The importance of the first few years of a child’s life cannot be overestimated. It is during those years that the foundation is laid for a child’s language ability, ethics, morality, and values systems. In his book, All Men Are Brothers, Mahatma Gandhi said, “I am convinced that for the proper upbringing of children the parents ought to have a general knowledge of the care and nursing of babies…We labor under a sort of superstition that the child has nothing to learn during the first five years of its life…The education of the child begins with conception”.
The famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud agreed. A Viennese woman once asked him, “How early should I begin the education of my child?” Dr. Freud replied with a question of his own, “When will your child be born?” The woman asked, “Why? He is already five years old!” “My goodness woman,” Freud cried, “don’t stand there talking to me – hurry home! You have already wasted the five best years!” Some years ago a poster caught my eye which read, “The cure of crime is not in the electric chair, but in the high chair.” Those of you who believe in the Bible may recognize this passage, Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
I became a parent for the first time in the spring of 1976, and I must admit that for me it has been one of my most challenging and demanding responsibilities, along with being incredibly rewarding. I have learned over the years that much can be accomplished through the use of praise, reward, and censure. This is particularly critical here in the Bay Islands where many extended families continue to live together under the same roof – mother, father, grandparents, and grandchildren all share the same home. This can provide valuable learning experiences for the youngsters. However oftentimes this arrangement can become complex and contentious as it relates to consistency in childrearing. Children are sometimes smarter than what we give them credit for, especially when it comes to playing one side against the other. I have always said that the reason grandparents and grandchildren get along so well is because they share a common enemy – the parents. A man never really finds out what he believes in until he begins to instruct his children. Your children watch very carefully the choices you make in all areas of your life and base their opinion of you on what they see. In other words, our children are like mirrors, they reflect our attitudes in life.
Consider the following: Ida and David, parents of three sons. They wanted them all to graduate from college. They knew their boys would pretty much have to make it on their own since David never earned more than $150 per month. Arthur, the oldest, went straight from high school to a job and skipped college. Edgar, the second son, began studying law after graduating from high school. When Dwight, the youngest, graduated he didn’t have a goal in mind, so he and Edgar made a pact: Dwight would work two years while Edgar studied, sending Edgar as much as he could, and then they would reverse the arrangement. While working, Dwight found an opportunity that appealed to him more than college – West Point.
Both Ida and David were crushed by Dwight’s decision. Ida was deeply convinced that soldiering (as she called it) was wicked. Still all she said was, “It’s your choice”. David and Ida wisely held their tongues – which is not easy for parents to do. But they never withheld their applause, especially on the day that their son, General Dwight Eisenhower became president of the United States of America.
Refraining from giving advice may actually turn out to be the best gift a parent can give a child. A wise man once said; “the greatest inheritance a parent can leave a child, is a good example”. We may not always agree with the choices that they make. But we can always choose to love them. Remember the well worn poem: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference”. [/private]