Nature

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I had a lot of babies in the nursery to examine this morning.  For those of you who haven\’t already figured it out, I am very pro-baby.  Babies make my days better.  Taking care of them is much more health care than the sick care that comprises a lot of my day.

One of the most interesting things to see in the nursery is the different personalities of the babies.  Yes, babies do have personalities.  Any parent of multiple children can attest to the fact that a large part of a child\’s demeanor is hard-wired in from the start.  Some babies cry continuously, some don\’t like to be messed with, while others are mellow and laid-back.  These personality traits do seem to carry over to childhood and even adulthood.  I have to say, though, that I haven\’t noticed much of a difference between boy and girl infants.  Either can be grumpy or mellow.

So what\’s a parent to do?  If your child is a whiney kid that doesn\’t want you to mess with them, are you doomed to a life of fighting with them?  Yes and no.  The personality is the foundation on which the child\’s character and personality are formed.  We certainly do have an effect on them through our efforts, but the basic nature of the child – the canvas on which they are painted – is difficult, if not impossible to change.  I am not sure you would want to change it anyhow.

This morning Mrs. Dr. Rob and I had a sense of de ja vu, as our 11 year-old daughter angrily declared that she didn\’t want to go to school.  She was very grumpy and saw the entire world as a conspiracy against her happiness.  Given that she\’s child #4, her mood did not have its intended effect.  We were not injured or angered by it.  We did not argue over the merits to going to school, or work to disprove her conspiracy theory.  We laughed to each other.  She is just like her older brother.  She has always been just like our child #1 in many ways, and this day had almost the identical script to mornings we had 7 years earlier.

It happens at this age, and it happens with certain personalities.  As parents, our job is not to shape the kids like a sculptor would shape a block of stone, it is to take what the child\’s personality gives us and direct it where we think it should go.  Even then, we can only expect limited success, but it\’s probably not wise to let the lunatics run the asylum (my kids might suggest the lunatics do run the asylum!).  When I first started parenting, I was all about being in control.  Kids don\’t know better and it is our job to make them do the right thing.  Now I see parenting more as acting as a guard.  Our main concern is their safety – both present and future – standing by them as they do their own journey.

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One of the biggest mistakes I see nearly every parent make is to see their child as a \”report card to the world\” of their parenting skills.  Sure, parents who neglect or abuse their children will more likely turn out messed-up kids; but it is a huge pressure to put on your child to make them responsible for your parental reputation.  When we get mad at our kids, we need to ask ourselves if we are angry at them, or if we are angry that we didn\’t parent better.  That\’s unfair.  It\’s their journey, not ours.

What\’s the most important job of a parent?  Making kids believe they matter.  We need to give a damn about them.  It\’s got to be clear to them that it is about them, not us.  My selfishness is far more dangerous to them than their behavior.

So, to those parents of the babies I saw this morning, I say: you have incredible kids.  They are beautiful and unique.  They won\’t be like any other kids around, and that is a good thing.  They will make you feel like a bad parent, but don\’t get worked-up about it.  Parenting is a very wide road, not a treacherous path.  No matter what you do, you will screw your kid up in some way, so get over it early and just let them know they matter.

No matter their nature.

7 thoughts on “Nature”

  1. You are so right about the personalities. Two of my four children were twins. They had distinct personalities before they were even born, with one doing somersaults, and the other extremely quiet. When they were born one immediately started looking around, the other fell asleep. These traits have continued. Quite a lesson in child development. Oh, and my other two are completely different also.

  2. “It is a huge pressure to put on your child to make them responsible for your parental reputation”.
    So true! I was emotionally abused by both my parents (particularly the Maternal Unit) for years. In order for them to “save their parental reputations”, when I hit my early teens they decided I should see a shrink, who obligingly decided I was “severely emotionally disturbed”. I wonder why (she said, sarcastically)? Maybe it had something to do with the emotional neglect of my father, and the near-constant barrage of verbal abuse from my mother.

    “You will screw your kid up in some way…just let them know they matter”. Yes, they did…and no, they didn’t. It’s a real shame that, because of *her* self-esteem issues, she thought raising a kid right meant name-calling at every opportunity, no matter how minor. And it’s equally shameful that, to this day, the Paternal Unit tells me “I’ve been married to her for forty years, of course I’m always going to take her word over yours!”

    You gave some very valuable advice in today’s post, Dr. Rob. I hope many parents (or parents-to-be) who read this take your advice to heart.

  3. Such a great post to give perspective on the world of parenting. It’s hard to accept that you will screw things up when you want to make everything perfect for these new perfect, innocent beings. I guess I just need to remember that as long as they know they matter, that’s about the most I can do to help them start out on the right foot. Thanks, Dr. Rob.

  4. I think the term “original sin” comes to mind. As a parent x 4, I’ll attest to the fact that there are certain ways kids gravitate that make you believe that your influence is not the only thing causing trouble (but it helps). I do think that once people accept that there is no such thing as perfect parenting and that doing your best IS actually good enough, they do a lot better. We can’t take every problem the kid has personally – which is my main point.

  5. One of the best things I have ever read. I needed this as I struggle along with a challenging 16 year old daughter and her 10 year old brother. You are right; she was very colicky from the start and not much has changed.
    Thank you!

  6. Great post! One of my children has multiple developmental disabilities and she has taught me MORE about being patient as a parent, than anything/anyone else ever could. It’s all about helping her function in this world and being the best person that she is capable of being.
    I love being a parent, but dang if it isn’t hard at times!

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