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 quite 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 said process in the 1950s. She thought for a moment, then 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 just did – a natural process requiring only commonsense, not great intellect much less great 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, nonscientific process. It becomes difficult, arduous, and exhausting when one reads parenting books, magazine articles, and newspaper columns. (Irony alert!) These materials, with rare exception, lend to the impression that child rearing is parenting and 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 – very important, in fact – to understand. Moms are trying to accomplish Immaculate Parenting. Dads are not, which greatly bothers lots of moms.
Immaculate Parenting will, apparently, produce the ideal child, one who makes straight A’s, 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 very hard work. Mind you, raising adults is not hard work, but mothering? That’s a horse of a different color, for sure. 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 simply 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: www.johnrosemond.com; www.parentguru.com