Robert D. Sutherland



by Marilyn and Bob Sutherland

published in The Post-Amerikan newspaper  (April/May, 1990)

Our two children are now 25 and 27 respectively, and the major phase of our role as parents is over. From here on out, our relationship with them will be as friends and equals, hopefully with a warm bond of interest, support, and affection. The rearing of children was something that we took seriously: a responsibility which entailed a 20-year commitment of time, energy, and creative learning. At the end of the process, it seems to us that the rearing of children is the ultimate in creative experiences.
     Our aim as parents was to assist our children in developing themselves to become independent and functioning adults with good self-concepts. This goal required that we encourage them in their development, support them in their experiments and explorations, provide them with useful tools and opportunity to gain confidence in using them—in short, that we train them in survival skills.
     To accomplish this, we worked as a parental team, sharing our observations and thoughts with each other, combining our efforts to provide a stable consistency which our children could rely on.
     We saw it important to set the following guidelines and rigorously observe them:
     1) There had to be honesty in the family relationships: we would be honest with the children, and let them know that they could be honest with us (and were expected to be). There were to be no lies, evasions, or manipulations, no messing with people’s heads or laying-on of guilt trips.
     2) We would respect the children as people, as individuals in their own right, born with personalities, and having hopes and desires of their own. We felt that while it was important for us as parents to make the decisions necessary for their welfare until the children were able to handle making their own decisions, the aim would be to allow the children freedom to make their own decisions when they were ready to do so. They would have to know that decisions have consequences and that they would have to live with those consequences. Respecting the children as people also meant respecting their privacy and involving them in family decision making.
     3) It would be necessary for us to serve as adult role models—setting an example for honesty, open-mindedness, humor, strength of character, courage, having concern for others and a sense of justice and fair play, and the willingness to stand firm and, if occasion demanded, to fight for principles.
     4) In addition to teaching, encouraging, and supporting the children, we would let them know that they were unconditionally loved. In this regard, it was important for us to train ourselves to listen to know their concerns and to hear the messages that lay behind and between the words. We resolved never to punish in anger, and when punishment was required, to make it reasonable, and to make sure the children understood its reason and purpose. Similarly, we resolved to praise them when they accomplished something worthy of praise.
     5) We would be sure to supplement the education they received in school and to encourage their creativity so that no one could snuff it out.
     6) We would establish boundaries for behavior, but within these boundaries foster as much freedom and self-determination as possible.
     7) It would be important to have fun together, to laugh and play and enjoy each other as people.

     We did the best we could according to these guidelines. In deciding priorities, we found it useful to ask ourselves, “What will it matter a year from now?” We have survived, and the children seem to have survived also. As a family, we remain friends. 

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