Thursday, July 1, 2010

Raising Kids on Love

I know I don’t have any scientific data to back up my premise. My evidence is strictly circumstantial. My data collection is informal. And this may not seem like rocket science to any of you. But it seems to me that love raises the best kids. That’s it. Love.

Sunday night we had over a big bunch of work friends. Officially it was to celebrate the new DVD series Heidi Mills put together which documents the history and growth of the Center for Inquiry, our marvelous little school in Columbia, SC. For those of you who do not live in our fair state, yes, there is much more to SC than our ridiculous politics. Most people in SC are rational, friendly, bright and fair-minded. That whole Appalachian Trail thing is an anomaly. Most people here (no South Carolinians that I know personally) would ever call anyone a “RAGHEAD” and most are embarrassed by the coverage these nincompoops get over their idiocy.

So there were about 30 adults and about 15 of our kids all gathered to celebrate our past, our present and our future. It was a great time. Our little pool was filled with kids from about 18 months to teenagers with a few adults in as well. It was loud and splashy and as fun as can be. Kids were trying to outdo each other on the diving board. The little ones were floating around or being carried by mom or dad through the warm water.

I watched the adults interacting with their children very carefully. Everybody interacts differently with his or her kids of course. Some insist on their kids saying, “Yes, Sir,” and “No, Ma’am,” while others are far less formal. Some watch as their kids take big risks in the water, others are kind of hovering nearby making sure (as sure as they can) that no one gets hurt. “Be careful, honey,” like that has ever made a difference in the accident rate. The little ones are constantly saying, “Watch, Mama!” as they try out a new move. The older ones are thinking it without saying it.

The one big thing that all of these people had in common was the obvious love they show for their children. The kids were being kids. There was a little rough and tumble play, a few kids got a little hurt or cried when they were dunked and they weren’t ready. But there was not a single time when any parent yelled at their child or made them feel less than valued. No parent called a name or put their child down. No one embarrassed or belittled their young ones. That’s not to say that there wasn’t disciplining going on. A couple of the boys had to sit on the edge of the pool for playing too rough. A little one had to be washed off when he fell out of the trampoline into the dirt. He cried a little because he didn’t want to be hosed down. But the parents just quietly insisted on good behavior without threats or swats, name calling or counting (as in “ONE… TWO…” I never want to see what happens at “THREE”). These kids are raised on love. That’s it. Love.

For that evening, for those three or four hours, parents didn’t lose tempers. Children didn’t feel unworthy. We have all seen when parents lose it and smack their kids or holler when soft insistent words would do. How many times have you been in a department store or the grocery store and you see someone hitting their kid and you think, Wow! Was that really necessary? I have been in stores with Heidi when we must make ourselves turn away, knowing that our interference would probably only make things worse. And I’m not saying that there aren’t times when a good hollering isn’t justified. But when kids grow up feeling loved, then reasonable expectations aren’t that hard to enforce.

I remember when I was a very young teacher in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I was teaching four-year-old Head Start. There was this daddy who was always putting down his little girl. Her name was Tameka. He came in to pick her up – very late – one day and said that she was so stupid that she couldn’t even read her own name. Well, I knew that to be wrong. She had just written her name that day and put it over her cubby. Dad said, “Prove it to me.” And I asked Tameka to show her daddy her cubby, the one with her name right over it. She just looked at the cubbies in bewilderment. “See! I told you she was stupid!”

“C’mon, honey,” I said. “Show your daddy your name.” She looked at me terrified. Tears in her eyes.

“You’re so smart then show me your name,” he hollered. “Don’t make a liar out of your teacher!” She was frozen. She knew which cubby was hers. She knew how to write her name. But she could not show her father. And I was young, and I was powerless, and inexperienced, and gutless. He yelled at her right in front of me and I didn’t know how to stop him. Or I didn’t have the courage to. He didn’t whoop her in front of me, but sort of jerked her out of there with an “I-told-you-so.” Probably she got a whoopin in the car or when she got home.

How many whoopins did she get while she lived with her dad? Did those make her any smarter or better in any way? When that girl worked with me she was happy. When she came in each afternoon she was smart and glad to show me.

So it is delightful to see a big group of parents and children who know how to love and be loved and who guard each other’s feelings and self-worth. It is wonderful to work with parents who are proud of their children for who they are and what they can do. Just as violent and harsh environments in childhood lead to the same in adulthood, love and encouragement are surely passed on the same way. Not rocket science to be sure. Just an ordinary thought from an ordinary guy.


Chris Hass said...

Muluken had a kid on his baseball team this season that was extremely behaviorally challenged. He would regularly hit other kids in the groin, throw dirt around the dugout and into other players faces, and sit down in the grass when playing in the field. As frustrating as he could be it was obvious, when talking with him, that there were some issues.

One day his dad brought him to practice. He had his son running laps all practice yelling things like "You're a loser!" and "We're going to send you to military school and then you'll never see me or your mom again!" Fortunately my mom was at that practice rather than me because I don't know that I could have taken hearing that.

I'm pleased to have been part of your group this past weekend. I think teaching is so much easier than parenting. I've always felt I'm a much better teacher than parent. It feels, at times, as though I spend a good portion of my day nagging about rough play or arguing or cleaning up a mess. Teaching is kind of like being a grandparent - you are golden for short spurts and then send them home to recharge your batteries.

Brent and Kristen said...

Love this, Tim...Oh Brent and I have witnessed the same and also not known what to say or do. I just try to lead by example and hope they see. It's such a poor way of raising a child that is unfortunately often passed on. Tameka is better for her time spent with you.