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Like all of you, I'm a number of things to a number of people...Navy wife, homeschooling mama, educated woman and aspiring writer. Read my thoughts on all of it here. Please feel free to leave your thoughts on all of it too!

Monday, September 27, 2010

How Do You Do It: Parenting - Do We Need a Change?

Scott and I get asked a lot how we would handle a specific situation with our kids.  How we get them to go to bed.  How we get them to listen.  All sorts of questions that imply we're good parents.  I'm always a bit baffled that others see us as such great parenting role models.  I certainly don't feel like the best mom, at least not all the time.  But, on the other hand, I also feel like our kids are reasonably great kids.  There's a decent chance that Scott and I had something to do with that, I guess.  Right?  (Don't I sound confident?)

So, maybe we do have something to offer about how to parent.  But maybe not.  I guess it's up to you to decide. 

Scott and I are talkers and planners.  I think this helps as parents.  We can take any one subject and analyze it from every which way until we end up with a plan of attack that we think is a good start.  We usually have a Plan B, just in case.  When we learned we were going to have a baby we discussed how we'd do x, y, and z.  I think we felt pretty confident in our strategies and, like I said, haven't done too badly.  However, there's always room for improvement.  Always.

We've been known to let our kids cry it out, even when I didn't feel totally OK with this, but didn't know what else to do.  Scott's famous (really...it was on the radio!) for his two rules about crying:
  1. Stand up when you cry.
  2. Only one at a time.
We also have shared this little gem more than once, "Children are like terrorists and we do not negotiate with terrorists."

Now some of you might be reading this thinking we're right on.  Others might be hoping our kids make it to adulthood without any serious emotional scars.  I have to admit I stand someplace in the middle at this point.

As you know, I've been working on creating a more primal life for our family.  I was first inspired to revamp our food choices and strategies for being active.  Over the last several months I've begun reading some other blogs and articles that have me wondering about many other areas of our lives...including our parenting plan.  I read an article on parenting in Hunter-Gatherer societies and really began thinking about how we parent.  Was it time for some improvements?

The article mentioned a book by Alfie Kohn, Unconditional Parenting: Moving From Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason.  I decided to read it and see what improvements I could make.  How can I be an even better mom?

Well, I've read some of it.  I read the first few chapters and found myself wondering, "So, what do I do?"  Kohn seemed to have some pretty good reasons why my current strategy of parenting was more about control than helping my children become well-rounded and responsible adults.  I found myself agreeing with him that it does seem a bit childish to punish kids for not doing something by taking something else away.  The tit-for-tat auto response I seemed to have never felt quite right for me, but I didn't know what else to do.  And Kohn wasn't much help in the beginning of his book. 

So, I skipped several chapters.  I jumped right to the middle of the book and the principles of unconditional parenting.  First of all, the main focus of unconditional parenting is that our children feel loved unconditionally.  And it's about what they feel not what I think I'm portraying.  I know, I know...it sounds tricky, doesn't it. 

"When you come right down to it, the whole process of raising a kid is pretty damned inconvenient, particularly if you want to do it well.  If you're unwilling to give up any of your free time, if you want your house to stay quiet and clean, you might consider raising tropical fish instead."
That's probably my favorite quote from the whole book, at least the whole of what I read!  And I'm so glad Kohn sees that he's asking a lot from us as parents.  He also shares times that he struggles to live up to the standards he's set for himself.  I always feel better when others struggle like I do and when they want to struggle and be the best they can for their kids, like I do too.

So, it's not easy.  There's no special formula.  But do what you can to ensure your kids feel loved as often as possible. 

But, how do I do that?

Kohn suggests not rewarding for good behavior or punishing for poor behavior.  What?  That's what I said.  He wonders how our relationships would improve with our children is we stopped assuming they were testing limits, acting with malicious intent, trying to push our buttons and started asking why they're acting the way they are.  And what if we approached situations as problems to be solved rather than behavior to be punished or corrected?

He asks us to determine our long term goal as parents, and keep them in mind.  Sometime we need to stop the behavior immediately (running into traffic) but other times we just want the behavior to end (fighting over chores).  When the immediate ceasing of the behavior isn't necessary, what if we looked at the "problem" with our long term goal of creating responsible adults in mind.  And what if we gave our children enough respect so they could be part of the solution.

Just the other day I wanted Jace to do his math work and he wasn't.  He was digging his heels in and wanted to stand on his chair and all sorts of other things.  Initially I thought that he was simply testing me to see how far he could go.  I'd been reading Kohn's book, though, and decided to ask more and talk less, and see if the two of us together could reach a solution.  I first gave him the option of sitting in his chair or standing on the floor, letting him know either would be fine with me.  He (of course) asked if he could sit on the floor.  I didn't give an immediate "NO" without even thinking, which I'm quite guilty of doing.  Instead, I thought for a second and responded, "Not yet.  I'm helping Gracie too.  But if you'll sit in your chair or stand on the floor while I explain what you need to do, then you can sit on the floor with your lap desk to complete the assignment."  And that's what he did.  In fact, he sat on the floor and did three lessons instead of one!

So, maybe Kohn's on to something.  I'm not completely sold that I don't need to have a little control, but I do agree that controlling the kids should not be my goal and that if it appears to them that I'm not loving them then I'm not being the mom I want to be.

All in all, I don't know if I was any help to you!  But, if you're curious to learn more, go find the book yourself and give it a go!  Let me know what you learn.  As for my reading of it...I have to take it back to the library.  Someone else has a hold on it.  But I'm putting a hold on it again so I can get it back out and read more and again!

One note I'd like to make about parenting...Do your best to squash the guilt.  Even though I'm considering the very real possibility that the way I've been parenting for the last seven years has not been ideal, I'm not going to waste time beating myself up over it.  Do your best to live in the present and do your best now...and love them!  That's what it's all about in the end anyway.  Love them.


Bearden 365 said...

I'm working on my parenting skills right now too, I'll have to check that book out. I'm not sold at all on the idea that kids don't need discipline since most of my caseload is full of kids who parented themselves with very little discipline or intervention. I think kids need guidance--I know I did! But I am really interested in what he said about making your kid feel loved at all times. My Mom was REALLY good at that, and I would like to get better! I'm not sure what they think when I yell (which is WAY more often that I THOUGHT I would! lol!) and I'd like to work on that. And guilt? It doesn't have a place in my house. I think guilt is one of the most useless things we can feel. Critical self-examination? Helpful. Guilt? Useless! Thanks for the food for thought!

Dogs.Dogtags and Stilettos said...

I really enjoyed reading this, and I don't even have kids (and this theory cannot be applied to our four legged furries). My Aunt is doing something similar - they are trying to eliminate all "yes or no" answers. Her and my Uncle always give an option to a question - unless it's like the traffic example. It's interesting, I'm bookingmarking all of you for when I can use some of these skills!!!

Mary Teresa said...

There is a crying baby...but i'd like to say Brilliant. And I love you.

Annie said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone! I love comments...I'll have to read my post again, and maybe edit if it needs it. Kohn is definitely not promoting non-parenting. He still wants us to parent and guide and raise our children. He'd just like us to give them respect, a say in their own lives, consistent and unprovoked love. He'd like our decisions not to be based on control. I don't have the whole story, yet, but I'm going to keep working on it.

And, Shauna, I was talking to my mom the other day and we decided that many of the principles in Kohn's book can be adapted for any relationships we have (marital, friendships, co-workers)...so I don't see why we can't raise out pets in a similar fashion...right? lol