Thoughts from Kay Willis on raising children in the '80s

``The most important single contribution we can make to our children's success is the atmosphere we create for them to grow up in. It should be warm, responsive, loving, and touching. But above all it should be hearing - actually listening to one another and knowing what's going on. That's telling children you believe in them and trust them, because you are giving of your time that they need. ``Mothers are terribly guilty of lacking in communication skills. Big business pays a great deal of money teaching their people in sales and management about eye contact. But mothers don't have very much eye contact with their families. We speak from the kitchen sink. We speak with our head in the oven. We call from room to room. We shout upstairs. We even cup our hands and shout. We hear, but we don't have eye contact.

``Until recently, most of the authorities on parenting were men: Dr. Spock, [Dr. T. Berry] Brazelton, [Dr. Burton] White, [Dr. Lee] Salk. We need their expertise. But most of the time it was medical, or when it wasn't it was information they had collected from mothers and in turn reported to their patients or their readers. There's so much to motherhood that is non-medical.

``Today, more parenting books are being written by mothers. Some of the best are collections of opinions by mothers, so there's no one authority. I don't think there should be any one authority. I believe strongly there's no one right way.

``You've been told not to compare your children to other children. I suggest you don't compare yourself to other mothers.

``Some of the happiest mothers I meet are those who have a part-time job. They don't feel they're giving up everything they worked for in the career world, and they're not sacrificing precious time with their children.

``How do we get men more involved in helping at home? A lot of it takes more time than we're willing to give, so we say we'll do it ourselves. But there is one simple way many women have tried that works. That is to ask. Very often I'll hear men in our fathers' sessions say, `She never asked me.' For many women it is simply saying, `I really need help.'

``Men undervalue themselves as parents. Everybody undervalues men as parents. It takes two people to have a child, and it really takes two people to parent a child in the best way. Men have a tremendous contribution to make as fathers, not as substitute mothers. If they knew their value in this area, they'd feel better about it, and they'd put a greater amount of time and effort into it.

``If we can encourage fathers to feel very much at home in feeding babies or changing them and talking baby talk to them, the response of the child would be enough for them to appreciate their value as a start.

``A child is a very precious gift we really should enjoy. We're not put on earth just to train them to get ready for a good job. There's more to living. A lot of parents don't realize how much there is to enjoy. They're content if they just don't have major problems. Parenthood should be enjoyed, not just endured.''

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