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14 Oct 2021

Who Are We Creating?

Jo Emmerson

Who are we creating?

"What does you reap what you sow" mean?
You reap what you sow is a proverb that says future consequences are inevitably shaped by present actions." › slang › you-reap-what-you-sow

When you first met your new baby, heard them take their first independent breath, looked them in the eye for the first time, did you wonder who they are? I know I did, with both of mine. This whole new person is in the world. There’s never been one like them, and there will never be one like them again. 🤯

But who are they? Will they be funny? Clever? Interested? Kind? Will they be an ‘easy’ child or will we have our work cut out for us?

And how much of that comes back to us, as parents and carers, to shape?

The ‘nature/nurture’ debate has rumbled on for decades, churning out some fairly controversial positions on all sides, from the Nature argument that ‘you are what you are, your genetics determine your future (so 'know your place')’ to the infamous boast from John B Watson (1928) ‘Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select--doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief, and, yes, even beggarman and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors,” (ah, the arrogance of the old white man... no mention of the team of nannies he would doubtless employ 🤦‍♀️).

These kinds of black and white arguments are a thing of the past, thankfully, and (as anyone who has ever actually met a child will tell you) it obvously a mix of both environment and personality which shapes who we are, and who our children become.

But with that in mind, let’s have a little look at some of the 'helpful advice' out there in terms of shaping our children.

Someone tells you - ‘Don’t pick him up when he cries, you’ll spoil him.’

Leaving a crying baby tells them that there’s no point them telling you when something is upsetting them, because you will ignore them.

FAST FORWARD – at school, this child is being bullied, but doesn’t tell anyone, because their concerns have never felt important to the grown ups around them. So they start acting out or missing classes.
FAST FORWARD – as a teenager, this child is worried about drugs or sex or alcohol – but has never really felt they were listened to when they talk about the things that upset them. So they keep their questions to themselves and eventually bow to peer pressure.
FAST FORWARD – as an adult, they are unhappy at work, but they don't tell their boss or peers. So they become anxious and depressed, unproductive and ultimately, at best, lead an unhappy and unfulfilled life.

Sounds extreme? Maybe these are extreme examples.

But maybe not.

When we leave a baby to cry, eventually they stop, and as parents, that is usually our main aim – to stop our children from crying, right?

Some common examples where this might come up:
- Rapid sleep training – Leave your baby to 'cry it out' and they will learn to put themselves to sleep…
Or they learn that when they need your help, you don’t respond.
- Toddler tantrums – When your toddler (who has only existed as a human for a couple of years, remember) is dealing with overwhelm and big feelings and doesn’t know how to process them, and you ignore, or send them away. Or they have ‘time out’ to ‘think about’ what they did…
Or they learn ‘when I am feeling sad and confused, no one wants me around. Showing how I feel must be a bad thing.’
- Potty training – When your little one ‘performs’ on the potty when they are told to they get a reward…
Or they learn that doing what grown ups tell them, even when their body isn’t ready, is a positive thing and they get rewards for it.
- Picky eating – When a child is told to sit at the table until their plate is empty…
Or they learn that it is better to eat past the point of being full, that food and overeating is how we make others happy.

I could go on – there are 100s of examples, every day, of moments when we teach our babies and toddlers something that will come back to haunt us, or them, in future years – and we won’t know where or why these unwanted teenage behaviours have come from because we’ve had a decade+ of sleep deprivation by then.

Have I shouted at my child? YES.
Have I had moments where I’ve put the screaming baby down and left the room, swearing under by breath and pulling my hair out? YES!
Have I pleaded with my toddler to please eat his dinner? YES!!

None of us are perfect, no one gets it right all the time.

But here’s the thing. As parents we have the responsibility of shaping a human being. And not only that, we have to deal with the consequences of how we shape them for a Very Long Time.

If we can mould and gently encourage our children to be kind, thoughtful, respectful, independent, confident young humans, in a way which will make the teenage years a little easier, then isn’t that worth a try?

Isn’t it worth pausing and thinking about the parenting methods, techniques and attitudes we hold and asking if they are going to serve us and our little ones for years to come? And if they do – Hurrah! And if not, how can we change?

For resources, ideas and tips for observing and changing your parenting style, have a look at the free handout below, or come and join us for a term of honest, practical, supportive parenting classes and find the Joy in Parenting.

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