Popcorn and couches

Tin Man:  “And what have you learned, Dorothy?”

Dorothy: “That if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard.  Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.”

From 1956 to 1976, once a year families would gather around their television sets to watch the annual rerun of “The Wizard of Oz.”  In the days before DVD’s, Redbox, cable, satellite TV and streaming video it was the only way to watch the classic movie.  In our home we all piled onto the couch each year with a big bowl of popcorn.  Mom and Dad squeezed in too, but on this night no one seemed to mind.  We’d try to keep up with the Munchkins as we sang along with “if ever oh ever a wiz there was the Wizard of Oz is one because because because because because beCAUSE…”.  When Dorothy was crying for her mom in the castle and suddenly the witch appeared in the crystal ball you could have heard a pin drop in the Huston living room.

Sure it was all hokey, but it was homey-hokey, and that made it all okay.

I think that one of the biggest problems facing modern parents is that we have to fight harder to make our homes more than boarding houses for busy grownups and screen-addicted children.  We crash together for meals, and blow apart for our work, school, day care, afterschool sports, or the afternoon latch key lockdown where the only friend is the television or internet.

But whatever our circumstances, the good news is that most well-adjusted, happy and successful kids come from homes that provide love, security, supportive encouragement, and tenderness.  They come from homes in which parents do their best to protect without suffocation, encourage without pressure, and love without conditions.  When a child sees his parents happily living the principles they teach, he’s a lot more inclined to follow along.

Except, of course, that some decide not to.   While it would be tempting to say something soothingly trite like ‘the battle for a child’s heart can be won by fresh baked bread after school,’ we all know it’s neither realistic nor true.  Plenty of problem kids grew up on homemade bread, and a lot of upstanding youth came from difficult and struggling homes.

Here’s the truth:  I’ve been around long enough to see every popular parenting approach fail, from helicopters to tigers to free-rangers.   Nothing wins every time.  What works for one child will crash and burn for the next.  What works for your eight-year-old will flop at fifteen.

So for what it’s worth, here’s my own sure-to-occasionally-fail parenting strategy:  Love them visibly and extravagantly while they’ll let you do it.  Love them quietly when they don’t.   When you’re home, be home.  Find every possible opportunity when they’re young to sit on the couch with your arm around them.   Laugh with them until you’re both teary-eyed and runny-nosed.   Set standards, but judge their hearts as well as their actions. Never use their desire to please you as a weapon. Accept that no matter what they say they’re really not okay with you missing their recital, game, or speech.

Remember that every happy memory you help create will go straight into their emotional bank account.  Never stop making deposits.  Make sure that when they begin to pull away, those deposited memories will keep working behind the scenes, generating enormous interest.

Of course we all continually make mistakes—moms, dads, and kids.   And there may be a day when those happy memories from their childhood will be all that holds your family together.   Regardless of your perceived parental failures take courage in remembering the things you’ve done right, and that the strongest bonds are built on love, forgiveness, the joy of being emotionally vulnerable without fear, and sharing popcorn on the couch doing all those hokey-homey things that bind us tight.   So take a lesson from Dorothy and remember where your hearts’ desires really lie.  Keep the popcorn coming.  And never give up the fight for your children’s hearts.  Never, never, never.

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