December 25, 2013

How to Raise the Perfect Kid: Lessons from Square Watermelons

Ever heard of a square watermelon? Apparently, if you grow a watermelon in a box, it grows into a square shape. The environment you put the watermelon in directly affects the way the watermelon will turn out. I’ve been thinking about square watermelons because I think it’s a good analogy for raising children.

Just like watermelons grown in boxes turn out square, children raised in different environments reflect their upbringing. If you bring children up in a healthy home environment, the results will be better than someone raising kids in a violent or dysfunctional home (insert resounding “Duh”). The saying is true: You get what you put in. It caused me to stop and reflect on my parenting strategy, or lack thereof.

I mean, I don’t want to end up with a misshapen watermelon (or a terrible child).

Here’s what I’m rethinking about the way I raise my daughter:

I take forever to get ready.

I like to sit in front of my mirror and do my makeup at a leisurely pace. I change outfits two or three times before I settle on “the one.” The process takes an hour or two. None of this really seemed to matter before, except to my occasionally impatient husband, but now I’m wondering what effect it has on my daughter. Does she see me taking hours to get ready and subconsciously think that beauty is equated with makeup and clothes? If I continue this pattern, will she grow up to believe she’s only beautiful with the right outfit and cosmetics? I can’t risk that. “You get what you put in.”

I’m guilty of holding double standards as a mom.

Sure, moms are “allowed” to do lots of things that kids aren’t, but sometimes asking your child to comply with a rule that you disregard isn’t the best way to set an example. If Molly’s not supposed to say the word “stupid,” then I shouldn’t say it, either (although sometimes, it slips out, like in traffic). Somehow, certain words sound fine when I say them, but hearing them come out of my three year old daughter’s mouth makes me cringe. I’m working on saying the right things so Molly learns the right things. “You get what you put in.”

The TV shows and movies my daughter watches have more of an effect than I realized at first.

After watching a positive show like Caillou, Little M is eager to help me in the kitchen, put away her toys, and act like an angel in general. But after watching cartoons that show characters hitting each other, using insults, and disrespecting authority figures, her behavior takes a nosedive. It’s no coincidence. I’m going to ditch the shows that don’t reinforce the values I’m raising M to hold so there’s no confusion in what’s okay and what isn’t. “You get what you put in.”

Square watermelons might sound strange (and look even stranger), but the fact is, they turn out exactly the way the growers expect and intend. Human beings are clearly much more complex to “grow” than watermelons and we rarely get the parenting thing exactly right, but there’s no denying that the actions we take, the words we use, and the examples we set are directly related to the type of child (and eventually, person) we end up with.

I’m not putting my daughter into a square box and I’m not a farmer. I’m just using the influence I already have to help her develop into the woman I know she’s capable of being. She will grow up to be a better woman than me and I’ll be there every step of the way to encourage it, even if I have to do it without an ounce of makeup on, biting my tongue during traffic the whole way.

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