PARENTING

My wife and I compared our childhood memories, and found them to be similar. Our parents were cranks on almost every subject -- food, clothes, money, religion, lifestyle, you name it -- and they resented every sign of our developing independence and maturity. We swore to avoid their mistakes when we raised our own children, and we worked out the principles. This essay is based on those principles, and the experience we gained while applying them.

The results, in my opinion, are marvelous -- but of course I am not objective. When I say that I am lucky to have such wonderful children and grandchildren, they reply that it is not luck, but that we are such a happy family because my wife and I created it. Thus flattered, I am emboldened to present my opinions.


DISCIPLINE
Disagreements between mother and father should be settled in private, preferably in advance. When exercising authority, parents should be united and support one another, not disagree or undermine one another's authority.

If it is necessary to backtrack, admit the fact. Explain why you have changed your mind and -- supremely important -- apologize.

Before you say "no," ask yourself three questions: 1. Is the reason for your "no" really objectively valid, not merely to serve your own convenience? 2. Isn't there some way to turn the "no" into a different "yes"?
          When our son was at the crawling stage, he discovered the bottom kitchen cabinet, level 
          with the floor, containing all the pots and pans. He liked to pull them all out and spread 
          them around on the floor. Instead of ordering him to stop, we taught him to sort them by 
          size, put them one inside the other, and stow them neatly back into the cabinet. For a 
          while this was his favorite game.
3. Are you willing to insist on your "no" in the face of the child's opposition, whining, tantrums, etc. -- and not to yield eventually out of fatigue or weakness of will?
          On the other hand, when our son began poking things into the electric wall sockets, "no" 
          meant "no." Even a major tantrum did not impress us -- and the whole thing was soon 
          forgotten.

Enforce rules firmly, but with explanations and -- supremely important -- with love. Never employ physical force. A parent who is even tempted to use physical force has already failed.

Meet a tantrum with calm resistance. Prevent the child's violence with an embrace, not with more violence.
     If the child is really upset, ask to be told what is wrong. Say that screaming is useless, when you are waiting to listen to straight talk. If the child's demand is possible, find a reasonable solution. Then point out that the tantrum was unnecessary. If the child's demand is impossible, say so sympathetically, but in no uncertain terms. Every child must learn, sooner or later, that wanting something does not automatically ensure its attainment.
     If the child is using the tantrum to obtain something or to test your resistance, ignore it. Sooner or later, it will run its course. On some occasions, I have succeeded with an exaggerated imitation of the tantrum, until the child had to burst out laughing.

Make the child understand that there are three different kinds of prohibitions: 1. Things that are morally wrong or fatally dangerous (like stealing, or inflicting pain, or chasing automobiles). There should be no compromise about these. 2. Things that are not for children. Say that something is not a toy, and one either learns to use it correctly or leaves it to adults. As soon as a child is capable of using a thing correctly and wishes to learn, teach the child to use it.
          One grandson, after breaking a few dishes, learned to load the automatic dishwasher. 
          Another, after burning his fingers a few times, learned to operate the toaster. Such 
          household chores became not only sources of pride but prerogatives, and rightly so, 
          because they were stages in the process of growing up.
3. Things that will produce an unwanted result. If such a result is not actually dangerous, allow the child to experience the result.
          One daughter conceived the idea of giving her doll a haircut. We said that it was her doll to
          do with as she pleased, but she must realize that the doll's hair would not grow back like 
          that of a human being. Finally she cut the doll's hair, and then wept bitterly at the result. 
          We refrained from crowing "I told you so." She knew that she had learned an important 
          lesson.


SOCIALIZING
Always treat a child as a person with rights, and -- supremely important -- the right to his/her own personality. This includes newborn infants, who can read your attitudes and emotions better than you think. Exercise authority with this in mind, rather than with the intention of "improving" the child's character.

Never lie. Never try to hide a death or a disaster, or the distress it causes you. Always include the child, and help him/her to understand. Never create the impression that there is something so terrible that it must be kept a secret. The product of a child's imagination is usually worse than the truth.

Always rejoice at a new ability. Most parents know how to applaud a child who learns to walk, but when that child is a teenager they seem to have forgotten how to encourage progress toward maturity. On the other hand, never curry favor by faking approval of something you think is wrong (like shoplifting). If possible, turn something wrong into something right. If not, agree to disagree, or take drastic action, whichever seems called for.

Always show your disapproval of an addiction. Some infantile kinds -- thumb sucking, plastic teat, teething ring, stuffed animal. security blanket, etc. -- are comforting for the child, so one should show understanding. However, encourage the child to look forward to a time when he/she will no longer need such crutches. Always congratulate a child who learns to do without an addiction, as having moved a step closer to mature independence. Later kinds -- nail biting, joint cracking, gum chewing, overeating, dieting, shopping, smoking, drinking, drugs, etc. -- should be treated similarly.

When you play a game with a child, play by the rules. If a child cannot win against an adult (as in arm wrestling) choose a different game, or have children play against each other. Never fix a game so that a child wins unfairly. Teach winning strategies. Teach sportsmanship and fair play by example.

Avoid hyper-parenting. Never saddle a child with enrichments and compulsory activities, in an attempt to create an over-achiever. Never set a goal for a child, and then expect total devotion to its achievement. Never try to force a child to vicariously fulfill your own unfulfilled ambitions. If and when a child falls in love with something and insists on being devoted to it, that is the time for encouragement and support.
          One daughter wanted to be an actress. At the first opportunity she left the kibbutz and 
          enrolled in an acting school. Our son met her there, and told us that she was ecstatic, but 
          apparently had no money and was not eating enough. I collected all the cash I could lay 
          my hands on, and went and gave it to her. One look at her shining eyes told me that I was 
          right.

Never make a child your whole life, at the expense of your own life. Plan for the child's eventual maturity and independence. Never make a young adult feel guilty, as though embarking on his/her own life means abandoning you.

Avoid experts and psychologists. Confer with each other and -- supremely important -- with the child.
          After our son had learned to sort the pots and pans by size (see above) I was playing with 
          him at the kindergarten, with a set of plastic cups of graduated sizes. The kindergarten 
          teacher informed me, out of the depths of her professional wisdom, that he was too young 
          for that toy. I did not even bother to answer her.


LEARNING
Learning is not brainwashing. Never inflict your own fixations and phobias. (Just the example of your obsessions will do more than enough damage.) If your purpose is to prevent the child abandoning your religion, or leaving an insular community worried about its depopulation, you are brainwashing and not educating.
          When my father was a boy in Kiev, his route to school passed a church. His parents 
          taught him that a good Jew must spit when passing a church. A gang of Christian boys 
          always ambushed him and thrashed him for spitting. He persisted in spitting, and endured 
          the beatings. All his life he never dared to enter a church, not even out of curiosity.

An adult who coerces submission by infecting a child's mind with fictitious terrors (like eternal damnation and hellfire) is as vile as one who abuses a child physically or sexually.
          A little boy from an ultra-orthodox Jewish family explained on TV why he was extremely 
          careful to pin his skull-cap to his hair. The rabbi had warned him that if he lost his skull-
          cap his mother would contract an incurable disease and die.

Learning does not always have to be "fun," as if bribing the child to learn. Children normally thirst for knowledge. They practice their newly acquired skills, even if the drill is not called "fun." They are eager to learn things that adults take seriously, rather than "fun" concocted by experts in child psychology.
          One daughter, at age four, stopped me as I read to her, and asked me how I knew what to 
          say. I replied that each letter represents a sound, and when you put the sounds together 
          they form words. She stared at me in wide-eyed astonishment and asked, "Is that all there 
          is to it?" She promptly taught herself to read, and soon complained that she had finished 
          all the children's books in the kindergarten.

This explains the alarming facility with which children learn things they are not meant to learn -- because they see what is meaningful for adults.
          My parents conversed in Yiddish when they did not want me to understand what they were 
          saying. My response was to learn Yiddish by ear. When they caught on, they switched to 
          Ukrainian, which I failed to decode.

Avoid toys that are finished products too perfect to touch (like an elaborate doll house) or high-tech mechanisms that can only be watched passively (like television). The only toys that are any good are those that leave room for a child's creativity, such as puppets and dolls, lego and blocks, tools and tableware, paper and crayons.
          When our children were at the crawling stage, they never tired of playing with yesterday's 
          newspaper. Later, we spent hours with nothing but paper and pencil, drawing cartoons for 
          each other. Still later, we played store, making change with real money.

Never speak to a child in "baby-talk," not even to a newborn infant. Children learn to speak by imitating adult role models, and they begin as soon as they are born. To imitate a baby's unsuccessful attempts to speak is not cute, but insulting and idiotic, as well as counter-productive.
          In a kindergarten where the children were just learning to speak, a boy annoyed me and 
          my son. I snapped at him "Stop!" He was startled, and desisted. I noticed that another 
          boy practiced imitating me. Then he approached a girl absorbed in playing with her doll, 
          and snapped at her "Stop!" exactly as I had done. She was startled and burst into tears, 
          and he walked away with a satisfied smile.

Teach resistance to the deluge of manipulative messages intended to coerce our behavior. Great interests target the vulnerability of children, and they have the power of money and the expertise of psychology. In school they teach children to read, but fail to teach them not to believe everything they read.
     Teach distrust of all advertisements, and of the propaganda of politicians, fanatic "activists," religions, and cults. While you are at it, teach distrust of peer pressure. Teach children to suspect anything that asks for money, or for personal information, or for participation in an abnormal activity.

Shun videos that pander to parents who are afraid that their children are as stupid as themselves. The entertainment industry fosters the fiction that a baby's IQ can be enhanced by watching videos contrived by experts. Actually, these videos (such as Brainy Baby, Baby Einstein, Baby Mozart) consist of doodles with computer graphics and emasculated bits of classical music performed by electronic beeps.
     The Sesame Street genre is no better. The premise is that, if advertisements sell rubbish to children, why not employ the same method for worthy educational purposes? In other words, since we are kind and generous, let us sell intelligence to the children while they are still vulnerable to the hard sell.
          On Sesame Street, the character that teaches the viewers to count from 1 to 10, is Count 
          Dracula. It is doubtful that children who do not yet know how to count to 10 will understand 
          this lame-brained pun. It is also doubtful that a TV program that presents Dracula as a 
          charming, friendly tutor is really "educational."

Teachers in public schools often find it difficult to keep order in the classroom. Why are there no such disciplinary problems when children play in an orchestra, sing in a choir, compete at chess, or learn classical ballet or competitive athletics or karate? In primitive societies, when the shaman prepares the teenagers for their rite of passage into adulthood, how come he has no such disciplinary problems? The answer is, that children know the difference between programs drafted by pedants especially for children, and real things where the criteria are the same as those for adults. The real things are harder, so the children are too busy facing the challenge to even think of causing disciplinary problems.


AUTHENTICITY
Children learn from their parents by example. They are attracted to things that please you. The injunction "Do what I say, not what I do." will never work.
          People presume that, since I am a musicologist, I can advise them what music to play to 
          their children, to make them grow up to be cultured. I always ask what music they 
          themselves listen to. If, as usual, they say rock-and-roll, popular songs, etc., I tell them 
          their ploy is futile. If they dose their children with Bach, but they themselves never listen 
          to Bach, their stratagem may have the opposite effect.

Do not hesitate to expose children to literature supposedly "over their heads." If a book has value, a child will understand it on his/her own level, and you will have laid the groundwork for a more mature understanding later. Genuine literature, like all genuine art, allows one to experience life vicariously, without paying the price that life exacts. Always use the authentic article, never a diluted version supposedly "suitable for children." If necessary, read it with the child, explaining and discussing as you go.
          Use "Treasure Island" for evil, "The Book of Genesis" for human imperfections, "Three 
          Men in a Boat" for childish adults, "Winnie-the-Pooh" for lovable fools, "Alice in 
          Wonderland" for word games and general lunacy.
               In contradistinction, "The Wizard of Oz" and "Pinocchio" teach that life's problems 
          can only be solved by an appeal to a supernatural power. "Cinderella" and "Snow White" 
          teach that a woman, no matter how beautiful and accomplished, is doomed to the slavery 
          of housework unless a prince carries her off.

Supplement children's picture books with geography, architecture, and paintings. (Familiarity with great paintings will have the additional advantage of neutralizing pornography.) Supplement children's songs with opera.
          On the wall over one daughter's bed hung a reproduction of the painting "Children's 
          Games" by Breughel. Often, instead of a bedtime story, we would take it down and pore 
          over it, examining every detail and identifying the games.


GENERAL
The universal criterion is simply this: Will the thing in question help the child to grow up to be a real person -- mature, sane, creative, loving, happy -- a mench?

If you do not enjoy parenting, in spite of the vexations and frustrations -- you should have used a contraceptive in the first place.