A Messy Parenting Theory

January 15, 2014 by Trina Bartlett
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On the day I became a mom, I started avoiding books and magazine articles about parenting. When a television host announces an upcoming segment about parenting, I always change the channel or turn off the television. I’ve never joined a mom’s group nor taken a parenting class.

My lack of training was most obvious when my children were younger.

I remember going to lunch with a friend who had all the appropriate toddler accessories, including a state-of-the-art stroller and a diaper bag as big as a suitcase. I arrived with my daughter in a backpack with just a diaper and a couple of wipes in the pocket. The other mother had toys for her daughter. I entertained my daughter by encouraging her to try to catch my finger, which I kept moving. But my most obvious parenting misstep regarded hygiene. The other mother had hand sanitizer and wipes and cleaned everything her daughter touched. I took my daughter to the bathroom and washed her hands with just plain  soap.

As the other mother cleaned every object and surface near her daughter, she lectured me about germs and bacteria and viruses. She explained that her daughter got sick a great deal, and she couldn’t be more careful. I shrugged and told her that my kids crawled around with my dogs and played in the dirt and rarely got sick. My theory was that exposure to those germs and bacteria and viruses (and all the nasty things dogs bring with them that we don’t want to think about) actually strengthened their immune systems. In the most polite manner possible, I even suggested she might want to get a dog. That earned me a lecture about all the dangers that dogs pose to toddlers.

To this day, I have no idea if my theory and nonchalant attitude about dirt has any correlation to my having healthy children. But I’ve carried that concept into their adolescence. I don’t shrug my shoulders at dirt so much as I allow my children to stumble and get a bit bruised when the hit bumps in road.  I don’t believe my job as a parent is to help smooth the path for them. Real life often has bigger bumps than the ones they face in school or with peers. I can’t be there to protect them all their lives, so they are going to have to build up an immunity to difficult situations and the skills to deal with them. The only way to develop any type of skill is to practice, and my job as a mom is to ensure they actually do practice.

Since I never read the articles or pay attention to television spots on parenting, I don’t know if that’s what the experts recommend, but I’m starting to think it’s not. I’ve noticed too many parents constantly intervening in their children’s lives. I’ve even heard stories from college professors who receive phone calls from parents who are unhappy with their children’s grades.  My parents never even knew what classes I was taking in college much the less the names of my professors.

I have to wonder what will happen when these college students graduate, begin their first professional jobs and then disagree with the boss. Will their parents still interfere?

I’m not claiming that I’m a great parent or that I have a clue what I’m doing most of the time. I don’t. I also know I’d probably feel guilty about my parenting skills if I started paying attention to all the theories about the best way to raise children.

But what I don’t feel guilty about is teaching my children that life can be messy. They need to know how handle those messy moments because Mom and Dad aren’t always going to be there to help clean up.

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One Response to “A Messy Parenting Theory”

  1. Deanna LewisNo Gravatar says:

    I don’t know if you know my daughter, Beth Lewis Minear, but when I was raising her she went to school for seven years with wet hair and no coat. She nor her sister were sick thru their 13 years of school. Their dad was the local doctor and we nevertheless made them do any different. One time the principal asked Beth about her hair and coat and she said she wasn’t outside that long. Wen she went to work at Jackson & Kelly, she put her hair up in a wet bun and said it dried before partners got to work. She wore her suits and no slacks, but wet hair. Just wanted to give you a “atta girl.”

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