First of all, a huge thank you to every single one of you that has bought my new book, Beth Stephenson’s Americana. It means so much to me personally. More important, it supports the Americana concept: that there are patriots all across this nation that enjoy focusing on all the great people, places, history, customs and cultures that make America what it is. As I track the sales on Amazon.com, it heartens and encourages me.
I’m babysitting a few of my grandkids for a short stint of 2-3 days and have been musing on some parenting principles that I learned or wish I’d learned while I was raising my young family.
Every time you treat a child harshly, or deal with them without any regard to justice, or even to refuse to fulfill a harmless request without a good reason, you teach that child that they are not worthy of respect. When you fail to use self-control or a measured, thoughtful response to stress, you teach your children to behave the same way.
When you inconvenience yourself for their well-being, laugh at their jokes, prefer their company over people (other than or along with your spouse), praise their kindness, intelligence, cleverness, humility, talents or obedience, you teach them that they have value, not only to you, but to the world at large.
When a mother signals to a child that her own pleasure, convenience, or comfort is more important than her child’s needs, she shapes the child’s perception of his/her value to the world generally.
You should notice that I don’t say that the child recognizes that the the mother’s comfort and convenience is more important TO HER than her child’s needs. The child feels that he or she is less important in the whole world than the mother and the priorities she puts first.
An example of this idea is the mother who chooses to work when it is not necessary to the family’s well-being. Children internalize the signal that having stuff, including trips or clothes or status or worldly acclaim is more important than they are. They believe that they come AFTER all of that in their mother’s priorities. So when she’s done at the gym and the office and the resort and the salon and the department store, she might have some interest left for them. I have never seen kids that believe that they benefit from a nicer car or a nicer house or more expensive clothes if their mother chooses to work when she could choose to be with them.
No wonder the blight on children these days is low self-esteem.
One of the most important successes my mom had was that even though she was well educated and even somewhat ambitious, she chose to stay home with us kids. I grew up knowing that my siblings and I were the most important thing in Mom’s world. That is a recipe for success. If your mother believes that you are worth sacrificing for, you believe that your own success and development and education is worth sacrificing for. And then you pass those priorities down to your children.
We did without fancy vacations. We did without lots of clothes. We rarely (less than once a year) visited restaurants. We learned to do for ourselves in every reasonable circumstance. We learned to have fun without expensive toys.(There’s nothing more thrilling than riding your brother’s homemade go-cart at breakneck speed down an old gravel road when they have forbidden you to touch it!) (Unless maybe it’s climbing into your brother’s no-girls-allowed tree house. I could have built my own go cart and tree house, but what would be the point?)
My mother tried different methods with us kids. She tried to solve the issues that develop in families.
She read to us. She watched our impromptu plays. She taught us to work in the house and yard. She took us to the beach when the Saturday chores were done. She cooked for us and established family traditions.
She wasn’t always successful in her attempts to provide a happy home and it’s no wonder. She was raised almost as an only child, and had little sibling experience. I believe that the fact that she tried her best, whether she succeeded or not, is far far better in its effect on the child than a mother who doesn’t even try.
We learned that clothes are not important. Impressive cars are not as important as reliable cars. So we not only learned that we were vitally important to our mom, (the most important influence in a child’s life,) we gained the skill set and value system inherent in her decision. People were more important than the income she could provide or the status and acclaim her own achievements might have provided her.
My mom made lots of mistakes. Big ones and little ones. But this one huge success has reverberated through the generations.
As Gordon B. Hinkley, late president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints urged. “Try a little harder to be a little better.” Mothers if you try a little harder to be kind and wise and patient with your kids, putting your family first in your world, not only will they someday call you “blessed,” but when you meet the Lord, He also will say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”