I am a mental health therapist, by trade. I work with college students aged 18-22 (+). Working with this age group is pretty interesting. They are defining themselves, identifying the aspects of their personalities they like/dislike. They are examining their childhoods and criticizing the mistakes of their un-cool parents. And they are shaping their futures with goals and ideas. It's cool. Except that I'm raising kids while these "kids" are looking back. So, in my mind, I always have this checklist going. What does it take to make them "turn out all right?" I have to know. It's the most important thing to know! So I have a little list.
One day, I was being particularly list-driven and I shared it with my husband. I prepared him for my realization and I think he expected to be blown away. (I mean, it is THE LIST of essential ingredients to successful kids). So I delivered him the following list. The list that took me about 3 years to complete and the same list that I have validated in rigorous follow up interviews for about 5 years since. Ready for it? Here it is:
Things we really need to turn out "all right" or to be "all right"
A mom who is loving and nurturing, kisses all the boo-boos.
A dad who does things with you.
Mom and dad who tell you the truth, even if others may think, it's age inappropriate, better to be told the truth than to know your not being told the truth by the very people who teach you to trust.
That's it, folks. That's the list.
You probably won't be surprised to know that my husband was utterly underwhelmed. I think his response was something along the lines of, "yeah, I already knew that."
And, awesome news, we already do that. But in parenting, I so often make things more complicated than they already are. My mind has to take the concept and throw it up onto the old poker stick in my brain and spin that baby around on every single angle and examine it, make implications about it, make predictions, relate it to other things, separate it from other things, decide its meaning, decide it's value, decide its worthlessness. And, honestly, if I couldn't do that I wouldn't be me. I do that. It's what I do. And, it gives me pleasure. It interests me. It occupies my mind. So I will do that indefinitely but I also will know that I am already doing everything on "the list."
The list makes so much sense. Women are good at relationships and good at nurturing. They just have maternal instincts. And men are do-ers. They do stuff. They are action oriented. So, if you happen to be in a heterosexual coupled family system, you need a mom who's nurturing and a dad who's active in your life. Those are pretty good basic requirements. Of course, if your in a homosexual coupled family system I'd argue you just need those two areas covered, nurturing and activity-oriented relationships. And your good! The truth part is where it gets tricky. I have found that the people who are most successful navigating in and around and out of love relationships, dodging the bullets if you will, and being open for the right people at the right time, are people who have trusting relationships with their parents. If you know you've been told the truth, you can certainly count on it continuing. If the truth is never given, why would you expect it ever will be? And I am not suggesting that Christian families don't tell their version of "truth." I believe they do. They are being truthful when they indoctrinate their children into their worldview, that's their truth and it's not mine but it is theirs and that's okay. Athiest/Believers alike, you must be told the truth by your parents. The parents need to be transparent. Open. Flexible. Easy to find (their soul/psyche, that is).
That is THE LIST.
Simple. As so often everything really is.