April 18

How to Pick Up a Goose—and Raise Your Children

April 18, 2011

Parenting

I've heard thousands of stories about how people raise their children.

On the one end are the parents who are strict and controlling. They suffer the delusion that if somehow they grip hard enough, their children will not fall. At the other end are the parents who let their children do whatever they want—essentially putting them out to pasture and hoping for the best.

This parental negligence is usually motivated by a fear of implementing rules that might offend the children and result in loss of approval for the parents. And then there are the parents without any clue what to do, and these usually bounce back and forth between strictness and permissiveness, hoping to find that perfect place in the middle.

It turns out that the most effective way to raise children is neither strict nor permissive, nor is it some happy place in between. Raising children is like taking care of a goose. Like children, geese usually have a pretty good idea what they like to do, and they're generally happiest when we simply allow them to make their own choices.

Sometimes, however, we need to move a goose to safety or to a place where the food is more available. On these occasions, we can't negotiate with the goose. We simply have to pick the animal up and move it, and from experience, I've learned that there are more and less effective ways to do this.

The first time I attempted to pick up a goose, I was uncertain of myself and afraid of hurting the bird, so my efforts were half-hearted. I reached gently for the bird, and he rewarded my inexperience by screaming bloody murder; vigorously beating my face, arms, and chest with his wings; and biting my hands with surprising ferocity. I failed to secure the bird.

Fortunately, a more experienced goose-picker-upper was present, and he told me that geese need to feel like you know what you're doing. It makes them feel safer. On my second attempt, I quickly grabbed the bird with a firm grasp around both wings, pinning them with my hands while holding the bird to my chest. The goose barely struggled at all.

Children need the same feeling of confidence from a parent. They don't like being bossed around all the time—much as a goose wouldn't like being held tightly all day—but when guidance is necessary, it must be given without hesitation or doubt.

Children need to be assured that they're in safe, competent hands, so when we instruct them, we need to leave behind our fears of making a mistake, our need for them to like us, and any other attitudes that would distract us from loving and teaching them. We need to guide them with firm, loving hands.

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