Tuesday, October 21, 2008

oh the rules

The other day I got a hair cut (very short, very cute) and while I was getting my hair cut, the stylist in the next station over was cutting another woman's hair. The next-station stylist--let's call her Sue--so anyway, Sue was very pregnant the last time I got my hair cut. She was obviously not pregnant this time, and if I couldn't tell by the missing soccer ball beneath her smock, I could easily tell by her conversation with her client. The client asked about her baby and Sue was off and running. The client tried to get Sue's attention back to the hair she was cutting, but Sue couldn't stop herself.

She began by saying that she'd had a baby boy. Next she explained how she knew before he was born that she wasn't going to have the time to hold him all of the time, so she had decided that she wasn't going to spoil him by holding him all of the time. (My stylist is asking me to stop cringing at this point.) Sue said that it was going okay after a few weeks of implementing her plan but the baby wasn't really on her schedule yet. (Her schedule, I thought?) One day, she left the baby with her mother-in-law while she ran a few errands. Apparently the well-intentioned mother-in-law made the mistake of falling in love with her son's firstborn child and, well, she broke Sue's rules. She held the baby. Too much. (There is no such thing, right?) Since that day, all the baby wants is to be held. (duh, of course) Sue's husband began complaining to her about this new requirement by the baby and Sue told him that it wasn't her fault, it was his mother's fault because she was the one who held the baby for the two hours he was at her house.

My mind was so loaded with emotion as I listened to Sue. Holding grandbabies is one of the best things I do. I was outraged and sad and concerned and confused and so much more.

And I've thought about Sue and her wee boy for days now. It seemed very important to her that her baby understand the rules from the start. And I'm certain there is a huge mass of parents and doctors that believe it is critical that children be on a schedule and all of that. But I've never been that parent. And if I felt that way when my kids were little, you should see me with the adorable girlies now.

Since that haircut and my eavesdropping, I've thought a lot about rules for kids.

When I was a kid, these were the rules:

1. Children should be seen and not heard.
2. Because I said so.
3. Everything may be subject to rules.
4. The rules are a moving target--okay or not okay, you'll find out later or not or whenever.
5. Discipline will be inconsistently meted out.

When my first kid was born, I remember making a conscious decision to always say yes. Then I had my second child and realized that my plan needed a slight alteration. These are the rules I tried to live by:

1. I love you, my child, always (maybe not a rule, more like a truism), and you constantly amaze and teach me by your brilliance and curiosity.
2. I will consistently and constantly say yes whenever possible and say no only in respect or safety issues. For example, no running in the street, touching the hot stove, painting your sister.
3. I will respect you as the human you are and hope you will learn respect for others by that example.
4. I will try to stay with the real emotion instead of moving quickly to angry when you do something that frightens me or worries me.
5. I will live with you so that you feel safe and loved by me no matter what.

My rules might seem too loose or maybe not really rules at all, but those are the thoughts I tried to keep in mind as we grew up together each day. Many relatives had no problem criticizing my method of parenting, but it worked for me. It was clear in my mind that my kids were smart enough to understand that mom's rules might not be the same as their friend's mom's rules. And that was okay, as long as they knew they had to follow the basic rules wherever they were--no emotional abuse and no physical abuse.

My hope then and now is that each of my children always know that he or she is the most precious thing in my life and that each learned that she or he was capable of choosing, sometimes wisely, sometimes, maybe not so much, but realizing at some point that each action comes with a consequence.

I understand that it might sound like I think my way of growing children is the best and well, it's true. I do think my way is the best. But I know that everybody feels that way about their chosen method and, most of the time, the kids turn out okay in spite of us not because of us.

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