Venus and Mars

According to the old nursery rhyme, little boys are made of frogs and snails and puppy dog tails, while little girls are sugar and spice and everything nice.  The more contemporary adult version is that women are from Venus and men are from Mars.  Although the references have changed, the message is the same, boys and girls, men and women are different.

The trouble is, we have been so busy trying to promote equality, and to wipe out sexist differences, that we have forgotten about differences between the sexes.  Sugar and spice are often easier to deal with that frogs and snails, so little girls tend to set the standard for behavior that little boys are then expected to live up to.  They can’t.  It takes so much energy for any young child to sit still, but differences in development make it easier for girls than for boys.

Differences in aggression between boys and girls have been noted in all cultures.  Boys tend to be more active, competitive and dominant.  In groups they stimulate one another to increased activity and pretend fighting.  But when boys have difficulty managing their bodies – when they are acting like boys – they are often considered a discipline problem.  This is especially true in the classroom, where girls are generally more compliant and at least appear to be more accepting of the teacher’s directions.

Although it is not a good idea to generalize, after observing many classrooms over many years, it is striking to see the way boy/girl balance in a class can affect the character of the classroom.  Recently, I observed a class of two-year-old’s and was astonished at the high level of behavior involving sharing, turn-taking and consideration of others.  While noting this, I became aware that unusual as it was, the class was made up entirely of girls.  That is not to say that the presence of boys does not offer a different spark that can make life interesting, which is often the case.  Frogs and snails can mix well with sugar and spice at times.

What is also noteworthy is the way gender differences can play out with parents as well as their children.  When parents discuss their children’s behavior, there are often differences in their reactions to the behavior that concerns them.  For example, both parents may express concern about a child “not listening.”  However, what it is the child is not listening to may differ for each parent.  What bothers one parent may not seem that important to the other. 

The gender difference that often emerges is that of mothers feeling fathers are too harsh in their expectations and fathers feeling mothers are too soft.  The difference expressed is about the way the behavior is responded to more than about the behavior itself.  The problem that can result from this is each parent becoming more invested in his or her approach, meaning that the child does not receive a unified message about his or her behavior.

Parents often ask which of their approaches is the correct one, but the answer to that is neither.  It is not a question of one being right and the other wrong.  Even when their views diverge, the ability to agree on a common approach will be the one most successful in reaching their goal and most helpful to their child.  Typically, there are gender differences in the way fathers and mothers approach many issues with children, and one is not better than the other.

In the business and political world, the word is that women bring an ability to compromise and to work with others.  Parents and children benefit from gender differences at home as well as in the classroom.

Justifying

A mother told me that she didn’t like the idea of good enough mothering.  She doesn’t want to be just good enough – she wants to be perfect.  Many mothers feel that way but wouldn’t say it that directly.  If you ask a mother – or father – if they think they are perfect, they will say, “Of course not,” as if it is obvious that no one is perfect.  Yet, in certain ways they act as if they really believe they should be.

Another mother was concerned about her younger son, who was showing considerable angry behavior recently toward his older brother and toward her.  This morning he said to her accusingly, “You didn’t take me to the store yesterday as you had promised.”  Mom responded by reminding him of all the other things she had done for him that he had wanted, in order to persuade him that that these made up for not having gone to the store.

Why did mom feel she had to justify her own behavior?  Did she inwardly feel she had done a terrible thing and had to defend herself?  That if she were a perfect mother she would not have broken her promise and disappointed her son?  What she actually said was that she felt guilty about not “being there” for her younger son as she was for his brother, having returned to work after his birth while having been home with the first one.

A child’s reproach can feel like an attack.  In reality, the reproach is an expression of the child’s feelings.  This child was telling his mother he was disappointed, didn’t like it that she didn’t do what was promised and feels angry about it.  But his mother heard it as “bad mommy,” as something about her rather than as something about himself.  She was already feeling guilty and accusing herself of being a “bad mommy,” so she heard her son’s accusations as confirmation of those feelings.

In another example, a mother told of her son having a meltdown because his sister wanted to finish her puzzle when they were supposed to be leaving.  Mom tried to justify waiting for his sister to finish by talking to him about fairness, about how if they had to wait for him to be ready they would wait, as they are now doing for his sister.  When this didn’t work and he persisted in his protests, she “lost it” and became angry because she just wanted the behavior to stop.       

Part of the problem here is the idea that when there is a conflict one person is right and the other one wrong.  It leads to trying to resolve a conflict by proving that you are right.  The children involved were expressing feelings, but in trying to justify their own behavior both mothers were telling their children that they shouldn’t feel the way they do – that their feelings were wrong. 

We don’t want children to feel that we are “bad” mothers, which feeds into the feeling many mother have that maybe they are – not perfect.  Mothers justify their own behavior in order to protest that message – but also because it may be difficult to deal with the behavior in which it is delivered.     

To stop justifying our own wishes, or what we ask of our children, we have to keep in mind that children can learn to do what we ask even when they don’t like it.  We don’t have to persuade them that we are right or that what we want is more important than what they want.  As parents, we need to have confidence in our own judgment and not use our children’s expression of their feelings to tell us whether we are right or wrong.

You don’t have to take away your child’s feelings in order to justify your own.

    

Reasoning

How do you get children to do what you want them to do – or not to do what you don’t want them to do?  This is where parents often feel stuck because it can seem that no matter what you try, it isn’t working.  These are the conflict situations that arise between parents and children when they are of different minds about what is wanted or needed at a particular time.  They each have a different agenda so who will give in to whom?

Part of the problem lies in that phrase – “give in.”  It feels as though the choice is between the child giving in to you, or you giving in to the child.  Not wanting to “give in,” and unable to “make” the child do what you want, you try to use persuasion to get the child to do what it is you want done.  Parents often call that reasoning with a child. 

A familiar example is explaining why it is time to go to bed in terms of the need to get enough sleep, so as to be healthy and able to play in the park the next day.  Or, why it is time to get dressed in order to leave for school and have fun with your friends.  Or, if you don’t let your friend play with that toy he won’t want to be your friend anymore.  The idea is that using reason will persuade the child.

Parents complain that they have tried to reason with a child to no avail, and often the implication is that the problem lies in the child.  He, or she, is not being reasonable, so something is wrong with the child.  On the other hand, the child may think the problem lies in the parent.  From the child’s point of view, it is the parent who is unreasonable.  It is unreasonable to go to bed when you are having fun.  It is unreasonable to get dressed when you haven’t finished the puzzle you’re doing.

The problem is really two-fold.   One is that the issue has nothing to do with reason.  The problem is a conflict caused by two people wanting different things.  Parents see their requests as reasonable and the child’s as unreasonable – therefore, reason should win out.  The parent’s request usually is reasonable – in adult terms.

Actually, the problem does lie in the child – not because something is wrong with him but because he is a child.  Reason says to put off immediate gratification in favor of a larger goal.  The real problem is that children are not yet capable of that kind of reasoning.  They still operate in terms of doing what is pleasurable – in the moment.  As a child, he is being asked to think like an adult, which he is still not ready developmentally to do.

In early times, age seven was considered the age of reason and was the dividing line between infancy and adulthood.  As academic education developed it began at that age.  Childhood as a definite stage was not thought of as it is today.  These days, education as instruction, increasingly including academic material has become the norm and we are apt to forget that it is the system that has changed, not the children.  Development still takes place in its own way and although we may try to teach children to read and write at earlier ages they are still not capable of becoming future oriented and goal directed in ways important to us as adults in our adult lives.

As parents and goal directed adults, it helps to stay focused on the goal rather than winning or losing in a conflict with one’s child.  Children often say the parent is not fair.  That is true from the child’s point of view.  We do better agreeing that sometimes parents ask children to do things that aren’t fair, but that’s the way it is.

Acknowledging you are an unfair parent can accomplish more than trying to prove how reasonable you are.

Watchers and Do-ers

Having observed children in groups for many years, I am continually impressed by their individual differences.  One of the results of placing children in group settings at younger and younger ages is a tendency to think of them as being in school.  That mindset leads to expectations about behavior that may not be appropriate for very young children, which makes it even more important that we focus on children as individuals.

Children in groups usually means group activities, which calls attention to the question of how and when individual children participate in those activities.  Often, teachers and parents see participation as meaning doing what everyone else is doing – or at least what the teacher expects everyone to be doing.  But that implies that everyone is the same, and learns in the same way.

Observing children, I have found that there are watchers and do-ers.  Some children learn by watching, some by doing.  Those who watch may look as though they are not participating, but they are.  They are learning by being attentive to everything that is going on and taking it all in.  At the point at which they feel confident about having mastered the situation, they join in more actively, leading adults to conclude that they have just started to participate.

Do-ers on the other hand, throw themselves into an activity often without any idea of what is expected.  They enjoy doing – no matter what it is that is going on.  They are unperturbed if they are doing something differently than everyone else.  At times, what they are doing seems interesting and other children may start to follow them.  At other times, it may seem to be a distraction.

Unfortunately, value judgments are too often made in which the doing mode seems more desirable than watching.  Doing is considered better than watching for some reason.  Actually, they are both learning styles which may play out differently developmentally.  In later learning the watchers may take longer to master something but are then consistent in that mastery.  Doing, on the other hand, at times may reflect a certain impulsivity that in some situations can get in the way of learning.

In the same way, the reverse can also be true in that some things may be mastered more effectively by doing instead of watching.  In any case, they are both styles of learning which usually reflect other aspects of a child’s personality.  It is important to recognize that about your own child so that as a parent you can support the way your child learns without thinking of it as a liability.

In a discussion about this, several parents described their children as cautious in new situations, which makes it seem as though they are non-participants in the group activity.  They find this frustrating because it seems like a lack of confidence and is so different from the way the children are at home.  But to be cautious in new situations is certainly appropriate.  Children often are adjusting to multiple settings in new environments, new adults, new children and different expectations from those at home.

At times the same kind of judgments are made about children’s social behavior in groups.  Parents too often are concerned about children being “shy,” when they seem to join in more hesitantly than others.  Some parents identify with this behavior and think of it as having been a liability in their own lives that they want to correct in their child.  They forget that socializing with others also mean mastery of numerous steps in development, such as impulse control, sharing and frustration tolerance.  Young children need time to feel secure about their mastery of these steps in new situations.

Knowing and respecting who children are, and how they learn as individuals, enables them to become successful learning in a group, which being in school requires.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Childcare Challenges

The problem of childcare has been getting renewed attention lately.  Most parents have long been aware that finding good, affordable childcare presents a major challenge for those working, or wanting to work outside the home.  Both the cost and quality of available childcare are major obstacles difficult to overcome.

For many years discussion has centered on the desirability of government sponsored, universal childcare either in the form of actual childcare centers, or financial support to parents to cover the cost of privately arranged childcare.  The United States has the lowest level of spending on childcare among industrialized countries.  This is also true of policies that provide support to working parents in other ways, such as paid maternity/paternity leaves and similar measures.

Helping parents pay for that care would be expensive for society as it is for parents themselves.  To justify such government expenditure, arguments are presented in financial terms, with research showing the economic payoff not just for families but for society as a whole.  Studies are cited demonstrating that calculating the cost to society of unemployment, crime and poor health resulting from inadequate early care, justifies the government investment in good childcare.   

The objection to publicly supported childcare is based on factors other than the financial issue.  Economics are at times used to cloud underlying cultural/social attitudes and biases.  At root is the belief that mothers should stay at home to care for their children.  The controversy over federally funded day care is very much tied to resistance to the changed role of women and older family structure in which men were the breadwinners and women the homemakers.

Nothing has been more of a handicap to women in their struggle for both economic and social equality than the problem of finding good, or even adequate care for their children.  Many women have been forced out of the workplace because the cost of care equals or surpasses what they are earning.  Others, working out of financial need must resort to makeshift or less desirable kinds of care.

The two words that invariably go together in discussions about childcare are cost and quality – quality often a main determinant of cost.  Yet, the question of what constitutes high quality is subject to its own debate.  Recently, I interacted with a nurse in a high level, full-time hospital job and learned that she had two children ages 5 and 13 months.  Asked about her childcare arrangements she explained that both children had been in daycare since infancy.

She related that her baby girl is thriving at the center but that it had not been as positive for her 5-year-old son.  Speculating about the reasons for this she said she thought it was due to caregivers who were not as warm and accepting as those caring for her daughter.  Knowing about my blog, goodenoughmothering, she said sadly that she worries about being good enough herself.

This raises the question of the dilemma mothers face in determining whether other caregivers – or they themselves – are good enough.  Part of the problem is not being sure what is good enough, but the other part is wanting to be better than good enough – whatever that might be.  What standard should we set for caregivers – to do what we would do as parents or to be even better than we think we are?

Both personality and values play a major role in the way we raise our children – even when we may think we are following the latest research or child-rearing guidelines.  In trying to define quality care as given by others, basic attributes such as responsibility, dependability, and necessary physical care are easier to assess.  More difficult is the question of attitudes and feelings conveyed to our children in daily interactions.

To know which attributes we deem most significant in raising our children, we may first need to know and understand them about ourselves before we can look for them in others.     

Computational Thinking

A great deal has been written lately bemoaning the way computers and technology in all its forms have taken over children’s lives.  City streets require watchful – or defensive – walking to avoid a collision with a young person focused on texting, unaware of anyone or anything else.  Riding on bus or subway it is rare to see a child without a gadget on which to play games, and even very young children seem to have cell phones.  Socializing seems to consist not of conversation but individual preoccupation with some form of technology.

The involvement in technology is reflected in the world of higher education where the number of computer science majors has more than doubled.  This also reflects a job market interested in coding and big data.  But beyond the involvement with one’s personal device, and the indispensable role of computers for information and problem solving, increasingly the interest is in how computers do what they do.  In other words, how to think like a computer.

Turning to google with a question and getting the answer in no time can seem like magic.  So do things like artificial intelligence or the use of robots for tasks that seemed to require human intelligence.  Now, however, the ability to think like a computer is gaining interest as a way to tackle problems in many areas of life.

Computational thinking is increasingly part of computer science studies in higher education but it is making inroads in various ways even for very young children.  At the Eliot-Pearson Children’s School of Tufts University, kindergarten children are learning coding with specially created wooden blocks bearing bar codes used to program robots.  Learning the language of machines is thought to be as basic as writing is to proficiency in a foreign language.

Computational thinking is being promoted as a key to abstraction, critical thinking, and problem solving.  But with that comes the tendency to view computer science knowledge as supreme, and better than that obtained in other fields.  Unfortunately, this is a tendency that arises with any newly developed area of knowledge, which then begins to take over education as a whole.

Promoting new ideas as the answer to superior education has a long history.  When my children were in grade school, “new math” became the answer for teaching arithmetic to young children.  Tom Lehrer, the songwriter/entertainer, did a parody at that time which included the line, “base 8 is really just like base 10 – if you’re missing two fingers.”  The joke being that it created more confusion than understanding.

Another example is the introduction of sight-reading or whole words approach to teaching young children how to read.  For a time, teaching phonics was abandoned, to the detriment of many – if not most – children.  Without a knowledge of phonics there were no tools for tackling new words that had not been seen before.

The unintended consequences of throwing out the old in favor of something new are usually not foreseen until new problems are created.  There are avenues other than computational thinking to abstraction, critical thinking, and problem solving.  Educator Ken Robinson defines creativity as the process of having original ideas that have value, which he believes comes about through different ways of seeing things.

A mother told me that her four-year-old son loves the Amazon children’s show, “Creative Galaxy,” and said with excitement, “Mom, everywhere you look there is art.”  She also reported that he later said, “An artist always wants to be doing art, even when it is not possible,” as she was trying to get him ready to leave the house.

Clearly, there are values nourished in ways other than computational thinking, which we have to make sure are preserved in our system of education.

 

 

 

Listen to the Children

During a family discussion that was not getting to the point, my 14-year-old granddaughter asked if we would like her to tell us what the discussion was about.  She then proceeded to cut through the confusion and in one sentence summarized the main idea.  Hearing approval from the adults she said, “Your problem is that you don’t listen to the children.  You should listen to the children!”

I have thought about her words many times since then, finding them hitting the mark in many situations.  Parents often think that listening to the children means doing what they say or giving them what they want.  Really it means, hearing the message behind their words.  They can’t always say directly what they mean, at times not having the language to express it, but also not always able to fully conceptualize what they would like us to know.

One way children learn about their feelings and ideas is when parents and other adults translate for them what they may be trying to say.  It is also how we, as their parents, learn about our children – where they are in their development and what they may be trying to understand about their world.

Even when we can’t – or don’t want – to respond to what seems like a request or a complaint, we can respond to the message behind it if we can hear it.  This is true even when messages are delivered through behavior instead of words.  Often, if the behavior is something of which we disapprove or are worried about, we can get focused on our concern rather than on what the behavior can tell us.  Yet, it is understanding the message that can help us know what to do about the behavior.

An area of concern that parents frequently ask about is social behavior.  Parents  worry if children show what may seem like aggressive behavior but also about the opposite – what is often called “shyness”, or anxiety in social situations.  Children who seem overly sensitive to perceived rejection or criticism may also be a source of concern to their parents.

A range of behavior may reflect a variety of personality traits that are expressed in certain ways in a developmental stage that may be especially difficult for that child.  Yet parents see the behavior in isolation and ask if it is “normal.”  The child becomes defined by the behavior rather than the behavior being understood in terms of our knowledge of the child.

Parents recently expressed concerns about their daughter who breaks down crying in situations that are not daunting to her peers or classmates.  The parents wanting to be supportive, have expressed this by giving long explanations to the child about the situations that upset her in order to minimize their importance. 

The mother related an incident of the child feeling slighted by a friend which was completely unrealistic.  The mother began trying to explain to the child what had really happened.  Instead, the child cut her off by saying, “I know, I know”, then suggesting a possible alternative solution to the situation.  Her solution seemed equally unrealistic to the mother but she was pleased that the child was thinking about a different possibility for her own reactions.

A way to understand this is that the child was telling her mother that she has heard all the explanations and they are not helping her.  What she needs is a way to behave differently and is struggling to figure out how she might do that.  In effect, she hears the explanations from her parents as confirmation that there is something wrong with her that she wants to fix.  What would be helpful instead, is the recognition that something in her life is hard for her and that her parents are there to help her.

If we listen to the children they are telling us who they are and how we can help them through life’s bumps.         

    

Blame the Mother!

At a moment when health care is front and center in public awareness, a new book makes an important contribution to the discussion.  BLAMING MOTHERS: American Law and the Risks to Children’s Health by Linda C. Fentiman, a professor of law at Pace University, gives us an understanding of the way in which a historical and cultural pattern of blaming mothers, has been incorporated into the law through the interpretation of basic legal concepts as applied to matters relating to children’s health or well-being.

In a compelling analysis, Fentiman shows how various themes come together to affect the application of the law in real life issues.  One theme is that we tend to think of legal concepts used in such cases as objective, based on factual definition, while in reality they are subjective, influenced by psychological and social factors.  Such factors influence the definition of risk and “the reasonable person”, as well as negligence, which involve judgments of behavior.

A second theme is the way in which these concepts when applied in actual cases bring to bear the biases of judges, juries and others who make judgments that come into play legally such as police, mental health professionals and prosecutors.  Yet the meaning given to these legal concepts has influenced the way we think of the legal and social responsibility for the health of our children.

An underlying theme that emerges from the application of these concepts and other legal principles is that mothers are blamed and held responsible for harm to their children.  In extreme cases, pregnant women have been convicted of damaging fetuses by their own behavior, have been forced to have medical interventions against their wishes, and mothers have been punished for abusive behavior of children by their partners.

Fentiman identifies social constructs that also operate to make mothers the culprits in issues involving children’s health and well-being.  One such is the need to find the cause of things.  We tend not to think in terms of multiplicity of causes, for example that illness may be caused by many environmental or genetic factors other than a mother’s neglect.  Assigning blame to mothers can provide a more satisfying answer when true causes are difficult to identify.

Psychiatry has given us the “schizophrenigenic” mother, as well as the ‘iceberg” mother as the cause of autism, theories that have since been shown to be false.  These supposed medical findings reflect the kind of bias that is often used in legal proceedings to explain outcomes in terms of maternal culpability.

Assigning blame to mothers also allows us to avoid responsibility for the role of social causes in determining children’s health.  Instead of considering how poor nutrition, exposure to environmental hazards such as lead in paint and drinking water, poverty, poor educational or work opportunities, and easy availability of guns may explain outcomes for children, it is easier to hold mothers responsible.

Also, it is easier to blame mothers than to take larger social responsibility for the lack of day care, the economic reality of mothers’ need to work outside the home, and a work world that does not allow time for staying home to care for a sick child.  Legal decisions tend to favor the still prevalent belief that caring for children is a mother’s responsibility and she is responsible for whatever may go wrong.

Unhappily, many mothers share that belief about themselves as well as about other mothers.  Unfortunately, much that is written for and about mothers ultimately supports that belief and promotes the guilt to which mothers are already prone.  A finding of guilt legally serves as a reinforcement.

BLAMING MOTHERS is a welcome and much needed antidote to such reinforcement.

 

The End of Childhood?

The late educator and cultural critic Neil Postman, wrote a book he called “The Disappearance of Childhood.”  In it he described our concept of childhood as a modern phenomenon connected to the invention of the printing press and the subsequent development of literacy.  Prior to modern times, children were considered little adults and were not distinguished from adults in terms of dress, behavior, or activities, did not attend school, and were not shielded from the realities and secrets – including sex and violence – of the adult world.

Postman wrote that children became separated out as a group because the print culture made it essential that they learn how to read and write. “Childhood . . . was an outgrowth of an environment in which a particular form of information, exclusively controlled by adults, was made available in stages to children in what was judged to be  ways they could assimilate psychologically.    The maintenance of childhood depended on the principles of managed information and sequential learning.”

Postman was concerned about the growing impact of the visual media – television, at the time of his writing – and made the point that “language is an abstraction about experience whereas pictures are concrete representations of experience.”  He made the further point that the visual media erodes the dividing line between childhood and adulthood because it is so accessible.  It requires no instruction to grasp its form, does not make complex demands on mind or behavior, and does not segregate its audience.  He wrote that electronic media find it impossible to withhold any secrets, and without secrets there can be no such thing as childhood.

“The Disappearance of Childhood” was written in 1994 and using Postman’s analysis we would have to conclude that childhood has actually already disappeared.  What he attributed to the prevalence of television has multiplied a thousand-fold with the advent of new technology and the viewing – rather than reading – of previously unimaginable information available to children.

Now, the word is that the Disney Channel, with ratings that are declining as children reach puberty earlier, and have had access early on to “adult” media, is joining the fray with a new drama dealing with complex, emotional issues.  Aimed at children ages 6 to 14, the story involves a thirteen-year-old girl raised by her grandmother who learns that the woman she thought was her sister is actually her mother.  Aside from the issue raised about teen age pregnancy, the drama apparently also raises questions about sexuality and gender.  

The point has been made that these are more authentic issues and apparently, the thought is that parents will watch with their children to interpret and answer questions that may arise.  An immediate question relates to the designated age range of the targeted viewers.  Are parents ready to have six-year-olds and teen-agers exposed to the same material?  How will six-year-olds process these kinds of many faceted emotional issues?  

Many years ago, at a conference on censorship, the late anthropologist Margaret Mead told a personal anecdote about her mother prohibiting certain books when she was growing up because she didn’t want her children exposed to bad grammar.  Mead recalled that she would read those books at night by flashlight under the blanket.  She contrasted that to the kinds of magazine covers and headlines children now see at the corner newsstands as they go to school.

Mead’s point was that there is a difference between surreptitiously reading prohibited material and having such material publicly available.  The difference lies in the message being delivered and received.  In one case, children know what is disapproved of by the adult world, in the other, the message received is that anything goes.   

 We are far from the idea that childhood means withholding secrets – meaning  complex, emotional subjects – until children are ready to process them emotionally and psychologically.  Parents are the ones best able to assess where their children are in that process and to impart their own values accordingly.

As in many other areas, parents confront the challenge of a social world moving in a different direction.

   

 

 

Generational Divide

During a small, adult social gathering, the conversation somehow turned to individual memories of growing up in different parts of the country and in family backgrounds that differed from one’s own, both educationally and economically.  A theme that emerged in the discussion was the difficulty encountered in trying to forge a  path different from the one expected.

One person said that his memory of growing up was of getting the message from his parents that because of their age and experience, they knew better what was best for him than he did.  Such messages discourage pushing ahead on one’s own to explore different possibilities.

What comes to mind is “Far From the Tree,” by Andrew Solomon.  A gay man, he writes of his own difficulties growing up and says that while his parents were never derisive, they were uncomfortable with his difference from them and encouraged him to try to be straight.  Interestingly, he began his research with parents of disabled children, in order to look at the process by which parents reconcile themselves to children who present significant challenges.  He writes that he was on a quest to forgive – perhaps understand – his own parents for pressing him to be “untrue” to himself.

Solomon writes that our first task is to get to know, and to relate to who our own child is rather than the one we imagined or hoped for.  He suggests that referring to the process of having children as reproduction promotes the idea that we are reproducing ourselves through that act.  While that may be true for the species it is misleading in respect to individuals.

While parents may have a need to see themselves in their children, this applies also to what they would not like to see repeated about themselves.  In part, too, there may be a wish on the part of parents to correct in raising their children what they did not like about the way they themselves were raised.  There is a tendency to hold our parents responsible for our own faults.

These factors may all be part of the issue of parental expectations and the way this impacts on children as they develop.  But for parents, the question becomes one of their changing role as children grow.  The human infant begins life completely dependent on adult care.  Parents are responsible for an infant’s very survival and can begin to feel that everything they do is of great significance in that regard.

Gradually, the infant grows and develops new skills that allow for some independent functioning.  This emerging independence is enhanced by the ability to walk and talk.  Cognitive development means that children begin to form ideas about things and to express them.

In this process, the push toward autonomy begins to assert itself and children may protest or rebel against parental wishes or expectations as they express their own wishes that may differ.  For parents, the story of development becomes one of protecting or letting go.  In other words, at every stage as children push for new freedoms, parents have to assess how safe it is to let go.  Are children really capable of the freedoms to which they aspire?

There are no universal answers to the questions that arise in this process.  A parent has to know his or her own child and make a judgment accordingly.  It involves taking a risk – including the risk of making a mistake.  For parents the risk is their responsibility as protectors.  For a child, or young adult, the risk may lie in taking responsibility for one’s own decisions, good or bad.

Parent may feel they have the experience to know what is best for their child.  The challenge is to know the child as well as they know their own life experience.