Raising Children: As Simple as “Sit and Stay?”

Denisa was at the bank with MC the other day, getting some errands done. She had MC sit and fold her arms on a chair in the waiting area while Denisa went to the counter. (Small town = almost always empty bank.) The teller was amazed at how patient and well-behaved MC was, and asked Denisa how in the world she got her to do that. Denisa didn’t really know what to say, and when she told me the story later that evening, my first impulse was to shrug and say, “If a dog can be trained to sit and stay in one spot, a child can be trained to do the same thing.” (See? And you thought I wasn’t able to censor myself in public. Imagine how much trouble I could get myself into if I always said exactly what I thought off the cuff.)

After I said it and thought about it, however, I realized that really wasn’t a fair statement to make. I have experience raising three genetically similar children, and that’s it. My personal experience is going to be different than a wide array of other people out there, people who come from different backgrounds and experiences. Just because something has worked one way in my own life doesn’t mean it could or should or would have worked the same way for someone else.

But sometimes I have a hard time remembering that.

We like to be able to reduce complex things down to basic steps. That’s how there are so many “how to” books on everything ranging from grilling to raising children. (Pro-tip: don’t mix those two up.) But while some things are pretty straightforward and easy to replicate, others just aren’t.

And yet it’s hard not to wonder what someone is doing when she can just have her 2 year old sit and stay quiet and well behaved for 10 minutes by herself, with nothing to do other than watch what people in the bank are doing. And really, children who can master the “sit and stay” principle seem (in my experience) to have such a leg up on children who can’t. Think about how much in life comes down to being able to sit and stay, whether it’s learning in school, getting your job done at work, or staying focused on finishing a chore or a goal, being able to stay focused on it is a huge piece of actually finishing it.

When Denisa and I lived in Utah, we had a friend who had a dog. An awesomely rambunctious dog who loved to get into everything and run everywhere. He had so much energy, you’d think he’d never be able to sit and stay anywhere. But our friend had a grown son who had spent a lot of time with that dog. When the son was around? That dog was pure obedience. He would sit calmly and stay where he was told. He would do what he was asked. It was like the dog had an entirely different personality when the son was around. What was the biggest difference? From what I could see, it’s that the son was consistent in his expectations and demands. The dog knew the rules around him, and knew what would happen if he broke them. (No beatings or anything. Nothing violent. Just simple rewards.)

Honestly, that’s the example that always springs to mind when I think about raising children, fair or not. People ask Denisa and I what we did to have well behaved children. My first response is to put a big disclaimer out: we have no idea what they’ll be like as teenagers. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. It hasn’t yet, but that doesn’t mean I stop worrying about it.

My second response? Denisa and I have almost always been on the same page with our kids. We discuss family rules and consequences, and then we stick to those rules and consequences across the board. If we say it, we do it. Sometimes that’s easy. Sometimes that’s hard. But it’s worked for us so far.

The problem is, I know other parents who have tried the same thing and been unsuccessful. It isn’t fair to say that they’re unsuccessful because they’re doing it wrong. I don’t know what they’re doing, but I like to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Still, when they ask me what they can be doing differently, I don’t really have anything else to add. I know what worked for my children. That doesn’t always transfer to other people’s experiences.

And that’s a principle I wish I’d see a bit more of in public discourse these days. Remembering that individual experiences can’t and shouldn’t be used as a basis for judgement. Mainly because (in my experience), people are quick to give loved ones a pass on those judgements, but don’t offer strangers the same wiggle room.

Anyway. A bit of a convoluted post for you this fine Monday, but then, my brain’s feeling a bit convoluted, so I suppose it stands to reason this would be the result.

2 thoughts on “Raising Children: As Simple as “Sit and Stay?””

  1. Sometimes even the thing that worked with the older child no longer works for the younger child, based completely on the temperament the kids were born with. My sister has an older son who was all helpful and obedient as a toddler, always looking out for others, and her younger son was ALL. OVER. THE. PLACE. as a toddler–he would wake up at 3 am and turn on the TV looking for cartoons, that kind of thing.

    Just very different kids. She had to learn completely over again how to parent, because the younger required a different style of parenting compared to her older son.

  2. Yeah. I know I’ve been really lucky with my kids, but even knowing that, I have to remind myself of it whenever I try to jump to conclusions about other people’s experiences.

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