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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

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Monday, January 03, 2011

Parenting Out On a Limb*

*Somerset, PA Daily American
January 8, 2011
as "Your actions will change the world"

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

Human children are unique, in that they are born completely helpless. But the capacity to grow and develop into a member of the dominant life form on the planet is an amazing thing.  A monkey is born with far more strength, agility, and independence, but at the end of his life the only thing he’s accomplished is to swing from trees and eat bananas. And although I’ve had days where I wished all I had to do was swing from trees and eat bananas, I know that we humans alone of all the teeming life on Earth have the intelligence, capacity and the ability to change our world.

Once, when I was very young, I was playing in some woods near my home. I found one of those “helicopter” maple seeds. On a whim, I broke open the seed cover, poked a hole in the ground with a stick, and put the seed in the hole.  Years later, I went back to the spot and was astonished to find that my seed had grown into a beautiful 15-foot-tall tree. In a moment of whimsy so long ago, I had started a process of growth and change.  That tree had defied the heat and wild storms of summer and the fierce cold of winter, all without any help from me.  In a very small way, I had changed the world.

As a father, I am familiar with the sensations of holding a new baby, that moment where we look at this tiny little human and ask, “Where will you go? What will you do?”  

Children are, of course, different from trees.  We can’t just plant their feet in the ground, walk away for a few years, and expect them to grow on their own. Children need love, caring, nurturing, and teaching, from both family and the larger community as well. 

Children, it is said, are like sponges. But I think of them more in terms of mirrors. Whatever children see in the lives of those they love and respect, will be reflected in their own life. This places a grave responsibility on us all; especially family.  They will look to us for guidance, for the example of how to live, what to do, how to behave. They will need that direction. We must never let them down.

I would council young parents to make sure your child is surrounded by people you want them to emulate. If you hang out with people of good character and unchallenged integrity, take them along.  When they see the kind of behaviors you honor, they will strive to earn your respect by emulating those good qualities. Never engage in activities or behaviors you don’t want them to do.  Above all, honor your marriage. Treat each other with respect and love. Because what they see in your relationship, they will seek also.

Parents see dangers clearly, and it makes us crazy that children are completely blind to what is so obvious to us.  Every parent knows the helpless feeling when we see our kids embarked on a path that we absolutely, positively know is only going to result in pain and suffering. And despite our best efforts to warn them off, they go right ahead and do it anyway. We must instinctively know the times when to swoop in to the rescue, and the times when we have to say, “Dude, you cooked the soup; you gotta eat it.”  Consequence, and pain teach kids the result of bad choices.  To deprive them of that valuable lesson is to cripple them for life.

Parenting is based on our experience as children. We remember what it was like to be them; to feel their insecurities and anxieties and that intense curiosity about the world.  We remember how it was to feel that powerful desire to stand on our own two feet; to chart our own course and take over the helm of our lives.  And feeling the warm glow of trust.

Raising kids takes a lot of hard effort and a certain amount of heartbreak along the way.  But those years should never be taken for granted. “All the precious time; like the wind, the years go by.” That line from Bob Carlisle’s song “Butterfly Kisses” reminds us that we must never forget the value of each day with our kids.

Because we have but one shot.  And no second chances.


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