|My son is 15 and has brought me nothing but...
I thought you'd say that! No, my son is 15 and has brought me
nothing but joy.
"You're kidding! How did you do that?"
I am proud of my son but, unfortunately, I cannot take personal
credit. His father and I were simply fortunate enough, after a
some missteps at the start, to read insightful parenting books and
magazines, and to explore parenting issues with knowledgeable and
compassionate friends. Today he is the most caring, thoughtful,
and generous person I know.
"Tell me, please! What did you do?"
Well, we did everything we were told by society not to do. He
slept next to us, breastfed for several years, was never punished,
threatened, bullied, or teased, and was allowed to express anger
as well as happiness...
"Oh, you spoiled him?"
Well, let's examine that word. The dictionary defines
"spoil" as "to cause to demand or expect too much
by overindulgence." In my dictionary, this is the third
definition. It mirrors the common usage of this word in our
society. This definition denotes a cause and effect:
overindulgence, it says, causes spoiling. But is this belief true?
Or does this definition merely represent a widespread
misunderstanding of the true nature of children's behavior? A
definition that would be accurate in terms of the way children
actually learn and react is the first one listed: "to damage
or injure, to destroy."
What actually spoils a child, what actually damages, injures,
and destroys vital qualities in the child are the other choices of
parental behavior: punishment, separation, and rejection. These
experiences spoil a child's inborn sense of trust, capacity to
love, creativity, and potential for joy. Robbing a child of these
treasures is surely one of the most harmful acts a human can
"So the proof is in the pudding?"
Exactly. Adolf Hitler was frequently and severely abused in
childhood. As an adult, he expressed the anguish and pain of those
years in ways that brought about misery and suffering for
millions. By comparison, Albert Einstein was cherished by his
parents. His mother was accused of "spoiling" him. Yet
Einstein became not only one of the world's greatest scientists,
but a most gentle, caring man, deeply concerned about social
"Where do I find the kind of information which helped
Read Compleat Mother, Empathic Parenting, or Mothering
magazines. Talk with midwives. Meet with caring mothers in La
Leche League and other breastfeeding support groups. Read books by
Alice Miller, Joseph Chilton Pearce, Tine Thevenin, and John Holt.
Meditate and listen to what your heart tells you. Truly believe
that your baby will let you know what is right... and what is
"How can a baby tell me this?"
Babies come into the world with perfect love and trust. They do
not suspect, mistrust, play mind games, doubt motives, or in any
way cloud communication unless and until this trust is betrayed by
such painful experiences as punishment, rejection, and separation.
A baby's smiles and tears are the most potent form of
communication on this planet.
"What about the mistakes I've already made?"
There are no perfect parents. While we have all made mistakes,
punishing ourselves is no more effective or reasonable than
punishing our children. Loving ourselves and understanding that we
have done as well as we could have with the information and inner
strength we had at that moment, is as important as loving and
understanding our children. All we can do is put forth the love
that we feel, recognize the critical importance of parenting, and
continue to discover compassionate ways of relating to the
children we are blessed with.
"What are the most important things a parent should
Two things: First, in our society, it is assumed that children
and adults, for some unexplained reason, operate on two separate
and distinct principles of behavior. We adults know that we behave
at our best toward those who treat us with kindness, patience, and
understanding. Yet children are presumed to behave in the opposite
way; that is, behave best toward those who threaten, punish, and
humiliate them. If we try to pinpoint the age at which this
mysterious transformation from "children's principles of
behavior" to "adult principles of behavior" occurs,
we are at a loss, because there is no such transformation. There
is no difference between the "operating principles" of
children and adults: we all behave as well as we are treated.
The second important consideration is that so-called "bad
behavior" is really a blessing in disguise, as it affords the
best opportunity for learning about life. If punishment is
introduced at that point, this golden opportunity is lost, because
the child's attention is taken away from the matter at hand, and
drawn into feelings of humiliation, anger and revenge. Further,
superficial "good behavior" obtained through threats and
punishment can only take place until the child is old enough to
fight back; angry teenagers do not fall from the sky. But trust,
kindness and empathy, kept intact within the child from birth, and
strengthened by parental examples of those qualities, will last a
"I see. It's all a matter of trusting children, of
recognizing that children may be less experienced and smaller than
we are, but that they are equally deserving of being treated with
dignity and respect. From newborns to centenarians, all human
beings behave as well as they are treated.
Precisely. In parenting, as in all human relationships, let us
give only love and love is all we will receive.