Category Archives: mindful parenting

9 Reasons I (Still) Refuse To Be The Meanest Mom

Someone recently asked me when I was going to stop writing about not being the “mean mom.”  My answer?  As long as people keep writing articles glorifying being mean, I’ll keep writing about the alternative.

This one, published by Scary Mommy, was the latest one to come across my desk, but there is no shortage of others.  Be the mean mom, they tell us, not the nice mom.  Not the cool mom.  Not the friend.  In reading this one for a second time, I see and understand that it was written in a sort of tongue-in-cheek, humorous style.  And please understand, it’s not that I don’t have a good sense of humor.  I do.  (Ask my dog.  He thinks I’m freaking hysterical.)  I just don’t happen to find humor in disparaging kids, and in treating them as less than …. which is exactly what articles like this do.

The other side deserves to be heard.  The other side needs to be heard.  Here then are the author’s 9 reasons for being the mean mom, and my response from the other side.

1. I’m not your friend.  Not even close.

I say:  I will always be your friend… the best friend you could ever ask for.  I’ve written about being friends with my kids again and again.  And I’ll continue to do so.  For me, it’s pretty simple.  Friends are going to come and go, for a variety of reasons.  But as parents, we have the unique opportunity to be the friend that’s always there.  The trusted rock that our kids can count on… not just now, but for the rest of their lives.  I will proudly, unabashedly, always be that friend for my kids.  In fact I strongly believe that it’s one of my most important jobs when it comes to being a mother.

2.  I’m not here to be cool.  I’m here to raise cool kids.

This is one thing we may partially agree on.  Anyone who ever accused me of trying to be cool wouldn’t get very far.  I’m pretty much a big dork.  I’m socially awkward, I trip over air, and I laugh way harder than I should at “That’s what she said” jokes.  But I’m perfectly me, and I encourage my kids to be their own best selves too.  It’s not a zero sum game, where I have to be “mean mom” in order for my kids to be raised right (or whatever version of “right” that society deems appropriate).  I do my best to be kind, and respectful, and a person with integrity.  And guess what?  My kids are kind, and respectful, and people with integrity.  Who cares about cool?

3.  Because nagging works. 

Lots of things “work”, especially in the short term.  But that doesn’t mean that anything that works is the best choice, or the kindest choice.  Being a mom should be about the relationship.  Nagging doesn’t tend to be a great thing for relationships, and rightly so.  No one likes to be nagged.  Bottom line:  if I wouldn’t like it said – or done – to me, I don’t want to say or do it to my kids.

4.  I married a cool dad.

I think this is meant to be a take on the antiquated good cop/bad cop paradigm, where one parent needs to be the soft one, and the other the “heavy.”  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  My kids have a cool mom and a cool dad (or, at least, uncool in equal measure).  We are different, to be sure, because we are vastly different people.  But good and bad?  Nice and mean?  Nope.  We’re partners; both on the same team.

5.  It just plain works.

Didn’t we already do this one?  Sure, it works.  Know what else works?  Being nice.

6.  It takes a village, except when the villagers are all too nice.

The author feels that a trip to the playground should carry with it a mandatory contract that reads, “If you see another kid being an asshole, don’t hesitate. Say something.”  Gah.  Again with the calling kids assholes.  So here’s the thing:  There seems to be a false dichotomy that states that there are exactly two ways for parenting (and by extension, society) to operate.  1) Parents are “mean”, children behave, and there is order and harmony in all the land.  Or 2) Parents are too nice (ie: pushovers) children run wild, and chaos and bedlam reign supreme.  But there are other options.  Yup, sometimes it really does take a village.  And yup, sometimes a trip to the playground does require intervention involving another child and/or another parent.  I have been there.  But I’ve never met a situation that couldn’t be at least a little more quickly diffused, a little more softened, a little more pleasant for all involved… by being nice.  I don’t care who you are, young or old.  God knows we could use a little more “nice.”

7.  Kids will suck the nice right out of you.  Let them. 

We’re not born with a finite amount of “nice.”  If we are treating our kids kindly from a genuine place of love and respect (and not, for example, from a misplaced sense of martyrdom or insecurity), we literally never run out of niceness.  No one can suck it out of us.  No one can take it away.  In fact, it’s one of those emotional muscles that actually increases the more we use it.  I’ve been a parent for over 20 years, and I still manage to be nice to my kids.  I think I’ll even be able to be nice to them tomorrow.  Crazy! (But true.)  Even crazier?  My kids are nice to me, too!

8.  I refuse to raise little manipulators.

Oof.  Listen, it’s not that I think kids are perfect (they’re human), and it’s not that I don’t think kids – past a certain age – can’t manipulate (again, they’re human).  It’s just that 1) being nice to your kids doesn’t turn them into manipulators; 2) being mean doesn’t preclude it – in fact I think it increases the odds exponentially; 3) children, like all of us, tend to behave as well as they are treated; and 4) calling kids manipulators (and brats and assholes etcera) is tired and uncool and contributing to the problem.  Not solving it.  Look at it this way:  if someone was assuming the worst about you and calling you a name, would you be more or less likely to act pleasantly toward that person in the future?

9.  Still want to be cool?  Just wait until you’re the grandmother.

Nope, it’s not about being cool.  Not even a little bit.  It’s not about being liked.  It’s not even about being nice.  It’s about something far simpler.  It’s about treating my kids the way I’d like to be treated.  At the end of the day, I wouldn’t like it very much if an important person in my life measured their relational success against how mean they were to me.

In fact, I’d actually appreciate the opposite.

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Living In The Moment

One of the things I love doing on my Facebook page is asking a basic question of the group, one that I know will elicit a lot of responses, and hopefully starting a (often important, and needed) conversation.  Even before I read through all the responses – and please know that I do, very carefully, read through all of the responses – your enthusiasm in joining the conversation tells me two things:  1) That we all want to be heard… that we all have questions, and struggles, and things to share, and that platforms like blogs and Facebook groups still serve a real purpose, and 2) That we’re all in this together.  I think that one of the most helpful things to know (not just with parenting, but with life) is that we are not alone.  That someone, somewhere, is out there who gets it.  Who understands how we feel.  Who knows what it’s like to be facing what we face.  It’s a powerful thing, and one I don’t take for granted.

Most recently, I asked,

What is one thing that you struggle with as a parent? Something that you know you want to do differently (such as less yelling, more patience, etc) but that you are having trouble implementing?

I got an overwhelming response, both in numbers and in sheer honesty and vulnerability.  So thank you.  I very quickly realized that what was meant to be a one-off blog post really needed to become a regular series.  Because I don’t care how good of a mom you are:  We all struggle with something. 

The thing that stood out to me the most in my first read-through of the comments was the one that’s been my own personal struggle since… well, forever:  Being present.  Being in the moment.  It’s something that I’ve thought about, and learned about, and written about, many many times in the 20 years that I’ve been a parent.  Tegan (who’s 9 at the time of this writing, and is teaching me a whole new set of parenting truths after her three brothers) has been instrumental in showing me of the importance of living in the moment.

But still, I have to remind myself.  Still, I have to practice.

And I’m not alone.

Just a few of my fellow like-minded parents:

Stopping, breathing, and taking in the moment.  Appreciating their age, abilities and achievements without being frustrated by lesser things.  ~ Bea L

Really struggling with patience these days.  ~ Jess F

Being more present with my kids and not giving in to frustration. ~ Rebecca P

Slowing down and enjoying the moments. I always seem to be going and trying to clean, get dishes or laundry done and I tend to e short with my kids and not fully engage in play or conversation. ~ Stefanie S

Being impatient and not being able to just be present with them.  Working on it.  Getting better, but it is hard.  ~ Karen E

I have spent the entire last year working on my mental health, and a huge, huge part of that work was learning to live in the moment.  Our brains (or at least my brain) always want to be solving problems, and thinking about the next thing, or the last thing, or the thing that’s coming up next week, or the thing that happened 6 months ago.  When you’re not truly living in the moment, you’re either living in the past, or in the future.  And in the past and in the future, there’s always a problem to solve.  It’s exhausting.

So all the typical “live in the moment” advice – Breathe;  Count to ten.;  Look around and ground yourself by appreciating the sights and sounds and smells;  Don’t sweat the small stuff –  While it’s all well and good, it wasn’t until I learned the problem-solving piece that I felt like I really understood what I needed to do, and what I needed to remember.

In the moment, in this moment, there is no problem to solve.

And it sounds simplistic, and easy to argue:  Of course there are problems.  We don’t have enough money.  The car’s in the shop.  The kids are always fighting.  The 2 year old’s sick.  The 4 year old’s having a tantrum.  I have to make dinner and make lunches for tomorrow and get my son to football and my daughter to karate and there’s the thing at church and it’s all just SO MUCH. 

Yes.  Sure.   I get it.  I get it.

But right now, right now as you read these words, there are no problems to solve.  It’s okay to give yourself (and your brain!  Your poor, overworked brain) a break.  It’s okay to breathe and NOT WORRY about how you handled that last problem, or how you’re going to handle the next one.  It’s okay to truly and deeply and fully live right now, and give yourself permission to rest…. to rest in the moment, to rest in the presence of your child, to rest in the presence of yourself.

Right now, in the moment, there is no problem to solve.

That one piece of truth, heard in the right place and the right time, was probably one of the single best bits of wisdom I’ve ever received… not just for life in general, but for my parenting as well.  And I still have to remind myself – often – but I’m getting better.

Right now, there is no problem to solve.

And my shoulders relax, and I’m able to exhale, and my weary soul feels a welcome sense of relief.  I don’t have to figure it all out right now.  And then, in that moment, I can be the mom I know I can be.  The mom I know I should be.  And when I miss the mark (and I do sometimes miss the mark, because I’m human)? Then I have the next moment.  And then the one after that.

One day, one moment, at a time.

And it sounds kinda hokey, and a little woo-woo (and I hate woo-woo) … but it helps.  So much.

You have permission to rest.

Hug your kid, smell the flowers, jump in the mud puddle.  Right now, there is no problem to solve.


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Sometimes I’m An Asshole (But I Don’t Advertise It On My Car)

A friend recently sent me this photo she came across, I think in equal parts because it irritated her, AND because people like to send me things that they think will irritate me, as an impetus for a new blog post.  (Irritated Jen = Writing Jen)

And she was right, because the photo did irritate me.  I sat on it for awhile though, and looked at it again, and looked at it through different perspectives.  And…. yeah, it still irritates me.

I get it, I think.  I don’t actually think the intention is a bad one.  I think it’s likely an antidote to the “Proud parent of an honor student, blah blah”  (I have my beef with those stickers too).  I think it’s likely just saying, “Hey, my kid’s not perfect, but that’s okay, and I love him anyway.”

But here’s the thing:  Aside from not being particularly nice, stickers like this promote childism in the biggest way.  When was the last time you saw a bumper sticker saying, “My wife sure is a bitch sometimes, but I love her anyway?”  Most rational people would see something like that and recognize that it’s not cool.  Or kind.  Or productive.  But we live in a society where it is not only accepted, but celebrated, to treat kids as lesser than.  To treat kids with less respect and less kindness than we’d treat other family members.  To treat kids with less consideration for their feelings than we’d extend to other loved ones.  To treat kids as less than human.

Are children – any children – perfect?  Of course not.  They’re human beings.  Are adults – any adults – perfect?  Of course not.  They’re human beings.  We all have our moments, to be sure.  I’m sometimes less than kind to my husband, and he’s sometimes less than kind to me (Ask us about the recent nearly knock-down drag out fight about asparagus…. except maybe don’t, because I’m not sure all parties are ready to joke about it yet) Everyone has their ugly (re:  HUMAN) moments.  The difference is, in real life, we accept this and work through it and deal with it in a healthy way.  We don’t make announcements about it on our cars.

Stickers like this may seem completely innocent, and funny even.  But in order to accept them, we need to be honest with ourselves and recognize that while sure, it’s dealing with a genuine human condition, it is also unfair and childist, and singling children out in a unkind and hurtful way.  We need to be honest with ourselves and recognize the fact that very few people would be okay and/or humored by this if it singled out wives, or girlfriends, or husbands, or parents.

Until we, as a society, can do that, maybe it’s a message best left off our cars.

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Want To Stop Nagging Your Kids To Do Chores? Then Stop

A few inevitable facts of housekeeping:

  1. If you want to have clean dishes to eat off of, you’re going to have to wash them.**
  2. If you want to have a bathroom – and floors and kitchens and bedrooms – that are at least relatively sanitary, you’re going to have to occasionally make time for some sort of cleaner and a swoop of a mop or a sponge or a paper towel.
  3. If you want to wear clothes that are clean and odor-free, you’re eventually going to have to throw in a load of laundry.

They’re maybe not your favorite things to do – they’re not mine – but they don’t have to be unpleasant drudgery either.  They’re just a part of life, and a part of keeping a nice home.  Viewing them as a voluntary act of service for yourself and your family goes a long way towards making them, at a minimum, more tolerable.

Chores should never be an area of contention between you and your children. 

I see article after article with mainstream advice about how to stop the need for nagging and get your darn kids to just do their chores already.   They may suggest any number of variants of charts or stickers or rewards or punishments, but they all essentially say the same thing:

The answer lies in control and manipulation.

Bribe your kids, punish your kids, reward your kids (which, by the way, are all sides of the same coin).  Just get them to dutifully do what you want.  Then the chores get done, you don’t have to nag, and the problem is solved.  But is it?

Using manipulation or coercion – and make no mistake, that’s exactly what these tactics employ – is a lose/lose proposition.  Sure, it may “work” in the sense that the chores get done, but it comes at a price.

No one likes to be manipulated.  Let’s just start there.  It will cause your kids to resent cleaning.  Or you.  Or both.  And isn’t that the exact opposite of what you want?  Both when it comes to your relationship with your child, and with the harmony of your family working together as one cohesive unit?  Mandating chores, especially in an authoritarian manner, will only make your children view them as, well… chores.  Something unpleasant.  Something that they’re doing simply because they’re forced to do it, and not because it’s nice to have clean floors or clean clothes or clean dishes.  Something that they’re doing because their little sticker chart says it’s time, and not because it feels good to take pride of ownership by taking care of your things and of your space.

And there’s a larger problem.  Children are not second class citizens who are here to do our bidding.  They are human beings who are deserving of the same care and respect and mindful communication as any other loved one.  If I have a problem or a frustration or a concern with my husband, I don’t make him a chart.  I don’t lay out a list of things he needs to do differently to make me happy.

I talk to him.  And I give my kids the same consideration.

So what do you do when you’re finding yourself frustrated with or yelling or nagging your kids about chores?  You stop doing it.  Seriously.  Just stop.  If there’s a chore that’s undone that’s bothering you, do the chore.  Then figure out why it is that you’re so stressed about it in the first place.  If you are yelling or nagging or otherwise being unkind, that’s a *you* problem, not a *them* problem.  It’s not your kids’ job to regulate your emotions or your behavior.

And I get it.  I do.  Sometimes things just get off-kilter.  I get stressed, my routine gets thrown off, I start to get snippy.  When it happens, it’s a sign that I need to 1) Take a step back and evaluate what’s going on with me that’s making me respond that way.  Is it just because we’ve been too busy?  Have I not been taking care of myself?  Am I worried or stressed about something that’s completely unrelated to my house or family?  And 2) Talk to my family about it.  A sincere and forthright, “Hey guys, I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed lately because of xyz, so would you mind giving me some extra help with – {whatever I need help with} – this week?” is a lot more effective, and respectful! than trying to manipulate their behavior through rewards or punishments.  And you know what?  When I do need to ask for extra help, 99 times out of 100 they are more than happy and willing to give it to me.  (The one percent accounts for the fact that they are indeed humans and not robots.)

Finally, because it’s something that gets misinterpreted every single time I write about this:

Does this mean then that I just set myself up as a martyr, someone who does all the housework myself, even to my own detriment?  No!  We all pitch in.  I do do the bulk of it (and I’m happy to do it), just because I’m a stay at home mom and have essentially signed up for this.  But Mike does most of the cooking.  16 year old does the dishes.  20 year old usually takes out the trash and recylables.  9 year old and 12 year old step in with pet care.  And on those deep clean days – AKA company’s coming and things are looking a little squidgy around the edges – any one of us might be yielding that broom, or duster, or mop, or toilet brush…

Without ever having to create a chore chart to make it happen.

(**Or get paper plates and plastic silverware!  You do you.  I won’t judge.)


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My Daughter Doesn’t Dress For You

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Halloween 2016

My daughter is eight at the time of this writing.  Her wardrobe, besides being fabulous, can best be described as eclectic.  It’s a dress one day, followed by running shorts and a tank top the next, followed by an ever changing mix of leggings and long tops,  and swishy shorts and boots,  and skirts with knee-high socks, and other various combinations that I haven’t even imagined until I’ve seen her put them together.  Last week she wore one of her dad’s t-shirts as a big boxy dress, and believe you me, she rocked it.

One thing she does not do is dress for me.  Or for her father.  Or for her peers.  Or for boys.  She dresses for herself, in whatever way makes her feel comfortable and confident and best able to take on the world as her own wonderfully weird and perfectly imperfect self.  My wish for her is that that always continues, whether she’s eight or twenty eight.

To insist otherwise is to give in to rape culture, and to an increasingly misogynistic society that tells us that 1) girls are nothing more than sexual objects, and 2) boys are nothing more than walking penises, slaves to their animalistic urges.  It is always amazes me each time that I again realize how equally disparaging this view is to both genders.   Can we give ourselves a little more credit?

Women are more than the clothes they wear.

Men are more than hormonally-driven hunters, always on the lookout for the next thing they might want to have sex with.

Which is why articles like this one, by Shelly Wildman, are so concerning.  Titled How Your Daughter Dresses Matters, she explains why as parents we need to be vigilant in ensuring that our daughters are dressed modestly (which sounds pretty difficult, since she estimates that 80% of what we see in stores is inappropriate.)

From the article, in response to a WSJ online article with a quote that said, “We wouldn’t dream of dropping our daughters off at college and saying: ‘Study hard and floss every night, honey—and for heaven’s sake, get laid!’ But that’s essentially what we’re saying by allowing them to dress the way they do while they’re still living under our own roofs.”:

Think about that. If, as mothers (or fathers!), we’re encouraging our daughters to dress inappropriately, that’s basically what we’re saying. At the very least we’re saying, “Here’s my daughter. She’s on display. Take a good, long, hard look at her.”

And a few lines later, in describing what the author says to the junior high girls she works with:

Dressing a certain way attracts a certain kind of guy. I doubt very seriously that the kind of guy you want to attract is the kind of guy you’re dressing for when you dress like that. Besides, you are above that. You are better than that. You deserve better than that.  So dress for the guy you deserve.

Oof.

First of all, thinking of your daughter in terms of her hypothetical sex life is gross and inappropriate, to say the least.  I don’t care what she’s wearing or not wearing.  Second, if a parent is equating a specifically dressed daughter with an object on display… the problem lies within the parent.   This is going to sound harsh, but that excerpt literally filled me with revulsion.

Our children are not our possessions to display, nor are they puppets with which to act out our own ideals about  what is and is not “appropriate” when it comes to attire.  They’re humans.

As for the “encouraging our daughters to dress inappropriately”, there is a very big difference between respecting autonomy and encouraging inappropriateness.  And who decides what’s “inappropriate” anyway?  You?  Me?  The church elders?  “Appropriate” attire is completely subjective, and it’s both unrealistic and arrogant to think that we can define it for someone else.  I would never encourage my daughter to dress in a way that feels inappropriate to her, or uncomfortable to her, or inauthentic to her. 

What I will encourage?  Self-respect.  Self-love.  Self-confidence.  An intrinsic need to think, and act, and dress out of a deep respect for herself... not for me, not for you, and certainly not – as the second quote advises – to land the man of her dreams.  Sorry (#notsorry) current eight year old boys who might one day want to date my daughter: She’s not going to dress for you.

She’s going to dress for herself.

And I can’t speak for the rest of the moms or daughters out there, but if my daughter does in fact choose to be in a relationship with a man:  The man she deserves is one who doesn’t give a single wit about the clothes she’s wearing, and instead sees the person underneath.

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I’m Not The Meanest Mom

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I realized something recently.  As adults, we like to hear stories of other adults performing some sort of kindness.  We like the feel-good stories of people helping their fellow man, standing up to injustice, or showing love to a total stranger.  It restores our faith in humanity.  It makes us feel good, and it motivates us to be kinder ourselves.  Kinder.  Gentler.  More compassionate. You know what we don’t see all that often?  People sharing about the times they weren’t all that kind, or respectful, or compassionate. And sure, we’re human. We’ve all done it:  We have a bad day, and we inadvertently and regrettably take it out on some poor nearby soul.  But we don’t rush to share those days, because we recognize – both on an intellectual level and on a heart level – that it’s not exactly something to brag about.

But when it’s a parent being unkind towards a child?  We* (as a society) not only tolerate this bad behavior, but we embrace it.  We actually cheer it on.

When it comes to kids, we glorify violence.  We celebrate cruelty.

So while we seem to have it right when it comes to adult on adult behavior, our collective treatment of our children is abhorrent, and getting more concerning by the day. Baby, we’ve got a long way to go.

I feel like it started with the laptop shooting dad, but it has multiplied at an alarming rate since then.  This trend of publicly parenting through bullying, shame, and intimidation is everywhere.  I feel like I can’t go a single day anymore without seeing another one.    Parenting has become a contest, but a sick one.  A contest not to find the sweetest mom, or the most competent mom, but the meanest mom. Everything is backwards.  Meanness is exalted, spitefulness is praised.   Parents boast about how mean they are to their kids, and instead of gently suggesting alternatives (or possibly better yet, denying them any attention at all), we put them on a pedestal.  We feed this very cycle of unkindness.  A quick perusal of the comment threads on any one of these public shamings tells us everything we need to know.  Hundreds, and yes, thousands of positive comments, singing the praises of meanness, shouting their rallying accolades, and devouring anyone who dare stand up for the children.

How can we do this to these little ones, the most vulnerable members of our society?  The people who need the most empathy and the most tender care, are being maligned, minimized and mistreated.

And we’re watching it happen.

I don’t know the answer.  I don’t.  I know we need to keep talking about it.  I know we can’t quietly sit back and accept it.

But it starts at home.  It starts with our own kids.

And listen, I’m the first one to admit I’m not a perfect mom.  None of us are.  I struggle sometimes with patience.  I sometimes let sleep deprivation get the better of me and am unnecessarily short with my kids.  I have to constantly remind myself to live in the moment.  I have to constantly remind myself not to sweat the small stuff.

Yes, I apologize to my children often.

But the big difference between me and the “meanest mom” supporters is that I’m saddened by mean behavior (by or towards anyone), not buoyed by it.  So no, I won’t pat you on the back for celebrating meanness.  No, I won’t be offering any “Atta girl!”s or “Way to go!”s or “Good job, mom!”s.  No, I won’t praise you for being unkind.

And I get it.  My opinion is the unpopular one.  The cool kids are all worshiping at the alter of childism.  Well, I opt out.  I don’t want to be a part of your club.  I don’t stand in solidarity with anyone who rallies around the idea of mistreating children.  I don’t care how loud your voices are.  I don’t care how many members you have.  I don’t care how good your cookies are.

I Opt Out.

In my life, in my world, I will celebrate kindness.  I will cheer for compassion.  I will stand up for grace, and forgiveness, and gentle communication.

Children learn from our actions.   Throwing away a child’s ice cream (because in his childlike excitement he forgot to say “thank you”) doesn’t teach him to say thank you, it doesn’t teach him what it means to be polite, and it doesn’t teach him gratitude.  It teaches him that if someone doesn’t behave in the way we want, that it’s okay to bully them, and that it’s okay to take someone else’s things.

Children learn from our actions.  Spanking a child for misbehaving doesn’t teach him right from wrong.  It teaches him that “might makes right”, that pain and fear are effective motivators, and that it’s okay to use physical force on someone who’s younger and more vulnerable than you.

Children learn from our actions.  Sending a child to time out when he’s having a hard time doesn’t teach him to think about his actions. It teaches him that mom is going to isolate him from her attention, her love, and her touch, at the very moment when he is needing them the most.

Children learn from our actions.  Publicly shaming a child a for making a mistake doesn’t teach him not to do it again.  It teaches him, again, to use bullying to solve his problems.  It teaches him that he can’t trust the one person he should be able to trust the most.  It teaches him to feel worthless, and ashamed, and humiliated… making him even MORE likely to repeat the behavior in the future.

Children learn from our actions.  Punishing a child (as opposed to kindly communicating, listening, and guiding) does not teach him respect.  Or responsibility.  Or accountability.  It teaches him to be bitter.  To be angry.  To be spiteful.  It teaches him to be extrinsically motivated by the fear of mom’s negative repercussions, rather than intrinsically and positively motivated by his own internal sense of right and wrong.

If you want to raise kids that are polite, respectful, and kind, start by being polite, respectful, and kind to your kids.

It starts with you.  It starts with us.

Let’s stop glorifying bullies, and start treating our kids the way we’d like to be treated ourselves.

Kids are people too.

#NotTheMeanestMom


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Instead of Punishment: Where to Start

You've decided to stop spanking.Now what-

 

I have four kids who’ve never been spanked.  I would like to say that they’ve never been punished at all, but while we’d resolved from the very beginning not to physically hurt our children, moving away from punishments completely took a little more time.  Thankfully, our youngest three have grown up with no punishments of any kind (which, as it always stands to be said again, is not the same thing as growing up without discipline.  The two words are not synonymous.)

For lots of other families though, the decision comes much later…. after they’ve already used spankings and/or timeouts and other traditional parenting methods.  They’re convicted by something they’ve read, or by a friend or family member, or maybe just because they feel an inner stirring that something isn’t right.  Whatever the reason, they resolve to stop spanking and punishing, and feel really confident about their decision.

And then – not always, but often – there’s that moment of sheer panic.

One question that I get a lot, in various forms, is this:

If I don’t spank, what do I do?

And I get it.  I do.  It’s one thing to embrace a philosophy, and quite another to feel equipped in that moment when your child sticks a pen through a sofa cushion just to see what will happen… or shoves (another) sandwich into the slot in the VCR… or throws her brothers shoes into a lake… *

The question is a good one, and the answer far too involved to fully cover in one blog post.  My hope is that the following list will serve as a good place to start.

1.  Change your perspective.

The reason that there’s no one single answer to the question, “What do you do instead of spanking?” is that moving away from punishments requires an entirely new mindset.  It’s not a one-for-one deal.  Punishments (and their cousins, rewards) reduce your interaction with your children to a transaction:  you apply some sort of prescribed action, and you – hopefully – get a desired result.   But that’s not the way respectful relationships work.  At least it shouldn’t be! You shouldn’t try to control your children through punishment, fear, and manipulation tactics any more than you should do so to your spouse, or sister, or best friend.    So while it is imperative that you learn and practice peaceful tools for dealing with stressful situations (more on that in point two), your entire perspective also needs to shift before you can really understand gentle parenting.  It’s not about control; it’s about connection.  It’s not about rules; it’s about relationships.  You’re going to have to ask yourself, possibly over and over again, “Is what I’m about to do/say going to bring me and my child closer together, or draw us further apart?”  But wait, that sounds like work.  Wouldn’t it be easier just to spank?  Well… yes!  It takes time, and care, and effort to parent without punishments.  In order to commit to parenting with more mindfulness and respect you need to be all in.  You need to realize and recognize that your children aren’t yours to control, but are their own unique, living, breathing HUMANS, who deserve to be treated with as much care and consideration as you’d extend to any other person that you loved.   The parent/child relationship is one of the most important relationships you will ever have.  And just like any key relationship, it needs to be nurtured in order to stay healthy and strong.   Shifting your focus to your relationship with your child – and to making it sweeter, and kinder, and gentler – takes effort, to be sure, but it is by far one of the most rewarding things you can do….. for you and your child both.

2.  Equip yourself with positive tools.

So you’re working on changing your perspective, you’re focused on the relationship… and then the 2 year old gets angry and hurls a remote control at her brother’s head.  What do you do? The nice thing is that the more connected you are with your child, the easier it is to react with patience in the moment.  You’ll know your child, you’ll know yourself, and you’ll figure out how best to problem-solve together. Before you can problem-solve though, you need to diffuse the immediate issue.  Here are a few great places to start:

Breathe.  It sounds like a cliche, but it’s not.  Unless someone’s in imminent danger, your very first response (especially if you’re angry or frustrated) needs to be breathing!  Take a deep breath before you speak.  Take 20, or 100.  Intentional breathing sends oxygen through your body, releases endorphins, slows your heart rate, calms your adrenaline, and reduces stress and anxiety.

Listen.  Behavior doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  Really stop and listen to what your child is trying to tell you.  Are they tired?  Frustrated?  Angry? Not feeling heard?  Just experimenting?  Find out the WHY behind the behavior, and you’ll know better how to proceed.

Empathize.  One of the most powerful and healing gifts someone can give us is empathy, and children are no exception.  Let them know that you hear what they’re saying, and that you understand how they’re feeling.

Redirect.   So much of what young children are punished for is completely normal and age-appropriate explorations.  Children learn from these explorations, so the last thing we want to do is punish them for it!  Instead, when your child does something unsafe, unkind, etc, consistently stop the behavior with a simple explanation (the younger the child, the fewer the words you should use), and move them on to a new activity.  With time and patience – and a parent by their side – they learn.

Take a time-IN.   Sometimes, what everyone needs is a change of scenery.  Pretty much the opposite of a time-out, which separates you from your child at a moment when they’re most needing connection, a time-in gives you both a chance to breathe, re-group, and get re-connected, together. A time-in can consist of any sort of new activity that you and your child find enjoyable.  There’s a long list of suggestions here.

3.  Walk beside them as they learn to safely navigate the world.

One of the things that I hear people say a lot is that they only spank for the most serious of infractions, such as safety issues.  I call it the, “But how will they learn to stay out of the street??” defense.  And it sounds reasonable enough.  If ever there was a time to spank, it’d be when their life was on the line, right?  But I couldn’t disagree more.  I actually think that safety issues are one of the weakest arguments for spanking, and here’s why:  any good parent’s gut instinct is going to tell them to react, and react in a hurry, if their child is in harm’s way.  Your toddler’s headed for a busy street, you react. Your baby’s about to stick a fork into an electrical outlet, you react.  And your facial expression, your words, your tone of voice, and your body language as you quickly move them to safety teach them everything they need to know…. without teaching them that they also need to fear pain at your hands as they’re learning. Navigate life with them.  Hold their hands when they cross the street.  Show them how to safely carry scissors and make toast and start a fire.  Help them keep their footing on the rocky trail. BE THERE with them as they figure out how life works, and they will naturally gain confidence and independence, all without ever having been punished for getting it wrong.

4.  Show them what respect looks like.

Along the same lines as number 3, children are not born knowing how to interact respectfully with the people around them.  They count on us as their parents to show them.  They don’t need punishments to learn that words are more effective than hitting for solving conflicts.  They don’t need punishments to learn that it’s unkind to call somebody stupid.  They don’t need punishments to learn that it’s impolite to tell Grandma that the dinner she spent two hours making tastes “gross.”  What they need is a parent who shows up; who shows them what it means to be respectful; who intervenes when they’re doing something that makes someone else feel sad, or scared, or uncomfortable; who interacts with them, and for them as they learn the intricacies of sharing our planet with others.  One of the biggest misconceptions that I think people have about gentle parenting is that it is the same thing as permissive parenting.  The two are actually polar opposites.  One is conscientious, and the other is neglect.  If you see a parent who is sitting back and just watching as her child does something that is disrespectful or somehow harmful to someone else… that is not a gentle parent.  That is someone who is failing to be a parent.

Show up.  Be there.  Help them navigate.

5.  Don’t sweat the small stuff (and it’s ALL small stuff).

A couple of years ago, a video went around Facebook that showed the aftermath of two unattended kids with a 5 lb bag of flour.  There was flour all down the hallway.  On the couches. On the chairs.  On the kids.  In the carpet.  In the drapes.  Flour everywhere.  All five pounds of it.  Part of me for sure felt sympathy for the mom who filmed it because I’ve been there.  And oof.  The clean-up.  But another part me said, “Eh.  Small stuff.”  If you’re going to have kids, you’re going to have messes.  Things are going to be broken and spilled and smeared and dumped and spread.  It’s all part of the experience. And the greatest thing I learned between child one and child four (besides to stop and take a picture before I do anything else, because those photos are treasured later) is that that stuff just doesn’t matter.  People matter.  Love matters.  Messes, accidents…. it’s all just “stuff.” Not worth getting upset over, and certainly not worth yelling or punishing over. And just like with anything else, with time and patience and consistency, they really do learn to keep the flour in the bag.

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6.  Know their triggers (and yours).

Stop me if this sounds familiar.  You head out bright and early with your toddler to run a long list of errands.  You know he’s going to be missing his morning nap, but he’ll catch a few minutes of sleep in the car.  He’s pretty amiable for the first few stops.  He helps pick out the apples at the grocery store.  He enjoys his lollipop from the bank teller.  He starts getting antsy at the dry cleaners, pulling at your pant legs, whining, and rubbing his eyes. Back in the car, you reach in your bag to get his little tupperware container of Cheerios, but realize you left it on the kitchen counter.  You know you should probably head home, but you decide to squeeze in just one more stop.  You’re in the drug store when he reaches meltdown mode.  He cries when you pick him up, and cries harder when you set him down.  Tired, hungry, bored, and overstimulated, he doesn’t want to walk, doesn’t want to be carried, and eventually settles for sitting on the floor as the tears fall and the screams escalate.

We’ve all got our triggers.  And we’ve all got our breaking points.  If adults get cranky and unreasonable when they’re tired and hungry (and we all know adults for whom this is the case, or we *are* an adult for whom this is the case) how much more understandable is it for a child? Taking care to ensure that basic needs are met, that kids are fed and rested and attended to can go a long way towards more peaceful outings and more pleasant interactions for all.  My kids are older now – at the time of this writing they are 18, 15, 11, and 7 – but even now I know who isn’t at their happiest in the mornings. I know who is very sensitive to the feeling of being left out.  I know who works best when their surroundings are neat and tidy.  I know who has a hard time handling even a small lack of sleep.   Being aware, and respectful of, both our own triggers and the triggers of our children allows us to treat each other with more care, and more kindness.  It is categorically unfair, not to mention incredibly unkind, to ignore someone’s personal “buttons”, and then punish them for the reaction that we knew was coming.

7.  Practice the golden rule.

A lot of parents seem want to want to demand respect from their children, just because they’re the adults, but don’t treat their children in a manner that’s particularly deserving of that respect. The age-old adage of treating others the way you’d like to be treated yourself applies not just equally, but more when it comes to your children.  They are looking to you as their example. They are learning from you how to treat people.  If you want your children to be respectful, treat them with respect.  If you want your children to be polite, be polite when you speak to them (and to each other!).  If you want your children to embody kindness and compassion and humility and generosity, show them what it looks like.

8.  Take care of YOU.

There seems to be a general push by society to get away from your kids.  From the importance of regular “date nights”, to putting them in daycare and preschool at a young age, to extended vacations without them… there’s no shortage of advice telling us to separate.  I tend to believe the opposite:  I think it’s very important that we’re with our kids as much as possible (especially when they’re young), and that true independence will happen naturally and easily when it’s allowed to happen on their time, not ours.

That doesn’t mean though that I don’t think self-care is important! On the contrary, it’s almost impossible to properly care for someone else when you’re not first taking good care of yourself. Even when you need to force yourself – or more accurately, especially when you need to force yourself – caring for your own needs (be they physical, social, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, creative….) is an integral part of parenting well.  I can’t speak for all moms, but I find it way too easy to lose myself in my kids, and go go go until I’m exhausted and cranky and burnt out.  And I learned somewhere along the way that when the kids and I get off-track, when people are out of sorts, when behavior starts getting wonky…. nine times out of ten it’s because I’ve been neglecting myself, which then caused me to be snippy and impatient and disconnected.  When I focus on taking better care of me, I’m able to then have the proper wherewithal to give my kids what they need as well.  Kids need a parent who is fully invested.  And in another cliche that’s turned out to be true:  You can’t fill your kids’ cups until you’ve filled your own.

 

BONUS: Looking for more specific suggestions for when your child hits, or tells you “no”, or has a hard time transitioning? Download my free PDF, listing ten of the most common (and most frustrating) toddler/young child behaviors, along with specific examples of what you can say and how you can respond gently and without punishment.

Moving beyond punishment, and parenting with connection instead of control, takes deliberate and mindful choices, as well as an ongoing commitment and effort (at times, a lot of effort).  And the reward is not in some hypothetical promise of how my kids are going to “turn out” some day. No, the beauty of gentle parenting is in the relationship that I enjoy with my kids right now… a relationship that’s sweeter and closer and more connected than I know it would be otherwise. Having children that are kind hearted and respectful and compassionate?  That’s just a bonus.

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P.S. I am working on a month long, premium course that dives much deeper into each of the eight points above.   Make sure you’re on my mailing list if you’d like to receive a notification of its release.

*   Examples may or may not have been taken from my own life.

 


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Q & A – My Child Calls Me Mean

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Photo credit: Mindaugas Danys

Chelsea asks:

How can I move past my children calling me, “mean”?  I’ve stopped yelling, and I’m working to be a more gentle parent.  But my four year old gets very aggressive when he’s excited or disappointed or angry, and he lashes out at me.

First, awesome job on quitting the yelling!  It takes work to break old, ingrained habits, especially when they’ve become the default response in stressful/frustrating situations, so moving beyond that is a big hurdle in and of itself.

Your son’s lashing out could very well be a subconscious reaction to your new style of parenting, especially if these changes are recent (Ie:  Mom’s not yelling anymore.  This is new. Will THIS make her yell?  What if I say THAT?)  He could be adjusting to the new normal, testing out the safe boundaries, and assuring himself that yes, you’re still going to be calm and patient even when he’s not being calm and patient back.  As time passes, he will become more confident in your relationship, and more comfortable with the fact that he doesn’t need to resort to lashing out in order to be heard.

-OR-

It could simply be due to personality, and/or a normal developmental stage.  Even the most mild-mannered of my children went through a stage at around 3 or 4 years where they were more angry, argumentative, and prone to things like eye-rolling and disapproval with me in general.  That age is a huge age for asserting independence and autonomy, and for figuring out who they are both within the family, and separate from Mom and Dad.  They’re not babies anymore, but they’re not yet big kids either.  One minute they want to be cuddled and rocked to sleep, and the next they want to run across the street with the “big kids.”  Their feelings are big, and often confusing or scary, and they need a safe place to let them out.  It’s hard to be a kid sometimes.

So how do you handle it, in either case?

In short:  Patience, understanding, and consistency.

Even though it may feel personal, it’s not.  It’s not about you at all (unless you really are being mean :)).  It’s about your child and his big feelings.  What he needs when he lashes out at you is to feel safe and heard.  When he yells at you or calls you mean, first take a breath (or a few) so that you can answer calmly.  Sometimes when the moment is especially heated, I’ll deliberately lower my voice to just above a whisper.  It ensures that I’m not yelling, and it helps both my child and myself calm down, as well as work to start diffusing the overall situation.

Some people will tell you to ignore it when your child says something negative/unkind to you, but I’m not a fan of ignoring children…. especially during a moment when what they’re needing is connection!  It’s also not particularly helpful in terms of learning about resolving conflicts, standing up for themselves, or working through issues in their relationships.  I think that your children need to know that you’re “all in”, even when they’re being unkind.

Once you’re able to answer calmly, you can let him know that you’re there to help, and that you’re not going anywhere:

Child –  “YOU’RE SO MEAN!”

Mom –  “I’m sorry you feel that way.  You sound really angry.  What do you need me to do to help you?”

Sometimes, a calm conversation is enough.  Sometimes, the child really is just that angry, and needs to run around or punch a pillow or go outside and yell.  If it’s not anger, but disappointment or excitement instead; the same principles hold true.  The goal is to work with – not against – your child, to help him find safe and appropriate outlets for expressing his feelings.

If there aren’t extenuating circumstances, it really will get better with time, patience, and love. And if it helps for commiseration sake, my child who most resembled yours at age 4, is now the most laid-back, calm, and tender-hearted teen you’d ever hope to meet.


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Being a Parent AND a Friend: Why I’ll Never Separate The Two

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As an advocate of homeschooling, I forever hear the question, “But what about socialization?” and am inevitably filled with frustration. It’s not the asker’s fault of course, but it is a question born of a lack of understanding. A lack of understanding about homeschooling, and an even larger lack of understanding of the word “socialization.”

When it comes to parenting, the socialization conversation’s pesky little cousin tends to be, “It’s not my job to be their friend; it’s my job to be the PARENT.”  Again and again it comes up on blogs, on parenting sites, and on social media.

“Be their PARENT, not their FRIEND.”  No matter how it’s packaged, worded, or framed, it all says the same thing, and issues the same dire warning.  Whatever you do, no matter how much you’re tempted, for the love of all that is good and holy, never mix friendship with parenting.

I see these words, and I hear these warnings, and I can never help but think of that ubiquitous line from The Princess Bride:

You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.

I’ve decided that people are just really, really confused about the meaning of the word, “friend.” That’s the only possible explanation I can think of for a why a person (or a lot of persons) would not only fail to see its importance in parenting, but actually deliberately EXCLUDE it, at any time, from their relationship with their children.

A friend is someone with whom you have a deep connection.  Someone you respect, and who respects you. Someone you can trust, implicitly.  Someone who encourages you, cheers you on, and believes in your dreams. Someone who has your back, no matter what. Someone who LETS YOU BE YOU.  Someone who listens without judgement, gives honest advice, and always has your best interest at heart.    Someone who has seen you at your best and your worst.  Someone who isn’t afraid to call you out on your bullshit, and still loves you just the same.  Someone who lifts you up when you’re down, catches you when you fall, and provides a port in the middle of your storm.  Someone who, if you text to say “I need you” at 2 in the morning, no matter the reason, no matter the circumstances, will steadfastly respond “I’ll be right there.” Someone who, even when it feels like the rest of the world has conspired against you, is on your side.

I’m going to be that person for my kids.   Every time, in all situations.  With no disclaimers and no apology.

Why on earth would anyone choose NOT to be that person for their kids?

And I’m told I misunderstand.  That when people say, “Be the parent, not the friend” that what they really mean is that you shouldn’t make decisions with the goal of getting your children to like you.  But that’s not a friend.  (And I’d also argue that if you’re doing/saying things that cause the people in your life not to like you, perhaps that’s something to examine in and of itself)

They’ll say that they aren’t going to be like peers who encourage or are silent about dangerous/unhealthy behaviors.  But that’s not a friend.

They’ll say that as parents they need to do the hard stuff, and can’t be the “fun” one all the time… the one you get together with to lightheardedly hang out, shoot the breeze, or share a meal.   And while there’s nothing wrong with easy relationships with pals like that if you choose it, that’s not a true friend either.  A true friend is there for the fun and the difficult.  The lighthearted and the serious.  The laughter and the tears.

They’ll say that “Sure, sometimes you get to be their friend, but sometimes you have to “be the parent.””  Or, “Sure, you get to be their friend, but being a parent has to come first.”  But being a friend isn’t something you do part time; or at least it shouldn’t be.  It’s not something you take on and off like a sweater.  That trust, that connection, that relationship should always be there, every time, in all interactions.

Finally, some people will tell me, “I’ll be their friend when they’re adults.  Right now, I’m the parent.”  And this to me is the saddest – and riskiest – of all.   This is blunt, but…. there is a very very real possibility that if you don’t choose that relationship with your children now, that they won’t choose to have it with you when they are older.

“But, but….” they’ll say, “You have to guide!  You have to protect!  You have to show them right and wrong!”  Of course you do.  Of course you’re the parent.  I have never once advocated for permissive parenting on this blog, and certainly am not going to start now.

Being a friend, and being a gentle parent, does not mean being a doormat.  It means a partnership born of mutual respect, connection, and compassion… one in which both voices are heard, and both opinions carry weight.   And for those times when one opinion needs to trump the other?   Maybe someone is about to do something dangerous or foolish such as run into the street when a car is coming.  This is something I hear a LOT, both in this conversation, and the spanking conversation.   (“But how will they learn to stay out of the street??” And as an aside, I have four children who learned not to play in traffic, who have never once been spanked)  It’s a silly argument.  If one of my children were in immediate danger,  of course I would respectfully intervene…. and I would do so as a responsible parent AND as a concerned friend.

If you forget the articles, ignore the experts, and tune out the noise, you realize that parenting is about a relationship.  And it’s been the most intense, most meaningful, most rewarding relationship I’ve ever experienced. I can’t separate the friend from the mom because my relationship with my kids is BASED on friendship.  The ultimate friendship. Deep friendship. Strong trust. True respect.  It’s a friendship rooted in love and history (how many of your other friends have you literally known since they took their first breath?).  It’s a friendship that’s at once simple and complex.  It’s a friendship that’s often evolving and sometimes messy and always beautiful.  It’s a friendship that’s peaceful and safe and familiar. It’s a friendship that’s profound and life-changing and pretty much indescribable to those who haven’t experienced it.

And it is always there, threaded through each moment, each word, and each interaction. Through the good times and the tricky times and the really tricky times.   I will always be their friend, and they know this.

I am their friend.

And I don’t mean to minimize the relationship when I say that, because of course my relationship with my children encompasses friendship and so. much. more.  So I’m not suggesting that a parent-child relationship is only a friendship, because it’s obviously more complicated than that.

But I tell you what…. it’s a heck of a good place to start.


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5 (Alternative) Reasons Modern-Day Parenting is in Crisis

It’s happened again.  A parenting article gone viral, one that has the mainstream masses rising from their seats in raucous applause…. and the rest of us shaking our collective heads.  In the article 5 Reasons Modern-Day Parenting is in Crisis, a nanny (I think that’s important to note. She’s writing it as a nanny, not as a mother) outlines what she believes to be the five worst mistakes being made by us modern parents.   It’s a crisis, she tells us.

Well, she and I do agree on one thing.   There’s a problem with parenting today.  But I believe it’s very much the opposite of the one she describes in her article.   These are her five main points, and how I would re-write them.

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1. She says: A fear of our children. I say: A fear of loving or giving our children too much 

People are so afraid of this myth of the spoiled child, that they’re failing to look at this rationally. Our children are people, deserving of the same kindness, consideration, and respect that we’d give anyone else whom we loved. She outlines the example of a child upset because she wanted her milk in a different colored cup.   She says, “Let her have a tantrum, and remove yourself so you don’t have to hear it. But for goodness’ sake, don’t make extra work for yourself just to please her”  My first thought would be to simply ask what cup the child would like before you poured it, but beyond that:  why shouldn’t the child be able to request a certain cup, and why on earth would you deny a request for something so simple?  Just because you can?  Parenting shouldn’t be about power plays and control.  It should be a partnership.  A dance.  With respect and consideration going both ways. Imagine you had a special house guest.  Without knowing his preferences, you hand him an ice cold Coke.  If he politely asks you for a glass of water instead, would you refuse to give it to him in order to teach him a lesson? Of course not.  You’d simply get him the water.  Shouldn’t our children be treated with at least as much care as we’d give a guest in our home?

At one point in the cup scenario, the author says, “mum’s face whitens and she rushes to get the preferred sippy cup before the child has a tantrum.”   And absolutely, you shouldn’t do things for your children out of fear.    But you should do things for them because you love them.  Because you should give, and give freely, just like you’d do for any other person in your life whom you love.   And finally, a child’s life is so full of decisions that are made for them.  If we want our children to be good decision makers, they have to make decisions!  We need to empower them by letting them make as many decisions as they can….. especially when it comes to something as easy to grant as a blue sippy cup.

2.  She says:  A lowered bar.  I say:  An expectation that children should act like miniature adults.  

Oftentimes, I see people expecting children to act even better than adults.   They’re not allowed to question, they’re not allowed to express displeasure, they’re not allowed to make noise.  They’re not allowed to act like children.  In short, they’re not allowed to be human.  You guys, we’re raising PEOPLE here, not training monkeys. They are young people who are still growing, still maturing, still figuring out how things work.   The author worries about kids learning manners, how to clean up after themselves, and how to wait patiently at a restaurant. And your child WILL learn those things if you expose him!  He will learn good manners when he sees you, yourself, consistently displaying them to the people around him.   He will learn to clean up after himself when he sees you, yourself, consistently cleaning your own messes. He will learn to wait patiently at a restaurant when he sees you, yourself, consistently waiting patiently.  In the meantime, help him navigate!   Use “please” and “thank you” if that’s important to you, but don’t chastise him if he forgets.  Let him help wipe up the spilled milk, but don’t critique his work.   Model appropriate behavior at the restaurant, but order his food early, color with him on his kids’ menu, and commiserate with him that waiting is sometimes hard.   Expect great things from your children, yes.  But don’t expect them to behave like full-grown adults when they’re 3.

3.  She says:  We’ve lost the village.  I say:  We’ve lost a *healthy* village

I don’t entirely disagree on this point.   But where the author and I part company on this issue is how we view “the village.”  I think community is incredibly important, but not in the negative fashion that she describes.  She bemoans, “it used to be that bus drivers, teachers, shopkeepers and other parents had carte blanche to correct an unruly child.”   She talks about the need of other authority figures to “correct” (ie: punish) someone else’s child, and that is not something I can rally around.  More adults to befriend children, to talk to children, to take children under their wing, to mentor them, to treat them like people?  Absolutely!   My uncle recently moved from the east coast to retire in Arizona, and it’s neat to watch the relationship he’s formed with Spencer (17 at the time of this writing)  They both love engines, and machines, and figuring out how stuff works, and have bonded over their shared interest. Family and friends who are supportive in this way are invaluable, to be sure, and it is no small thing to have a network of people who enrich your life and the lives of your children through friendship, and through kindness and compassion…. NOT through “carte blanche to correct your unruly child.”

4. She says:  A reliance on short cuts.  I say:  A reliance on the way things have always been done

This was a strange one.  She starts out by chastising the parent who uses technology to keep a child busy while waiting at a restaurant (Caillou, by the way, is spelled C-A-I-L-L-O-U) but quickly moves in to advising parents to let their babies “self-soothe”, and not to help their toddler who’s raising his arms to be picked up after he falls. Modern technology is its own issue, and for the record I find nothing wrong with letting a child quietly watch something on a phone or tablet when he’s waiting for something.   But far more concerning to me is this idea of being a hands-off parent.  Yes, your parents probably left you to cry-it-out.  Yes, lots of parenting books still advocate “sleep training” and “self-soothing.”  Yes, many parents will tell you you’ll “spoil” your child if you respond to them too often.   But what does your  instinct tell you?  Do you listen to it? Instinct tells us to go to our children when they cry.  Instinct tells us to pick them up when they want our assistance.  Instinct tells us to comfort them, to love them, to be there for them.  It tells us to pick them up when they cry.  The first time and the thousandth time.   Babies NEED their parents.  They need touch.  They need connection.  They need to be heard.    Parents fear that if they hold their children too much that they will never separate, but it doesn’t work that way.  A need that is met breeds confidence and self-assurance and feelings of wholeness.   A need that is not met never really goes away…. it just resurfaces later in some other form.   Don’t rely on “baby training” because a book or your mother or that internet celebrity tells you that’s the way it’s always been done.  Your child is a person, and she needs you.

5. She says:  Parents putting their kids’ needs ahead of their own.  I say:   Parents putting their own needs ahead of their kids.  

None of your children asked to be born.  Let me just start there.  Children come into our lives as our invited guests.  It makes no logical sense to me to invite these little people (with big needs) into our lives only to then expect to go about business as usual, expect to continue putting ourselves first, expect them to conform and compromise and go without according to our own desires.   Your life changes the moment you bring a child into the world, and it should! Particularly when they are very little, your kids’ needs should come first.    And before I’m accused of it, I’m not suggesting martyrdom here.  YES, make self-care a priority. It’s important. But it should never come at the expense of your child.

The author gives the following examples of “mistakes” parents are making in this area:  “Often I see mums get up from bed again and again to fulfill the whims of their child. Or dads drop everything to run across the zoo to get their daughter a drink because she’s thirsty. ”  I’m not a fan of the negative-sounding “whims”, but if your child has a need at night, help them meet it! And if your child is thirsty at the zoo, for heavens sake…. get her a drink!   I think we’ve lost sight of “doing unto others” in the name of not spoiling our children, and THAT is the real problem with parenting today.  Not giving too much.  Not the lack of a village. Not picking them up when they cry.   We’ve forgotten that children are people – cherished people, deeply loved people – and that they are deserving of all we can possibly give them.

And finally, the author closes in part by saying, “So please, parents and caregivers from London to Los Angeles, and all over the world, ask more. Expect more. Share your struggles. Give less. ” Every time I’ve read this article those words, “give less” haunt me.  Give less?  No. No, no, no.  We need to give more.  More to the people around us, more to our children, more to ourselves.  We need to give freely.  Abundantly.  Selflessly.   We need to give of our hearts, our time, our attention.  Yes, we need to give more.

And when we lovingly give to our children, they in turn, will become adults who give to the people around them.

 


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