Family Life column on Parenting Manifestos, including a few self-evident foundational truths of my own…
We hold these truths to be self-evident: parents are harried, children are hard and there is no single authority for how to raise happy, healthy, well-adjusted kids.
Nonetheless, we recognize the right of every parent to occasionally get up on their high horse and proclaim the inalienable truths of family life.
Therefore, we fully endorse the Parenting Manifesto.
While there’s never been a shortage of experts only too happy to tell you how to raise children - hi, mom! - lately the steady supply of advice has coalesced into an avalanche of manifestos.
Over the last year, hundreds have appeared online, embraced by bloggers who appreciate the similarities in form - like blogs, manifestos are best when brief, authoritative and worth fighting over.
More than a dozen, all under 500 words and representing a wide spectrum of beliefs about kids, are collected on the site of blogger Brian Reid, who goes by the internet handle Rebel Dad.
I could go on about why so many parents now feel the need to proclaim their convictions… but it’s no great mystery. We all want the right to occasionally stop the minivan, drop the diaper bag and step up on the soap box.
Herewith, then, excerpts from my own Parenting Manifesto:
* Children come in fully-loaded. As much as we’d like to believe our children’s fate lies entirely in our hands, my own highly scientific research reveals that kids are born with 86 percent of all they will become. All we can really do is to make the most of the remaining 14 percent.
* Never underestimate the importance of blood sugar. Obstinacy, unruliness or brattiness are often rooted less in deep disfunction or your in-law’s bad genetic heritage than the time elapsed since the last pretzel. Snack often.
* Children deserve voting rights. Children may be inexperienced, untrustworthy blobs whose opinions shouldn’t count for anything, but parents who reflexively exclude kids from decision-making run the risk of raising aimless, anxious, affectless offspring.
* TV is the opiate of the little people. Kids spend way too much time in front of televisions, computers and other digital interfaces. Good parents put reasonable limits on “screen time.”
* Drugs are bad, but when on long flights with little kids, Benadryl is good. Do yourself and everyone a favor: dope ‘em up.
* You will spend the first 10 years of your kids’ lives battling a cold. Kids will pick up and transmit every single runny nose/scratchy throat bug in the biosphere. And remember: a fever is a symptom, not a life-threatening disease. Don’t rush your kid to the E.R. the moment the thermometer tops 100. Chill.
* Frozen lemonade makes everything better.
* Children know and see and learn things adults do not. Einstein credited his greatest insights and discoveries to his childlike capacity for wonder. Listen and learn - that
nose-picking pest may be pondering string theory.
* Choose your battles. Don’t waste time on stupid standoffs. Sometimes when a kid refuses to put on their pants, let them go to school in pajamas. Beyond issues of health and safety, everything should be subject to negotiation.
* Never say, “Who do you love better, me or mommy?”
* Let them get their ya-yas out. Don’t coop your kids up all day in classrooms, car seats and couches. Make time for raucous, loud, messy play. Without it, kids’ innate savagery will come out in more destructive forms.
* You break it, you buy it. Whether by adjusting a blanket or yelling at the TV, parents who awake a sleeping child are responsible for getting that child back to sleep.
* What works for one will hopelessly ruin another. Siblings may share the same basic makeup and upbringing, but they are inevitably different. Never assume that what works for one - be it a school, punishment or life lesson - will work for the other.
* Bribery works. Ignore the well-meaning experts who discourage the rewarding of good behavior with treats, toys or gold stars. Yes, bribery is a cheap psychological trick. Often, that’s all we’ve got. Good behavior may be it’s own reward, but candy is sweeter.
* Give ‘em your worst. Whenever possible, share your most embarrassing stories, secret humiliations and stupid mistakes. Disclosures may be hard, but they inevitably improve your credibility and result in reciprocal disclosure. Plus, they’re good for a laugh.
* You get what you get and you don’t get upset. A magical, invaluable mantra of Montessori preschools, the most amazing thing about this saying is how it so often silences even the most argumentative kid.
* Be not afraid of grand pronouncements. Sometimes you’ve gotta get grandiose and write a manifesto of your own.