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Tammy Cox, LMSW

Several years ago Ann Landers asked her readers if they had it to do all over again, would they still become parents.  An overwhelmingly large number said no, they would not.  They all had their individual tales of woe to justify their stands, but it was evident that they all felt trapped in no-win situations with their children.  Why is it that with even the very best of intentions many of us feel like such failures as parents, at least some of the time?

What we as parents do to and with our children today can greatly influence what our children do tomorrow, years later and even the rest of their lives.  We intuitively know this is true, even though we often seek to deny it.

Parenting is probably one of the most difficult and challenging jobs we will ever have, and yet it is the one for which we are the least prepared - usually with little or no training at all.

At times the task seems virtually impossible.  How can we raise our children to be responsible, successful and emotionally healthy adults in a society where violence, self-destruction and irresponsibility all too often seem the norm?  Influences from peers, the media and entertainment world always seem to be vying with us for control of our children.

We can be more successful in our jobs as parents and at the same time get more joy and satisfaction from our relationships with our children, but it requires a real commitment to learning and using more effective parenting techniques.

Let's start by looking at another aspect of parenting - childbirth.  In the past few decades we as a society have become aware that with proper training in childbirth classes, the entire birth experience is far less traumatic for parents and baby.  And in most cases it is one of real joy and closeness for the family.  Childbirth classes are now the norm, rather than the exception.  When parenting classes also become the norm, families will have more closeness and parents will get more satisfaction from the entire parenting experience.  It is simply a matter of recognizing, as a society, the real value in parent education.

In our society we all too often equate discipline with punishment.  Through education parents learn the difference. Discipline is guidance and teaching appropriate behavior, whereas punishment is revenge and retribution.  Children, especially small children, just do not commit crimes that require a punishment response.  They make mistakes that require correction.

As a tool for teaching appropriate behavior, punishment doesn't work anyway.  If it were really effective the recidivism rate for convicted criminals wouldn't be as high as it is.  Convicts would go to prison, learn the necessary lessons and never break the law again.  We know all too well that is not the case.

As a parent educator for many years, I rarely pass up an opportunity to speak to large groups of parents.  I will usually ask how many of them like to punish their children.  I have never seen a single hand go up in answer to this question.  Yet when I then ask how many of them think they sometimes have to punish their children a lot of hands will be raised. Most parents think it is necessary to punish because they grew up being punished and have just never learned a different way to deal with their children. Also, many people are reluctant to admit that their own parents were less than perfect. In reality, most of our parents did the very best they could with the tools they inherited from their parents.  Yet it has become quite evident that the traditional methods handed down through the generations are not effective in our complex modern society.

No wonder parenting is such a challenge!  We think we should succeed at this difficult job with little or no training, using outdated tools we often feel guilty using.  We also expect to do this in a society where parent education is generally viewed as frivolous or only necessary when we are having serious problems with our children.  In order for us to adopt and implement more effective parenting methods, it will be necessary to change some of our basic beliefs.

This article copyrighted by Tammy Cox, 2002

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