These thoughts have been on my mind for some time as I watched my friends who are becoming mothers like I did almost two years ago. It’s been weighing so heavily on me, that I thought I would share.
Imagine for a moment your partner has forgotten to put the trash at the curb on trash day for the 100th time. Better still, they left their laundry beside the hamper instead of in it. They put dirty dishes on the counter instead of in the sink or dishwasher….again. Now, picture all of this occurring on the same day. You’re irritated and frustrated. Haven’t you mentioned how much these things bother you at least a dozen times? Are they not listening to me or do they not care? I feel like they don’t respect me. Later, you decide you can no longer remain silent, something has to give. The decision is made to confront them about their actions. Here is where you get to pick your own story! (Remember those old Goosebumps books where you could choose your own path?)
A) The two of you calmly sit down where you tell them that when they do these things you don’t feel heard. You feel as though your partner doesn’t respect you very much as you have asked them to do/not do these things many times with no results. How can I help you to remember to do/not do these things in the future?
B) You finally see your partner after a long day, scream, “You never listen to me! Maybe this will help you to remember the trash!” You smack them across the face.
As this relationship continues, which one do you think will work out in the end? Which situation will breed hatred, fear, and resentment? I’m sure you can figure that out.
This brings me to our society’s views on children. Many parents believe that the appropriate and only result-yielding course of action would be option B. They “spank,” “swat,” etc. their children for misbehavior….they hit. What happens to their child? The child will learn one of two survival skills – get better at hiding misdeeds or not do anything at all out of fear.
Now, I’m sure some of you will say, “I don’t spank at all. This isn’t meant for me.” Well, do you shame your children into “good” behavior? Do you punish them with timeouts and withdrawal of your love for mistakes made out of curiosity? If you do, you’re just as guilty as the spankers. All of these actions breed mistrust, resentment, and fear in children. And to what end? Perfectly well behaved little robots.
Does this mean I’m advocating indulgent parenting with no limits or boundaries? NO! Children need boundaries to keep them safe and help them to function well in the world, but it’s the way we teach these boundaries that can cause damage.
Google defines discipline as, “the practice or methods of teaching and enforcing acceptable patterns of behavior.” The key words in this definition are teaching and enforcing. Teaching anyone anything takes time and patience. Sometimes you have to try a few different methods before someone really understands what you are trying to show them. Picture a child who understands even less than an adult – would it not make sense that it can (and likely will) take longer to teach them to do or not to do something? As parents, we’ve been brainwashed by people who write books into thinking that children should not ever be an inconvenience – only sunshine, rainbows, and puppies 24/7. Guess what? Children are inconvenient. They will do the most amazingly crazy things at the worst possible times – and it will drive you bananas. In this situation, the only thing you really can control is YOU. You can control your reactions, your words, your behavior – you are an adult with years and years of practice under your belt. They are children who are learning what you already know. David Bly is famously quoted as saying, “Children will be what you are; so be who you want them to be.” Do we want our children to be impatient jerks who bully other people with physical violence or hurtful words until they bend to our will? I don’t think so. I think deep down, all parents want happy, compassionate, and empathetic children. WE have to model that!
There are many people who would say those little things you do or don’t do when they are babies simply do not matter. The problem is, it does start from the day we bring our children home with our attitudes towards their presence. In the beginning, it is wickedly hard. Many times you will wonder what you were thinking and why you ever thought this was a good idea! However, as they grow, you will learn more about them and it’s important to remember this: children deserve more than our selfishness. Follow your heart. If you are tired, but that baby is crying and needs you, go to them. I assure you, from the depths of my knowledge and soul, it will not last forever! It’s tough, but as long as we remember our babies, toddlers, and children are people who need us because they cannot help themselves and we respond to those needs in a loving way, they will be all right! They will grow to be independent little ones much faster than you would prefer and you will wonder why you were in such a hurry.
Our culture conditions parents to expect certain things from their children by certain deadlines – hard as stone deadlines that should really be lines in sand. Every single person on this planet started out life as a newborn and grew into such a wide variety of individuals. If we want our children to grow up to be individuals – be the best version of them they can be – why do we treat all babies as if they are the same? Some children need lots of hugs, snuggles, kisses, and constant reassurance. Others, while they still need those things, are more content to explore on their own because they need more space. Yet, we tell all parents that every single baby should sleep this way and by this number of weeks or months. All babies need to be left alone in another room to sleep regardless of temperament or individual needs. That these little people, who have no cognitive ability to do so, are in fact manipulating us by crying (which, in case you were unaware, is their only form of communication in the pre-verbal stage) to have their needs met. Toddlers and small children must be controlled and act obediently at any cost. That these little people are not people.
I wonder where our instincts got thrown so off course. Suddenly, we have to rely on others who have never met (and likely never will meet) our children to tell us what is best for them. No one on this earth will ever know a child better than its primary caregiver. This could be a grandparent, adoptive parent, birth parent, foster parent – anyone who provides most of the care for a child. You will know their quirks, their cues, their temperament. No author on any store shelf will know that child better. Whenever I meet a first time mom, I always ask which parenting books they’ve read. If they say, “none” I enthusiastically recommend it stay that way. The best advice I have ever gotten is from other mothers whose parenting style I admire and respect. Even then, what works best for their children may not work at all for mine. That is okay! Trust your instincts as a caregiver. Pay attention. Really, that’s all it takes to raise wonderful children and be a wonderful caregiver – pay attention. Listen for understanding. Watch them as they play. Truly be interested in their interests because it may not seem like a big deal to you, but it is literally their world! They have to trust you with those things when they are small or they likely won’t trust you with the big things when they are older.
At the end of the day, it boils down to this. Trust yourself and your children to determine their needs. Quit reading those parenting books (remember, these people are out to make money). And, most importantly, pay attention. You can learn a lot about your children and issues you are having by simply paying close attention and loving them truly without condition. Remember, you’re going to mess up – it’s cool – learn from it and move forward. There is no such thing as a perfect parent!