inspiration parenting relationships

Parenting: Instructions Not Included

Young couple with father who is too busy to be a parent.

I had a good childhood compared to what kids are going through these days in a complex, ultra-competitive world. There was one weird thing about my upbringing, however, that I’ll always remember. I feel it bears mentioning because it’s something that parents can easily forget, even though it’s so obvious.  I’m talking about the simple truth that children aren’t born with an a priori knowledge about the way things are in this world.

My father, Morton, was a good one as fathers go. He was a good provider, a mensch in every sense of the word. But I swear he had the idea that kids were born with a full set of instructions enclosed. Like a model plane. I don’t know how he acquired this orientation. Maybe he forgot what it was like to be a kid. He once told me his parents were “teachers.” Then why wasn’t he like them?

Morton grew up to become a super-busy entrepreneur with the responsibility of two growing businesses on his shoulders. There wasn’t much left of him when he came home after the pressures of a twelve hour day at the office. Really, though, Morton needed to make more time and save more energy to be a father. It seemed like he just wanted us to be around him and grow up straight and tall, all by ourselves.

Morton fully grasped the idea that things don’t happen by themselves. He built two businesses into thriving, large scale companies. Why, then, did he think that children can grow up properly without constant attention? My father died eleven years ago, so the answer will forever remain a mystery.

I imagine most parents are great teachers. They know how much fun it is to teach kids something new. Children love to be taught about mostly anything, especially by a caring parent in a gentle manner. I suppose, therefore, this article is intended for my Dad and the few high achieving, constantly busy parents who have missed out on the joys of bringing up a child.

I started saying things to my daughter when she was only two years old. I knew she wasn’t going to fully understand these things until later in life. Something told me to start pouring the positive instructions in as soon as she began to speak in full sentences. One of the most important things I feel she heard from me early on was this: “You can do anything good you put your mind to.”

I don’t think anything in the world can replace positive, enabling statements like this one spoken at an early stage in a child’s development.  Simple statements like, “You’re so good,” “You are beautiful,” “You can do that,” and “Good job,” can make a huge difference in a child’s motivation, achievement, and sense of well being as an adult.

It doesn’t take much time to say something positive to your child every day. Keep it simple and keep it literal.  Young children don’t barricade their minds.  Whatever you say to them goes straight into their subconscious. If you have to correct your child, do it in a way that engages their cooperation.

From early on, I spoke to my daughter as I would to an adult, always respecting her feelings and intelligence.  To be honest, it wasn’t that hard because my daughter is an only child, and she had good qualities to begin with (thanks mostly to my wife’s DNA). We are fortunate that our daughter began life with good characteristics. Most children do. Obviously, it takes more than good ingredients to make a happy and successful adult. It takes good bakers (parents) to make the cake.

Today, my daughter is happy, enthusiastic, and married to a great guy. She is a successful Assistant State Attorney. To extend the clichéd metaphor; “the proof is in the pudding.”

Looking back on my life, I ask myself: “What have you done that is truly important and beneficial to this world. I have to say my greatest contribution, by far, is my daughter.

By David Gittlin

I’ve written three feature length screenplays, produced two short films, and published three novels. Before quitting my day job, I spent more than thirty years as a marketing director building expertise in advertising, copy writing, corporate communications, collateral sales materials, website content/design and online marketing.

For more information about my novels, please visit

8 replies on “Parenting: Instructions Not Included”

I think a lot of fathers of our generation had similar parenting outlooks. They were supposed to be the providers and, yes, we kids were supposed to grow up pretty much on our own. Maybe with some help from our moms. Good for you for realizing speaking positive messages to your daughter would result in so many benefits.

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I enjoyed reading this. In a way our generation learned what not to do from our parents. Lol. My father was a very loving and attentive father. But he worked long hard hours. He did take the time to play ball with my older brother and would take the family to the park at least once or twice a month. However, he did have the traditional sexist values of the day. Boys did sports, not girls etc. It drove him nuts that I was faster than my brother and could hit a ball farther. Both he and my mom told me boys wouldn’t like me if I kept beating them at everything. I doubt that he ever truly understood me. But, I was the unconventional one in the family. My brother and sister fit into the 1950’s mold perfectly, while I pushed the limit. Too many questions, they listened in school, I did my own thing. They couldn’t understand why I HAD to draw a purple elephant when the assignment was to make him gray. Or why the heroines in creating writing stories always saved the day. The prince would fall off his horse and the princess would grab his sword and defeat the dragon. They just didn’t get it. And when in the mid 1960’s I formed the first all girl rock band in south Florida my father was baffled. But since I was too young to drive, he did take me to many of our practice sessions. So perhaps he was secretly proud of my independence. After all I bought my electric guitar at a pawn shop with baby sitting money after they refused to pay for such a frivolous venture. Once we got local coverage and recognition my mother got on board. Lol thinking back it must have been difficult how much things changed. My mom was born the year women got the right to vote and father was a year older than she.

I think it’s terrific that you used positive reinforcement in raising your daughter. It makes a difference. I don’t think that was the style of child rearing in the 1950’s. But my father’s parents were even tougher. His father wound up blind and he had to become a paperboy by age five. All the children worked to support the family. So he never had a childhood per say. Therefore, my youngest son quotes his late grandfather who had to watch him when he was kindergarten and had to stay home because he broke his son imitated my dad saying, “ Johnny, Grandpa doesn’t play pretend. I’ll read to you, play sports or chess with you. But I don’t pretend to do anything.”
I remember having to try to explain to a five year old that his grandfather just couldn’t play. He truly had trouble understanding why his grandpa couldn’t use his imagination that way. The funny thing is, after he died I read letters he wrote to my mom while he was overseas and officer in WWII. They were filled with imagination and humor. I am not sure if the war changed him or the was just a generational thing.

Either way, it’s certainly characteristic of men of that era. I don’t know when your father was born but if they were good providers they were doing a good job as a husband and father.

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Sounds like you were a very precocious and talented child. Good for you.

One thing my parents did teach me, and I’m very grateful for, is to have a staunchly positive attitude in life. It doesn’t necessarily mean to deny feelings, but I find it enormously helpful to reconfigure negative thoughts and emotions. I find that every moment is a fork in the road. I can choose to respond to each moment negatively or positively. I find it too easy to go the negative route, and that road eventually leads to destruction. I HAVE to choose the positive path, and I’m always much happier when I do.

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That’s wonderful that your parents taught you such an valuable lesson. Being positive is truly one of the best lessons a parent can teach a child. I learned the hard way, I think. Lol. Over the years it just made more sense to choose to be happy rather than miserable. My mom was a pretty traditional Jewish mother but she truly turned negatively into an art form. I’m not sure if it was because I was imaginative, or just a creative soul that I figured out early on that it simply felt better to find joy in life rather than focus on sorrow. I actually had a sign outside my classroom door saying, Enter… Joyful learning inside. That was my philosophy. And it’s been a helpful way to live my life, especially during the last year and a half while I battled cancer. A positive attitude is everything!
Being a parent is an overwhelming task. But what a gift when it turns out right. My sons are amazing men and I have three terrific grandchildren. If you think being a parent is great, just wait until you’re a grandparent. It is the best!

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