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.