(Not So) Common Sense
As the parent goes, so goes the child…sort of
By Carole Townsend
There are a lot of ways to say it.
“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
Here’s another saying that comes to mind when talking about children and parents;
“Do as I say, and not as I do.”
In other words, “Pay no attention to the way I live my life; pay attention to the way I tell you to live yours.” Let me save you some time and frustration; that approach doesn’t work.
When I was in college, I was a parenting expert. Truth be told, I was an expert on everything, but for today’s purposes, we’ll focus on children and parenting. A Psychology major in my undergraduate studies, I knew everything there was to know about children. Smugly, I’d tell my friends (especially those who DID have kids, because they needed my help the most) that children are precisely what we teach them to be, nothing more and nothing less. Little boys act like boys because we teach them to be rough and tumble – and we dress them in brown, blue and gray clothes. Yuck. We give them trucks to play with, and we call them “buddy” and “sport.”
Little girls, I’d instruct, act prissy and girly because we teach them to act that way. They pirouette and have tea parties. They don’t like to get dirty, and they love shopping, all because we teach them these things. We call them “angel” and “princess.”
In my know-it-all 19-year-old mind, if we would teach little boys to iron clothes and play kitchen, and if we’d teach little girls to build dirt roads and catch frogs, we’d have a much more balanced society, with no stereotypical roles and no unreasonable expectations. I would explain (patiently, of course, because people who have kids think they know something about them), that genetics play absolutely no role in who a child becomes; children are exactly what we teach them to be.
Then, of course, I had two children of my own.
My son was born a big, easy-going, affable guy who only cried when he was hungry. He smiled the rest of the time. He was what we like to call an “easy kid.” As he grew, he was becoming his own little human being – all on his own. He didn’t like trucks. He LOVED them. He climbed up the playground slide and made truck noises. It was fascinating to me, really. Of course, I didn’t dress him in pinafores and Mary Janes, but one Christmas, I did give him a doll (oh, I hope he doesn’t read this). The doll’s name was “Buddy,” and he was designed just for little boys. Buddy wore overalls and did absolutely nothing. I thought somehow that, by giving my son a doll, I was knocking down all kinds of walls that might dictate how he parents in the future, and how he nurtures someone younger than he is.
Buddy hadn’t been in our home a week before I found him hog-tied to my son’s bed with shoestrings. I asked my son why he had tied Buddy up like that, and he said simply, “He’s a bad guy, and I caught him.” I’ll tell you the truth, I was crestfallen. My son was the sweetest, kindest little boy in the world, and he had tied Buddy up like a common criminal.
A couple of years after my son was born, along came my daughter. Talk about an enigma; she loved dressing up and fixing her hair. She loved to play with make-up. She detested dolls, declaring them “creepy.” She climbed and ran with all the other little boys in the neighborhood, and she could land a punch better than most of them. She fascinated me; still does. The kid was born with a purpose and an agenda and with her, I had to pick my battles. She has a will of iron. Not sure where she gets it, but she does.
I share all this to share the obvious conclusion: I didn’t know the first thing about children until I had a couple of my own. Turns out, they are born with certain proclivities and inclinations, and there are some things you’ll expect them to do that they just aren’t going to do, period. They are their own little people, from Day One. It’s very cool to see who they become as they grow, year by year.
Does this mean that they don’t need our guidance and example? Of course not. We parents teach (or fail to teach) character. We teach responsibility and accountability. We teach compassion and kindness. We demonstrate love and fairness. But we’re teaching all that to little people who are, at their very core, who they are.
It’s embarrassing sometimes, isn’t it, to think back on just how smart we were in school?
Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. Her fourth book, BLOOD IN THE SOIL, was published in 2016. It is the true tale of a crime that took place in Gwinnett County nearly 40 years ago. Her previous three books are written with Southern humor. Carole often appears on network television talk and news shows, as well as on national true crime radio shows. Her books can be found in bookstores, on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, and at www.caroletownsend.com. When she’s not writing, Carole travels throughout the southeast, talking to groups about women, writing, family and life in her beloved South.