In 1971, a psychologist named Fitzhugh Dodson published a book titled “How to Parent.” It did so well that he came out several years later with “How to Father.” By 1971, Dodson was one of a handful, if that, of child-rearing traditionalists left in psychology, but his titles were progressive. In short order, parent and parenting became verbs, however illicit.
The word “parenting” implies a technology and indeed, parenting is far different than just raising kids — or, as I prefer, raising adults. I asked my mother, in her later years, what parents had called the process in the 1950s. She said, “We didn’t call it anything. We had children and raised them to be responsible adults, and that was that.”
It wasn’t called anything because it was just something people did — a natural process requiring only commonsense, not great intellect, much less study. Parents of the 1950s and before didn’t even think about it much. Looking back, I rarely got the impression that my parents were thinking about me, and on the rare occasion when I realized they were, I began to worry.
Paradoxically, raising an adult is both a huge responsibility (mostly, to one’s neighbors) and a simple, non-scientific process. It becomes difficult, arduous and exhausting when one reads parenting books, magazine articles,and newspaper columns. These materials, with rare exception, lead to the impression that child rearing is parenting and that parenting is a discipline, a technology to be mastered. So today’s mothers read “parenting” books in an ongoing effort to perfect their parenting and, by extension, perfect their children.
Dads, by and large, do not read parenting books. They are not trying to perfect their parenting or their children. That’s important to understand. Moms are trying to accomplish Immaculate Parenting. Dads are not, which bothers lots of moms.
Immaculate Parenting will, apparently, produce the ideal child, one who makes good grades, makes it into the gifted and talented program, wows adults from an early age with his knowledge and insights, and never, ever gets into trouble for doing a bad thing. They don’t do bad things anymore anyway, because bad things don’t fit the “parenting” narrative; they simply do unintentional things called “bad choices,” which they never mean to do.
Mothering – the female form of parenting – is hard work. Mind you, raising adults is not hard work, but mothering? That’s a horse of a different color. The mothering mom is in constant child-oriented motion because to slow down is to risk the possibility that one of the plates she is spinning will begin to wobble and come crashing down, and that will not do. Mothering is all about work. Mothers who mother even work at demonstrating love to their kids. Everything about mothering requires great mental concentration and physical energy.
Parenting is all about psychology. Raising adults, by contrast, is about nothing more than commonsense, comprised of equal parts of unconditional love and unequivocal leadership. Parenting is all about ascribing legitimacy to children’s feelings, whereas one raises an adult with the commonsense knowledge that children are drama factories.
Parenting is demanding, and it is almost a given that children who are parented will be demanding, which demands even greater parenting.
And round and round they go!
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website, Rosemond.com.
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