Sunday, March 21, 2010

Potty Chart Parenting

There is a commercial that I have been thinking about lately. It’s for a large greeting card corporation. My first viewing was positive. It was sweet. The premise; an angelic little girl named Molly is about to start a test in her Spanish class. (Lucky child, she has Spanish at the elementary level.) She is a little anxious but suddenly a multi-media movement to equal a presidential campaign ensues. A truck drives by with a motivational banner, the chalk board has a personally encouraging message, video message, and t-shirts with inspiration abound. The idea is to get us parents to purchase cards to encourage our children to study? Believe in themselves? Imagine they are the most important person in the world? Ummm, study?

So I get to thinking, as I do. And remembering. When I was a young-un the commercials on tv, back when you had to actually walk across the room to change them, went like this: "It’s ten o’clock, Do you know where your children are?" And, "Have you hugged your child today?" Maybe we were so depraved as children that we not only want to hug our children, but we want to encourage and support and influence every aspect of their lives. We want to watch every minute of their spectacular existence. We practically want to chew their food so it will be easier for them to swallow. We call other parents and demand to know why our perfect child wasn’t invited to their imperfect child’s party. We help them do their homework because their little hands get tired. Sometimes we demand that their grades get changed or their classes re-assigned, if they are not up to the image we have projected onto them. We call their bosses and demand that they get to do the work, wear the clothes, take the breaks that they want to. It typically goes south here, but unfortunately, not always.

So, where the heck were we at ten o’clock at night that public health services had to pay millions of dollars to remind our parents that we were missing? Obviously, we were in some sort of capitalist merchandising cult being brainwashed on how to deem our own children virtually incapable of doing much without a full orchestra, expensive prizes, a public relations campaign and catering trucks to encourage them to what? Ask us to purchase more products to reward them for breathing through the night?

Children need to be hugged, no doubt. But there are definite stages of development that they typically move through that are generally in place to ensure that they may be able to do so many things on their own. Once you move past the potty chart, potty movie, and potty behavior modification program count yourself a verified trainer and do the new potty dance, Oh there is one-just google it! You can apply the potty chart to just about any behavior. The trick is to pull out the stops a little sooner and limit the reward system. Can you imagine giving a twelve year old a sticker for producing anything on the potty? No thank you! So, why then, do we need to provide this level of support if they do their homework or make their own lunches?

Some may believe I am a bit too harsh, or strict. When my oldest son was in 8th or 9th grade, he rode his bike to a student organized theater group. I had community members call me because my son was “caught” riding his bike to this extracurricular activity. Granted it was about 2 (gasp) miles away from our home, but I have 3 children and at that time, they all had different needs and schedules. I was going to school and working at the time. My husband was also working. Somehow we did not get the home by 2:10 to drive your children anywhere they want or need to go schedule from the work gods. He was able to be a part of the decision making process. “You can join, but I will not be available to drive you there”. I didn’t think having my son ride his bike was particularly wrong or cruel, he was advised and instructed how to do this safely and he had strict orders to call when he got there or he would not be able to go the next day. It taught him to problem solve and be self-reliant. I hope it also helped to plant a seed that sometimes when you want something you have to work at it. I think exercise and riding a bike are basically ok and a nice part of youth. I also think he actually felt a little proud that he was able to do this independently. I did pick him and his bicycle up after rehearsal, because I was available at that time.

My youngest son is now in high school. He tells me that some of his friends still don’t make their own lunches or clear their plates at dinner. Of course he has been telling me that since he was five. I think if you can turn a door knob, wipe your face, and clap your hands, you are developmentally adept at throwing together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Twist off the top, spread the soft spreads, clap them together, Voila! That’s not how I presented it to my children, but honestly! I carried on and made my voice sound overjoyed- as though they were the very first children to make something so extraordinary. My youngest wasn’t quite so impressed with my pride and joy in his independent skills. He enjoyed the thrill but only the first couple of times, or maybe once. It quickly becomes a task or chore after that. The first born, he could at least impress his younger siblings and gloat about the independence and get out of Dodge on that bike of his.

Looking back my oldest does sometimes laugh at the idea. He reminds me how far it was. But there is still pride in his voice and he also wonders why other kids aren’t allowed or sometimes expected to do things on their own. I think back too. Remember when we had to stand in the kitchen attached to a phone? Ride our bikes to have adventures and freedom from our parents? Turn the channel on the tv? Walk to a community bus stop instead of getting picked up in our own driveways? Went out into the world without cell phone umbilical cords connected to our parents and usually made it home for dinner? Got a low grade and only then, understood the importance of studying? Got in trouble and our parents didn’t make it easier on us because they knew it was more important for us to learn from the error than to come out of childhood unscarred. Find the balance. Don’t allow the trouble to get so deep that the wounds are incapable of healing, but let your children experience their own mistakes so they may learn and grow and improve. When they get their first speeding ticket do they truly need a lawyer? If so, there's a bigger problem here.

It’s ten o’clock, did you allow your child to function independently at least once today? Teach your children well. Sit back and give yourself a pat on the back and 2 gold stars.

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