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Why the right order matters in child rearing
Why children need both parents
No one questions the four seasons in nature. Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. They make sense. If winter came right after spring there would be no harvests. If we skipped any season agriculture would not have its seasons of rest as well as rebirth and growth. Things happen in order for a reason, to have a good outcome.
No one expects the butterfly to fly before it has processed through the normal stages of metamorphosis. The helpless caterpillar becomes the cocoon which must become the chrysalis and develop precisely according to its set time. If it is set free too soon it dies and there is no butterfly. When all is ready, the butterfly can fly. Not sooner.
It’s all about preparation.
No species on earth requires as much preparation as a human being. The child is not a “small adult”. It is a desperately needy, helpless little person who requires years of love, nurturing and training to be ready to assume adult responsibilities.
One of the most astute parenting concepts is the “Four Seasons of Parenting”. It is simple. Altering the order is catastrophic for the children as their most important timely needs are not met. Each stage is a unique “window of opportunity” that cannot be recovered or shuffled into new orders.
Charted, it simply looks like this:
Season Age of Child Parent Role Parenting Goal
Service Birth to age 2 Servant Secure Child
Leadership 3-13 Authority Self-governing child
Mentoring 13-18 or 21 Mentor, coach Emancipated child
Friendship Emancipation Friend, counsel Good friend to child
Would anyone question that from birth to age 2 the child is helpless and in total need of being provided everything? This is when the child’s parents are truly servants to his or her needs -- all needs. The benefit of having mother and father in traditional parenting is that Mom can only do her job if she’s not also functioning as a provider. If she is provider, she is absent, much or most of the time. There are only twenty-four hours in a day, and no one can be two places at once. An infant’s needs are constant. And a mother needs rest.
Can the infant’s needs be delegated? Some, yes, but not all. There is more at work with the child than just the physical basics. There are profound emotional issues at work.
We get a clue from tests performed on newborns and premies, relative to the olfactory recognition of each one’s true parents. An infant placed where it’s head is surrounded by nursing pads from several women, only one of which is its biological mother’s, will automatically turn it’s face towards the scent it has known from it’s mother’s womb. It seeks out its natural mother. The child is not fooled by alternative caretakers. Something goes missing. Essential security, bonding, and feeling loved. And the damage begins.
But there is more.
Due to an accident, one of my children was born extremely prematurely. The child was initially in NICU and receiving oxygen support. His primary nurse was especially astute and caring, thankful he was doing so well. After watching his monitors over several weeks, she noted that when either I or the child’s father held him, he required less oxygen. He consistently required less oxygen, as recorded by the monitors. It was a response to lessened stress.
Love and security are among the first needs of the child. The father makes it possible for the mother to be present with the child as much as possible, which is vital, but the bonding is just as important for the father.
Mom and dad, take note. You are needed. No one can take your place. I ask, of course, from the heart, WHY would you want someone to? That child is your flesh and blood, desperate for your touch, your love and your presence. At that stage, there is no substitute possible.
Moving to ages 3-13, it’s time to establish leadership. The child will challenge. It’s no longer time to “baby” the child. He or she can begin to learn the small details of life. Self-feeding, getting dressed, speech and obedience are tantamount. They can learn early why the “rule of law” is necessary for peace and cooperation. Discipline must be loving but firm. The walls don’t budge, but make sure you have the right walls!
Children can begin learning about responsibility through small tasks. This builds their self-confidence. This is also the time to learn rules are necessary and to respect those who make them. Further through these years the children may contribute suggestions. This develops critical thinking, reasoning from cause to effect, something they will need to guide their lives. It’s about that all-important word, “Why?” This makes rules their friends and not the enemies to fight. Some children test the borders harder than others; parents need to know their jobs, know their child, and hold the line. The right kind of discipline is now the tool to increase the child’s sense of security. They are on the road to self-governance only if it is first modeled to them.
This is also NOT yet the time to “mentor” and not the time to “friend” the child. Primary goals now have a deadline -- to instill as much self-governance into the child BEFORE the perfect storm of adolescence strikes, as it inevitably comes next, when the reins of control should begin to pass from parent to child.
This important Stage Two teaching phase is where things go awry for many, if the traditional family structure if broken.
The toddler is not the butterfly. He/she is not ready to “fly”. After generations of sequentially broken homes, we now have 43% of children born out of wedlock. Many have no recollection of what a traditional home felt like. They cannot convey what they themselves have never experienced. The constancy of care changed everything. Secondary providers cannot substitute. Instead of Stage Two being built on Stage One, the cocoon is ruptured, conflicting influences converge, parental authority, instead of being established, erodes. In an effort to compete with the limited time frames available, parents often try to be their children’s friends and peers. They want the child’s approval instead of teaching them what is approved! It’s a recipe for disaster as they reach Stage Three.
The whitewater stage.
Inevitably puberty hits. Now the child will not listen any more, or not well. The parent needs to change his/her role... not undermining the past but drawing back enough to let the child learn to exercise what he/she has hopefully been properly taught. All the walls will seem to come down as hormones and the challenging pressures of the teen years pummel the young person.
If principles are not already in place on how to handle life, how not to fall apart at every problem that comes up, etc., the young person will likely turn to wrong solutions. If parents have acted as their friends, then guess what, FRIENDS now become their greatest influencers because they don’t know the difference! Opportunity lost! Parents have failed to establish themselves as the pillars in their child’s fragile house, and as the storms of temptation hit, the weak foundation crumbles.
I was loaned some excellent books on dealing with teenagers when mine entered that season of life. The author recalled the day when all of a sudden “eye contact was lost”. What changed, changed quickly. A sketch in the book showed a canoe moving down a stream, representing moderate movement up until age 13. At 13 the water picks up speed, cresting like Stage 5 rapids at ages 16-17. That was followed by a gradual slowing until age 18 but there was no still water until age 20. I lived through that with mine. I thought we’d never get through it.
If you haven’t done things right in Stages One and Two, to the best of your ability, do not expect great results with Stage Three, and Stage Four may be ruined as well. There are exceptions, and if we have one, we should be thankful!
An analogy I formulated from the first pioneer telephone systems helped me understand my teens’ passage through Stage Three. Initially operators had to physically unplug and replug lines on a switchboard to connect callers to each other.
The teen years are a time when, whatever has gone on before in a young person’s life, even with good teaching prevailing, all the lines come out! It’s massive confusion! No wonder they lose eye contact and enter a strange new zone. One author compared it to the first Russian satellite Sputnik going behind the dark side of the moon. All contact is lost until... at some point... it reappears, hopefully intact. But there’s nothing but suspense in between.
In truth, once unplugged a young person has no idea where to replug the cables and has to figure out on their own how to do it. They will naturally want to improvise their own way of doing things, challenge their previous learning, and hopefully forge a new memory based on past learning experiences. Some they may do wrong and have to correct. The more interference they get, the longer the process takes! It is not entirely “hands off” for the parents, but a “stand back”, advise, and interfere only when necessary. If you pray, never will you do so more fervently.
The time for teaching -- the 3-13 age time frame -- is past. This is the time for Mentoring, from 13-18 or 21. For children to properly emancipate they have to create their own foundation, hopefully recreating the good things modeled to them in the past. If they lacked security or teaching, they will turn to outside sources or escapes. They will not turn to you if you have not established trust previously. Sadly, turning to drugs or alcohol during these critical years aborts the development of coping skills. If plugs go back into the wrong places as a result, you have a person who will likely never mature. Time is up.
If the seasons of service, leadership and mentoring have been followed in sequence, soon the child is ready for full emancipation. The parent continues as a trusted counselor. Things begin to make sense.
What we don’t want is a child coming through the first three stages not knowing right from wrong, not being prepared for the independent responsibilities of life, and/or blaming the parents for having failed at the various stages. If the parents have done well, THEN it is time for friendship to blossom.
There are no shortcuts to STAGE FOUR.
Emancipation. Well done, mom and dad.