I’ve been thinking about “secondary parenting,” which is what I call it when aunts & uncles, or grandparents, or teachers, or neighbors, etc. give your children advice or tell them to behave. I know parents for whom this is an annoying experience, but I actually like it, for at least two reasons.
First, except for the occasional random person in the supermarket, the “secondary parents” are usually people who care about my children. As far as I’m concerned, the more people that love my children and want to help them improve, the better.
Second, no matter the age of my children, from toddler to adult, they have always listened to someone else better than to their parents. Alas, that seems to be one of the rules of the universe. Parents are dumb and out-of-touch, right? We tell them the rules of life: they scoff. A teacher or leader or relative tells them the SAME thing: they nod sagely and wonder why their parents never mentioned it. *facepalm*
Now, that doesn’t mean we don’t have to do our part. If we don’t lay the invisible groundwork first, these second “parents” are going to be treated like the original parents: dumb and out-of-touch. It’s only when they’re the second witness that the magic works. The children might not admit that their parents are right (about anything, if you have teens or two-year-olds), but when their secondary parents back up their first ones, it makes a difference both in the way the children behave and in their belief system. Give it enough time, and they might actually start to think you know what you’re talking about.
It might not take a village, but you can’t do it alone. So the next time your child is careening through the hall and his teacher swoops him to a stop and says “walk, please,” reinforce her message to your child and whisper “thank you” over his head.
Thank you, teacher who told my son he really did have to redo substandard homework. Thank you, aunt who told my children weeding wasn’t going to kill them. Thank you, random stranger who kept my child from running into the street and topped it off with a reminder to hold Mom’s hand. Thank you, everyone who helped my children decide what they want to do when they grow up. Thank you, all the wonderful secondary parents in my children’s lives, for everything you’ve done for our family.