A few months ago a friend blogged about a book she had read. Seeing how it seemed to have an impact on her and respecting her as a seriously amazing mom, I decided to pick it up. She was right. It was one of those books that I would try to relay to Ryan after every chapter I read. (And he even listened, which is sort of, um, rare.) It's called "Hold on to Your Kids; why parents need to matter more than peers," and is written by Gordon Neufeld. It's obviously a little older than the stage my kids are at, but I'm glad I read it before I get to that point where your kids are annoyed when you're around and just want to be with their friends, because it also seems like something you should just make your lifestyle. Practice makes perfect, and it would be nice to get it figured out before you really need it, you know? Besides the fact that it's not like it happens overnight, and I was amazed to see how early on the seeds of peer orientation are sewn.
Part of the basic idea is that the natural order is for things to be passed on from older generations to the younger ones - knowledge, ideas, values, how to act, talk, dress, etc. It's that way in all of nature - animals and humans. Or it used to be. In the last few generations there has been a huge shift in that kids now look more to their peers for this information rather than adults. So much so, that I didn't even realize it wasn't normal when I was first reading this book! But as the author says, anyone reading the book probably grew up that way and so we don't even realize it's a problem. So now we have generations of immature children - being raised by other immature children. Even language and vocabulary has dropped as a result because they're getting their language (or lack thereof) from each other. His idea is that this has resulted in a whole lot of the issues that we see in society now - children who want nothing to do with adults, can't socialize with adults, children who are more aggressive, more calloused, don't feel emotion, don't engage in meaningful relationships, have their curiosity stamped out because it's not "cool," are more sexually promiscuous with less feeling about it, families falling apart, parents who have lost the power to parent their children, and kids who will follow their skewed instincts to stay close to their peers at all costs. His theory is that we all have a basic instinct or need for attachment, and when that is not met or strong enough with parents, kids will shift that need to peers to fill it, with the costly loss of parental attachment, which causes parents to lose the power to parent their children because the children are no longer looking to them for cues about anything.
I'd love to tell you all the great ideas from the whole book, but I wouldn't do it justice and really you should just read it. It really has made me think a lot about my own life, my own parenting, and did make me notice a lot of the things that did go right. Like my mom always having lots of big family dinners. We always had extended family around and always intermingled with the generations, playing games and talking. I also think of how much the church is inspired in this way - from it's strong emphasis on families and family time, to always ensuring that there were caring adults who played a big part in your life (leaders and Sunday school teachers and such) and helped your own parents get to know people you were associating with better, along with their families. It also made me resolve to be a better friend to other kids - to get to know my friend's kids better or other kids at church who could benefit from another caring adult in their life. I'll admit - this is hard for me. I've never been a real kid person, so having my own children I've had to be totally focused inward just to take care of my own little family, especially once the twins came along. I have a hard enough time paying attention to my own kids, let alone someone else's, but I always love it when friends have a genuine interest in my kids. And that's part of his suggestions is to have a big network of caring adults, family members, and friends to be a part of your children's lives. To help them attach to other positive adults rather than to a bunch of peers you know nothing about and that they want to leave your company to spend every waking minute with. He says, "The greater the number of caring adults in a child's life, the more immune he or she will be to peer orientation."
It did, however, make me more anxious about sending my kids to school here, especially given their personalities, and made me realize where you live and what kind of neighborhood and school area you're in could possibly have a huge impact on how your kids grow up - for better or worse. I was also interested to see how much applied to teachers and teaching and how much attachment plays a part in learning.
I even thought some of the advice was applicable to my marriage - like remembering the relationship is more important than the behavior. That's a good one. And that filling someone's need for attention when they're begging for it really doesn't fill the need; it's only when it's spontaneously given that it really satisfies. (Um, ok, that one wasn't actually for me. HINT.)
Anyway, the author is not saying friends are bad, just that there should be adults around, and ideally you would be involved with your children and their friends and their families. He even goes into better ways to discipline to help preserve your relationship with your kids rather than hurt it. That's going to take some creativity on my part and I'll have to see what works for us.
Even with how much I liked the book though, I'll have to say it did take me about 3 or 4 months to read it. I just have trouble when they're not gripping page-turners! Alright, enough already, but I highly recommend it!