kitchen table math, the sequel: Jen on children and fate

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Jen on children and fate

from Jen:
I just met up with someone I hadn't seen in a while. Older child doing very well, taking a break from college to pay down loans. Has a good job, has been advancing well, lives on own, in a steady relationship, etc.

Next child has had no end of problems. Has good friends but attracted to "bad" kids. Drugs, running away, alcohol, mental health issues, etc. Parents very involved, doing everything they can to straighten child out. Have just over a year left where they can legally wield influence over child. Have been very proactive.

These parents are involved, pushed education, know kids' teachers, talk to the school, make sure homework is done, have fairly strict rules and keep track of kids, assign chores and expect them to be done. Basically, everything you would want them to be doing.

Worked on first kid. Didn't on second kid.

As this person said yesterday, "I used to think it was only bad parents who had kids that went in such a wrong direction."

It's easy to think that your child's successes are due to you and that your child's failures are due to _________ (bad teaching, society, spouse, genetics). Truth is it can be any and all or none of those things. And that the amount of control we have is similarly up in the air and diminishes with each year of age they gain!
There but for the grace of God.

What is that old saw they tell you when you come in for your SPED intake?

Mental illness is genetic. You get if from your kids.

I hope I haven't offended passersby repeating that --- I was a little shocked the first time I heard it (and, yes, I heard it when I took one of the kids in for SPED eval). But I appreciated the sentiment and still do.

As far as I can tell, nature is real. Nature and chance.

I am a strong believer in authoritative parenting. The research is there, and I was raised by authoritative parents myself; Ed, too. I know it works.

I also believe I've seen authoritative parenting work its magic with kids who have mental illnesses or behavior disorders as well as with typical kids.

But in the case of a child with a mental illness or a developmental disability or ADHD (etc.) authoritative parenting is not a cure. It is a long slog.

In my experience, when authoritative parents raise children who have significant challenges, those children may still face challenges as adults (though not always). BUT their upbringing equips them with the resilience, the determination, and the sense responsibility they need to forge their way.

That reminds me of something an editor of mine once said to me. She was a bit of a wild character, but she was keeping it together, and she told me: The secret to life is Put your demons in the back seat and TELL THEM TO KEEP THEIR HANDS OFF THE WHEEL.

Good advice!

I tell my friends who are doing everything they can do to straighten out a child, but it's still not enough: time is on your side.

I believe that.


SteveH said...

It's interesting to see how many people react so negatively towards John Rosemond. (Mr. Authoritative Parent) I can understand why. He loves his contrarian soapbox. I had many of his books, but didn't need them after my son turned five. He helped me understand why so many people have completely different views of parenting. Actually, I never liked his complete faith in the role of the school. He is also a big advocate for proper pre-school child development rather than pre-school academics. Learning is easy if you are prepared to learn.

Questions about chance are complicated by the completely different approaches taken by parents. Hands-off approaches tend to leave more things up to chance, but authoritative approaches can easily cross over into an authoritarian realm that can screw things up on all levels. One can give you a child who thinks you are great, but is still living at home at age 30. The other could create a success who hates your guts. I know that my wife and I always try to find the perfect "push" level. If we had another child, this level might be quite different.

KTMers, by definition, are a "nurture" (pushy?), not "nature" lot. If you prefer a natural approach, then chance can be your big friend when things go wrong. Pushy parents have a lot of practice figuring out whether it's nurture, nature, or chance. I know we do. If some sort of bad chance happens to our son, I'll know the difference.

AmyP said...

I'm familiar with a very similar situation (one kid does great, the other is a disaster). My feeling on this is that different children are different. I also think that you see this most clearly in larger families, where you get a fuller working out of family genetics. My mom is one of five kids. There is a vast difference between the most and the least successful kids in the family. Now, some of that may be birth order effect, but you'd swear that the different siblings were products of totally different families and upbringing. I don't think that a 1 or 2 child family really gives you the full range of possibilities--you might get all good or all bad purely by chance.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes they just grow up to be Dodger's fans.

And there is nothing the parents can do about it.

But you still have to try. And probably feel like there should have been *something* else you could have done.

I've been lucky so far with my one. But is it (a) his genetics, (b) the parenting, (c) other environment, or (d) luck?

No idea. Probably a bit of each.

And it is probably a lot easier to see how someone *elses* kid is turning out poorly through no fault of the parents.

Now what?

-Mark Roulo

Catherine Johnson said...

Sometimes they just grow up to be Dodger's fans.

I love it!

Catherine Johnson said...

btw, there's no question authoritative parenting works.


That's the formula.

Or, another way I think of it: the children of authoritative parents are free to think whatever they want; they are not free to do whatever they want.

Autonomy of thought, not action.

That's enough to get MOST kids through adolescence and early adulthood (and, come to think of it, life) in one piece.

Jen said...

I agree with the warm/strict -- although I'd say in the situation that I was talking about, those parents are likely both stricter and in some ways more warm (I mean, I know we're a really warm family, but it isn't so much public as other families, if that makes any sense!)

I *will* say that the one place in which I sometimes have disagreed with some of their viewpoint/how they discuss it with children (there is a third younger child) is in the area of school. I think they are more likely to doubt the teacher than the child's version of a story and less able to see/hear the teacher's views.

Again, though, that's likely only to be a problem when there is a problem.

I do admire how they've just kept at it -- they aren't throwing their hands up. They are researching, looking, watching, trying to put in more safeguards and trying to set things up as best they can in the time they have left before big 18 rolls around.

Jen said...

AmyP's point is well-taken too. I mean, I know that I may *look* different toward a kid in some of my parenting. But an outside observer doesn't really know the chicken and egg of any situation.

How my kids reacted to adversity for instance and just their baseline personalities were very different...from infancy. In many, many ways they are very much alike, but in others, the same reaction from me would have very different effects.

Allison said...

---KTMers, by definition, are a "nurture" (pushy?), not "nature" lot.

nope, not by defn. i'm a Nature nature nature person.

read Nurture Shock and The Blank Slate. read about twins who raised separately have the same idiosyncracies liking fake sneezing in a crowded elevator, or who whistle the same tunes habitually, own the same exact clothes and wear them to the same events. read about what's known about shared environments vs. genetics.

50% of the variance in people's personalities is due to genetics, and the rest is due to we-don't-know-what, except it isn't shared environment.

what parents do is try to control the peer group, and stray influences, the randomness. there's no way to know if doing so was for the better, since you can;t go back and rerun the experiment.

even having two kids is often enough to see how little the effects of parenting are due to the parenting, not just responses due to the personality already there.

it's unclear what Catherine means by "works" when she says warm/strict works. works at what? changing what? as opposed to what?

Allison said...

steve said elsewhere:

--My impression is that KTM regulars are not at the natural development end of the spectrum.

you confuse believing a child's genetics largely determine their personality and that parenting has little effect on personality with the idea of permissive parenting.

they are fairly orthogonal. you can believe permissive parenting is the right nurturing env for a child whether you believe strongly in a nurturing effect or not.

likewise, you can strongly believe your child's temperament, interests, and personality was utterly fixed by genes and still believe in authoritative or authoritarian parenting--even if only to control your child at home. or because you believe THAT temperament will respond better to a certain style or worse to another.