While we may chalk up this double standard to human nature, the tragedy in this dynamic involves more than mere ignorance; it can include children too. In recent decades, feminists and others seeking to have children without traditional family structure have argued that, with sperm donors and surrogacy, men have become redundant. Similarly, there are lobby groups arguing that women are equally redundant and that all that is needed is a loving parent. Also other lobby groups are promoting the myth that having children is a right.
No one has a right to have a child, but people have a natural and understandable desire to have children. Historically, the only people who could have children were those couples who were able to procreate. I’m sure readers are aware that not all of those people capable of procreating should have had children. Since the advent of IVF and surrogacy, the number of people capable of having children has increased. People who have to go the extra hard yards involved in 'having' a child demonstrate a high level of commitment to forming a family. But is that enough?
Is this discussion – what’s sufficient to raise kids – more about the narcissism of adults/would-be parents?
No, it is not automatically about narcissism, but perhaps it is about an unchallenged view that has been handed down over the generations. Remember the saying ‘Children should be seen and not heard’ – that saying encapsulates an adult perspective only - the desire to have a child. That perspective becomes narcissism when adults talk about children as if they are coloring books or mini versions of themselves with identical needs – clones. It ignores any consideration of what a child may want in terms of parents. In the current lobbying by special interest groups, children are lost in the mix.
What is needed to raise children?
Just to be clear, when we’re talking about raising a child we are referring to the conscious decisions involved in bringing a child up rather than a child growing up without adult direction and input.
Raising a child goes beyond the provision of the basics such as love, shelter, food, clothing and education. A focus on the welfare of the child and her/his needs has always been crucial and is even more so in the 21st century given we live in an increasingly challenging world.
You know that saying ‘It takes a community to raise a child? It’s so true. Whether that community is extended family, friends, supportive neighbours or single parent groups, it doesn’t matter as long as there is tag team approach to support parents as they wrestle with the issues of life and parenting. A tag team approach is important as it provides opportunities for parents to have respite from the daily, at times grinding, stresses of parenting. Respite enables all parents to retain perspective and to recharge emotional and psychological batteries. Respite is crucial to reducing depression in adults and in contributing to healthy emotional growth in children.
It also takes a community to raise a child because adults through their actions and interactions role model the various ways a person can be a woman or a man. They also model how people respond to the stressors in their lives - successfully and unsuccessfully. Children are discerning. They will often pick the behaviour that they see works. It is really important to talk about reactions to stress and what truly works and what only appears to work at the surface level.
Depending on your parental circumstance, you need to be aware of the stressors that your child may face due to your family structure, and you need to anticipate those stresses and have strategies in place to deal with them before they arise. Forewarned is forearmed. Ideally, you need to lay down the positive ground work that can defuse the impact of such situations before they arise.
There’s extensive research now that shows the variables that impact on children increase as the parental circumstance varies away from the traditional mother and father household. Single parents are a good example of the added stresses and challenges that a child has to navigate as well as the added challenges and pressures that the parent has to face and resolve. Similarly there are lobby groups in 2015 populated by children from same sex partnerships that reveal the challenges that children (irrespective of the child's sexuality) face in such family structures. Those challenges have less to do with the child's relationships with lesbian/gay parents (often reported as harmonious, warm, and caring) and more to do with backlash that the children faced in the brutal world of the playground.
Be aware that the world in which our children live and mix - at school and socially – is not one governed by political correctness. In the playground, children reflect the unguarded voiced views that parents express in the privacy of their homes. Think back to your own childhood. So the more a family structure varies from the traditional structure, the more challenges the child faces and the greater need for thoughtful adult intervention and support. Parents need to be aware of this and not be deceived by the myth that all they need to do is provide a loving home environment. Of course that is important but in itself it’s not enough. Children are not colouring books in which you impose your own coloured values.
Whether you like it or not, children learn that it takes a woman and a man to create a child. That knowledge sets up an expectation in children that they will have a parent of each gender. There’s extensive research to show that children separated from biological parents for whatever reason often feel driven to connect to and seek them out in adult years. Readers will be aware that even adopted children with fantastic adopted parents want to know their biological parents and often seek to forge some sort of bond with them.
Children also want what they perceive others to have and that they believe they should have. They don't want to be different even when they are in a loving non traditional supportive family structure. I explore this through Dan Mills' and Zoey Blake's subplots in both LIFE SONG and SONG BIRD.
Historically and for generations, there have been plenty of non-traditional family structures for a variety of reasons. For example, children raised by loving aunts or uncles or grandparents. What’s needed to raise healthy children is AWARENESS of the child’s needs from the child’s perspective and a willingness to address them to the child’s satisfaction. Good parenting involves achieving your happiness without it being at the expense of your child's happiness and well-being.
I’ve researched this subject matter extensively before writing LIFE SONG (https://youtu.be/dEioHGbnWiA) and SONG BIRD (https://youtu.be/x-vNrsKCYUY). In a subplot in those novels, this subject is explored from the different children's perspectives and from different family structures. When you read those novels, think about Dan, Zoey, Kate, and Shaun's views on this topic. Irrespective of the family structure, diverse role models are important as children learn how to interact and function with both genders through observation and experience. Children need to know there isn’t one mold and that diversity is acceptable.
It is absurd to claim, as many lobby groups have, that either gender is redundant. Women and men play important roles in children's lives beyond the role of procreation. Children and teenagers learn about life through observing and modeling the behaviour of others. Children and teens learn how to interact in a variety of settings and how to form relationships by observing people and seeing the reaction to behaviour. They learn how to form relationships with people from both genders, preferably functional ones, from observing the adults in their world. Children identify what is acceptable or unacceptable, what creates popularity or makes them a target. Research shows that children learn a huge amount about adults in conflict but need to learn more about how to constructively function and form relationships with a diverse range of people as well as how to successfully resolve conflict.
It’s important that parents remember the perspective of a child when they are dealing with situations that stress the parents. Children absorb parental stress even if the adult thinks it is hidden. Children read you. It’s hard I know, but irrespective of whatever you’re going through, the child’s needs have to be addressed as well especially so when the stress stems from the family structure. The unknown frightens children. It destabilizes them. So too does isolation from parents. Providing comfort to a child who is in conflict with a parent is not taking sides in an argument when that comfort assists the child to reconnect to the parent and resolve conflict.
When those stresses arise from conflict with your child, it is important to remember how you felt when you were a child and in conflict with your parent. Why? It re-frames your perspective and generates compassion. You see the conflict from both perspectives. That compassion can defuse the heat in conflict and get you to healthy resolutions faster.
Parents have so many distractions and demands on them nowadays that it’s easy for them to define their children’s needs from the parent’s perspective and forget that the children’s perspective on what they need from parents and extended family may be very different.
I’m not saying children should be placed at the centre of the parental universe and that parents should be subordinate to it. Such behaviour fosters the growth of narcissism. What is important is the continual effort to find a balance between competing needs and maintaining an ongoing dialogue with children about choices that affect family members and the consequences. The act of considering consequences and dialoguing about them with your children is what matters when raising children. It develops understanding. It role models critical thinking processes. When things don’t work out, it is crucial to openly dialogue about why.
In IN AND OUT OF STEP, my debut novel which is confronting at times, I explore the way parent role models and childhood experiences shape life behaviours and goals. Both Cassie Sleight (the central character ) and Mavis Mill's lives and the choices they make are directly impacted by the role models with far reaching consequences. Consider the dance video and how this subject is embedded in the choreography https://youtu.be/5HdLfeX6d78
So irrespective of family structure, adults who come into contact with children need to be aware that through action and lifestyle we are teaching children about how to function in life. We need to demonstrate a range of positive roles – how to be assertive rather than aggressive, how to be flexible and resilient rather than defeatist or a victim and so on. Importantly, we need to consider, scrutinize, and discuss with them the values actively and passively modeled by the world at large.
Another thing for parents to consider when raising children is the inter-generational transmission of attachment styles. Within the context of this discussion, attachment refers to bonds between parents and children. Research shows that people who received sensitive and well-balanced care as children find it easier to form secure attachments in adulthood. By contrast, people who received insensitive and indifferent parenting in childhood have greater difficulty in forming positive and secure adult relationships.That is not to say the latter can't form positive and secure relationships. They can, but it requires thoughtful behaviour, introspection, and a desire to be a better version of 'self' in all arenas. It is important to avoid the mentality of it never harmed me. It is also important to avoid being a helicopter parent who denies the child opportunities to play, explore, risk take, and experience the world within safe parameters.
Importantly, parents and adults who come into contact with children and teens need to model resilience. Getting back up again after life experiences have knocked you down is as important as providing a loving home environment. Raising strong children is not about wrapping them in cotton wool and isolating them from the world. Rather it is about demonstrating resilience when hardships occur and showing children how we recover from hardship and learn from it. We need to show children that we don't have to be defined by the circumstance that we are born into or that our choices have created, but that we can rise above those circumstances and become who we were meant to be. This message is central to the plot of 'Life Song' and its sequel 'Song Bird', available through Book Depository, Amazon, Powells, Barnes and Noble, and other major sellers.
How would you categorize the socio-political biases involved in this discussion?
It’s Life viewed through a lobby group’s lens, isn’t it? It’s a very narrow view driven by lobby groups’ desires rather than anyone’s rights. It is an approach of self-interest. Self-interest can become narcissism and ultimately results in injury to others.
I have concerns about any lobby group that reduces complex and important issues to a bumper sticker approach to it. That approach denies the perspectives of the multiple interests groups affected by an issue. That denial can result in injury to those groups denied a voice or an advocate. Some elements of those socio-political groups even resort to -ism statements and other derogatory terms to shut down objective discussion.
Does this criticism extend to “modern families,” which include parents from the LGBT community?
Good parenting is not shaped by or determined by anyone’s sexuality.
I’m not passing a negative judgment on anyone which is what is implied by the word criticism. Rather, I’m initiating a discussion on issues about raising children and good parenting. My message is the same regardless of your audience’s sexuality and family structure.
Good parenting is determined by the parents’ commitment and willingness to consider the needs of children and a willingness to weigh up parental and children's needs and seek balance. As I said before, the more your family structure differs from the traditional model, the more variables are introduced and the more strategies you need when raising your children. Don't make the mistake of parenting by remote control. By that I mean unthinkingly repeating parent and adult behaviours that you observed as a child. Be discerning. Select from the battery of positive strategies and avoid repeating negative parental behaviours that you learned from your parents. When you react unthinkingly in any situation with children, discuss your reaction and the consequences with the children concerned and discuss other ways the situation could have played out.
The key to raising a healthy child is to help your child feel competent and confident as she or he navigates life, its stresses and its challenges. Teach your children resilience by focusing them on the positive things in life when they are dealing with hardship. Provide them strategies to deal with hardship and strife. Be positive that life can get better. Encourage them to be mindful of the way they live life and of the values that underpin the way we live. Foster empathy. Teach them to forgive themselves when they make significant life mistakes, to learn from those mistakes, and to move onto better days. Be involved in your children's lives; you only have them for a short time and that time passes all too quickly.
© Christine M Knight
All of Christine M Knight's novels are available on order through major book stores and online sellers. Her paperback novels RRP: A$24.99 and her eBooks RRP: A$11.99.