So far, in our short married life, my wife and I had made a few conscious decisions. Among other things, we decided we wanted to have a girl and a boy and if that happened right away, our family would be complete. Check. Now we were discussing whether our children would be ‘latch-key’ kids and spend the majority of their time in daycare. We both had good paying jobs that we liked very much. But we didn’t like the idea of someone else essentially raising our kids for us. We liked Debbie our daycare provider, a lot but we gradually decided together that we could save a little less and cut back a little more for the sake of the children. That was the day we decided that my wife would become a stay-at-home mom.
We had already made several ‘parenting’ decisions while my wife was carrying Sarah. As all parents do, we would take the parenting that we had received, blend it together, add in our own personalities, and create our own unique [so we thought] parenting style. Since my wife and I are so compatible, these discussions were fairly easy. Here are some of the things on which we agreed.
We would be strict with their behavior but give them the room to grow and discover. These children will not be hit. We will take the time to explain it to them within the limits of their current understanding. ‘Because I said so’ would only be used as a last resort. There would be equal balance in their lives. If there is a penalty for the bad, then there must be a reward for the good. They would always get a fair opportunity to succeed. We would endeavor to put them into situations where they could grow, learn, and succeed and avoid situations that we felt were too far beyond their current capabilities. We would always present a united front. We, the parents are a team and we work as a team toward the same goals. It does no good to witness the parents in disagreement. It does no good to show one parent as strong and another as weak. We will keep our promises. There will be no favorites.
As a result of our decisions, we veered away from our parent’s teachings and created our own unique style. On more than one occasion, my parents had things to say about how we were raising our children. That was OK, they were our children, not theirs. And again, we presented a united front. Were we perfect in our implementation of these decisions? No, of course not, but we had a plan, we believed in what we were doing, and we always tried to follow the plan. What you learn as a new parent is that no matter how good the plan is, there’s always some situation that challenges your ability to implement it.
However, to begin this most difficult and rewarding job of parenting without a plan is a huge mistake. To approach any complex task without some clear ideas as to what you want to do makes that task nearly impossible. Having made those parenting decisions early as a team made this task that much easier. And having a partner that believes in those plans eliminates the little arguments and inconsistencies that the young children see right away.
One of the more interesting things that comes up in early childhood is the concept of ‘fairness.’ In most cases it’s interpreted as ‘everybody gets the same.’ But what we began to realize is that Patrick was NOT the same as Sarah. Sarah had certain needs and preferences that were distinctly different from Patrick’s needs and preferences. For example, not everybody likes broccoli and to have a galvanized rule about eating your broccoli is inherently unfair to the one who doesn’t like it. However, not ever having broccoli because one doesn’t like it is inherently unfair to the one that really does like it. Balance that with ‘we’re not running a restaurant here’ and you discover the challenges in the definition of fairness.
One of the other challenges we faced was behavior. No two children do the same things in the same way. Girls do things differently than boys. Some children are able to learn from other’s mistakes, some are insistent on making their own mistakes. Instead of defining a ‘line’ that had to be walked, we tried to define a ‘corridor’ within which behaviors could vary. We defined what was not acceptable and then watched them both develop at their own pace and with their own personalities. If we were consistent in catching the variations out of the ‘corridor’ of behavior, then everything went smoothly. But we weren’t perfect and there were always things that slipped by. The day would eventually come when we would have to explain to our children that we were not the perfect people they thought we were.