted more like a spoiled child himself, goading them into the kind of mischief he’d been denied. He was both irascible and erratic in his dealings with them, and I could no more rely on him than the man in the moon. It was all left to me.

Despite my inefficient parenting skills, I am proud of them all. They have never caused me any serious anxiety, and now in their middle years, they are all responsible and fine upstanding members of society.

My advice to other young parents, if I may be so bold … enjoy your children while they are young; they grow up all too quickly. Listen carefully and ponder all advice — but take your own counsel.

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