Random observations on raising children (from someone who has not)

“A father’s love is not measured in words, nor kisses, but in time.” Raphael Honigstein in Klopp: Bring the Noise

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Yes, I’m of that age. Virtually everyone I know has had or is having babies. I haven’t, but it has given me something to write about, which I’m doing here.

Children change lives.

People get busy and people get different perspectives on the future. Some parents I’ve talked to have alluded to a greater sense of the importance of time, and duty to future of the planet.

From many other conversations, the opposite appears to be true – having a child makes some of us both more small-c and big-C c/Conservative. The weight shifts to what is important for the family, away from what is important for the world. We think more about building a nest egg, about protection. We want what’s best for our child, at the expense of what might be best outright. It is a circle that is hard to square.

In addition to the above, there is a heightened sense of parenthood. Parents notice other children more and build a deeper sense of empathy for other parents of crying babies on planes.

One thing I’ve noted is that having a child changes the lives of the rich much less than the lives of the poor. Richer parents access “help” that allows them to continue to work, go out, have lives. There are significant windows for quality interaction. Children can be a smaller fraction of rich parent’s life, or a much larger part. The rich parent has that choice.

Kids loom much larger in the lives of poor parents, and there is little choice. They either rip away swathes of time (both leisure and productive) and energy, which is a challenge to an already financially insecure existence. Or parents continue to work and there is almost no space for interactions with the child. No wonder that children in “professionals’ homes were exposed to an average of more than fifteen hundred more spoken words per hour than children in welfare homes“.

There is a depth of responsibility in raising a child, but parents’ actions have less influence than I thought.

We crave control and raising a child seems like somewhere where we can have some control. We influence, to some degree, almost every decision this tiny being makes (for several years at least). Yet so much resides outside of our sphere of control.

We cannot control the gene pool (so far); we cannot control which friendships our children will make; we cannot control what they see in the world (and especially on the internet) and what they make of what they see; we only have some influence on the environment in which we raise our child and the wider network of people that he or she is exposed to. Even where we can exert some influence, we have no idea what the impact our course of action will have. Full responsibility with much less than full control.

Raising a child sounds like a relentlessly difficult yet rewarding experience.

Parenting is with no doubt hard – sleepless nights, responsibility and sacrifice. I love that so many people manage to do it with absolute love.

Despite it being so hard, parents still do it. Often multiple times. Parents talk about the real beauty and joy they feel in raising a child and seeing it grow up. Some fraction of this may be biases or hormones, but there does seem to be a genuine warmth underlying parenthood. Parents feel pride (and ownership) in their child’s achievements.

Some things I’d like to be able to do if and when I’m there.

As I’ve observed parents there are some things that I think have worked well, some things that I would want to think about how to implement in my raising of a child:

  • Create a sense of openness. Allow people into the processes. Encourage the building of lots of positive relationships with people of all ages.
  • Avoid technology, make time. No iPads, no TV. Instead focus on activities, opportunities for learning, and discuss things. Talk, talk, talk.
  • Develop stimulating environments, push imagination, ask questions. Develop a growth mindset.
  • Create adventure. Go and see things, different people and places. Create a sense of wonder. Focus on broadening and deepening interest.
  • Read to, read with. Every night, without fail. Make it an interactive experience. Ask questions, encourage discussion.
  • Treat with respect. Work with a child’s interest alongside encouraging him or her to explore other things.
  • Act authentically. Maintain my own sense of wonder and imagination. Focus on the non-material pleasures. Act with love, always.
  • Let go of specific outcomes, and focus on habits and processes.

Implementing any and all of this will be a challenge, I think. Especially when presented with an annoying arrogant brat of a baby.

Whilst writing this piece I particularly enjoyed an article in the New York Times entitled Raising a Moral Child, highlighting some of the complexity in the process of helping a little person grow up.

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