Speculative Opinions I Have About Parenting
By David Metcalfe
December 27, 2019
I do not really know much about parenting, but I had 18 years of experience as a child, and have visited many homes of families, and talked to many friends who have had children. From these I’ve picked up certain ideas.
I think there are three main goals of parenting: 1) Providing Basic Needs For Your Children, 2) Preparing Your Children For The Real World and 3) Enabling Them To Live Moral and Happy Lives. And all of these things are done, ideally, in the context of a loving relationship.
1) Providing Basic Needs
When I say “basic”, I don’t mean to say you should give them food, water, shelter, and nothing else. But I do think excessive luxury is unnecessary, and can even be potentially harmful. What I mean is that I think a parent should do what they can to facilitate the fulfillment of their child’s needs, summed up well in Maslow’s famous hierarchy:
The very essential physiological needs are a given; if a parent can’t consistently provide food, water, shelter, clothing, rest, safety, etc. in a first world country like Canada or US, then they are clearly not fit to be a parent. A child does not need expensive, five course meals or going out to fancy restaurants or anything, but they do need to be provided with a diet that approximates the Canada Food Guide- covering all of the major food groups and meeting essential vitamin and nutrient requirements. In addition, their junk food needs to be limited to some extent, because often times, children do not know better than to eat excessive junk food that will taste good in the short term and do significant damage to them in the long term.
The child’s physical and mental health and development also needs to be maintained to a certain standard. This would include things like regular visits to the dentist, eye tests at the optometrist, taking them to a hospital if they get a significant injury or illness that won’t heal on its own, working with school teachers and psychologists to address learning adaptations if necessary (for things like ADHD or dyslexia), and so forth.
Beyond these essential physiological needs, a child should feel loved by their parents, and feel a sense of belonging in their family and among social groups with their peers. Children should have the opportunity to make friends and play with other children; at the park, playdates at other children’s houses, organized sports, summer camps, and so on. As a child participates in their academics and recreational activities, they should feel a sense of affirmation for the efforts they put in; support and encouragement from parents is a vital part of that.
2) Preparing Them For The Real World
When a child is told to clean their room, there is a very real and immediate urgency to that command. The room will literally gain unwanted things like mold and insects if left uncleaned, and it will be difficult for them to find their stuff if things are not organized properly. But it is also a preparation for the future. Keeping things clean and organized is just a part of life. It’s rare that people want to clean, but it’s just something that everyone has to do. If the parent cleans the child’s room for them all of the time, they rob the child of the opportunity to develop a vital aspect of existence, i.e. work ethic and conscientiousness.
Child labor, in the sense of a child forgoing education to do menial labor, is, of course, horrendously immoral and is rightly outlawed in every major nation in the world. But this does not mean a child should not do some amount of work. Many children who live on farms have to help with chores around the farm, many children have to help do the dishes or prepare meals, and there are a variety of other lifestyle tasks that children in good households commonly perform. These are, like cleaning their room, both immediately practical and important for the development of the person. All children need time to gain an education, time to play, and time to rest, and as long as the work is within the child’s ability and is not excessive in duration or intensity, they should be allotted some time to work each day.
There is inevitably going to be some kind of clash between the parent’s commands and the child’s will, and while reasoning with the child may be an option in certain cases, discipline in some form is often necessary. Things like taking away privileges (no TV for a week), time outs, or time spent in their room by themselves can all be effective and humane methods of punishment. I would consider verbally yelling/insulting or physically beating a child to be abuse, and not something that should ever occur. Spanking is a common practice, and is unlikely to cause significant damage, but nevertheless seems inappropriate and unnecessary; I think there are ways to discipline children without physically hurting them.
By teaching children the value of work, and encouraging their education and social development, the child can grow up through the various stages of child and teenage years and hopefully become a positive influence in the world. They can get a good job, get married someday, have friendships, take part in hobbies they enjoy, and so on.
3) Enabling Them To Live Moral And Happy Lives
There are many wonderful things that children enjoy that are not overly expensive and can be done on a regular basis. For example, many children love going to the swimming pool, or going sledding in the winter. These sorts of activities can be done at least on a weekly basis. Children also often enjoy playing games. For a lot of Gen Z, that takes the form of video games. Within moderation- maintaining education, socializing, housework, and activities- video games can be a fun form of entertainment for children to take part in. Children may also be interested in playing a sport, learning an instrument, or other types of more formal skills, and it is important that the parents give them the opportunity to pursue such things- not forcing them to, but merely as a facilitation of the child’s interest.
There are many things that children do that are immoral- sometimes because they don’t know better and sometimes as a conscious rebellion against authority. In the case that they don’t know better, educating them is likely the best way to help them. In the case of rebellion, a punishment is likely necessary. This guidance is not to discourage the child or give them a bad self image, but to help them know what is wrong and what is right, and to eventually gain an understanding for themselves. Leading by example, by exemplifying good conduct in your own life, is likely a very important way to encourage them to conduct themselves well.
Morality and happiness, to a large extent, work well with each other. If you are a thief, you will likely end up in jail at some point, or if you are mean to people, you will be disliked by your social community. For this reason, teaching children to behave well is important to them leading a happier life- one free from addictions, broken relationships, and a huge host of potential problems.
Parenting is probably the most important job in the world. Everyone is profoundly affected by their upbringing, whether for better or for worse; or, for most people, somewhere kind of in between. It is unfortunate that some parents do not take proper care of their children, and there are a variety of reasons for that- incompetence, immorality, selfishness, financial hardship, etc.
Ultimately, no parent is perfect; after all, they’re human. But parents should always act out of love for their children when parenting. If they do give their child a punishment, it’s not because they are angry at the child or want to make them feel bad, but because they know it is ultimately what is best for them. Even the best parents in the world can still have relationship problems with their children, or have children who grow up and act against the way their parents raised them to be. People have free will- for better or for worse- and parents cannot choose everything for their child. At some point, baby birds fly out of the nest, and you hope that their time in the nest allowed them to be nourished, developed, and strengthened for when they inevitably leave.