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The Balance of Parenting


Nurture. Empower. Support. Discipline. Boundaries.

This parenting thing is such a balance. Build them up; foster their self-esteem; nurture confidence, yet instill independence and responsibility. Maintain boundaries. Communicate consequences. And deliver them consistently. Sometimes it’s a tough row to hoe – and not always an easy one.

Take the every-day things. We usually know, in our heads, what we should do. But doesn’t the hectic pace of all those everyday-little- things-and-activities-and-to-do’s-and-texts-and-phone calls-and-emails just get in the darn way sometimes? Sometimes I think this parenting thing would be much easier, much more effective, in a place like Walden Pond or some other inspired utopian community. Ahhhhhhh . . . . not exactly realistic. But I can imagine . . .

In the meantime, I, as a loving and well-intentioned parent, perpetually try to balance the delicate acts of nurturing self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth in my kids, while also “preparing them to be citizens of the world.” I read, I listen to, I soak in, and I ponder a variety of “parenting” topics out there, and inevitably, my thoughts often turn to animals, and the instinctive ways they teach their young to go out into the world . . . to care for themselves, protect themselves, and be a vital part of the world and its communities. I then think of mama duck in the timeless tale of Make Way for Ducklings, and how that accomplished waterfowl mom led Lack, Mack, Pack, Quack & Zack to learn all they needed to know to survive –- and to flourish –- in the world.

It is a balance, isn’t it, especially for us humans? A delicate balance of all that we know as intelligent, educated, well-exposed parents with the pure natural instinct of raising our young to go out and survive – and flourish – in the world. Sometimes I think we should move more back to the basics. How about you?

But it all works: our efforts, our praise, our boundaries, our consequences — even if they’re not perfectly orchestrated. Just this morning, as I was “training” my offspring on the appropriate behavior of being picked up for a ride (and being frustrated that he just wasn’t getting it – at least not fast enough), I bid him farewell, turned around to tidy up the kitchen, and viewed something he had done. On his own. To take care of himself and his surroundings. Without prompting, without instruction (at least at that moment). “Wow.” I paused. “He is getting it.” And they do. And they will. This parenting thing, this mothering thing, it is a balance. And somewhat of a paradox. Perhaps even for that mama duck in Boston. Erich Fromm, perhaps, sums it up for us:

“The mother-child relationship is paradoxical. It requires the most intense love on the mother’s side, yet this very love must help the child grow away from the mother and to become fully independent.”

Carry on, moms. With balance, through the paradox. And think of that famous Mama Duck along the way.

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