Monthly Archives: July 2007

Love is the key

A couple of months ago, within a couple of days I had three separate conversations with three different moms in which I was asked for suggestions on how to deal with parenting challenges they were having. The ages ranged from toddlers through adolescence, but my parenting philosophy is the same for everyone, it’s just the specifics that change.

Afterwards I was concerned that these parents might take my suggestions and apply them without the inner love towards their child that makes the crucial difference in how the rules are perceived. Parenting isn’t black and white, though when listening to specific parenting suggestions, it’s easy to think it’s just a matter of following a formula and then you’ll get results. But it’s not – it’s a matter of the heart. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of just following the instructions on how to raise your child, but when we do, we risk damaging our relationships as we place rules above people’s feelings and needs. I was afraid these parents were going to take a hard line approach with their children as a result of our conversations (I stressed with them the importance of clarifying limits and expectations) but that shouldn’t include a hard line attitude (though I repeatedly stressed this, I didn’t feel that it was absorbed the way the action suggestions were).

There are steps that I suggest parents take to get back on track with their children, to turn things around in the right direction (and they are the things that I would do, too), but I don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that it’s all orders and strictness around here. It’s not, and I wouldn’t want it to be for anyone else either. When the boundaries are clarified with love, it leaves most of the time together with our children available for enjoyable and loving interactions.

I’ve fallen into the trap of leaning too heavily on my authority and not having enough understanding of the individual child while insisting things be done a certain way, and it’s damaging in the long and short term to interact with our children like this. Actually, what prompted this post now is that a couple of weeks ago I realized that I was doing that with a particular child. I noticed lessening receptiveness to what I said and increasing friction in our interactions. After a few days, I realized this negativity was becoming somewhat regular, and it made me sit back and think about where it was coming from and why it was happening. Though it was unpleasant to realize, I had to honestly admit to myself that I was being too demanding in certain situations with this child.

I then made the conscious effort to get myself back into a good space, speaking from love and not speaking at all unless there was love in my heart, and almost immediately, the friction faded away. Parenting is more than barking orders and expecting immediate compliance from our children. Parenting isn’t mainly about the rules, it’s about the spirit and attitude that we apply them with, as well as the relationships we build with our children when we interact with them.

Remember: we can’t insist on our children showing respect for us and forget that we need to show them respect, too.

4th of July and birthday

I hope you all enjoyed your 4th of July! We had a nice day, though the fireworks display that I planned to take the kids to in the evening was rained out. It was my oldest son’s birthday, and we actually managed to surprise him with his birthday party! That was more than any of us expected.

My 12 year old daughter is the one who has become the planner and executer of the family parties. It has evolved into her role over time, probably because she really enjoys it and is so good at it. We don’t do big and fancy; we usually make a special meal and dessert for the person having the party, and we don’t always do it the day of the birthday, so the kids really don’t expect it. Some of the kids made him cards and bought him gifts (I rarely buy gifts), but the focus is really on celebrating the person by making them the center of attention, not by what we buy.

Dd usually gets frustrated trying to do everything and keep it a surprise, since it’s so hard with everyone walking in and out of the kitchen. I told her last time that she shouldn’t try to hard to keep people from seeing, since it makes them suspicious. So this time she just went about baking without saying anything even when her brother walked in and saw what she was making, and he didn’t suspect that it was for him!

Ds was working up in the attic doing spackling when the table was set and the cakes were ready, so I sent my 8yos to get him. He was so involved that he didn’t want to come down right away, but he did anyway. We borrowed a camcorder a few days before (what a great invention!) and dd10 caught him on camera when he came down, his hands full of spackling mud with his messiest work clothes on, as everyone started singing “Happy birthday”, not quite realizing for a minute what was going on.

Something else I try to do that doesn’t always work out, is to do some kind of special outing in honor of their birthdays. I don’t call it a birthday trip, but it’s one more nice thing that ties in to their special day. This year it was camping for ds5, we went out yesterday morning for ds14, and I’m planning another special trip to PA to coincide with dd10’s birthday in August. They were all trips I would have done anyway, but by doing them in conjuction with birthdays, it makes it more special for them.


Teaching independence and older kids

Hooray – my kitchen sink is finally fixed!!! It’s been a problem for a week now, something was wrong with the garbage disposale and dh wasn’t home long enough to fix it before the weekend. Yesterday morning he took the entire thing apart, but didn’t have time to put it together before he had to go to work. Do you know how fun washing dishes in a plastic box only about 1.5 times bigger than a shoebox is (because that was all I had to use in place of a dishpan)? It was really a huge effort to get the dishes done, since it meant going back and forth every few minutes to dump out the dirty water, rinsing the washed dishes, then back to dump the water again. It really makes me think about how easy we have it nowadays, and appreciate a tiny bit how much harder our ancestors had to work than we do.

To continue with the examples I promised yesterday on older kids, here you are!

I began teaching my kids to cook (at the stove) when they were 5 – 7. A friend once told me she didn’t feel it was safe for her daughter to learn to cook (at the time she was 8 yrs. old and it came up because she cooked with my girls when she came to visit, and was so excited and kept saying she couldn’t believe she was really cooking something). I suggested that instead of just refusing to allow her daughter access to the kitchen because of her concerns, she address the issue directly and show her daughter how to be safe when cooking (for example, her daughter had long hair, so she could have shown her how to pull her hair up so it wouldn’t be a fire hazaard, and initially stayed with her while she cooked).

My oldest son (he’ll be 14 tomorrow :)) has independently done a huge amount of work to finish our attic. His ability to do this didn’t happen overnight and didn’t magically appear out of nowhere. I initially worked with him and showed him how to hang drywall, dh showed him how to use power tools. As he got more and more comfortable with the skills necessary, I gave him more leeway. Now he goes up to the attic when he has time and desire and does whatever he does, and I just go admire all of his work at the end of the day. This could never happen if I didn’t help him learn to be capable and safe early on in the process, and trust he was inherently competent.

Kids have an innate need to explore their environment and it’s stifling and unhealthy to make things forbidden. Sometimes as parents it’s easier (in the short term) to just say ‘no’ instead of taking the time to teach them to do what they want to do safely. But in the long run, it’s detrimental and just makes life harder for both the child and parents.


Stair climbing and teaching independence

Someone commented about the danger involved in allowing a baby to be in a home with stairs and no safety gate, which I didn’t agree with. Here’s my position:

I don’t think it’s a dangerous situation for a baby to be in a home with stairs, just dangerous to be in a home with stairs without being allowed to learn to safely climb them. I’ve lived in houses with stairs for my last three babies, never used a safety gate, and haven’t found this to be a concern. The way I deal with it may not be typical, but it works well for us and we’ve never had a baby fall down the stairs.

As soon as a baby shows signs of readiness to climb the stairs, I let him, staying close by (right behind him) in case he slips. As he gets more experienced, I give him more and more leeway (eg, staying within a step or two but not immediately behind him), until I’m confident that he can safely climb by himself. This doesn’t take a very long time, but does require the willingness to invest the time to help your baby become safely independent. My baby is now 15 months, and regularly climbed to the next floor without anyone around by the age of 12 months (probably earlier, I just can’t remember those kind of specifics).

This is reflective of my general approach to parenting, which is to help my kids navigate new situations by staying close in the beginning while allowing them to explore, and decreasing my presence/ help until they are ready to be independent. This applies as much to babies (eg, teaching them not to swallow small items by giving them the opportunity to learn to discriminate) as it does to older children (there are lots of life lessons then!).

I try not to say no just because I can picture something going wrong. Instead, I think about how to make the situation emotionally comfortable for me without stifling the child’s need to explore his environment. This process doesn’t stop, it’s ongoing as kids get older. My kids have a pretty good level of competence in many areas because I’ve given them room to develop competence, but that has never meant taking a hands off attitude and letting whatever happens, happen.

(I’ll continue in my next post with some examples of how this has played out with older kids.)