Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Parenting should not be learned on the job

"Psychiatry enables us to correct our faults by confessing our parents' shortcomings."
- Laurence J. Peter

Mr. Peter is best known for the Peter Principle: "In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence." Like Mark Twain, he tends to entwine his observations of life with wit.

As much as I admire his writings (one of his book sits beside me as I write this), I must disagree, slightly, with this quotation.

We do not correct our faults by confessing the shortcomings of our parents, rather we make excuses and allowances for our own faults by attributing their origins to the shortcomings of our parents. Correction implies change, which few people do, except under the direst circumstances.

As each of us ages, we tend to see the behaviours of our parents showing up in ourselves. "I've become my mother!" We didn't like the behaviour when our mothers or fathers did it, but we adopt it ourselves nonetheless. But why?

We tend to follow the only examples we know well, which were those of our parents. Some people consciously and with great determination keep their vow to be different from their parents. In those cases, the parents were a negative role model that people use as something to avoid.

An important point to note here is that we see our parents in ourselves when our own children are much too old for us to change our ways to avoid them having the problems we had and disliked as we grew up.

Our only hope to make things different is for us to somehow influence our children to be the kind of parents we were not. This often does not go over well. We treat our grandchildren in the ways we should have treated our children when they were kids.

It's not the psychiatrist who nudges us to change so much as the legacy we want to leave in our descendents that forces us to face the reality that we didn't know much about parenting when we were parents ourselves. We learned on the job.

Since the most critical years of a child's life are the first five, learning parenting on the job is the worst form of apprenticeship.

'Turning It Around' advocates parenting classes for young adults who plan to become parents. These classes would follow the Lamaze classes that so many soon-to-be parents take before their first child is born. As an incentive, tax breaks or insurance benefits could be granted to those parents who took the course.

Given the tax savings that governments would have as a result of teaching the right lessons to children at the proper times, thus reducing crime rates among other things, tax incentives would be an easy benefit to apply.

With good teaching of the lessons that children need to know before they grow to the point of needing the knowledge or skills, a whole community would change as the newly-prepared children reached the ages when the benefits of the newly-taught lessons kick in.

Imagine a generation of children who were taught from a young age that violence and drugs are harmful to their bodies and should be avoided. The downstream benefits of personal and community problems that could be avoided would be tremendous. For example, if all children of a generation avoided all non-prescription drugs, organized crime would have to find another source of income, crime in general would be greatly reduced and people would have far fewer personal problems.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to provide the ways and means to clean up society's worst problems.
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NOTE: Generalities in the piece above were made as part of the argument leading toward the need for parenting classes. Whether the reader accepts or rejects one or more of these generalities does not alter the need for parenting classes.

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