An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘parenting’

Low Expectations: Key to Happiness

When asked the secret of their working marriage, our daughter Lolly and her husband, Doc, reply, “Low expectations.” Most couples marry with the expectation that they have chosen the one and only who will make them happy. Lolly and Doc went into marriage knowing that while it is possible for other people to cause misery, happiness is basically a personal responsibility.

Like marriage, nearly everyone enters parenthood with the expectation, or at least the hope, of doing better than their parents. Our youngest son, Techie, and his wife, Techie II, are currently surrounding their first-born with a natural environment of cloth diapers, breast milk, no pacifiers. Since I played Bach and read Yeats to Wort as soon as we got him home from the hospital, I sneer not. I know that by the time the Techies get their second child, all they’ll really hope for is a large bladder and a dry nose. And for subsequent kids, they’ll be satisfied if all the essential body parts are included.

Low expectations are especially helpful near the end of life. I suspect hope for a perfect world beyond this imperfect one accounts for much of the anxiety religious believers experience as they approach death. Religious people generally have faith that loved ones pass on to a better place. But the friends and relatives I’ve seen approaching their own deaths entertain doubts—about the existence of another world and about their own qualifications for entry.

Here’s where I think the low expectations of an agnostic relieve anxiety. Not believing in heaven relieves the worry that it may not exist or that the entry fee may be too steep. As the old saying goes, “Expect the worst and you’ll never be disappointed.”

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Parenting for Dummies

My parents were relatively permissive. I never had a spanking although my mother used guilt masterfully. My brother received corporal punishment once. Doogie smart-mouthed a neighbor and sassed and swore at our mother for chastising him. Dad, who normally left discipline to Mom, got involved at that point. 

Our parents believed it was easier to do a chore themselves than to get us to help, which was true, of course. Aunt Prudence criticized our upbringing. Auntie raised our cousins with strict obedience to the Mormon values of work, thrift and church attendance. On Saturday mornings, Doogie hung around throwing rocks in the vacant lot waiting for our cousin, Beaver, to finish mopping the kitchen floor or some other chore before he could play. I read hundreds of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries while cousin Buffy practiced the piano.

My brothers and I were lazy, useless kids. I did no homework until 9th grade when teachers began posting our grades and my pride kicked in. Oddly enough, my brothers and I, like our more disciplined cousins, grew up to be hard-working, responsible adults—although I do wish I’d learned to play the piano. We and our cousins turned out like our parents. Apparently their examples were more important than their parenting styles

I wish I’d realized this 30 years earlier. I’d have had a lot less angst raising my children. All those guilt-inducing Relief Society lessons—some of which I taught—about the wickedness of the world and Satan lurking to pounce on untaught, undisciplined children. Instead of just doing what comes naturally, I tried for perfection. Maybe it was self-criticism that kept me from emulating my parents. Anyway, I tried to be a strict, in-control parent, but that’s not my nature.  I could do it some of the time, but not always, so I wasn’t consistent. Besides inconsistency, my discipline methods lacked dignity. Chasing kids around the house while brandishing a wooden spoon is not quite the “Divine Calling of Motherhood “ image presented in RS lessons.

For some reason, I never thought of more civilized methods of discipline, like Time Out. When I could no longer catch the kids for a smack on the bottom, I switched to psychological warfare. I stopped quarrels with a pretend phone call to Dr. Smart, the child psychologist I kept on retainer in a kitchen cupboard. I staged loud conversations telling the good doctor that my children were driving me crazy. The kids watched, a mixture of fear and awe on their little faces, as I listened to the doctor’s advice. “Yes. What a good idea! I’ll try that.” By the time I hung up the imaginary phone, quarrels were forgotten as the kids bonded together in concern for their mother’s sanity.

Our kids would have had easier lives if they’d been blessed with smarter parents, but they’d have missed some interesting developmental adventures along the way. Children with normal parents do not attempt careers as stand-up comics or try to obtain an LDS temple recommend by adhering to every item on the checklist except belief in Joseph’s Smith’s divine calling and the literal translation of the Gold Plates.

Each of our kids acquired some of our best traits—as well as some of our negatives. Maybe instead of working so hard on our kids, we should have been working on ourselves.

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