If a person reads anything they should read The Wonder Child. Even if they are not going to become a parent of their own child or baby they are still a child growing and contributing to the growth of society or the World Mind.
"When seen only as presiding over a child's growth, parenting can be frustrating and burdensome. However, when seen as an opportunity for personal growth for adults, parenting is one of the most creative and affirming experiences that life offers. It can be a mutual growth process for both parents and children.
Reinhold Niebuhr said that parents' lives are fulfilled through the realization of integrity in their children.1 This means that the full meaning of parenthood comes in later life. Yet while we are raising our children, parenting gives us chances to improve ourselves and broaden our own personal horizons as we model for our children the qualities we would like to see in them. For some of us, our own children give us a chance to become the parents we wish that we had.
Because each one is born with unique potentials, children develop their own personality styles, temperamental rhythms, moral values, and interests. Still parents exert strong influences on these qualities, as do peers, teachers, and society during the school years.
There was a time when parents raised their children without relying on expert advice. In those days aunts and grandmothers were available to help. But during most of this century families have been increasingly isolated from their extended families. Because childrearing seems to be a baffling and risky experiment, many parents have turned to experts. Unfortunately, that expert advice has been interpreted in the context of prevailing social trends and converted into childrearing fads that later have been cast aside along with the reputations of scapegoated experts whose names have been associated with those childrearing eras.
Early in this century, John B. Watson warned parents against spoiling their children with unnecessary displays of affection and recommended imposing regular habits on them in order to instill self-discipline. The ideas of Sigmund Freud swayed the next era toward reasoning with children to help them become insightful individuals, capable of enjoying leisure as well as work. After World War II, permissiveness with children was inferred from the writings of Dr. Benjamin Spock, who enjoined parents to trust their intuitions as they tried to meet their children's needs.
Now in the wake of the "Spock era," we can choose from a variety of experts. On the "conservative" side are those who encourage firmness and "tough love" with children. On the "liberal" side are those who minimize confrontation and stress negotiating with children. Finally for the "avant-garde" there is a plethora of advice on how to accelerate development in order to qualify children for prestigious nursery schools.
Now parenthood has almost become professionalized so that many parents seek "the best way" to raise their children. Childrearing no longer is something that can be done by tradition, whim, or common sense. There presumably is a "right way" to put a child to bed, to leave a child with a sitter, to get a child started in school, and to have a friend over. Because being a parent is a career, like any career the harder we work at it the more we gain. The result is the general feeling that we cannot do enough for our children. Certainly we should raise our children better than we were raised.
Whereas parents who reared their children in the seventies felt overwhelmed and needed their children to grow up fast to reduce some of the pressures on themselves, parents in the eighties believed that they could give their children a competitive edge that would make them brighter and more able. In our busy lives in the nineties we feel isolated from other parents. There is no time and there are few places for us to exchange ideas and share our experiences.
The psychologist David Elkind concluded that parents in the seventies "hurried" their children to make them more mature, and parents in the eighties "miseducated" their children to make them more intelligent.2 Today's parents continue the hurrying and miseducation trends and are susceptible to commercial oversell and to the fadishness of educational practices.
According to Elkind, young children accept and participate in miseducation, because it pleases those to whom they are attached, not because they find it interesting and enjoyable. Miseducation thus creates internal conflicts between the natural inclinations of children and doing what others expect them to do. Miseducation can be more pernicious than hurrying, because it can lead to more deep-seated problems. Young people who have been hurried can take a year or two off before getting on with their adult lives, but miseducation, especially when combined with hurrying, can leave children with stunted creativity and with conflicts in their own personalities.
Many of us are confused and frustrated, because of our not entirely compatible goals: to have a happy child, to have a brilliant child, and to have a smoothly managed home that does not detract from our careers. This situation was described vividly by Joan Beck, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune :
Once it was assumed that teenagers felt a little awkward with contemporaries of the opposite sex, that it took a few adolescent years to get used to feeling comfortable about asking for dates, going out together and working up to kissing and beyond. There were generally perceived standards of sexual behavior, acknowledged by the media and at least nominally supported by adults. Adolescents who didn't want to go beyond them could say no with social and peer sanction.
But teenagers today are expected -- at least by many counselors, clinics, advertisers, media messages, and each other, if not by parents -- to be sexually active and to work out a moral code of their own for coping with sexuality. They also are considered -- certainly by clinics, counselors, and school-based health centers -- to be mature enough to deal with the disciplines and difficulties of contraception.
We expect kids to have the strength to deal with parents' divorce without emotional damage, to handle life with a single parent without a problem, and to grow up strong without a father-in-residence or even with never having had a father's name.
It used to be assumed that adults owed it to children to protect them from harm before birth and after, to remove foreseeable obstacles from their lives and give them time to mature before they had to face adult dangers. Now, babies die of AIDS in urban hospitals, one infant in every ten is born suffering from cocaine exposure, one child in five lives in poverty and countless numbers of adolescents are turned off by poor schools, pressured into gangs or caught in the webs of crack. "Just say no" is thin armament indeed for the hazards of urban jungles.
The truth is that we are redefining children and childhood to fit adult needs and conveniences and to take a minimum of adult time and attention."
If a parent listens very closely they might see their child as their soulful mentor and not want to vicariously impose sick societal institutionalized alienation upon them.