Julia Roberts was interviewed a couple of weeks ago on the CBS Morning Show about her new movie with Tom Hanks. The interviewer asked her about having Tom Hanks as her co-star and director. Is it true that he is the nice guy that everyone says he is? Her answer hit home with me. She talked about the two ways that directors get the results that they are looking for from actors. Harsh vs humane. Ms. Roberts said that she has worked with both types. She pointed out that you can get good results either way, but that it’s so much easier when the route is taken with love, laughs and kindness rather than pain, abuse and criticism. Yes, she said, Tom Hanks takes the way of kindness and it is indeed a pleasure to work with him.
Afterward, I thought about parenting in light of Ms. Roberts’ remarks. Strict vs lenient. To spank or not to spank. Tough love. These are the words that are at the center of debates on parenting. Some say that any of the above should be viewed only as parenting styles or choices. In other words there is no room for debate. I beg to differ.
Parenting is a skill mainly gained as an apprentice. Like a craft handed down from the master, children absorb and mimic parental behavior.
A few years ago in Cleveland, I heard Geoffrey Canada give a presentation about his organization, “The Harlem Children’s Zone.” In case you have not heard of Mr. Canada and all the good he is accomplishing for children and families in New York City, here is the link: http://www.hcz.org. The homepage states, “Through a coordinated effort by hundreds of devoted men and women, The Harlem Children’s Zone has established a new method to end the cycle of generational poverty. By addressing the needs of the entire community, HCZ isn’t simply helping children beat the odds, it’s helping to change the odds.”
At the presentation in Cleveland that day, Geoffrey Canada used an example of good vs bad parenting that I will never forget: a two-year-old child takes a glass of water and deliberately pours it onto the kitchen floor. Two scenarios play out. The parents without a college degree immediately lash out, “What did you do that for?” and slap the child on the head. The educated parents smile and take an opposite reaction, “Well, look at this! Let’s see how the water is spreading on the floor.”
As a mother of five children and five grandchildren, I can speak from experience on the above illustration. Small children do things out of a sense of wonder. Their thoughts go something like this, “Gee, I wonder what would happen if I did _____ .” As a parent, you can go with it or stifle it. It’s your choice. You’ve got all the power. The case of the spilled water shows how parents can encourage their children to explore possibilities. How do you suppose the scene should end? Maybe the parents included the child in the process of learning what happens when you place a towel on spilled water and how the water is absorbed into the towel and the floor is magically dried. However a situation like that plays out, children who are lucky to have parents who understand them, will grow in an atmosphere of love and will learn how to treat others with love and compassion.
Harsh vs. humane. We have a choice as to how we treat one another. Immediate results come either way. Lingering repercussions last forever.
In that same talk that I heard in Cleveland that day, Geoffrey Canada pointed out that the United States has the highest rate of imprisonment than any other industrialized nation. Gee, I wonder what would happen if we started to treat our children with dignity and respect? Clearly, our current system of parental apprenticeships is not working. I know that The Harlem Children’s Zone has a solution. It begins with education. Baby College is the place to start. If you haven’t heard about it, please go to the HCZ’s website. Find out how you can help.