Last Father’s Day, I invited my dad, Herb Lewis, to look back over the decades and describe his childhood experiences, his relationship with his parents and how it all shaped his approach to parenting. Here are his thoughts and parenting lessons, including what’s different about parenting today. (Thank you, Dad.)
Freedom to Explore and Gain Independence
I grew up in a blue-collar rowhouse in Southwest Baltimore in the 1940s and 1950s. My house was magical in that I could step outside and find everything I needed within walking distance: friends, school, park and neighborhood stores. We often visited the library on Saturday mornings and learned the wonder of books and about things over the horizon and out of sight.
Community and Social Interest
My cousins, my brother and I were our family’s first generation born in America. I grew up during World War II. Many family members were serving in the European and Asian theaters of war, so patriotism became part of the fabric of my soul.
Limits and Responsibilities
My parents had rules; they expected my brother and me to make our beds each morning and do household chores. They taught us to be kind and respectful to everyone, to have courage and to be self-reliant. My brother and I understood that our parents were loving advocates who expected us to act responsibly and be accountable for our actions. As soon as my early teens, I always had jobs to earn spending money. Going to school and college were a high priority.
[As parents we] wanted our children to have a good work ethic, to understand the role of an employee and employer to show up for work on time, to perform the work as they had expected and to respect money. We hoped our children’s lives would be meaningful and happy, with the maturity to select a path forward and the strength to overcome any obstacles.
Parenting With Intention, Attention and Limits
Your mother and I met in high school and married at 19 and 20, while I was in college. From the very beginning, we knew our parenting styles and expectations were similar. We discussed and agreed on child-rearing issues of importance: respect, authority and school. Our children were our priority. We knew their friends and their friends’ parents, and we always knew where our children were.
Building Connection and Expanding Limits
As our children grew, we learned to respect and trust them, giving them flexibility in their activities and interacting with others. We felt it was safe for them to explore and learn. In the beginning, Dr. Benjamin Spock’s book was our parenting bible. Thereafter, trial and error and common sense prevailed. We introduced our children to music, theater, the arts, museums and travel. Religious school, guitar, dance, drama, karate, tennis, ice skating, baseball and lacrosse.
Connecting In a High-Tech Age
Parenting today is far more challenging and difficult. Raising our children, we usually had dinner together, discussing the day’s events. Afterward, you and your mother would discuss your latest essay, project or activity. Today, children have so many distractions: cell phones, iPads, computers, Twitter and non-stop communications. Just watching families in restaurants, before, during and after eating, with electronics in hand, speaks volumes. Often few words are exchanged. What are the unintended consequences of scant communications between parents and children? We talk all the time, but do parents really listen to their children? Do children really listen to their parents?
The influences on children outside of the home are extraordinary and unrelenting. Dangers to children are all around us. Coping with the outside world is more difficult and complex. I can understand the pressure parents feel today and the lack of ready solutions for successful child rearing. Without easy answers, parents must search their souls, be honest, lead their families, remain firm and stick to their plans.
Your mother and I believed it was our responsibility to educate our children to be independent people who could provide for themselves. We hoped this would provide roots to ground you and wings to help you experience opportunities and be the best you could be. Like branches of a tree, we wanted our children to survive in strong storms. Mission accomplished. Your mother and I believe we raised three incredible people who are respectful of others, kind, caring, competent, responsible, independent adults and who exceeded our hopes and dreams.
Brian: Anything else?
Herb: Yes. My responses have your mother’s seal of approval.
Brian: I suspected. My thanks and love to both of you, Mom and Dad.