Bargell: Growing up – American Style
Since the firestorm of comments based on my reply to a recent letter to the SDN editor that provided some child-rearing advice (OK, maybe more like five comments, and the flicking of a Bic-butane, instead of a firestorm – but still), it occurred to me that just about everyone has some advice or wisdom about child rearing. Such advice it seems is much like politics: look around hard enough and you can find “authority” for any position you care – or dare – to take. So, I don’t buy into that old adage that they don’t issue an instruction manual when they hand over the baby for you to take home (although admittedly a brief demonstration would have come in handy when it came to strapping that 3-day-old into a car seat). Fact is, the instructional material and advice is nearly overwhelming, and seriously, with kids to raise, who has time to take it all in?
We’ve come quite a distance from Dr. Spock’s seminal book, “Baby and Childcare,” published in 1946. Until I snooped around on the Internet a bit, I didn’t realize it first sold for a mere 25 cents (in paperback). My guess is neither Spock nor his publishers realized the thirst young baby boom parents had for expert advice on how to raise kids. I wonder what commentary Spock might offer on Amy Chua’s recently published book, “Tiger Mothers: Raising Children the Chinese Way,” one of the more recent, and more controversial, books on the subject. Although I’ve only read excerpts from Chua’s book (see reference to time above), its firestorm is visible for miles. Ms. Chua defends everything from requiring her girls to practice their instruments for eight-hour stints to being openly and harshly critical of any performance that was less than perfect, as an approach that has worked for quite well for her and her family. There’s no arguing that her girls are accomplished musicians, and in time they may turn out to be accomplished human beings as well. But, her approach is, if you’ll pardon the expression, not really my cup of tea.
The lesson, of course, is that it’s easy to give advice, and once imparted easier still to defend the advice as absolutely correct. Problem is, each approach can’t be the end all – there’s just too darn many of them. So of late I’ve been trying hard to listen to those voices that resonate with me as a parent and a person – sometimes agreeing, but just as often not. The best guidance I think comes from those internal whispers from the past, and the stories shared by parents travelling our road – both of triumph and heartbreak, and sometimes by merely pondering the profound wisdom shared by folks whose paths unexpectedly and refreshingly cross ours.
I still recall my Dad telling me to look him in the eye when I had conversations with him, especially the hard ones. The words spring from my mouth when I talk with our girls, particularly when talking about the hard stuff – a voice from the past I can’t seem to shake. I was glad to see this advice appearing on one of my favorite cheat sheets to childrearing, “150 Ways to Show Kids You Care,” albeit in a different context, reinforcing the fact that looking someone in the eye shows both respect and caring. Lately, as the girls approach their teen years, I find myself disagreeing with one common view: it’s just natural for teenage girls to be mean to one another. Instead of tolerating drama, I think we owe it to our girls to let them know intentionally hurting one another is not an accepted part of growing up.
Finally, just the other day I found great delight in the wisdom shared by a young man – not an author, child specialist or even a parent, but instead one of the many young people who serve as Sherpa-guides for the Snowboard Outreach Society (SOS). After a particularly beautiful day on the slopes, when thoughts easily could have been only about sunshine and snow, this young man shared his definition of integrity with our daughters. The kids had struggled a bit with the definition, understanding that integrity has to do with being honest, and doing what is right – even when it’s not easy. But their Sherpa, James, let them know that real integrity is doing what is right – even when you know no-one is watching. Thanks James for being one of our family’s voices. And, if you talk to your folks soon, I’d like to get my hands on the book they used raising you.
Cindy Bargell lives outside of Silverthorne with her husband and two daughters. She is a card-carrying PTSA member, real estate and natural resources lawyer and part-time gymnastics coach. She welcomes your comments at email@example.com.
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