If you had asked me about raising kids, before I had kids, I would have definitely fallen into what I like to call the “command and control” style. I’m sure you know what I mean by that – kids should do what they’re asked and the parents are the boss of them.
Frankly, and honestly, I would still have been very much a behaviorist parent even as recently as four years ago. Supernanny would have seemed totally sensible and practical – and no doubt I would have expressed that to friends and family at the time. Time outs, punitive restrictions and so forth, would have been considered just a part of life and the way to teach the kids what their behaviour should be.
Fast forward those four years and, thankfully, I have read a lot and learned a lot and – most importantly of all – I have thought and empathised A LOT.
Nowadays I find myself surprised and slightly uncomfortable when I hear parents talking about solutions to their kids’ behaviour in terms of punishing them. I should be quite clear here, I am not passing judgement on those parents. I have been one of them myself, after all. Actually I feel quite uncomfortable when I hear solutions put forward in that manner.
Please understand, I’m not a crunchy-type person. Not that there’s anything wrong with that either. I’m not a permissive-type parent. I have standards of behaviour I expect my kids to learn and they aren’t the sort that allow my small people to dominate all and sundry. I have, however, finally shed some really unhelpful ideas about children in general.
- Kids are inherently *naughty*.
- Kids do *naughty* things deliberately to get what they want. (Manipulation)
- Kids need externally-imposed consequences – aka punishment.
In the end I started to ask myself some hard questions – and more importantly think the consequences of my parenting choices through to their actual, logical, conclusion.
Did I want to control my kids’ behaviour so that my life was easier and I looked like I was a *good* parent to the outside world, or did I want to have a really close, respectful, relationship with my kids where they felt heard and appreciated?
Do my kids behave like that to make my life difficult and exercise their power (aka manipulation), or do they genuinely have no other way of showing me how they feel about things and how powerless they feel in certain situations?
And plenty more along those lines.
I read lots more peaceful parenting authors, and I came to view my kids in a very different light. I’m still “the Mum” and my kids don’t get to run our lives, but they do get heard and listened to a lot more than they did before I started questioning MY behaviour.
I began to view them, properly, as smaller versions of me – in that they experience exactly the same sorts of feelings and responses to being treated well or poorly as I do. Sometimes they just don’t have the internal filter system up and running that deals with negative experiences in the same way – so they *act up*. Punishing them for feeling marginalised and unable to express that in a way an adult would is, to be honest, totally daft. And I realised I was most certainly being daft.
I also realised that being shouted at, having anger directed at them for some indiscretion, or being shunned (time seat, anybody?) cannot feel good or be good for their self-worth. Anybody dealt with an angry friend or partner, workmate or boss? Anyone felt excluded by the “in” clique at school or work? If you have, stop a moment and think how you felt during those incidents….
That’s how your kids will be feeling when you shout, growl or exclude them as *correction* for some sort of misdemeanour. Probably a lot worse, because you are their Mum or Dad and they love you to bits.
I’ve rather come to think of it as parental bullying.
It can do only one thing – make the kids feel less valuable as people.
I appreciate that others may disagree, but this is where my observations have taken me. It’s a hard mirror to look in – having had to do so myself.
And again, not perfect here by any means. The old ways are insidious and very hard to overwrite with the new. For me it is going to be quite the journey, as I find the new skills get quickly bumped aside when I am tired, extremely stressed or haven’t been able to put myself first for a while.
But just like the old saw, I pick myself up and get back on to the horse. I apologise to my kids and I try to start again. It’s not an easy road, but it is the road I’ve consciously chosen to follow. Four years ago and before I was unconsciously following a road that is dominant in our culture and ingrained in me. I was simply running on default.
Now I feel more like me. Like the parent I want to be and my kids deserve.
The one thing that struck me while I was thinking about all of this, and writing this post, was just how far my thoughts on parenting have moved in such a short period. And I’m so very glad of it.
How about you? Have you had any “Ah-ha!” moments in your parenting journey?