As Thanksgiving approaches, family comes into focus. On the national day of thanks, families and extended families get together to eat, play and thank one another for being there. Siblings and in-laws may get into heated political debates. Kids may get hyper-active. But families are forever.
We asked Bulletin readers from age 17 to 70 recall good examples of their parents. They told us about learning discipline, work, faith, hope and love from their parents. And, they recalled how they were allowed to be themselves.
My mom taught me to cook when I was five or six. She could cook with virtually nothing. There were six kids and we didn’t have much. We’d make meals of powdered milk, bread and soda crackers sometimes, but nobody starved. It taught me how to survive on next to nothing and still have a smile. We all became respectable citizens. By age 10, I was taking turns cooking family meals with three older sisters. I like to cook to this day.
-- Cheryl Jensen, 57 – North Platte truck stop employee
Diana Baumrind, a psychologist at the University of California-Berkeley, says the optimal parent is involved and responsive. A good parent sets high expectations for children but respects the child’s autonomy.
Those parents “appear to hit the sweet spot of parental involvement,” Baumrind said in a New York Times report. “They generally raise children who do better academically, psychologically and socially than children whose parents are permissive and/or less involved, or controlling and/or more involved.”
Parental involvement has a long and rich history of being studied.
Carol Dweck, a social and developmental psychologist at Stanford University, takes young children into a room and asks them to solve a simple puzzle. Most do so with little difficulty.
But Dr. Dweck tells some, not all, of the kids how very bright and capable they are.
That doesn’t work.
As it turns out, the children who are NOT told they’re smart are more motivated to tackle increasingly difficult puzzles. They also exhibit higher levels of confidence and show greater overall progress in puzzle-solving.
This may seem counterintuitive, but praising children’s talents and abilities seems to rattle their confidence, Dweck says. Kids love the thrill of choosing work simply for its own sake, regardless of outcomes. If kids are praised too highly, they have something to lose if they fail, so they don’t try to do and learn something different as often, Dweck found.
My mom was a single mother when I was little. She worked seven days a week, and also took some college courses. She taught me to work for what I need. I do that now. My first job was at age 15, cleaning motel rooms. I like work -- meeting people, and of course the paychecks.
-- Felicity Edwards, 17 – fast food worker, North Platte high school senior
Counselor Joshua Becker has some recommendations.
• Love thy spouse. Healthy marriages are the foundation on which children base their lives. They provide the stability necessary for young children to grow, thrive, and experiment. Home becomes a safe place. Work each day to love thy spouse. Take pride in what you give the relationship, not what you take from it.
n Correct harmful behaviors, attitudes, and world views. Discipline must be present. Children need to learn everything from the ground-up, including how to get along with others, how to get results and achieve their dreams. Discipline should not be avoided or withheld, but it should be motivated by love and a desire to see children become the best they can be.
My parents taught me a work ethic. They got up early, and so did I, to milk cows and irrigate. They were always up early. It set a good example. By age 10 I was doing field work on a tractor. Before then I had trash to haul out and eggs to pick up. As long as I got my work done, they were pretty lenient, but if I didn’t get it done, they found more work for me. It’s been an adjustment, going from farm life to a 9-5 office job.
-- Henry Vogt, 54, property appraiser
• Encourage. Parenting is a thinking game. It takes energy and strategy. If parents don’t give the attention it deserves, their children become shaped by the world around them rather than by parents who love them. Discourage unhealthy habits. Intentionally encourage positive habits. Model behavior for children. Think the best of children. Provide opportunities for children to learn life lessons. Praise positive habits both privately and publicly.
I would have to go back to my grandparents on this. Having a soft heart and caring for others that need it was important to my grandfather. He also taught me that God is ever present and knows you can’t be perfect. God forgives you when you can’t do things just right, if your intentions were honorable.
I love to bake, thanks to my grandmother. She taught me to bake all kinds of goodies and then taught me to give some away to others to make them feel good.
-- Pat Smith – retired housewife
• Spirituality. Wise parents encourage spirituality in the lives of their children. They instill within their kids a deep sense that there is more to this world than meets the eye. Some of the greatest things in this world are not things. Instead, they are invisible, life-giving and eternal. There is a moral compass that guides life on this planet. Wise parents encourage (and provide opportunities) for children to find it.
As a family, we always sat down together for the evening meal. There were five of us children. My father Leslie would take time to sit and read the Bible to us, and talk about the reading, how to put it into practice, and pray with us, often before bedtime. We went to church on Sundays. He was a cattle rancher, but he made sure everything was done the night before so we could attend church together.
-- Marlys Gosnell, 64, North Platte
• Let go. While parenting requires time, energy, love, sweat, and tears, it also requires freedom to allow children to make their own decisions and choose their paths. It is a difficult balance. It varies from child to child, but parents who neglect to let go cause harm and fail to accomplish the goal of parenting itself: preparing young men and women to be released into the world as responsible adults.
My parents always told me that you have to work for what want. Things don’t fall into your lap and you need to be able to get things done and provide with what you have. They also made it important to me that you should always be there for family and friends.
-- Ardie Welch – retired North Platte housewife
Real job of moms, dads
A dad's primary, underlying job isn't control. It's to validate every one of his children, says Tim Sanford from Focus on the Family
To validate means to let your child know over and over and over, through words and actions, that they exist and matter to you, that they are good enough, and that they are okay kids.
Surprisingly, a teenager needs as much of dad’s time and attention as a toddler does. In fact, a dad's validation is so critical to a child's emotional health that he or she will go to any length — and Sandford does mean any — to get it, whether it's real or artificial.
Don’t get permanently mad and try only to control an unruly child, Sanford says. Give them discipline, but also give them attention and recognition.
My parents taught me to be honest and respectful of others. I saw it through their actions. They were respectful even when people were unkind to them sometimes.
They were very hard workers and taught me accordingly, but Sunday was a day for family games. We’d listen to music (often on 45 rpm records), play cards and board games together.
We had rules in the house and we, the children, could not cross the lines. We had expectations in our school work. If it was expected, it had to be done.
--Diana Kraning, 50 – North Platte resident
A mom’s primary job is not cooking dinner, changing diapers or helping a preschooler glue colored macaroni on a coffee can for Father’s Day.
A mom has is to nurture her children, Sanford says. She helps enable her children to develop fully by pouring life into them. She models joy and passion. Nurturing is filling your child up with aliveness.
When a child hasn't been sufficiently validated or nurtured, he or she can be thrown into an unconscious emotional "survival mode."
They think: "The only person in this whole world I can trust to look out for me is me. So I will do whatever I think I have to do to get my needs met."
These kids can be found on a range of mild to extreme. Those on the mild end of the scale are often under-diagnosed and labeled as strong-willed, having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, perfectionistic, "control freaks," lazy, underachievers, or just plain selfish.
Those on the extreme end are alienated. They tend to become outlaws and tend to live by, for and of themselves, Sanford says.
My mother was Dutch and cleanliness was ever-important. Her house had to be immaculate. She also taught me that a good work ethic was something I should develop and that has been a positive in my life. It was very important to her and now to me to honor other people and family and to trust in God.
--Carman Harrahill - North Platte practicing nurse
First published in the Nov. 7 print edition of the North Platte Bulletin.