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Parenting: Instructions Not Included

My father understood that things don’t happen by themselves. He built two businesses into large scale companies. Why, then, did he think that children can grow up properly without constant attention?

I had a good childhood compared to what kids are going through these days in a complex, ultra-competitive world. There was one weird thing about my upbringing, however, that I’ll always remember. I feel it bears mentioning because it’s something that parents can easily forget, even though it’s so obvious.  I’m talking about the simple truth that children aren’t born with an a priori knowledge about the way things are in this world.

My father, Morton, was a good one as fathers go. He was a good provider, a mensch in every sense of the word. But I swear he had the idea that kids were born with a full set of instructions enclosed. Like a model plane. I don’t know how he acquired this orientation. Maybe he forgot what it was like to be a kid. He once told me his parents were “teachers.” Then why wasn’t he like them?

Morton grew up to become a super-busy entrepreneur with the responsibility of two growing businesses on his shoulders. There wasn’t much left of him when he came home after the pressures of a twelve hour day at the office. Really, though, Morton needed to make more time and save more energy to be a father. It seemed like he just wanted us to be around him and grow up straight and tall, all by ourselves.

My father completely understood that things don’t happen by themselves. He built two businesses into thriving, large scale companies. Why, then, did he think that children can grow up properly without constant attention? My dad died eleven years ago, so the answer will forever remain a mystery.

I imagine most parents are great teachers. They know how much fun it is to teach kids something new. Children love to be taught about mostly anything, especially by a caring parent in a gentle manner. I suppose, therefore, this article is intended for my Dad and the few high achieving, constantly busy parents who have missed out on the joys of bringing up a child.

I started saying things to my daughter when she was only two years old. I knew she wasn’t going to fully understand these things until later in life. Something told me to start pouring the positive instructions in as soon as she began to speak in full sentences. One of the most important things I feel she heard from me early on was this: “You can do anything good you put your mind to.”

I don’t think anything in the world can replace positive, enabling statements like this one spoken at an early stage in a child’s development.  Simple statements like, “You’re so good,” “You are beautiful,” “You can do that,” and “Good job,” can make a huge difference in a child’s motivation, achievement, and sense of well being as an adult.

It doesn’t take much time to say something positive to your child every day. Keep it simple and keep it literal.  Young children don’t barricade their minds.  Whatever you say to them goes straight into their subconscious. If you have to correct your child, do it in a way that engages their cooperation.

From early on, I spoke to my daughter as I would to an adult, always respecting her feelings and intelligence.  To be honest, it wasn’t that hard because my daughter is an only child, and she had good qualities to begin with (thanks mostly to my wife’s DNA). We are fortunate that our daughter began life with good characteristics. Most children do. Obviously, it takes more than good ingredients to make a happy and successful adult. It takes good bakers (parents) to make the cake.

Today, my daughter is happy, enthusiastic, and married to a great guy. She is a successful Assistant State Attorney. To extend the clichéd metaphor; “the proof is in the pudding.”

Looking back on my life, I ask myself: “What have you done that is truly important and beneficial to this world. I have to say my greatest contribution, by far, is my daughter.

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