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Parental Goals

In Our Babies, Ourselves, the author, Meredith F. Small, discusses “parental goals.” She defines parental goals as, “conscious or unconscious objectives that influence every action with their offspring.” Since I read this book about a year ago, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this concept. Small says that overwhelmingly, American parents’
“parental goal” is independence, and this has been documented in various ways by scholars and researchers.

I had never thought much about my parental goals. If someone were to ask me what I wanted for my child, I would say that I want him to be happy. But what do I think would make him happy? Ultimately, I guess, financial and emotional security would probably make him happy, and the freedom to follow his desires. I also think it is important for my son to be in touch with his own body, spririt, and intuition. Although I wouldn’t necessarily name “independence,” that really is at the core of what I think would make him happy. It kind of bothered me when I realized this – I thought I was enlightened! I thought that I could look past our own culture and figure out what truly mattered. But alas, I am just a product of western/American culture, afterall.

The theory behind attachment parenting is partially based on promoting independence. Dr. Sears even says outright that attachment parenting promotes independence in children. He lists this as one of the 7 benefits of attachment parenting and also as one of 10 ways attachment parenting makes discipline easier.

I can’t help but wonder, what is so great about independence? Okay, for the individual, I can see what is great about it – you can pick yourself up by the bootstraps and carry on. You can take care of yourself. When the rest of the world lets you down, you can help yourself. But what about society? Isn’t independence at the core of many of the social problems our society is constantly complaining about? Our society sends us mixed messages. “They” say we should raise our kids to be independent, while at the same time, we need to raise them in a family with the biological mom and dad, happily married, and completely dependent on the other.

How am I supposed to raise an independent child, and at the same time, teach him that he needs to depend on someone else (and someone else will depend on him) for 50+ years of his life? It really doesn’t make sense. Marriage is the antithesis of independence. Parenting is the antithesis of independence. Yet, we are told by our society that family and marriage are the most sacred institutions, and we are supposed to be raising kids who are anything but independent.

Another issue I have with independence as a parental goal is that it can foster the lack of willingness to help those in need, and also the lack of willingness to seek help from others. Close to home, I see this play out in my own neighborhood. I live about 10 feet from my neighbor, but we rarely help each other out. We once had an ambulance and firetruck at our house and none of our neighbors even came over to see if everything was okay or if we needed help. I think this is so strange! Another neighbor a few houses down died from cancer, and I never even knew she was sick until her family held a garage sale after her death. If we can’t rely on those who live closest to us, then who can we rely on? Or maybe we shouldn’t rely on each other at all?

The conflict between dependence and indepence is often played out in the national level. “Independent” citizens are often seen as “good” citizens. According to our culture, if you can raise a child who isn’t dependent on the government, then you’ve probably done your job right.

Hmmm… it makes me wonder if some people are so put off by attachment parenting because they worry it will create a bunch of socialists. This would explain why parents like us are so heavily criticised for allowing our children to be dependent on us for a little longer than average.

While I do think of myself as a counter-culture mama, it is nearly impossible to strip independence from my parental goals. The last thing I want to do is raise a kid who doesn’t fit in with his culture at all. Like I said, I ultimately want him to be happy, but I do believe he will need to work within the contructs of our society to achieve that. I mean sure, if he were to fall on hard times, I hope he can depend on his family, friends, or the government to help him get on his feet again, but I certainly wouldn’t want to raise him to only depend on those people/institutions.

As I practice attachment and natural parenting, I actually hope my actions will foster a little bit of dependence in my son. I do hope he can depend on his spouse in the future, and I hope he is happy letting his spouse depend on him. I hope he helps his neighbors and seeks help when he needs it. I hope he holds his baby close to him just a little longer than his society expects him to.

And yes, ultimately, I just want him to be happy. So if that means he embraces all that is independent, then who am I to argue?

What are your parental goals?

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Published in Parenting