"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
December 5, 2012
Squeaky Wheel Parenting
by Emily S. Jorgensen

Years ago, when I was called into Young Women, I taught the Mia Maids of my ward. There was one particular young woman who was intelligent, energetic, thoughtful, and very involved in all the youth activities. She always knew the right answers; her parents were rocks in the gospel. She was loved, provided for, had friends, and seemed very happy to be at church.

Very soon after leaving home for college she stopped going to church and moved in with a boyfriend.

I was so surprised, because I thought she knew.

I thought she knew what the Spirit felt like. I thought she knew what she wanted and why. I thought she had her own testimony.

Who can say but she why she made the choices she did?

The experience made me realize that we cannot take for granted that our children (or primary students, or boy scouts) get it.

It is easy to spend most of our parenting time and energy on the “squeaky wheel” child — the one that always has the drama, or the extra health challenge, or lacks social skills, or forgets everything and needs 20 reminders to brush her hair.

It is tempting to assume that the “angel child,” the one who does her homework and chores without being asked, that knows all the right answers in Sunday School, that loves being a helper is just fine.

I think any parent with more than one child can identify which of their children are “more challenging,” or “easier.” Of course, all are loved deeply. All are respected and appreciated.

But there is a danger in just assuming that all of their needs are being met.

It is obvious when a squeaky-wheel child’s needs are not being met. (I admit to being a squeaky-wheel child myself. Sorry, Mom.) They are loud, and insistent, and bossy. They take out their feelings on others until they are taught appropriate ways to deal with their issues.

It is far less obvious when an “easy” child’s needs are not being met. He may be more introverted, or quiet by nature. He may feel intimidated by the loudness of the squeaky wheel in the room. But, his needs are just as great.

It can be more challenging to ascertain this child’s needs and takes real effort to do so on the part of a parent, teacher, or leader. It takes one-on-one time, looking him right in the eyes as you speak to him, asking him specific questions about their life and interests.

It takes prayerful consideration and constant diligence to watch him carefully and respond immediately when he does speak up to indicate a need. The temptation is to make him wait for you to deal with the squeaky wheel first, because you know he will wait more patiently.

But what does it tell a child when the squeaky wheel’s needs always come first?

At the end of the day, “Squeaky Wheel” parenting — where the parenting energy is doled out according to who is fussing the loudest, is lazy parenting.

Sure, there has to be a certain amount of parenting triage when dealing with multiple children. One child’s needs may very well be greater than the others’ at any given moment, and perhaps quite often.

But it is vital that each child get that personalized attention — even, and perhaps especially, if a child doesn’t appear on the outside to need it. Because they do. They all do.

I spoke recently to someone whose children are all adults. Most of her children have gone on to marry, have children, pursue successful careers. But one of her sons has spent time in jail, and has made several poor choices.

However, she shared with me that after an initial grieving period, the Spirit helped her come to a peaceful place where she knew, she knew, she had done right by this child. He was making his own choices, and she didn’t like his choices, but she could know that she had done all she could for him.

The fact is we cannot control what our children end up doing in their life; but we can parent in a way full of love, attention, the daily grind of rule enforcing and teaching by example, so that we can know it was not our laziness or oversight that cost our children a happy life.

We can pray over each child — not just the one whose needs are obvious. We can make the time to spend one-on-one time with each child.

We can patiently listen to them talk about their day in that (mind-numbing!) blow-by-blow way young children have when recounting an event. We can listen with a straight face and a sympathetic ear when they share their (seemingly petty!) teenage dramas with us.

In short, it is our job to parent to the best of our time and ability, rather than trying to invest the least amount of energy we think we can get away with.

Listen carefully enough, and we can hear that every wheel in the house is in need of a little oil.


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About Emily S. Jorgensen

Emily Jorgensen received her bachelor's degree in piano performance from Brigham Young University. She earned her master's degree in elementary music education, also at BYU. She holds a Kodaly certificate in choral education, as well as permanent certification in piano from Music Teacher’s National Association.

She has taught piano, solfege, and children’s music classes for 17 years in her own studio. She has also taught group piano classes at BYU.

She is an active adjudicator throughout the Wasatch Front and has served in local, regional, and state positions Utah Music Teachers' Association, as well as the Inspirations arts contest chair at Freedom Academy.

She gets a lot of her inspiration for her column by parenting her own rambunctious four children, aged from “in diapers” to “into Harry Potter.” She is still married to her high school sweetheart and serves in her ward’s Primary.

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