Humans are mammals, just like all of the other animals we are learning about, but they do have attributes which distinguish them from the rest of the animal kingdom. For animals, parenting is usually limited to a just a few weeks. Animal parents protect their young against predators, teach them to hunt or scavenge for food, and in less than a year the young are physically mature, can protect themselves, and are ready to reproduce. The job of the animal parent is done; they have no further responsibility for, or contact with, their young. Love and affection as we know it does not enter into the relationship.
For human parents, their responsibilities to their children are more diverse and the need for protection lasts for a longer period of time. Of course the child’s physical needs for food and shelter must be met, but human parents are also responsible for getting immunizations on time, seeing that children wear a seat belt, develop healthy habits for living, and a conscience for governing their moral choices. As children go to school they are exposed to tobacco, alcohol, drugs, and attitudes of disrespect for their culture and themselves. Protecting a child from these dangers is even more difficult! Parents must help children develop moral values if they are to withstand these subtle dangers. There are universal values that are taught in a general way as part of our culture but children must see that these values are important to their parents if they are to accept them as a guide for their own lives. Whether you teach these values as part of an organized religion or just as a part of a personal code of honor it is important that children have some internalized concept of what is to be regarded as right and wrong in their life.
Children can not learn parental values unless they spend time with their parents. Quality time together is something that every good parent aims for but pressures and responsibilities of supporting a family and meeting all their material needs sometimes crowds out the time that should be spent together. A consistent theme of this newsletter is spending time as a family. This is emphasized because it is the best way to let your child know how much s/he is loved, to teach values, and to give a child a feeling of self-worth and esteem. It is this feeling that will enable her/him to adhere to values no matter what the outside pressures are.
Spending time together doesn’t have to be a long expensive family vacation… just make the most of minutes as they come along. First, be sensitive to what is important to your child, if s/he notices the spring flowers, stop and smell them together. Secondly, talk, talk, and talk some more. Talk about whatever you are doing, from washing dishes to watching TV. And lastly, have fun. Relax and don’t feel like you have to work so hard at being a good parent. Laugh while you work together and play together.
It is true that animal parents may have an easier task… they spend less time and effort on parenting… but they also reap fewer rewards. Spend time with your children now and when you are old they will provide good care for you and for your grandchildren. Human parents, if they do their job well, will enjoy their children for a lifetime!