S.E. Livingston: Life is made easier with ‘Get up! You all right!’While studying the Middle Ages this fall, I ran into a fascinating, ancient parenting philosophy: When a wealthy landowner had a son, they loved him so much that they gave him to somebody else to raise.
While studying the Middle Ages this fall, I ran into a fascinating, ancient parenting philosophy: When a wealthy landowner had a son, they loved him so much that they gave him to somebody else to raise. When the boy was about 6, he was sent to a distant (but socioeconomically parallel) family to teach him to how to grow up. It was called fostering. The whole idea was that if they, his natural parents, were to raise him, they would love him too much — thereby making him soft and unfit for a life of lordship and knighthood. Growing up to be a sissy was the worst of fates.
This whole philosophy is intriguing to me because it is so very different from the way my generation approaches parenting. My peers have been called hovering or “helicopter” parents because we over-parent our kids. With the tremendous media and consumer focus on making children happy, we apparently believe that, if all problems are removed in front of children, they will grow up happy.
A real-life example of a better parenting model — a mix between medieval and hovering — was played out at my son’s football game last week.
I was on the sidelines, clenching my teeth as four or five padded and helmeted kids would collide in front of me and fall on the ground together, grunting and groaning. Everybody would hop up … most of the time: About every third tackle, the kid on the bottom of the pile would lay there motionless after the 540 pounds of adolescent-boy-mob got off of him. Coach Duncan from the West End Green Machines would stand on the side and yell, “You all right! Get up! You all right!”
The kid, no matter what team he was from, would peel his body off the ground, wobble to his skinny legs and dogtrot back to the scrimmage line. Coach Duncan had a 100 percent success rate with this approach.
He could not play the game for the recent tackle victim; that wasn’t his job. Besides, it would steal the joy from the child.
If he tried to validate the boy by screaming out, “Oh my gosh, those big boys fell on you! Are you OK? Come sit by me!” Well, then the whole football team would be sitting on the sidelines before the second quarter.
Parents need to be more like Coach Duncan. He isn’t there to make sure no one hits, tackles or runs too fast. He doesn’t try to play the game or remove all the risk. He has a clear understanding that there are boundaries to keep the grownup out of the game. We, like him, need to stand on the sidelines yelling things to encourage these young life players to keep going and not just lie on the ground waiting for help.
Before I was a teacher, I worked for a short time for a county attorney. He told a story of consequence: Some teenager, a son of a friend, got in trouble with the law. The parents came to him, the county attorney, and said, “You know our son. He just ran into some trouble here and definitely won’t be breaking the law again. Couldn’t you do something about it?”
The county attorney responded that he probably could make the problem go away. However, the bigger question was “What do you want your son to learn about the law from this experience? Is justice something that Mom and Dad can make go away or is it bigger than that?”
The best way to help the child would be to tell him that it was going to be painful, and that they’d be right there walking it through with him — but the kid need to get up and keep going.
I guess this advice isn’t just for parenting.
There are many days when I feel as if I’ve been tackled and ground into the linoleum.
I want stay down, moaning and feeling sorry for myself. I’m going to see if Coach Duncan can make a guest appearance at my house with “You all right! Get up!”
Monthly Budgeteer columnist S.E. Livingston is a wife, mother and teacher who writes for family and education newsletters in northern Minnesota (and lives in Duluth). E-mail her at email@example.com.