In the early 1960s, songwriter/folk singer Pete Seeger wrote "Turn, Turn, Turn," which was later rocked up and made popular by The Byrds. The refrain was taken from The Book of Ecclesiastes 3:1, the actual words of which read: "There is a time for everything, and a season to every activity under heaven."
Like farming, gathering maple syrup, and the migrations of fish and birds, raising children is marked by seasons.
Season One, the season of service, begins at birth and lasts two years, during which parents orbit around the child in a near-constant ministry of "doing." In all cultures and in all times, the mother is the primary servant during Season One. The child, therefore, has every right to come to the conclusion that the way things are now is the way things will be forever - that his mother is there to do things for him, and that he has power over her. And come to that conclusion he does.
Knowing that she was creating a monster, the old-fashioned mother, between her child's second and third birthdays, corrected his impression of who she was and the role she played in his life. She did so by taking him out of the center of her attention and putting herself at the center of his, by making him do for himself what she had previously done for him, and by making it clear that her relationship with his father trumped her relationship with him.
(Make no mistake, it is the child's misconception of his mother that is at issue, so the mother must initiate this critical transition and see it through.)
By the time he was 3, he saw her with new eyes: once a servant, now an authority figure. He knew she loved him, but he also knew that her word was law. Thus began Season Two, the season of leadership and authority, during which the parents' job is to govern the child so he develops the self-restraint necessary to govern himself responsibly during the next season.
Season Three, the season of mentoring, commences at age 13. It is no coincidence that early adolescent rites of passage of traditional cultures - the Jewish bar or bat mitzvah being an example - occur when a child is 13. These rituals mark and celebrate a major transition in the parent-child relationship. The child has completed the curriculum of Season Two and is, therefore, self-governing. He no longer needs people telling him what to do and running his life. Rather, he needs mentors to help him prepare for emancipation, which inaugurates Season Four, the season of friendship.
These days, the raising of children is rarely occurring in accord with its natural seasons, and it has not been since the 1950s. The ubiquitous symptoms, in reverse order: boomerang children and late emancipation; disrespectful, self-destructive, depressed, irresponsible teenagers; and toddler characteristics (short attention span, impulsivity, low tolerance for frustration, inability to delay gratification, tantrums, defiance, and so on - i.e., ADD) still exhibited, and often, well beyond chronological toddlerhood.
The breakdown is occurring between the second and third birthdays, when it is critical that the mother complete the transition between Season One and Season Two, from servantship to leadership.
This transition took place rather reliably up until some 50 years ago; it happens less often today, because the American mother no longer receives the permission, much less the support, from our culture that she needs to bring about this critical change in her child's perception of her.
The new standard has it that a good mother is one who serves her child the busiest and the best, not for two years but in perpetuity. Thus the Great Paradox of Modern Parenting: Many women have claimed authority in every area of life except where their children are concerned.
So I salute those moms who buck cultural pressure and claim their authority over their children, transforming them from little tyrants into well-mannered little people who will someday grace our culture as good citizens. Don't let the dirty looks bring you down.
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