Tag Archive: Parenting


 

It’s a shame that N.A.S.A. discontinued the Space Shuttle program in 2011 and, as far as I know, we don’t have another space program in the works. You see, there have been 23 American astronauts who have gone into outer space, and of those 21 were firstborn children and the other two were only children. As a firstborn child, I had a pretty good chance, if we had a program, of getting into outer space. At least, a better chance than you middle born et al. There’s something about being first that just about beats everything else. It’s like a boost of victory when you’re first. Just ask anyone who has been the first to reply to any sort of forum post or major thread with their victory cry of, “first!” All the hard work, the expectations from parents and other family members, the visits to the therapists, the broken relationships, health problems, and general anxiety of always having to prove to yourself that you’re, “the best” can be seen in every single letter of, “first!” You know that a person’s family couldn’t feel any more pride. Just thinking about how Neil Armstrong felt when he first stepped onto the moon and said, “first!” just sends shivers up and down my spine.

I’m reminded of when I was nine years old, and we were learning to swim in elementary school. We didn’t have a pool at the school but we were fortunate enough to travel to a nearby University with a pool and the first high diving board I had ever seen. Seriously, I had never even seen a diving board in person. To this very day, I can remember being the first person selected to jump off of that high dive board. I was so excited as hand over hand, I climbed the ladder to the top. I think the only person more excited was the kid behind me. When I reached the top, all I could hear were the cheers of the people below. Since we were at the University pool, there were other classes there as well as adult swimmers. I walked right up to the end of the board and stopped. It was so high, and I suddenly became afraid. Everyone was yelling, “jump!” and I couldn’t. There I was, the kid who wore a motorcycle helmet and thought he was Evel Knievel, standing there afraid. I walked back and the kid behind me jumped to the cheers of those below. I jumped second. Second. There were still cheers but I had been second. Something changed in me on that day.

A part of me would like to tell you that I vowed to never be second again. That’s not what happened. Instead, I heard this thunk sound as another nail had been hammered into the coffin of being second. You see, even though I was first born, I didn’t know how to feel about my role in my tiny world. I felt the burden of firstborn. The one who didn’t live up to parental expectations. Unbeknownst to me, I had experienced early childhood disrupted attachment. 

Before my sister was born, I remember being the only child. I remember walking into the living room on Easter Sunday and finding the entire room filled with streamers, baskets, eggs. It was a cornucopia of all that was “Easter” to a young child. I remember going out on Halloween with my Dad. The family bike rides and our stops at the local 7-Elven to pick up a Slurpee. Feeding donuts to the backyard squirrels, playing with Baby, our dog who was really the firstborn since Mom and Dad got a dog first. I remember my mom freaking out when I would get hurt on my bike, I was Evel Knievel, remember? I remember feeling special. When I was born, you know I shouted, “first!”

My sister was a confounding joy to me. I was her big brother and her protector and she needed one. I remember the last time we went on a family bike ride. My sister was strapped into one of those seats that sit on the back of a ten-speed bike and the seat fell off while we were passing a tall drainage ditch. It was on my Dad’s birthday and she couldn’t have been more than a year or so old. They put a butterfly stitch on her forehead, and we never went riding again. I felt guilty. After all, my parents had been telling me that I had to, “watch over” my sister. It was this mantra my Mom had when we were growing up, “You two are the only two you have in this world, so stop fighting.” I think about how we fought as children and I laugh now. My beloved sister.

I watched over my sister constantly, well, for a six and a half, maybe a seven-year-old child. She had one of those 1970s baby swings and I would wait for her to fall out so I could catch her. Be the hero and save my sister and perhaps, if I were lucky, get my parent’s attention.

Which brings me to Tim and his new sister, Nell. It didn’t take long before Brad and Janet conceived and gave birth to Nell. Tim was five and had blossomed into an outgoing young boy who loved school, reading and playing with other kids. When we last saw Tim his parents saw him as a perfect little boy who:

  1. Spent most of his time alone in his room playing with his toys or in the backyard in the sandbox and making up games to play.
  2. He was conscientious of his behavior, always confirming whether he was “doing it right” or not.
  3. All of his toys were properly organized. He was so cute, he would give them a stern talking-to if he found them out of order.  Sometimes though, he would become upset when he couldn’t find one of his toys and had to have Janet or Brad help him locate it.
  4. He was very smart and would sit quietly reading to himself.
  5. He loved to draw and was very creative. He even picked up after himself gathering the crumbled and torn pages that had mistakes on them.
  6. He was shy around other kids, they knew it was just a phase that he was going through.

Each behavior listed above can be associated with the communication between Tim and his parents. Tim exhibited the following behavioral traits before his sister Nell was born. These are listed below in association with the behavior his parents observed. Duplicates have purposely been included.

  1. Introverted and creative while unable to relate to peers.
  2. Perfectionist, self-conscious, insecure, people pleaser and self-critical.
  3. Perfectionist, “bossy,” emotionally cold and distant. Critical of others.
  4. Anxiety, co-dependent and impatient.
  5. Intelligent and unable to relate to peers.
  6. Creative, self-deprecating, volatile temper with extreme perfectionistic behavior.
  7. Unable to relate to peers.

Tim’s behavior is a result of the persuasive negative reinforcement that his parents used when disciplining him. These observations of his behavioral traits and the associated behaviors could either be reinforced through time and communication or not. We’re looking at a snapshot in time of how one could interpret Tim’s behavior.

The introduction of another sibling, however, changes the communication between Tim and his parents. Isn’t that logical, you might be saying to yourself? Yes, it is logical. As adults, we can, hopefully, adapt to changes in our environment because we have previously experienced changes in our environments. There is a reason for people not liking change though. Where does that stem from, I wonder?

For our purposes here, we are examining the role of speaking life and death into a person. A child is a person. Brad and Janet consistently promoted two basic forms of communication to Tim before Nell was born. He was either “right” and thusly, “good” in his behavior or he was “wrong” and therefore, “bad” in his behavior. While Brad and Janet thought that they were focusing on the behavior and communicating this to Tim they were, in fact, communicating to Tim that he, the individual, was either “good” or “bad.” Let’s review the perfect little boy and his behavior as viewed by Brad and Janet with Nell at age two (Tim is now six years old).

  1. Tim spends too much time on his own when he’s at home. He needs to spend more time with his sister. He’s selfish and self-absorbed. He’s too rough with her with the games that he makes up to play. Doesn’t he know that she’s too little?
  2. He’s a big kid now and needs to stop acting like a baby always trying to seek attention by asking about every little thing. He needs to start acting his age.
  3. He’s selfish and mean. He doesn’t want to share any of his toys with Nell even though most of them are older toys that he had when he was a baby. He needs to grow up and be nice. Yelling at his baby sister for playing with his toys (and leaving them on the floor) is inexcusable selfish behavior. Where did he get this from? What does it matter if he can’t find all of the toys? He has so many already and he needs to share with his sister. These temper tantrums and outbursts need to stop.
  4. He used to love to read. Now, we can’t even get him to read to his sister. He’s so selfish. When he does read to her, he becomes mean and starts telling her that she’s bad when she doesn’t pay attention. Doesn’t he know that she’s just a baby?
  5. He used to draw such lovely pictures and was always patient and loving. Now, if Nell even comes near him, he pushes her away. If she tries him help, which is so cute, he behaves like an enraged animal, tears up his paper and stomps off to his room.
  6. Every chance he gets, he wants to go out and play with the other kids. He hardly wants to spend any time at home and when he does, there are all of these other kids running around screaming and making noise. Don’t these kids have their own homes to play in?

We’re really at loss as to how to handle Tim. Where did we go wrong? He used to be so sweet and loving.  He doesn’t even listen to us anymore. The only thing that seems to get his attention is when he thinks he’s going to get a good spanking.

This is how Brad and Janet communicate with Tim now. He is still “right” or “wrong” and “bad” or “good.” He’s also, selfish, mean, a “baby” and a brat. He’s a terrible role model for his little sister and their best hope now is that she doesn’t become like him.

For the last two years, Tim has tried to live up to his parent’s standards of behavior that they deeply instilled in him. He still tries to do the “right” thing but the “right” thing isn’t the same anymore. Now, the “right” thing is the “wrong” thing and no matter what he tries to do to please his parents they still get mad him. He’s so afraid to do the wrong things that he spends as much time away from home as he can, playing with his friends. At least his friends listen to him. Well, most of the time. There’s this one new kid who doesn’t always listen, but when they call him names and threaten not to be his friend, he does what they want.

In the next part of this series, we’re going to review how Brad and Janet’s communication with Nell starts and then changes by the time she is two years old. Although I briefly introduced early childhood disrupted attachment in this part, we’ll look into it further and discuss how speaking life into a disruptive child can bring healing and health. If there’s time, we’ll take another look at bullying and cyberbullying, the impact on Millennials and what we can do, as a society to stop the violence and hate that surrounds all of us each day. In the meantime, speak life, speak love, hold the door open for a stranger and, instead of judging other people, think about how you would like to be judged.

 

Do you like routine, order and knowing your place in the Universe? You know what I mean. Whether or not we realize it, most of us desire some semblance of order in our lives. Even those of us who say that we embrace chaos and live “crazy” unpredictable lives don’t like it when our world view forcibly changes. Imagine being six years old, an only child and your parents have another child. The very least that they could have done was to consult you. Did they? Oh, maybe they said something to you about have a little brother or sister but you didn’t know how that would forcibly change your world view. A new brother or sister? Great, you liked the new puppy so it’s probably going to be like that. Mom and Dad are happy and you get all excited until the Day it comes. I remember very clearly when my Mom’s water broke. I was taking a bath and I heard her yell to my Dad something about the water being broken. The water looked fine to me. I should have known, at that time, that this would be the first of many new changes to my world view.

While more couples are deciding to only have one child (11% in 1976 versus 22% in 2015) the family unit is also growing smaller with the number of families of four or more children declining from 40% to 14% as well (from 1976 to 2015). The age gap between children has also increased with the change in family units where both parents are working from one parent staying at home. An age gap of 4+ years appears to be an ideal time for working parents to have a second child. What I found most remarkable in my research regarding age gaps between child was the focus was primarily on the impact on the parents. The parental view is one in which the parents will be able to focus more on one child than the other “knowing” that the older child will “understand”, the self-sufficiency of the older child, etc. The basic idea is that an older child who has had the benefit of years of parental attention will be more able to handle the intrusion of a second child.

In reading the numerous reasons from one source after another I couldn’t help but remember old black and white media where the children didn’t behave like children but were dressed and acted like little adults.

How does a child in the early stages of childhood development (between 3 – 8 years of age) become this independent, self-sufficient, confident, logical, well-organized, mature, paragon of adulthood? No, that’s childhood, right? Does this confuse you? It confuses me that people would expect this from a child who’s just started childhood. The aforementioned qualities are hard to find in many adults. If this weren’t the case then why do so many job advertisements ask for many of these qualities in their search for an employee?

Let’s continue with this idea in mind and consider the types of communication required to form this perfect child. Let’s re-visit Brad, Janet, and Tim who is now four years old. As you may recall from Part Two Brad and Janet decided that they would raise Tim and discipline him through their words.

Unbeknownst to Tim, he was not always going to be an only child and so, from birth, his parents were overprotective, strict disciplinarians, who put a lot of pressure on Tim to be the best that he could be. Tim needed to be a “good” boy who did everything his parents wanted him to do in the way that his parents wanted it to be done. Tim was either “good” or “bad” and what he did was either “good” or “bad” or “right” or “wrong.” Brad and Janet kept their promise to not exercise corporal punishment in disciplining Tim. Instead, they thought that gently and logically explaining to him how he was “wrong” when he wanted to eat cereal with a fork, or how it was “bad” for him to knock over the card house before Janet saw it, were better than spanking him like when they were kids. Brad and Janet focused primarily on persuasive negative reinforcement to change Tim’s behavior.

When Brad and Janet decided to have another child they were confident that Tim could handle it without any problem. Afterall:

  • Tim spent most of his time alone in his room playing with his toys or in the backyard in the sandbox and making up games to play.
  • He was conscientious of his behavior, always confirming whether he was “doing it right” or not.
  • All of his toys were properly organized. He was so cute, he would give them a stern talking-to if he found them out of order.
  • Sometimes though, he would become upset when he couldn’t find one of his toys and had to have Janet or Brad help him locate it.
  • He was very smart and would sit quietly reading to himself.
  • He loved to draw and was very creative. He even picked up after himself gathering the crumbled and torn pages that had mistakes on them.

Overall, Brad and Janet were quite pleased with Tim. Although he was shy around other kids, they knew it was just a phase that he was going through. A little brother or sister would be just the company that he needed. They excitedly started to try for another child. Hopefully, they thought, another one just like Tim!

In the next part of this series, we will review Tim’s “perfect” behavior, introduce childhood disruption, and the conflict of communication that arises when changing from an only child world view to that of a firstborn world view.

Hey, did you know that life isn’t fair? I know, I was shocked and dismayed when I first discovered this little secret. How do we define what is fair and what isn’t though? Well, I looked it up here. We’re discussing fairness in terms of life, right? So, let’s take a gander at the first definition. “1a: marked by impartiality and honesty: free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism.” Do you see the word “favoritism?” I do. What does it mean, though? If you’re like me and you look up words then you’ll notice a general cyclical trend when using the dictionary. Therefore, I jumped over to check the entomology of the word instead of running around in circles.

A “disposition to favor one person or family or one class of persons to the neglect of others having equal claims.” Let’s extrapolate a little bit and say that life isn’t fair when one person, for our purposes here, who is equal to another, is treated in a manner that benefits one person over another.” Does that make sense? How does it relate to where we left off at the end of Part One, that we were going to continue to examine the role of communication in life?

I’m glad you asked. We’ve already discussed briefly how we are born with the ability to be receptive to language. It was pointed out that language is much more than words and you thought that was really cool. Or perhaps that was me. Either way. Let’s move on. Let’s agree on the following:

  • From the moment we’re born our brains are developed to the point of being able to be receptive to language.
  • As infants, we are helpless to how we respond to our situation. We cannot change it.
  • Language is more than just words.
  • A typical infant, between the ages of three and six months, can express pain, pleasure, displeasure, hunger and respond to the tones of voice.

I know those points were brought up in Part One but we need to keep them in mind because we are not raised in a vacuum by people who live in a vacuum. I’m calling this, “The Vacuum Principle.” The aforementioned principle is simple. We interact with other human beings and therefore we are influenced by other human beings. Remember this term, because I will be using it again, and I think I’m very clever for having thought of it.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that most people are raised by other people who either:

  1. Have been exposed to infants.
  2. Have never been exposed to infants.

These two factors are critical in how a child will be addressed by those who are raising it. For our purposes here we are going to use a mother and a father as the primary care-givers. I know that there are myriad situations in which children are raised. I’m not discounting single parents, foster parents, and other means in which a child is raised. We just aren’t addressing those here.

Let’s first address a couple who have just had their first child. We shall name him, “Tim.” We shall name Tim’s parents “Brad” and “Janet.” Brad and Janet are traditionalists who are happy that their new-born son has all of his fingers and toes. They haven’t read anything by Dr. Spock nor any other books on parenting. No, they haven’t even read Parenting For Dummies. This doesn’t mean that they’ve not been exposed to other sources of knowledge, children, etc. and I’m not saying that this is a right or wrong way of raising little Tim.

Here’s Tim, a firstborn child to a couple who have never had any previous children.  However, they have had some experience being around other children, have seen them in television and movies and were once, themselves, children. Both parents share a general sense of “right” and “wrong.”

One common trait amongst human beings is that we often remember negative behaviors and events more than positive events Science explains this behavior as a survival mechanism in order to aid in the prolonging of life. In short, if you touch that hot stove, you’re going to remember not to touch the stove again.

If you’ve had negative experiences with children then you’re likely going to remember them when you have your own. If you had negative experiences as a child then you’re likely going to remember those as well. “When I have children they are not going to act like that” is a common response to the misbehavior of someone else’s children. “When I grow up, I’m not going to treat my kids like I was treated.” The odds are that if you’ve spent any time around children, have children of your own or you were once a child, that you have formulated an idea, in your mind of how you will treat your own children. Even if you don’t expect to ever have children of your own. It’s a logical thinking process of human behavior. You’ve basically already formed a framework of how you’re going to parent your firstborn child.

Expectations. We all have expectations even if we try and avoid them. The mere acknowledgment and effort to not have expectations creates a paradox where one does have expectations. The mindset not to have an expectation is an expectation that you’ll have no expectations. Make sense? Parents have expectations for their children. There’s nothing inherently wrong with having expectations for one’s children. However, how are these expectations communicated? Words, tones, non-verbal communication, etc.  You cannot sit down with a young child and draw up a treaty of behavior. They are tricky little creatures and will most likely renege on their promises. We use our words.

Here are Brad and Janet who both have a general sense of “right” and “wrong.” Right? Except they don’t. They can’t. The Vacuum Principle makes this an impossibility. Why you might ask yourself? If people remember negative events and behavior more than they do positive events then Brad and Janet are more inclined to remember the negative behaviors they’ve experienced as children and around children. What’s wrong with that? Nothing. Everything. Maybe one or two things. If Janet was considerably physically disciplined as a child then there’s a possibility that she will likely be more inclined to seek other methods of disciplining Tim. I am not advocating nor disagreeing with physical discipline. That’s another issue for a different discussion. We’re not going into how Janet might respond to the memory bias that she’s developed through her own childhood and subsequent experience around children right now. We are going to point out that Brad has his own memory bias that he’s carrying around. Let’s be creative and state that Brad’s parents didn’t believe in physical discipline. Unlike Janet’s parents, Brad’s parents read that corporal punishment didn’t work as well as other forms of discipline with fewer negative consequences.

Before Tim was ever conceived Brad and Janet already had different parenting styles. In regard to discipline, they both retain a negative bias. Janet, will not, under any circumstances, strike her child due to her own personal experience. Brad believes that he’ll never strike his child because he never experienced corporal punishment as a child. This looks like a good recipe for their future child, Tim. Right? Brad and Janet planned little Tim and discussed parenting styles. They both agreed, for sundry reasons, that they would use their words to discipline their future child. Their words.

Where does favoritism come into the picture? Tim’s just been born, and we’ve not even scratched the surface of how Brad and Janet communicate to him. You’re right. We haven’t addressed favoritism yet. Or have we? How did we define favoritism?

“When one person, for our purposes here, who is equal to another, is treated in a manner that benefits one person over another.”

Brad and Janet are a couple. A single parental unit that, through their mutual experiences, have formed a favored way in which they are going to treat their firstborn child. Tim is the object of favoritism here. If that doesn’t work for you then consider Brad and Janet as two people who are both determined that their child will have a more favored childhood than their own. Tim is still the object of favoritism. In regard to communication; Tim will be disciplined by words.

In the next part, we will discuss expectations of firstborn children, how they relate to parental communication, childhood development and, of course, the power of speech. We might make it to the effects of early childhood disruption by a sibling, but maybe not. I’ll just leave you hanging for right now.