Friday, January 22, 2010

My Parenting Philosophy

I don't normally write big essays to post on Fridays (who wants to read an essay over the weekend?) but I woke up with this in my head and I figure I should get it out now while it's fresh.

The formation of my parenting philosophy really started when I was 16 and received my patriarchal blessing. I was told to remember that my children are not my children, but are God's children and my responsibility is to raise them and to bring them back home to Him. Even more recently in a blessing, I was told that our next child is a special spirit- and to remember that this person is my sibling. There was a slight pause, and "sibling" was followed up by "your equal."

Over and over, I feel that I'm being reminded to humble, to not exert any authority over my children because I don't have that authority. I'm no better than they are. What would give me authority? The fact that McKay and I had sex once and I got pregnant? Does that give me the right to order them around and to punish them and use the explanation "Because I said so?" I know many people will point out, "But God punishes his children." Yes. But there's a difference between me and God: He's God and I'm not. Big difference. It reminds me of "I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men." I'm supposed to give my children the same respect that I give everyone else.

I've thought about my relationship with McKay- which is much more obviously a relationship of equals. The bane of our (or at least my) existence is the dishes. Often one of us will say, "I'll do some dishes after dinner," but what really happens is I'll go to read, knit or be on the computer and he'll go read, play video games or be on the computer.. How ridiculous would it be for either of us to say, "No knitting/Super Metroid until you do those dishes like you said!" Or even, "No ice cream until you finish those dishes!" Even more ridiculous would it be for us to say, "Now you go sit there and think about the stress you've caused by not following through on your word until I say you can get up!"or for one of us to swat the other with the follow up, "I love you, but your actions made me do this and maybe you'll think about this next time!" Domestic abuse, anyone?

Oftentimes we take those breaks because we had hard days. Or because we're human and we simply forgot about the dishes. It happens. A lot of the time (because this has been a particularly emotional pregnancy) the sight of the dishes is just so overwhelming that I shut down. What helps is when McKay notices this and says, "Here, I'll do this and you do that part," or if he has to be on campus, he'll often help me make a list and randomize it. For some reason that makes the task easier. And sometimes it's just nice to hear, "It's not important right now. Let's do something together and do that later," or, "Just worry about nursing Margaret right now and don't worry about the dishes."

I think kids need to hear those things too and be given slack. And just as surely "punishment" wouldn't work between McKay and I, it won't work between Margaret and I.

I've thought about my friend Jenni's review of The Explosive Child and her saying,

Dr Greene's basic premise is that children do well if they can (rather than the more commonly taught children do well if they want to). In other words, if the child knows the rules, and has motivation to follow them, but is consistently misbehaving anyway, then it is because he has "a developmental delay--a learning disability of sorts--in the skills of flexibility and frustration tolerance" (p 15). In other words, they don't misbehave because they want to, they misbehave because they literally don't have the skills to process situations and behave in a more appropriate or adaptive manner. These kids don't need more incentives, punishments, or consequences--they need to be taught the skills that they are lacking.
That totally makes me want to read that book and I think about that a lot. It is a wonderful reminder that discipline is about teaching, not punishment. I would add that another reason kids "misbehave" besides needing to be taught the skills- is that they might be physically unable to "behave." I'll illustrate with an example from last week.

McKay was playing Super Metroid. Margaret was watching- 2 inches from the screen. "Margaret, can you move back a little?" No response. "Margaret do you need help moving back?" No response. So I went over and helped her sit back and she had a tantrum and screamed and cried. Why such a response? Lots of reasons: 1) It was 11 o'clock at night. She was tired and I had failed as her parent to create an environment conducive to sleep. 2) It was 11 o'clock and dinner was hours ago. She was running on low and her blood sugar probably wasn't where it ought to be at. 3) Language barrier. She's 1 and while she understands a lot of what we are saying, she doesn't understand 100% of it. 4) Lack of motive. Why should she move back when she felt she was perfectly fine where she was? While I could explain, "Well, Margaret all that bright shiny chaos isn't good for your brain..." we're back to the language barrier.

In general she wants to do what's right, but I think physically in her brain- because I hadn't watched her hunger and tired signs, she physically couldn't do what I asked. The neurons in her brain were hindered by the stress of lack of sleep and she acted exactly how she was supposed to act in the situation: she had a tantrum which helped release some of those stress hormones and let me know she wasn't feeling well and I needed to step up in my parental responsibilities and be more on top of things and pay attention to her signals. There was no misbehavior on her part. She did nothing wrong.

Yesterday she was playing with my scissors because I was using them for knitting and failed to keep them out of her reach. "Margaret, please hand me the scissors." She didn't. "Margaret, I know it's hard to give up something that's so interesting. Do you need me to help you?" She's 1, she's curious and the curiosity innate to 1 year-olds is sometimes going to trump what I ask. Right now her brain is meant to explore the world around her and I was asking her to not follow her instincts. It's hard for her to do that and while I know she wants to do well, I think such a request sometimes puts a struggle in her brain. It puts her in a brainlock and so she does nothing. I could interpret that brainlock as her "disobeying" me, or I could interpret that brainlock as her having a hard time ignoring her natural instincts to explore her world. Again, there was no misbehavior on her part. She was doing the best she could in that situation.

I think in the end, I would like to work towards consensual living in our family. It means I have to step up with myself- if I want my children to form certain habits such as valuing work before play, I have to demonstrate that, and I still struggle with that even now. I also want my children to know that I care about their view of things. I try very hard not to "shush" Margaret when she cries or say, "You're fine," when she falls and gets hurt. I want her to know I'm willing to listen to her emotions and that I'll trust her. If she's screaming from a fall- apparently, she's not fine and me saying "You're fine" is saying, "I think you're lying to me about how bad it is."

Maybe I'll have children like myself who'll shut down if they're overwhelmed. Sure, I could punish them for not following directions, but it would completely ignore the root cause, fix nothing, and cause resentment. Just as I want people to be understanding with me, I need to be understanding with other people- including my children. More and more I'm learning patience and that things aren't always how they appear on the outside. Sometimes life, and parenting, is about giving the benefit of the doubt over and over.

ETA: About balance in needs, PhDinParenting recently posted about balance when parental needs and childrens' needs intersect. Obviously needs change over time. There are times when I would be nursing Margaret when I needed to use the restroom, but I know if I can keep nursing her, she'll fall asleep within 5-10 minutes. Can I wait 5-10 minutes to pee? Yes. I'm an adult and I can do that. But there are times when I know it won't hurt her to ask her to unlatch so I can use the restroom. Sometimes her needs will trump mine and sometimes mine will trump hers. Ideally, we'd be able to figure out which needs are most important for each individual and for the family as a whole and be able to work with those consensually.


  1. I love Attachment parenting but there are some things I have learned over the last few years and I know I will learn more in the years to come. I HAVE gotten to the poing where after answering so many questions..the answer ends up being,"because mommy asked you" Bella often does not like to get her clothes on when we ask her to..I know she can physically do this because she does it most days. Some days, however, she will fight us on it and say, "no". She will doddle and after asking her 10 times, I will have to pull her aside and tell her she needs to do it. If she asks why, I tell her we can not go shopping naked and if she still won't do it, then I pull the mommy card. I am not being a bully but I would get nothing done if I let her do everything on her own timing.
    About the disobeying..there are times where she does things I ask her not to do..just to defy me and get a reaction. I have to act quickly to tell her what she did was wrong and that there are consequences if you disobey. If I don't immediately deal with the situation, she will end up being that child who takes kids toys, hits, and won't stay seated when it is needed.
    She is my sister but she needs guidance and teaching. I want her to know that it is important to listen to Mommy and not ignore could save her life. One of my earlier experiences with the AP group that I so love in Provo, we were at a park adn one lady's boys were climbing on top of the slides and it was quite dangerous looking. I would hate for other kids to try it. SHe did not ask them to get down and just said that if they were big enough to do it, it was okay. I did not agree because those tube slides are not meant for that and it was unsafe. What I'm saying is that it is okay to use your role as parent and that it does not make you a dictator or non-AP. If Margaret is 2-3 and wants to take her harness off in the car becasue she does not like it, you will probably need to stand firm that seatbelts need to be on in the car. She may tantrum about it and you are still doing the best thing for her- you are keeping her safe. SOmetimes children do not get theings the way they want it and when they are older they will be able to get why it was for their good that you put a foot down. Okay...I'm rambling. I get what you are trying to say and I feel the Savior wants us to respect our children and realize that they are on loan to us but as Margaret gets older and learns that she has free will, you will find this ideal consensual living more of a struggle. Just ask anyone with a 3,4,5..etc.. year old. You are a great mother and I love your attitude about family. I think McKay is so wonderfully supportive of you and your children are very lucky. Just trying to bring some of my perspective in.

  2. Nice reflections. I would highly recommend Alfie Kohn's Unconditional Parenting or Naomi Aldort's Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves if you are wanting to further investigate these thoughts. Both were insightful and life-changing for me! They would really help you flesh out why you are digressing from more traditional parenting styles.

  3. Wow!

    Thank you so much for following your inspiration to post this essay today.

    It felt like a warm blanket around my shoulders and was just the reminder I needed to continue to do what I know is right with my children and not what others are telling me is right.

  4. "It means I have to step up with myself- if I want my children to form certain habits such as valuing work before play, I have to demonstrate that."

    I agree with this statement ONE HUNDRED PERCENT. This sentence is the core of my (budding) parenting philosophy.

    I absolutely do not feel that I can expect any sort of positive behavior from my children if I'm not willing to demonstrate that behavior myself. This takes serious effort, and I think it's a big reason why so many parents say things like "Do ____ because I said so." It's the easier - albeit less productive -- way than changing yourself first. My father was KING of "do as I say, not as I do." He actually said those words to me on a regular basis. It's nonsense. As a parent, your responsibility is to lay the ethical, spiritual, moral, health, work, and every other important foundation for your children. They learn much more effectively by seeing you DO, not by hearing you SAY.

    So. I agree, is what I'm trying to say, with what you said about setting the example first. I believe it is SO important.

  5. Well, I wonder if the days a child doesn't do something that they normally do- if there's something else going on. Maybe they had a bad dream and didn't get as good of sleep the night before so they aren't living on the 100% they had those other days, you know? I'm not 100% consistent in things I'm 100% capable of. For example, I know that I can do my visiting teaching monthly for months on end... but sometimes I have an "off" month. Yes, I can physically do it- I've done it all the months before, but maybe that month we all got sick or I simply forgot the scheduled time and day one month. It happens, and I know it happens to children, too.

    And to be honest, I don't have a testimony of obedience to parents. I can point to instances where I followed what my parents said- and it gave me more grief and stress than if I had stood up for myself and done things for my own reasons. I don't know if I want to insist on obedience with my children because of how many times I've seen my parents be wrong in what they're insisting on. I don't want to do that to my children.

    With things like safety- I think there is a way to keep each other safe while still respecting people as equals. For example, I have accidentally driven through stop signs in neighborhoods I wasn't familiar with. (I'm not the only one, right? Maybe I am.) There have also been times when a car has stopped suddenly in front of us while driving. Sometimes the other person in the car (whether me or McKay) has to point these things out so that we all stay safe, but there's no punishment later. We do insist on seat belts and other safety measures, but there's no punishment for the tantrums- she's just letting us know how she feels. Yes, she must wear it, but I'm not going to smack her bum or ignore her frustrations or tell her to "get over it" and that her feelings don't mean anything to me. In the past I've said, "I know you don't like it" to show her that I understand her feelings, or say, "You feel frustrated" so she'll have a word to use when she starts using those more often. I'll sometimes say, "Mommy has to wear her seat belt, too." Or I'll distract her with, "Do you want your doll to sit with you?"

    Safety is pretty much the only thing that I insist on. Anything else can wait. And even then safety doesn't have to be done without respect.

    And this reminds me of something I forgot to add in the post... must add it now...

  6. Anonymous Monk- I have read Kohn, but not Aldort. Our library doesn't have her book. I'll need to get it through interlibrary loan sometime.

  7. I thoroughly believe in respecting children. I do not give commands and demands. I use "please" and "thank you" with my child, just as I would with anyone else, and I encourage him to use them back. I do believe that we as parents have a responsibility to teach--and yes, our example is obviously the biggest teaching tool we have. I have also come to understand more about obedience by being a parent. There are commandments that we are given: pay tithing, observe the Sabbath, law of chastity, word of wisdom, etc, and we cannot always comprehend the great importance in obeying that commandment, but Heavenly Father knows what is best for us and it will protect us and bless us if we are obedient. As a parent, there are many things I do to keep my child safe, or healthy that he does not understand right now. When he cries because he found my bottle of vitamins and I won't give him one, it isn't to be mean, it is because it's not safe or healthy for him to eat them. But he can't comprehend that. When I ask him to please sit down on the chair and not stand on it, it is because he has fallen off it other times, and I am trying to prevent more falls and injuries. If there is a commandment that I don't always understand, I try to remember this comparison and trust that there are things I can't comprehend right now, but they are to bless and protect me.

  8. As always I really appreciate your perspective, Heather. Raising a toddler respectfully is a very difficult job at times and I appreciate your suggestions of how you successfully help Margaret in tantrum situations. I really need the help!

  9. "And to be honest, I don't have a testimony of obedience to parents."

    Interesting thought. It seems like many parents interpret "Honor thy father and thy mother" as meaning "to obey them." But that's just an interpretation.

    Of course I would love for my son to obey me, but I also want him to be a free thinker, and to use good judgment, which is ultimately what we want them to do. If we don't allow them the freedom to use judgment, and they are forced to obey or suffer punishment, then we are putting them in a very tight spot. I remember as a child believing something that my parents asked me to do was wrong, but I also thought I wouldn't be honoring them if I disobeyed. I don't want to teach my child this way. I want him to feel free to choose what he believes is right without fear of punishment by his parents.

    I still want him to obey me, but not out of fear. I'd prefer to focus on teaching him to obey God, because God will never lead him astray--I can't promise that I would never lead him astray because I'm not perfect. We learn best by example, anyway. That's why we're taught to follow Christ's example.

  10. Have you ever sat super close to the TV? It could be she was entranced by those awesome dots! It IS pretty cool! ;)

    I think sometimes we do things "for their protection" and for all the right reasons but we fail to see their POV more clearly and fail to help them experience what it is they are trying to understand - a child on a chair could be stood behind so that they can feel tall without the risk of falling; pretend "vitamins" can be doled out once a day for fun until the novelty of it wears off (it always does).

    As a mother of a 10 year old, I found consensual living has gotten SO MUCH easier with age, rather than harder, especially when I respect his input. Ages 3, 4 or 5 are only difficult if we give our children something to fight against. If we are living consensually, they have no reason to "be difficult" (that phrase makes me sad, as if to imply the way they affect us makes it about anything other than us losing our patience).

    Other than whining, that mysterious kid thing that no one yet understands, those ages were my absolute favorite. They understand more, want to help and "play grownup" and are curious in that beautiful, brilliant way of theirs. If we allow it to, it opens our eyes to the wonder in life again. Sure that age challenged my own abilities to be present and patient - but that was my issue, not my child's.

  11. Okay have to add one more thing:

    Our timing in getting things done is not more important than our children. Ten years from now, we won't remember if we made it to the store on time. But we will remember the playful, fun times we had playing chase after a naked kiddo while we pretended to be the clothing goblin. :)

    Also, I think living in fear of raising "THAT child" is detrimental to our relationships. Consequentally, it is only our relationships, not discipline, that prevents a child from becoming "THAT child". I have never, ever, ever met a child from a loving, playful, connected family that spent plenty of quality time together that had a child like that, unless there was a developmental problem. Kids that come from healthy emotional backgrounds don't have the kind of emotional problems that lead to hitting, hoarding, etc.

    And not sitting still isn't a behavior problem. It's a physical impossibility! It would be for us too if we had all that energy! :D

    I've found that the less I have to insist (and only when it's unlawful to do otherwise, or truly, seriously life-threatening) he listens, because he knows I wouldn't insist unless it was important. He trusts me and that I'm speaking from truth and experience, rather than my hurried scheduled or personal agenda. It rally does boil down to trust.

    Oky that was more than one thing. Can you tell I'm passionate about this subject? ;)

  12. fantastic post! This is exactly how I feel, but can't express...

    It's hard living with a nearly 3 yo (and her 6mo sister), but it's actually *easier* to deal with her gently. Getting dressed can either wait, be changed into a game... live life at her pace! It's great we won't have the school run to rush about for, the only rush is if we need the car and Daddy needs to work :)

    I had never thought about the "shhh, don't cry" thing until I read a previous post of yours, and I totally agree. How many of us are ashamed to cry or show our feelings because we feel that they are a sign if weakness? I let Eve have her meltdowns now, without asking her to stop or whatever.

    It's completely about a different mindset, and it's SO freeing for everyone once you get the hang of it!

  13. I love how you put this! I've been working on not telling my 7 mo "You're ok" so I hope by the time she understands me, I'll have it down pat. I've also found ways to do things she doesn't like (change diapers, suck out the snot) without just pinning her down and forcing her. I can still do it respectfully but it might take more time or a little more work on my part. But it's worth it!

  14. This is such good food for thought! I'm going to need to get a notebook to keep with me while I read your blog and am inspired. My kids are going to benefit so positively from our meeting you. . .or well reading your blog since you're moving so we won't really get to know you beyond that since I'm too shy in person. . .


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