I was at my sister’s 40th birthday party in a bar outside of Boston recently. I sat amongst a group of her friends, in dismay for the most part, as they bitched about how it’s become so much more difficult to raise kids than it was for our parent’s generation. They threw around words like screen time and gender identity and lamented over how they could prepare their kids for jobs that don’t even exist yet.
As a father of 16-year-old triplet boys my mind boggled. Are they kidding? I thought to myself. With all the technological advances over the last thirty years, surely the job has become more manageable, easier even. Apparently not. At least for this group of yuppie parents.
It got me thinking back to when my kids were newborns and toddlers, it was tough as hell and there were days when I didn’t know whether to hug my wife because I felt so sorry for her or strangle her because we were both so sleep deprived that everything we did got on each other’s nerves. But no matter how difficult it got, I never dared to complain that I had it tougher than my parents did.
My mother had to wash and dry diapers, my dad spent four hours a day commuting from Boston to Worcester for work and he didn’t do a damn thing to help my mother because he was so exhausted when he got home, he ate dinner and fell asleep on the couch. I can’t subscribe therefore to this notion that parents today have it tougher, if that were true then previous generations must have been bloody geniuses to have thrived all while holding down jobs with longer working hours and more intense commutes. There was no such thing as paternity leave or working from home for my parents’ generation.
The truth is that Generation X and now millennials, including my own childrens generation may be better educated than past generations but it translates into being book smart only. A lot of the time, common sense is severely lacking. This is a vital tool not just for getting through life in general but more so for parents. Raising kids is common sense and as controversial as it may sound, it’s a lot like raising puppies.
If you embark on the journey of raising a young pup, one of the first things you learn is the old acronym "KISS" (Keep It Simple Stupid). If all new parents heeded this advice, the job of parenting would become a lot less stressful. Think about it, millions upon millions of people do the job on a daily basis, albeit to varying degrees of success and commitment. For the most part parenting is as difficult as you choose to make it. If you’re a loving, responsible and patient person then doing a good job as a parent should be as simple as being a good dog owner. It’s as simple as memorising and putting into practice these three words: socialisation, routine and consequence. If you live and die by these words, not only will I guarantee you a pleasant, well behaved canine companion but your child will also be a caring, smart, well-rounded human being.
Let’s begin with socialisation. As a dog owner, it’s imperative that your young pup can socialise with other dogs and people he comes into contact with while out walking in the park or at home. A pup learns how to do this with your help and by watching how you behave when he misbehaves, he learns what’s acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in different social settings. Parents should know the same applies to your “little Johnny”. In the playgroup, young Johnny slowly starts to grasp that the whole world does not revolve around him (he has to wait his turn, etc.).
Imagine the conscientious parent bringing young Johnny to the park to play, explore and meet friends- all part of the positive socialisation process. The problem occurs when mum or dad decides it’s time to leave. Johnny stomps his feet, sheds a few tears, so they give him an extra few minutes. Lesson learned for Johnny, I act like a spoilt brat and I get what I want. They clearly didn’t implement the word consequence.
To a dog owner "routine" is key. For example, a new eight-week-old pup joins the family, this pup will thrive on routine. An experienced owner can have the pup house trained in under two weeks with a good routine (crate training etc). Children are no different with regards to routine, more often than not, it’s the parents that find it difficult to stick to. Little Johnny now loves his routine of waking up at 8 am and getting breakfast, followed by a nice activity and then he loves his nap at 12 noon. However, unfortunately for Johnny, mum made lunch plans with a friend for 12.30 and believes it’s a great idea to bring Johnny. Johnny is not a happy camper (quite rightly) and makes a scene to say the least because he doesn’t understand why he hasn’t eaten yet. He knows he’s hungry and the only way he can verbalise that is to cry. That’s not Johnny’s fault. Mum scrambles to get Johnny his bottle all while trying not to look flustered in front of her friend. Why parents continuously break routine needlessly and then wonder why their child is crying or having a tantrum astounds me!
The third and arguably most important word is "consequence". In my opinion, this is where most parents really need to reflect and ask themselves: does the positive and negative consequences I set forth accomplish the goal? Through the years, many parents just like my sister’s friends shared their views on punishments for their kids. From my experience, dog owners and parents differ on at least one very important aspect when it comes to consequences. A knowledgeable dog owner will evaluate the dog's personality when considering consequences.
For example, the same owner could feel a strong verbal reprimand is sufficient for one dog but a physical smack is required for another dog although the offence is the same. From my experience, most parents today tend to have the same, if any, consequences for their young children. I’d question with all the different personalities out there, should parents not be putting more thought into discouraging negative behaviour before it happens? Rather than accepting it and dishing out a time-out for five minutes without explaining to the child what they have done wrong by either verbal or physical cues.
I warn you now if you are the parent that has to apologise for young Johnny's behaviour at eight-years-old for throwing a tantrum in public, it is only a reflection of your own poor parenting skills. My advice is to start as you mean to go on, set a routine from the day you bring your child home from the hospital, stick to it and if it fails then set reasonable consequences for both you and the child. Keep it simple stupid!