I remember being a teenager and again in my twenties secretly judging the way grown-ups would do all sorts of things. I recall my critical mind entertaining thoughts such as, “I can´t believe that mother allows her children to eat ice cream for breakfast. Oh my goodness, look how neglected those poor kids are, running around barefoot in the street! Where are those children´s manners? How could their parents not force them to shower after a day at the beach? I cannot believe how much television these kids today are watching.” I could go on and on recalling all my earlier opinions which in essence, were just mere fantasies about child rearing in Utopia.
My once rare situation has become more common in today´s recession-laden world, unfortunately. For the past two years, my husband has lacked stable employment and not for a lack of effort, brains or experience either. There are simply too many over-qualified professional businessmen floating around in this vast sea of unemployment in our beloved United States, “land of opportunity.”
Being from Latin America, fortunately he has the option to travel to this part of the world for business consulting jobs while I remain at home here in South Florida caring for our five children and managing all related domestic responsibilities. It does get overwhelming oftentimes especially without help and I do admit that at times I tend to resort to less than “perfect parenting” methods. Allow me to elaborate.
I do not physically harm my children although I am of the belief that a good ol´ fashion whopping on the behind is necessary at times to get some listening-challenged boys moving. Cold showers also work well to extinguish a raging temper tantrum by the way. I guess that labels me as “believing in corporal punishment,” a friend so lovingly pointed out to me a long time ago.
My children sometimes represent farmer´s kids as they walk about the neighborhood pavement shoeless with the soles of their feet as black as tar, blissfully happy I may add. Most of their meals are served on an “as needs” basis sitting on the floor Japanese style in front of Barney or Thomas the Train. Traditional sitting with all five in ready position, utensils in hand with appetites perfectly synchronized is nonexistent.
I find myself rethinking showers on certain days and am convinced that hand and face washing will often suffice to go another day. The physical labor inherent in bathing and supervising five children´s hygienic habits can be exhausting so after a brisk sniff, I can pretty much classify which ones will last till tomorrow on deodorant and cologne alone and who must undergo a full-body scrub-down.
You see, I am such a hypocrite and now realize that most of my parenting philosophies and beliefs were based upon my lavish living situation at the time. When we lived in Central America and I had an entire army of domestic helpers, I was adamant about the children getting their proper nutrition during mealtimes. Now that we are back in the USA and my only domestic help comes in the shape of a stick, bottle, or television screen, I let them “slip” a little.
For example, my husband finally achieved persuading me that ice cream in the morning was healthy due to its high milk content and that white rice alone was a perfectly well-balanced meal. I have put my resentments aside toward Frosted Flakes cereal and now recognize this product as a viable and healthy breakfast option.
I have matured in life to the point that everything I once despised, stood against and swore never to do, I do either out of sheer desperation, resignation or the meagre realization that we are simple-minded, pathetic creatures of habit and have no choice but to mimic what we lived through in childhood. Or maybe I just think none of it really makes a big difference at the end of the day.
Personally, I think it is a combination of an inner “relaxation” that comes with experience and that not everything has to be taken so seriously and literally. My poor brother, a doctor no less and father of two adorable little girls, spends a minimum of an hour lathering them up with sunblock before heading outside. By the time they finally get outdoors to play, these trusting frustrated creatures are tackled down once again for another round of the goop! Talk about reading and following the instructions on the bottle.
I no longer believe that my two year old´s five bottle a day habit is abusive. Ideally, she would not be walking around with a bottle of milk dangling from her mouth most of the day like a cigarette does from a two pack a day smoker, but hey, it could be worse.
I mean, if pushed, my husband will nervously confess that his mother encouraged him to drink milk by the gallon till the age of fifteen. Sound commendable? Ask him about it today and he´ll proudly tell you that is why he has no cavities and such strong bones. The fact that he spent much of his adolescence shamefully hiding his stock of refrigerated baby bottles filled with milk from his visiting friends and romantic pursuits is besides the point. And don´t even think about asking my mother-in-law about it. She´ll defend her decision to never ween her children off baby bottles with more passion that a church choir.
I don´t think I´ll keep my littlest peanut on the bottle till the age of fifteen like her proud Papi, but at least I have evidence that normal human beings can and do emerge from even the most unconventional types of upbringings. I guess as parents we can raise healthy contributing members of society with our good intentions, actions, and lots of unconditional love.