Category Archives: mindful parenting

Can We Stop Being Jerks At Christmas?

Why do the holidays seem to bring out the worst in people?  Don’t answer that yet.

And why, WHY, do people insist on treating their kids like they’re not even people?  Don’t answer that yet either.

Christmas depresses me.  I mean, don’t get me wrong.  I love Christmas.  I love making it special for my kids, love giving presents, love making cookies, love the food, love the festivities.  This year is a mellow year for us.  We just came off the nine-year-old’s play, which was taking a lot of time, especially during that final tech week.  And my semester just ended, the same week as her play.  So right now, I’m exhaling.  Exhaling and getting ready to enjoy the holidays, but not freaking out about getting anything in particular done in time.  What will be will be, and it’ll be nice.

But it still depresses me.

Mainstream parents tend to go a little crazy this time of year.  I’ve never made any secret about the fact that I disagree with mainstream parenting in general… but never do I disagree with more fervor than at Christmas time.

I don’t have the vocabulary to express how much I hate some of what goes on during Christmas.  (And by the way:  Like they say in the movie Stepmom, hate isn’t a word I use often.  I think it’s a “perfectly acceptable word, but only to be used when I truly detest something”)  I truly detest what some parents do this time of year.

I wrote about the Santa Cams a few weeks back, but the latest thing that’s been brought to my attention is the idea of “present jail.”  In a public post that is getting praised up and down on Facebook, one mom posted a picture of a cardboard box with some presents in it, and writes:

So….we started this yesterday because one little girl refuses to listen and behave. Any present still in the box at Christmas goes put up and can only be EARNED back by good behavior. If they can follow the rules and be good for an entire day, they can return a jailed present back to the tree. Sometimes having a visual helps a lot more than just telling them. And they have to put the present in there themselves. Presents are a privilege not a right, naughty children do not get gifts for misbehaving. #meanmom

The first time a friend showed it to me, I said, “I should write about that.  But how many times, and how many ways can I say, “BE NICE TO YOUR KIDS?”  I’ve said essentially the same thing dozens, if not hundreds, of times.

And I’m saying it again, I think in the hopes that someone, somewhere will read my words, and say, “Oh.  I hadn’t thought of it that way.”  One person.  That’s all.  And maybe it’s you.  Maybe you’re the one I’m talking to.

This whole idea of earning gifts is archaic and cruel and the exact antithesis of what gift giving should be.  Gift-giving should be unconditional.  That’s the whole point.  Gifts should be something that come from the heart of the giver, with no strings, and no expectations.  Buying a gift, and then taking it away as punishment?  It ceases to be a gift … even if they “earn” it back.  You took something that should have been an expression of love and turned it into an ugly and void commodity.  Congratulations.

And why just the kids?  Why do kids need to earn their presents?  If you buy your husband a new watch, and he comes home from work grumpy one day, do you hold it ransom?  Do you tell him you bought him a present, but he doesn’t get it unless he “behaves.”?  That is not a way to treat someone you love, no matter their age.  It seems kind of ludicrous to think about doing it to a spouse or a friend or another adult loved one, so why, WHY would anyone think it’s okay to do to kids?  As horrible as I think it’d be to do to an adult (and I do indeed think it’s pretty darn horrible), I think it’s a million times worse to do it to your kids.  Your kids are still learning.  Still figuring things out.  Still working out how to deal with their feelings, and how to to navigate a world that is nuanced and tricky and at times extremely complicated.  They need parents who are going to love them through it, to be by their side, to model appropriate behavior.  And at this time of year, they need parents to show them what giving really means.  Can you imagine the sad and confusing message it sends to them about generosity to be told that they have to earn their gifts?   That their gifts can be taken away at a moment’s notice if they’re “naughty?” Naughty, by the way, is a word that should never be used for a child, or anyone, especially one who is just trying to deal with something difficult the best way they know how.  They need our HELP, not our punishment and our shame.

I’ve had a few moments over the past month or so that I’m not proud of.  I’m a human, and I’m not perfect.

Guess what?  Your kids are humans and are not perfect either.

They deserve your love, your compassion, and yes, they deserve your generosity!  Whether it’s in the form of your time, of an experience, of something handmade, of something they’ve been wanting from a store.  It feels good to give to people we love.  At least it’s supposed to!  I can’t imagine it feels good to hold presents hostage, unless it honestly makes you feel good to do something unkind, which…. isn’t right.  It’s just not.  We’re not designed that way.  We’re designed to love unconditionally, to give without expectation, to show our kids (through our words, through our actions, through our time) that they matter.  That we love them.  That we are, in fact, their biggest fans.  Their biggest supporters.  Their biggest role models.  The ones they can count on when life gets squidgy, and the ones who will stand beside them when they’re scared, telling them, without a moment’s hesitation, “Don’t worry, I’ve got your back.”

It feels good to love with that kind of love, because IT IS GOOD.

Nothing about buying and withholding gifts (and being so dang proud of it) fits into this model of true, unconditional love.  In fact, it downright perverts it.

Kids need and deserve our love and compassion all year round, but especially during the holidays.  Schedules are messed up, sleep is spotty, there’s extra excitement and stimulation and fancy foods, and it’s no wonder a child – or an adult – would be out-of-sorts.  LOVE THEM THROUGH IT.  Help them.  Don’t punish them.  Don’t turn gifts, something that should be fun and loving and happy, into a gross display of power and intimidation.  Don’t teach your kids that gifts should come with strings attached.  Don’t teach your kids that other people are theirs to control and manipulate.  Don’t teach your kids that the way to solve a problem is through shaming and scare tactics.

Please, please don’t.

This Christmas, be nice to your kids.  Please.  Treat them like people.  Treat them the way YOU would like to be treated.

And I’m pretty dang sure you wouldn’t want your new iPhone taken away because you were a little snippy one day.

Be nice to your kids.

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This post was also syndicated and appeared on Scary Mommy, and was mentioned on The View!


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Filed under Christmas, gentle parenting, mindful parenting, parenting

6 Rules I’d Never Use For My Toddlers

  1.  I have evil friends who send me links to articles that they know I’ll want to refute, especially articles that are in list form.  I can never resist them.  They just make it too easy.  And,
  2. My obligatory disclaimer: This post is about ideas, concepts, and philosophies.  It is not an attack on an individual.  I don’t know the author of the original article.  In fact on a second look, I couldn’t even find an author credited.  It was published by a Montessori School.  They gave their point of view;  I’ll give mine.  It’s kind of how the internet works.

Having said that:

The article in question is one titled, Six Unusual Rules For Disciplining Your Toddler That Are Effective.  The author and I…. disagree.  🙂

I don’t have a toddler anymore (at the time of this writing, my youngest is 9), but I remember the toddler years very, very well.  The author and I do agree on one thing:  toddlers definitely require a very specific type of parenting.  But we part company on what that specific type of parenting might entail.  Toddlers need a ton of patience, a ton of understanding, and a ton of grace.  It is HARD to be 1. 2, 3 years old.  Their list, unfortunately, takes none of this into account.

Here are their six rules, and why I’d do things differently.

Rule #1: “If you’re in the room while I’m working, you need to work also.”

What’s the goal? As you complete your chores, your children should stop bothering you or help ….  Tell her she doesn’t have to help you, but she can’t just sit there and watch you; she must go in another room. She’ll have the option to help you with your chore and be with you or be by herself.

Oof.  This genuinely makes me sad.  First, kids (and toddlers especially!) love to be with their parents as they work, whether it’s on laundry, sweeping the floor, or making dinner.  They also generally love to “help” – help is in quotations only because a 12 month old unfolding your freshly folded laundry to put it in a new pile isn’t technically helping… but she sure feels proud about doing it!  As they get older, more able to follow directions, and more dexterous, they’ll enjoy helping in more and more ways.  And if they don’t want to help?  Maybe they just want to be with their parent.  Maybe they just enjoy your company.  Maybe they want to chat.  Good grief, let them!  Don’t banish them to another room. Life is short.  Time with your kids is precious and fleeting.  For real.  In a couple of months, my oldest “baby” is turning 21.

Perhaps one of the most disturbing parts about this point is when they say that this rule works because “she’s given a choice so she’ll feel as if she’s in control of the situation even though she’s really not.”  What’s described in this sentence is manipulation…. and manipulation of someone we love is never, ever a cool thing to do.

My alternative rule:  If you’re in the room while I’m working, you’re welcome to help.  If you don’t want to help, you’re welcome to just keep me company.

Rule #2: “You get whatever you get so don’t get upset.”

What’s the goal? It ends the bargaining over such things as the color sippy cup he gets, which kids TV character is on his paper plate, which sheets are on his bed, etc.

This is just being controlling for the sole sake of being controlling.  I ask you, seriously, WHY can’t your child have the sippy cup he wants, or the paper plate that he wants, or his preferred sheets on his bed?  The answer to that question generally lies somewhere in the vicinity of, “Because they need to learn that they can’t always get what they want!” And/or “Because they need to learn that life isn’t fair!”  Yes, sure.  We can’t always get what we want.  And life isn’t always fair.  But guess what?  These are lessons that life and circumstances will, unfortunately, teach them… ideally with you as the parent at their side to help them navigate.  You don’t need to actually CREATE harsh lessons for your kids just because you can!  On the contrary, home should be the safe space, the soft spot to fall, the place where you can drink from your favorite cup.  I have a favorite cup (actually I have several of them, depending on my mood, what I’m drinking, etc) and I always make sure to use it.  Am I so inflexible that I literally can’t muster up the emotional fortitude to drink out of another one if need be?  Of course not. But you guys:  we all have likes and preferences.  A favorite cup is such a simple, simple way to honor your kids’ likes and wishes and show them through that one small gesture – which feels like a BIG gesture – that you love them.

My alternative rule:  I will always try to listen to your needs, respect your requests, and YES… you can have the purple sippy cup.

Rule #3: “We aren’t going to argue about money.”

What’s the goal? Prevent your toddler from pleading and begging for things.

Here’s the thing about money (and I have been married for nearly 25 years and we have run the full gamut when it comes to our money situation):  There are three general scenarios when it comes to requests at the store.  1) Sometimes you simply don’t have the money for something.  You just don’t have it.  In which case, it’s entirely appropriate to tell your child, “I’m sorry, we can’t buy that today, but we can put it on your wishlist/get it next payday/save up for it”, whatever.  This is both honest and fair.  Might your child still be upset or disappointed?  Sure!  I’m sometimes upset and disappointed when something’s out of my price range too.  But you honor their feelings, you help them through it, and you move on.  2) Sometimes you do have the money, and you don’t want to part with it for some reason.  Maybe you’re judging how they want to spend it.  Maybe you want to spend it on yourself.  Maybe you just feel inconvenienced by the whole thing and saying “no” seems the simplest option.  If that’s the case, I’d gently suggest doing a little work to find out why you’re saying no.  Maybe you have a perfectly valid reason.  Or maybe you’re being a hypocrite who’s telling her child, “We’re not buying extras today,” at the very moment that you’re paying for your overpriced Trenta caramel iced coffee with an extra shot of espresso.  (True story) Getting at the “why” is important, for both of you.  3) You do have the money, and you say, “yes!”  This is honestly one of my simplest pleasures as a parent.  I love being able to be in the moment, and gift my kids with something that will make them happy…. whether a pack of gum, a cake pop from Starbucks, or more slime supplies from Hobby Lobby.  There is nothing wrong with saying yes to your kids.

Learning to say yes more often to my kids was one of the simplest, single most life-changing parenting decision I’ve ever made.  We are designed to want to give to those we love (in both tangible and non-tangible ways)  It feels good to give because it IS good to give!  It is a win-win for both parties.  The author’s takeaway from this point is, “The way this works is if she asks for you to buy, say, a toy then you say “yes” or “no” and nothing more.” I think my kids, even as young kids, are always deserving of honestly, the right to ask questions, and the right to a discussion.  (P.S.  A discussion isn’t the same thing as an argument.)

My alternative rule:  If we have the means, I will try to say “yes” to your requests as often as possible.  If I say, “no”, you are absolutely welcome to ask why, and I will always give you an honest answer.

Rule #4: “There isn’t any such phrase as ‘I’m bored’.”

What’s the goal? This teaches your small fry to entertain himself.

So, first of all, I have taken some long (LONG), required history classes in college with really, really dry teachers.  BOREDOM IS REAL.  Let’s just start there.  It’s not a bad thing to be bored (some great ideas sometimes manifest themselves out of boredom), nor is it a bad thing to help your child think of something to do to alleviate said boredom, if he desires that help.  We all get bored from time to time.  As adults, we’ll often say, “Hey, I’m bored.  Want to go for a walk, go see a movie, go get some frozen yogurt?” This rule is another example of expecting your child to be a robot, rather than a human being… AND expecting more of him than you do from adults.  People get bored!  It’s okay!  Your “small fry” will learn to entertain himself all on his own, all in his own time.  It’s controlling and cruel to tell him 1) that he’s not allowed to feel something 2) that the something he reports feeling doesn’t even exist, and 3) that you refuse to help him with the problem – if he does in fact, view it as a problem.  If one of my children announces that they’re bored (which they honestly don’t do all that often, mostly because they do know how to entertain themselves, despite my not having ever implemented rule #4) I’d ask if they wanted some help thinking of suggestions.  Oh and by the way, making your kids do chores when they’re bored – a popular suggestion in mainstream parenting – is also controlling, and cruel, and completely counter intuitive to actually helping them learn to navigate boredom in a healthy way.

My alternative rule:  If you’re feeling bored, feel free to ask me to help brainstorm.

Rule #5: “I’m not working after 8 pm.”

What’s the goal? It creates established bedtimes as well as time for yourself …Tell your little ones that a new rule has been developed by the U.S. Department of Labor that states you must not do any “mom” work after 8 pm. But hold firm to your conviction and pretend that it’s out of your control.

From the “It should go without saying” department:  Parenting is a 24 hour job.  I hate to break it to you.  Yes, time for yourself is important, and yes, as kids get older you’ll be able to have more flexibility in this area.  But when kids are little, especially when they are toddlers, they might need you at 9:00.  Or at midnight.  Or at 2:00 in the morning.  I’m really glad that this was a rule we never implemented in my family, because some of my favorite memories of the kids were snuggled up on the couch watching TV together, sitting around the kitchen table for endless amounts of time, piling in bed to watch a movie.  Chatting. laughing, having deep conversations.  I wouldn’t give any of it up, for any amount of missed sleep.  I’M THE MOM.  I’m always the mom, and I don’t stop being the mom just because the clock strikes a certain hour.

Also, telling “your little ones that a new rule has been developed by the U.S. Department of Labor that states you must not do any “mom” work after 8 PM” is a flat-out-unabashed lie.  Like manipulating, lying isn’t something you should do to people you love.  It’s just not.

My alternative rule:  I’m your mom 24 hours a day.  Full-stop.

Rule #6: “When you talk that way, I can’t understand what you’re saying.”

What’s the goal? It helps to stop screaming, rudeness and whining.

This is the only rule that I (kind of, sort of) agree with, only in the sense that it’s okay, and preferable, to set boundaries for yourself, and for how you’re treated.  But – and it’s a big but – just like adults, kids are allowed a full range of emotions, of feelings, and of opinions.  Sometimes strong feelings come out sideways (this does not just apply to kids).  Sometimes we whine when we’re upset (this does not just apply to kids).  Sometimes we say things in the heat of the moment that we might not otherwise say (this does not just apply to kids). And sometimes we take things out on the most convenient target, even if it’s someone we love (again… this does not just apply to kids).  We are HUMAN BEINGS, and we possess a giant array of feelings, of behavior, and ways of expressing ourselves. In a perfect world, we’d all behave politely and communicate maturely every second of every day.   But it doesn’t always work like that.  Which is where grace comes in.  Sometimes heaping amounts of grace.  Yes, setting boundaries is important, and yes, it’s absolutely okay to talk to your child – in much the same way you’d talk to an angry spouse or friend or family member – about their delivery (for lack of a better word).  But their feelings, like ALL their feelings, have validity.

Finally, the author says, “When toddlers do any of those things, they’re only looking for drama or attention.”  Maybe so.  But if they’re looking for attention in such a volatile way, perhaps it’s because they’ve failed to get it elsewhere.  Perhaps their “screaming, rudeness, and whining,” is in fact, a literal cry for help.  Behavior never exists in a vacuum.  Find out why it’s happening, and you can address your issue.   Ignoring your child, shutting him down, or insisting he stay quiet will ultimately only make the situation (and your relationship) worse.

Children are to be seen AND heard.

My alternative rule: Come to me when you’re upset, and we’ll figure it all out together.

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The article closes with this:

We’re sure there are more fantastic rules like these out there—or perhaps you can create some of your own. Yes, it’s true that some of these (or maybe all) aren’t really rules but rather an announcement of policies in your home. Either way, whatever you call them, they’re sure to make your life (and your toddler’s) go a bit smoother.

Sure, it’ll make your life go a bit smoother if your goal is to have quiet, compliant, obedient children.  But if you want to have…. REAL children?  Children who feel valued, and confident, and loved?  Children who know who they are, who own their feelings, who stand up for what’s right? Children who are capable of healthy and genuine connections with their parent/s and with the people around them?  You might consider doing the exact opposite.


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Filed under gentle discipline, gentle parenting, mindful parenting, parenting

The Holidays Are For Giving, Not Manipulating

Let me paint a picture for you.

You’re 6 years old.  You just came off the excitement of Halloween.  Thanksgiving is coming, followed by Christmas just a few short weeks later.  You’re going to holiday parties and special events, your schedule is all out of whack, and you’ve been eating all kinds of rich, sweet, and complicated foods.  You’re spending time helping to decorate, and make gifts, and make cookies and other treats.  You’re probably not sleeping very well because you’re excited and everything’s thrown off, and your six-year-old self is buzzing with restless energy, anticipation, and – if we’re being honest – likely some exhaustion and over-stimulation too.

And then, right at the breaking point, right at that moment when what’s needed most is some collective down-time, some deliberate slowing and reconnecting and a heap-load of grace….. your (probably well-meaning) parents tell you that a magic old man is watching your every move, that if you make any missteps he’s going to know about it, and that if you’re not good enough, you’re not going to get any presents at Christmas.  And then, lest you don’t believe it, they install cameras, just to be sure you’re properly submissive.  Or afraid.  Or both.

Surely I can’t be the only one who realizes how completely manipulative, not to mention illogical, this is?

In Christmases-past, I’ve written about my issues with the Elf on a Shelf, but I’m new to the whole concept of Santa Cams.  When I first heard about them, it was in the context of ornaments for the tree.   Cutesy little balls painted like cameras, sold by about a million different vendors on Etsy.   The premise is as simple as it is creepy; Santa watches you through the camera, and if you misbehave (a word I can’t stand, but am using for the sake of illustration), you won’t get any presents.  As if those weren’t bad enough, someone recently brought my attention to the more insidious – and much, much creepier – version: cameras that are meant to mount on the child’s bedroom wall or ceiling.

You guys, I cannot overstate how disturbed I am by these Santa Cams.

Because there are just so very many things wrong with them, and because I think better in lists, here are my top five reasons to – at a bare minimum – carefully consider whether or not you want to instill (and install) something like this in your own home.

1. It teaches that giving is conditional

Let’s just start there.  No one should ever have to “earn” their gifts, Christmas or otherwise.  By definition, a gift is something that is given freely, without condition, and without expectation.  Something that – ideally – comes from the heart and the generosity of the giver.   Teaching your kids that they need to behave a certain way in order to get Christmas gifts not only destroys and mocks the whole premise of giving, it ensures that their future relationship with giving will be a warped and unhealthy one.  I want my kids to give because they want to give, not because someone jumped through some requisite hoops in order to be deemed worthy.

2. It encourages behavior that is driven by extrinsic (rather than intrinsic) motivation

So let’s get this question out of the way.  Do Santa Cams “work”, in terms of getting children to behave in a certain way?  Quite possibly, depending on the kid.  But just to be clear on what’s really happening:  They’re being driven by something external. They’re performing strictly because of the promise of reward and/or the fear of punishment.  That’s it.  It doesn’t actually teach them anything, except that gifts are conditional, that it’s okay to manipulate people into doing what we want them to do, and that the only reason to behave reasonably is because a jolly fat man might take away your stocking if you don’t.  Take away the promise of presents, and what motivation do they have then?  People, of any age, should act according to their own inner sense of right and wrong, their own innate wisdom that informs them how they want to behave, and how they want to treat others.  Children by nature are incredibly giving, and loving, and kind.  They are, by nature, good …. until and unless that natural inclination is squashed and skewed by things like punishments and rewards.

3. It’s manipulative.

As parents, we know that there is no literal Santa Claus that lives at the North Pole.  We know that if our kids are going to get presents, we’ll be the ones providing them.  We know that the Santa “camera” is nothing more than cheap plastic (and, if we’ve splurged on the fancy one, a set of AA batteries for an LED blinking light).  We know that our children are already overtired, under-rested, and all hopped up on sugar and adrenaline.  The kids know none of that.  They just know that they’re excited.  They know they want fun new presents on Christmas morning.  They actually believe that Santa is watching them, because that’s what their parents told them.  Parents take advantage of that trust and that naivete because they know that by controlling them through the threat of punishment and the promise of reward that it will make their lives just a tiny bit easier.   It is the very definition of manipulation, and manipulation isn’t nice.  Which brings me to:

4. It is damaging to your relationship

Nothing good ever comes from taking advantage of and manipulating someone in a relationship.  Ever.  In fact, people spend entire lifetimes trying to recover from being manipulated by parents, partners, siblings, friends, churches ….

Relationships, including, or especially!, between parent and child are precious, and need to be treated with care.  Once trust is broken, it’s a tricky tricky thing to repair.  That is not to say that wounds can’t be healed, or that wrongs can’t be righted.  Sometimes they can, and sometimes the damage is just too deep.  But given the preemptive choice to do the unkind, manipulative thing, and to… well, NOT do it, the latter is always the better option. The age-old adage still holds true:  treat others how you would like to be treated yourself.

5. It raises some serious and confusing messages in the realm of privacy and consent.

I saved this one for last because it’s at once the most disturbing, and the one most likely to prompt people to say, “Oh come on, you’re taking this way too far.”  But I beg you to hear me out.  Hearing that this was something that people were actually hanging in their children’s bedroom raised major, major red flags for me.  In this current climate under a president who brags about “grabbing women by the p*ssy” I think it’s safe to say that there’s a really grossly blurred line when it comes to privacy and consent.   I think it’s also safe to say that it’s more important than ever to talk about these issues at home, whether you have boys or girls.  Kids need to know about privacy.  Kids need to know about consent.  So I ask you, in all sincerity, where does a peeping, spying old man fit into a healthy model of consent?  How do you ever reconcile sending your young kids the sickening and confusing message that it’s okay if someone watches you undress and sleep if they hold the power to give or withhold presents??  Yes, they’re not actually being watched.  But the kids don’t know that.  The kids believe they’re actually being watched.  They believe their parents know about it.  And they believe it’s okay because it’s a benevolent old guy with a magic sack of gifts.

It’s creepy.

It’s disgusting.

It’s dangerous.

Regardless of your religious beliefs, regardless of where you stand politically (I’m already wondering if I’m going to kick myself for including the Trump reference, not gonna lie), regardless of how you do or not celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Festivus … I hope that we can agree that the holidays should be about love and kindness, giving and generosity.

Which should never, ever include manipulating the people we love the most.


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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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