Parental involvement means involvement
As often as possible, I stop what I am doing on a Saturday evening to watch the latest episode of "Too Cute" on the Animal Planet channel.
Last weekend, I managed to catch the show. I took a break from loading the dishwasher, flopped into the recliner and began viewing a program about three sets of kittens.
Baby animals are indeed too cute as they get into all sorts of mischief and predicaments while exploring their environment and pursuing the quest for independence.
In this particular episode, a mother calico led her litter of 6-week-old kittens out of the home to explore the great outdoors.
One kitten, Max, decided to run to the nearest tree and climb. He scaled the trunk, digging in with his claws without much difficulty.
However, once he reached the highest branch and took a peak down below, he panicked.
Max let out some loud cries to his family beneath the big oak. His mother quickly responded by mounting the tree and attending to her offspring.
She gently picked Max up by the nape of his neck and turned him around on the limb.
I said out loud, "What a good mother she is – going up there to rescue her baby!"
But then I noticed that she did not in fact rescue the kitten at all. She merely turned him so he was facing upward and in a position that would allow him to descend the tree himself.
The narrator commented that mother cats will get their young on the right course by directing and redirecting, allowing them to figure out how to manage situations they will surely face later in life as well.
I also learned that cats' paws curve so their claws get better traction on a slope when going down backward.
"Oh, she didn't help him get down" I said somberly. "She let him do it himself."
At which point, my husband turned from the sofa and gave me "the look." I knew exactly what it meant; I never would have made it as a mother cat.
On occasions too numerous to count and many too embarrassing to describe, I have been known to cross the line between advocating for my children and handling situations for them; between helping them figure out how to resolve issues and taking matters in my own hands. Just where is that line?
Parental involvement and advocacy for one's child is something that is encouraged of parents and supported by research.
Parent involvement means being aware of what your child is doing, where your child is going and who is part of his or her life.
It means making a connection with those people – teachers, coaches and leaders – and establishing a partnership with them, opening the door for two-way communication.
It means that as a parent you are interested in your child's growth and development and you want to work together, not against them if problems arise.
And they will.
Being an advocate for your child means approaching situations with an open mind, getting all the information needed before deciding if the child care center director, school principal or league chairperson needs to be contacted.
It is important for parents to educate others about their child while providing their child with the tools and skills needed to get through life with their unique aspects, both the positive ones and those that present challenges.
It also means talking with your child, listening to them and asking them how you can help them.
I learned this the hard way when my daughter was in middle school and told me how her best friend would snub her all day at school then call her in the evening as if nothing was wrong.
I believed that my job was to call this girl's mother and find out what was going on, which I did.
That did not go well, and everyone ended up angry.
"Why did you do that?" my daughter asked me tearfully.
"What did you want me to do?" I asked. "You were so hurt and upset."
"All I wanted was for you to listen," she said.
I must give myself some credit, though. I did get better with age and as we went down the birth order.
With our first child, I was much quicker to react than respond. I grew better with the next two at slowing down and being more mindful, discerning the difference between what I wanted to do and what was best to do.
I learned there are always two sides to most stories, and that I needed to seriously listen to that other side.
After gathering all the information, I would respond rather that react.
And I learned that sometimes the best response was no response. Sometimes natural consequences provided some of life's best lessons. And these are the hardest for parents to let happen.
When the show ended, I returned to loading the dishwasher.
My cat was perched on the open door, licking the remnants of macaroni and cheese off a fork.
Did I remove the cat and say "No" in a firm voice? Of course not. I placed the fork on a paper towel so she could finish her snack.
Editor's note: Denise H. Continenza, M.Ed. is the Communities That Care Coordinator, and Family and Consumer Sciences Educator/Prevention Affiliate Penn State Extension for Lehigh County.