I had a lot of babies in the nursery to examine this morning. For those of you who haven’t already figured it out, I am very pro-baby. Babies make my days better. Taking care of them is much more health care than the sick care that comprises a lot of my day.
One of the most interesting things to see in the nursery is the different personalities of the babies. Yes, babies do have personalities. Any parent of multiple children can attest to the fact that a large part of a child’s demeanor is hard-wired in from the start. Some babies cry continuously, some don’t like to be messed with, while others are mellow and laid-back. These personality traits do seem to carry over to childhood and even adulthood. I have to say, though, that I haven’t noticed much of a difference between boy and girl infants. Either can be grumpy or mellow.
So what’s a parent to do? If your child is a whiney kid that doesn’t want you to mess with them, are you doomed to a life of fighting with them? Yes and no. The personality is the foundation on which the child’s character and personality are formed. We certainly do have an effect on them through our efforts, but the basic nature of the child – the canvas on which they are painted – is difficult, if not impossible to change. I am not sure you would want to change it anyhow.
This morning Mrs. Dr. Rob and I had a sense of de ja vu, as our 11 year-old daughter angrily declared that she didn’t want to go to school. She was very grumpy and saw the entire world as a conspiracy against her happiness. Given that she’s child #4, her mood did not have its intended effect. We were not injured or angered by it. We did not argue over the merits to going to school, or work to disprove her conspiracy theory. We laughed to each other. She is just like her older brother. She has always been just like our child #1 in many ways, and this day had almost the identical script to mornings we had 7 years earlier.
It happens at this age, and it happens with certain personalities. As parents, our job is not to shape the kids like a sculptor would shape a block of stone, it is to take what the child’s personality gives us and direct it where we think it should go. Even then, we can only expect limited success, but it’s probably not wise to let the lunatics run the asylum (my kids might suggest the lunatics do run the asylum!). When I first started parenting, I was all about being in control. Kids don’t know better and it is our job to make them do the right thing. Now I see parenting more as acting as a guard. Our main concern is their safety – both present and future – standing by them as they do their own journey.
One of the biggest mistakes I see nearly every parent make is to see their child as a “report card to the world” of their parenting skills. Sure, parents who neglect or abuse their children will more likely turn out messed-up kids; but it is a huge pressure to put on your child to make them responsible for your parental reputation. When we get mad at our kids, we need to ask ourselves if we are angry at them, or if we are angry that we didn’t parent better. That’s unfair. It’s their journey, not ours.
What’s the most important job of a parent? Making kids believe they matter. We need to give a damn about them. It’s got to be clear to them that it is about them, not us. My selfishness is far more dangerous to them than their behavior.
So, to those parents of the babies I saw this morning, I say: you have incredible kids. They are beautiful and unique. They won’t be like any other kids around, and that is a good thing. They will make you feel like a bad parent, but don’t get worked-up about it. Parenting is a very wide road, not a treacherous path. No matter what you do, you will screw your kid up in some way, so get over it early and just let them know they matter.
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