Friday, April 08, 2016

MOP 5--The Oldest Kid's Perspective on Parenting

Matt, our oldest son, lives in Washington, D.C., works as an engineer for the Navy, studies for his Master's degree in aerospace engineering, and schemes how he can get to Mars.
It's always fun to visit him.

He has a studio apartment that is gadgeted and efficiencied and streamlined from top to bottom.

He built a Murphy bed that he let Paul and me sleep on.  It pivots on a hinge and disappears up against the wall, and then swish and turn and drop--there is an efficient desk on the back of the bed that is now a wall.
If that makes sense.

His fridge is full of efficient little containers with just the right amount of asparagus or blueberries to make a shake.  Magnetic strips on the walls hold his utensils.  One hose by the sink leads to a half-size countertop dishwasher; another hose goes to his water filter.

He lives and dies by whiteboards that contain lists of morning and evening routines, weightlifting goals, and current weight and body fat percentage, both of which he tries to increase by way of a shake he makes that contain 3 cups whole milk, 1 1/3 cups peanut butter, 1 can coconut milk, and a bit of cinnamon.  He divides this three ways, into plastic bottles, and drinks one at work every day.

He attaches markers and vitamin cases to the whiteboard with little exotic-metal magnets--neodynim or something.

Then there's the huge weightlifting frame he designed and built.
And the bank of little light switches that switch on individually with 6 switches but off with a single switch.

What's most amusing to me is all the traits of his grandparents that manifest themselves.  Grandpa Smucker's inventiveness, Grandma Smucker's love of gadgets, and Grandpa Yoder's contentment with living alone with all these happy little rituals that no one interferes with.

One night we had a long talk about parenting.  Matt was not an easy child to raise and I have a million regrets, especially with how much I punished when it obviously wasn't working.  Our friends always seemed to be in on a system that worked, or a certain set of how-to teachings, or a book that had it all figured out.

We floundered, failed, and got frustrated.  Whenever we got something figured out for one child, we soon saw it wouldn't work for the next one.

Now, Matt feels he was far better off with our fly-by-the-seat-of-your -pants parenting than he would have been with any rigid system we would have tried to slot him into.

Interestingly, his superiors say he is better with "squishy" situations, where things are undefined and you have to figure it out as you go, than most people his age. Matt thinks the same is true of his siblings.

It is really nice to hear appreciation and vindication from your children.

I would guess that Amy would have been happy with more of a system.  I know that at times she felt like we were way too chaotic.

If, for example, a friend with small children came over, and I told Matt to entertain the little guests, he would take them to the kitchen and figure out snacks and drinks and such.  It might be chocolate chips and soup crackers on dinner plates, but he would figure it out on his own.

Amy always wanted things spelled out.  "What shall I give them?  Apple slices?  Shall I serve them on plates or would napkins be ok? With peanut butter?"

But, as Matt said, today Amy seems perfectly comfortable finding her own creative way in all kinds of situations.

It feels like vindication to think that maybe our parenting style of meaning well but not knowing what we were doing produced children who can find their way through unexpected situations.

In a Facebook conversation, I said, "We stressed way too much, especially with Matt, but --bless his heart-- he still feels like the model of "try something, see if it works, try something else" was better than doing it the One Right Way."

Matt chimed in with a long analysis on parenting, which I found interesting and I hope he puts to use himself one of these years:

1. Parents who think they have "The One Way to Raise Kids" are full of themselves. If there actually was a "One Right Way", what are the odds that you, of all people, would find it?

2. If I have "The Plan", I can go through parenting never being forced to make admit a mistake. I have the perfect plan, there will be no mistakes. (That pride thing again).

Parent A

-> A is 25 and just had his (or her) first kid

-> A is a little insecure about his (or her) parenting, and has difficulty with the idea of being an imperfect parent. A goes searching for the "One Right Way" to raise kids.

-> A believes that he (or she) has found the ONE RIGHT WAY To Raise Children. He heard BG (yes, that BG) preaching about raising Godly children. BG has a 25-point plan, and anecdotes aplenty how it worked for hundreds of parents. BG has Bible verses galore, backing them up. A has fully bought into the "One Right Way", making his/her friends feel inferior along the way.

-> Turns out, A is not raising the same children that BG is. Turns out, some of those 25 points don't have the intended result. 

-> Turns out, A was a little full of himself*, thinking that a "One Right Way" actually exists and that he had found it.

-> Turns out, the unintended results were festering for years, inside his children's minds where he couldn't see them.

-> Turns out, A is too far down this path, once unintended consequences start appearing

1. Following the 25-point plan was a mistake. But having made this mistake for 15-20 years, A is so invested that he can't swallow his pride and admit he was wrong (further damaging what relationship he could still have).
2. A's child is now 18-20, and everything festering in the child's brain has begun to harden...even if A manages to apologize, 15 years of damage won't go away overnight.

Parent B

- B is also 25, and just had his first kid

- B is every bit as insecure as A, but is inherently (and correctly) suspicious of the BG's in this world.

- B, turns out, has a little more humility than A. B is willing to admit mistakes and apologize to his child, if need be.

- For whatever reason, God has gifted B with a child that is more inherently difficult than A's child.

- B tries one thing after another, looking for something that works. Many of these are mistakes, and quickly dropped. 

- When B tells A, A tells B the he/she should follow The Plan...if B "just follows the 25 steps", his child will be perfectly well-behaved. B tries "The Plan". However, B quickly realizes "The Plan" doesn't work for his child. B drops "The Plan" quickly, and no damage is done.*

*To my knowledge, my parent's never followed BG

 Over time, several things happen
1. Mistakes get recognized quickly. If it warrants apologizing to his child, B apologizes to his child. B then tries something else.
2. Turns out, a mistake pursued for a month, coupled with an apology if necessary, is easily recovered from. 
3. Turns out, when many things are tried and failed at, something that works will eventually be found.
4. Turns out, admitting a mistake and apologizing pays huge dividends. Unlike A, B's child reaches 20 harboring no hurt feelings or resentment.
5. Turns out, a 20-year-old who harbors no resentment makes MUCH better decisions than a 20-year-old who does*.


 Learn to swallow your pride

 A book with parenting ideas, great. A book with lessons learned from other parents, also great.

 A Very Scriptural 25-point plan to parenting, not great. Burn it. Seriously. It will do more harm than good.

Solomon got wisdom directly from God. The rest of us have to make mistakes along the long as your pride isn't one of them, things will have a tendency to work themselves out.

 One thing to point out: 

I am NOT saying that you should just go easy on your kids.

Parents who go super easy (no discipline, no structure) on their kids are making the same mistake as Parent A...they never take any action to train or discipline their kids, because their pride won't let them risk making a mistake.


  1. Angela Martin4/09/2016 6:50 AM

    Wow! Dorcas Smucker Just Great! Our oldest daughter alerted me to this post. Great! She was one of those firstborns! And I've found if you have enough children there may be a few repeats! We, after 20 some years, look at who she has become and are thankful! Keep putting ordinary life into words, that help others realize their family life is Normal. What ever that is!?!

  2. Your post is a great read. Also, thanks for the great books you have written about life and family. We have been blessed with one of those difficult children, and your writing has helped me to keep humor a part of our life. I've also learned a lot about prayer and fasting and hopefully a little about humility.

  3. Love this! We have a child with Aspergers, and it was so painful to hear indirect (or direct!) jabs at his behavior in sermons at church. We're still struggling along, trying to find out what works best and above all, trying to love our kids well. They bear God's image, and they're too precious to be stuffed into someone's Ideals.

  4. Children don't come with manuals, nor is there "one right way". But! We have access to a Father who knows all, and whose children are on loan to us to raise, so we can pray for guidance and answers from Him. Answers that can come through the scriptures, another parent, a book, or thoughts and ideas that come into our mind and heart. The overall atmosphere of a home should be pervaded by love, humility, repentance and forgiveness.

    Isn't the hardest part of parenting that by the time we have it figured out we are out of the job? Or is it just me that is too late smart?

  5. Any "system" that we might have used on our older children did not work for our youngest, who is adopted. I have become highly suspicious of systems promoted by people who have not raised their children to adulthood and have not seen their grandchildren grow up. Maybe people that old don't write books because they know they still don't have all the answers!

  6. This is encouraging and refreshing! Thank you for your honesty and wisdom. We are weeks away from welcoming our first child... which is actual first two children... I have no doubt that even what works on one identical twin may not work the same on the other, so we certainly will be appealing to heaven for guidance often! :)

  7. Actually*, not actual. Typing one-handed while lying on the couch!