How to Actualize the Dream of Proper Parenting

To dream is to desire, to envision, to wish. But as the old saying goes, “If wishes were horses than beggars would ride.” It’s not enough to want, you have to DO SOMETHING. You have to actualize those dreams into reality. When eGO Friendly lists Dream as a principle, it doesn’t mean that wishing is something you should do, it means that one must NOT wish, but do- actively pursue those dreams, don’t just build castles in the air. At this point in my life, my biggest dream is my children.

As the father of two little girls, I spend most of my waking life worrying and hoping for my girls. Unlike other dreams, the desire for your kids is not a simple “point A to point B” thing, like winning the Superbowl or becoming a novelist. You can’t just think, “OK, I just have to do this then that then this…” to realize your goals. You need to constantly keep in mind your goals and realize them in everything you do, at every moment and be aware that every single thing you do will effect them.

My wish for my daughters is not so easily put into words, but it can best be expressed by my desire to make them the best people they can be. This entails teaching them the morals, values and desires that I find important and making sure that what they learn from me is not what I am, but what I wish to be. Our children can hear us tell them what we believe or what things are right all day long, but they will be figuring out what they should be not just from that, but from observing how we actually act.The question is, how do you actually do that? If everything matters and could potentially change your child, how do you know which battles to pick and which things to let slide?

One of the huge parenting debates is media content. Children are so impressionable and they respond to moving images so well that TV and movies are both a blessing and a curse. How to balance the calming and distracting nature of kid’s content against the need to control your child’s world view?
To illustrate- while “reading” the fantastic book Hug by Jez Alborough my eldest named all the animals. The geckos were frogs, the giraffes were giraffes and the lion cubs were “Simba”. I cringed when she did that, I had exposed her to The Lion King at such a young age that all young lions were Simba (I don’t think she meant to say “Lion Cub” in Swahili). I cringed, but beside saying, “Those are lion cubs,” once or twice, I left it at that. This is one of the major balancing acts I am always trying to pull off with my kids; I want my daughters to be aware of and part of popular culture but I also want them not to be slaves to it, to not be afraid to challenge it and look at it from their own perspectives. This is why our massive Disney collection is balanced by The Last Unicorn, Mirrormask and Yellow Submarine. Not so much that I want them to be “cool” but because I want them to be aware of the wide plethora of non-Disney animation out there, to realize that kid’s movies can be more than saccharine-sweet happy endings. At the same time, it’s not one of my major battles.

As part of our solution to the media issue, we don’t own a TV. The judgement to not have a television had less to do with the content, but on the pervasiveness of your standard TV set. You sit a child in front of Nickelodeon or Sprout and you introduce them to the crass blatant ads, the crappy cheap shows and the branding of modern media. To my kids, anything on our computer is a “Movie” whether it is an episode of Charlie and Lola or Sleeping Beauty. This little “trick” allows us to create a sense of distance to the media we show them, it also allows us to keep track of what films or shows they are watching. Sad as it is that my girls don’t get to sit through a whole episode of Sesame Street in its entirety, there is something comforting in discussing with her what she liked about things that my wife and myself either watched with her or have watched as children.

Part of all this is the specific moral and ethical code I try to live my life by. To me this is the most important part of my, and hopefully my daughters’, life. I am of the belief that I can only be the best person and example to the world of that kind of person if I am of the world, knowledgeable and part of the culture I exist in. For my girls this means showing them the world through a lens that gives them a (hopefully) healthy and realistic view of what is wrong and what is right.

Now, many of the things I wish to do I do not do. I do not control my temper as I should, I do not treat all matters with the seriousness they require and I do not actively engage in as many communal or self-improving projects as I would like to. For my daughters, I must make them realize that this is not THE way, rather just MY way and even that is not the way I wish to be, just the way I am at the moment. But, again when do I do so? If I go around telling my kids to “do as I say, not as I do” then they’ll just see me as a massive hypocrite. And rightly so.

When I lose my patience with my three year old I make sure she knows that my anger was not a valid or good response to her whining or refusals. But, in the balance, I feel the need to explain to her why her behavior got that kind of response. When I do this I try to show how, while my response was “bad” her actions were also “bad” and why they can elicit such a response from people. Anger is something I struggle with all the time and I see the seeds of this struggle in her. So that, I feel, is a battle worth fighting and a place where she needs to know the hows and whys behind the actions.

The issue here is not purely a skinner-esque behavioral one, but is the actualization of my desire for her to be a strong, smart and kind person. When I or someone else gives in to her whining we are not just taking the easy way out, we are actually teaching her a lesson in life, a bad lesson.

The above are just some tentative answers to some very very tough questions. Dreams are always hard to actualize, but when your dream IS another person, it’s even harder. Every action I do , around my girls or away from them, every battle I wage against their bad behavior, all decisions I make about them or myself is a butterfly’s wing flap that could have untold effects not miles away but years down the road.

I do not claim to have any answers, all I can do is offer my experiences and ask you, my readers, to tell me what you think. Please do.

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