Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Perspectives on parenting: Coming up against other points of view

One of the things travel does is expose you to ideas and perspectives beyond your own. In the case of our recent trip, it reminded us of attitudes we'd left behind in recent years, which was eye-opening in itself. There's nothing like hearing someone else embrace the old perspective to bring home to you how much your own has changed.

I don't know how to write this post without sounding self-righteous, but I'm just going to write it as the encounters happened and our reactions to them and let it stand as it is. This isn't a post about how we're awesome parents and our friends and family don't know what they're doing — it's just a post to illustrate how much we've changed, in our own mindsets, which perhaps will encourage you as you evaluate how much you, too, have grown. I find it inspiring every once in awhile to have a yardstick to measure my own progress as a parent, because day to day, it's easy to lose sight that anything's changing. I think we're all on a parenting path of some sort, and those of us who think this hard about parenting are probably moving forward toward better, yes?

We were at one gathering when Sam broke away with some of the other dads and talk turned to parenting. One of the fathers pointed out how his son, a little younger than Mikko, never listened to anything they said, and how all their scolding and bribing and punishing was doing nothing. He asked Sam his opinion of spanking: "Would a little swat on the butt work, do you think?"

Sam felt a little bit lost, because the question he felt he needed to answer wasn't, "Is spanking effective?" (it isn't) but "What's your whole philosophy of parenting and discipline, and what can you tell me in the next two minutes to change mine?" It's a tall order.

Sam said, in an effort to put forth his point of view in a nutshell, "Well, we try to talk things over with Mikko, let the little things go, and offer him options."

"Oh, we offer our son options, too," said the other dad. "We say, 'You can do what we say and be a good boy, or you can disobey and be naughty.'"

Somehow, those weren't the options Sam had in mind.

I was talking with another mother on our trip, and she was swapping discipline stories about her son, who's also about the same age as Mikko.

Now, the stories she told actually were quite funny, but the premise behind them kind of floored me. She prefaced the stories by saying her son has become quite the picky eater, refusing to eat dinner some nights.

"Well, that's not allowed," she said to me, as if of course I would just agree. I kind of blinked back at her, because my theory about eating and food is that children should eat when they're hungry and what they want to eat from a selection of healthful choices. It's not, for me at least, necessary to guard against the old objection of "becoming a short-order cook" for your children, because usually the things Mikko chooses that are alternatives to what Sam and I have chosen are fairly quick to whip up, and we could put off more complicated requests for the next mealtime if it didn't work out for us at that moment. Since Sam and I get to choose what we eat, and don't always eat the same things as each other, why shouldn't Mikko have the same privilege?

So I was just kind of staring at her, wondering whether to nod along as courtesy called for or speak up. She had just pointed out that he sometimes had large lunches, so he was definitely eating, just perhaps not on her schedule. She continued with the backstory. "So, whenever he won't eat what we've made for dinner, he has to go straight to bed. I'm not going to have him up playing for two more hours if he's refused dinner."

At this point, I was struck by how familiar this trope is — "Eat your supper or go to bed" — while at the same time being struck by how very far far far I've diverged from it.

Why on earth would you want to make eating a battleground, and sleep a punishment? How does that set up healthy eating habits, when you're forced to eat what you're not hungry for? How does that establish healthy sleep habits, when going to bed is seen as an exclusion from fun?

But how do I counter such an assumption, when it's being told to me not in an advice-seeking way but just as a matter of course? How do I respond with my own whole philosophy of feeding children and respecting their needs and desires? Do I have more of a responsibility toward the parent to be tactful or more of a responsibility toward the child being treated that way to speak up?

In the end, I didn't say anything and just stored it up — for a blog post, apparently. I had the sense that nothing would change if I said something, beyond making all of us uncomfortable.

And it's not like I have "the answer." I don't know how to make her son eat his meals, for instance, no more than Sam had an idea for getting the first child to do whatever his parents ask.

What we have goes beyond those questions to ask what we think now are more fundamental ones: Why should my child do what I want? What makes my desires more important than Mikko's? Why do I want my child to do a particular thing, and is it really that important? If it is important, what's a respectful way I can approach it with him? How do I respond gracefully when I "lose" and he chooses a different way? How can I stop thinking of it as a win-lose situation? What do I ultimately desire of my child as he grows: compliance to authority, or an thoughtful, emotionally mature interdependence, and what sort of parenting will help facilitate the latter?

It's not like I always have the answers to those questions, either, but I like seeing that Sam and I are asking these new questions now. In fact, even though I am asking these questions, I very often fail, but that's part of the learning as well. In fact, that's why I find it so encouraging to compare my mindset to other parents' on occasion — to the type of parenting I grew up with and was most inclined to embrace — so that I can see proof that there is some change in me, even if I don't always grasp it in the nitty-gritty of parenting challenges. But it's hard to pass on this whole new mindset to other people on the spur of the moment. All I can do is hope we set some sort of example by the peace in our family, and our joy in the outcome.

Make me not feel unbearably alone in my pretension to parenting greatness. Share with me a moment of your competence and confidence as a parent.


katherine said...

Yes, yes and YES! All of us in this parenting game together...we need to reach out our hands to each other in understanding that we are all flawed and imperfect. If someone's story of discipline or child philosophy is upsetting to you it simply means that it is off-message from the philosophy that works for your own family. It is important to move away from these thoughts (and the comparing that go with them) and immediately remind yourself in your head and your heart that you are consistently making good, whole and present choices for your own heart and the others who are in your care for a short time as they become actualized humans! You are doing a good thing by circulating the message that there is no right/wrong, but a whole continuum of choices available to us and the peace and harmony of your very existence as you move through the world with your serene family will be your testament. It's the giving up of the self as the center of existence and experience that is the most difficult transition of parenting. This is a difficult journey to mark and measure, but you have done well here!

Yuliya said...

Honestly I wasn't prepared to deal with the onslaught of questions when I first encountered my college group of friends after having my baby (she was about three months old) so I wish I had this post then, I think I would have just kept my mouth shut instead of trying to change their parenting styles (or perceived styles since most of them didn't have kids but had lots of opinions about AP)
So my confidence is often shaken by these types of interactions and I'm still pretty new at this but slowly I'm developing the confidence to tune "them" out and tune back into me and my baby, and that makes me feel more competent.

Lauren B. said...

Oh, what a lovely post! I think the paradigm shift of what questions we gentle parents ask ourselves is really key, and reminds me of the Adult Privilege Checklist. Keeping those kinds of things in mind are so helpful to me when I encounter people who do things differently, or are critical of our choices as parents.

So, something that really made me feel competent as a parent? Two things come to mind. First, last night as my husband and I were going to bed, I mentioned how I'm glad we started getting our daughter to bed earlier than us. I'd fought it for a while because I didn't feel ready, and I didn't think she was, but now, two months in (she's 8 months now), it works well for us. I nurse her down in our bed, and we join her later, and it's perfect. I'm so glad we waited until it felt right, and I don't know if that's something I'd have been able to do if I hadn't been exposed to the wonderful parenting resources I've found on the web, your blog included.

The second thing is that we were visiting my grandparents last weekend, and they were telling me about how my cousin treats her 10-year-old daughter. It made me very sad to hear how unkind she is, and the cruel things she says to her child. I was so grateful to snuggle up to my own sweet girl and know that I'd do everything in my power to treat her well. That I might make mistakes sometimes, but that I would always try to fix them, and that above all else, she would KNOW she is loved.

Lindsay said...

I feel bad about it, but my cousin parents basically opposite of me-she does cry-it-out and cribs and formula feeds and uses the playpen as "baby jail" (her words, not mine-shudder) and recently didn't notice that her 12 month old broke her leg...for several days!!! While I wish her babies didn't have to put up with that, it does make me reflect on my choices. I'm so grateful that I don't ever have a desire/need for "baby jail" or get frustrated that I have to get up at night (it makes it sooo much easier that "getting up" just means barely waking up and helping him get latched on in the dark then going back to sleep!)

Anonymous said...

I have a group of friends with very similar parenting philosophies. Only I am frequently a little bit less crunchy than they are. Like - I had my 2nd baby in a hospital by choice, and I vaccinate. Oooh, I am so mainstream, right? Anyways, because of this I often forget how far I can diverge from the mainstream. And then once in a while - SMACK! - I walk headlong into it and I am reminded.

It can feel very unsettling to me to carry on parenting conversations with people who have drastically different styles. Because we're discussing something we all feel quite passionately about - our children. And none of us has all the answers. So I tend to keep my own mouth shut, and do my best to recognize that we all have to do what works for our family.

Michelle @ The Parent Vortex said...

I find this a tough situation to be in too. I wrote a post about it recently, though I think it perhaps came across a little too ranty against aspiring to parenting greatness. Trying to parent well is a good thing. People who are parenting in the "eat your dinner or go to bed" way are most likely just parenting their kids the way they themselves were raised, and don't know any other way to do it.

I totally agree with you that setting a quiet example by your own behaviour is one of the best ways to teach other parents another way of parenting. Sometimes I will describe what we do at home, and if they are interested they'll ask more. But I am totally averse to creating a huge conflict around different parenting styles. It is a continuum, and even the best parents make mistakes sometimes. I'm sure from other people's perspectives I'm making big mistakes with some of my parenting decisions, such as homeschooling, but it's the right choice for us right now.

Overall, I try to live and let live, making the best choices I can for myself and my family. Everyone else makes their own choices as best they can.

katepickle said...

I too find it hard to figure out how to respond to some 'parenting conversations'.... and I'm often surprised at how differently we parent, I guess I've gotten comfy with the way we do things and have forgotten it is not always the 'regular' choice.

And I'd so like to guest post for you, I really enjoy your blog... just trying to come up with something fabulous to post on!

Rachael said...

No wisdom here. I avoided local parenting groups (except for LLL) because I didn't want to hear any stories about CIO. It sounds to me like setting an example through your peace and joy might be the best way to pass on your mindset (to those who don't read your blog, anyway).

Carla Schmidt Holloway said...

whoo! awesome post! sadly, I'm not a mommy yet but I am so glad to know there are other moms out there I can lean on for advice or support, even if it's just by reading a blog post!

B said...

Fabulous post yet again. I'm the crunchiest mama in each of my circles (and I'm really not that crunchy, like Amber I vaccinate) and my parenting practices differ markedly. I struggle to listen to my friend's discussions about CIO, discipline and expectations of their children. I don't ever give advice unless asked and I'm not asked that often. I do try and take a non judgemental stance when listening to other people's stories about their parenting (I can rarely manage this to be honest...). I love your idea of setting an example by the peace in your family.

A moment of competence and confidence...when I get frequent comments about how 'gentle' my son is. He has never shown aggression toward another child. I like to think that it has everything to do with respecting him, working with him and crunchy parenting (cosleeping, breastfeeding, babywearing).....although I have a strong feeling his gentle behaviour is a result of nature not nurture ;)

Michelle said...

My friends are like minded mamas, but when I do run into conversations like you described, I just say "Well, this is what we do and why it works for us." I don't criticize what THEY do, I just say what I do and why. Then they aren't on the defensive and feel okay asking me questions about their situation.

Momma Jorje said...

I think that just by nature, we HAVE to believe that our parenting choices are the best so we do wind up feeling "better than" parents who choose other routes... unless we hear a route that does sound better, then we strive for that.

So it can be so difficult in these situations where we want to... come to think of it, I guess it is kind of like a fundamentalist (wonder if I'll offend anyone here) pushing their ideas on others. Except... someone is ACTUALLY effected.

It can be hard to share your ideas with a parent without sounding "better than thou." I probably would have found myself choosing to not make waves (that probably wouldn't make a difference) as well... though I do occasionally try to gently offer up a new idea to a frustrated parent. I don't know if it makes a difference, but I also totally feel your "defend that poor child" perspective, too!

Sorry to ramble on so much - but I also wanted to THANK you for mentioning occasionally here that you're not perfect at it, either. You are one of my "ideals" and it makes me feel better in my own day-to-day struggles when I'm not as "perfect" as I want to be. :-)

Marita said...

I run into this one friend who does not have a problem with her 4 year old drinking a bottle of coke zero but does get angry at him for being hyper active. I often wonder if because I'm standing on the sidelines it is easier to see the cause and effect. With my own girls I know how hard it can be some days when you are in the middle of a difficult behaviour to work out what is going on.

melissa v. said...

Don't worry, nobody who reads you would have thought you were being arrogant!! Lol. I def. agree about these types of conversations being silent jaw droppers. I don't have many acquaintences or relatives who actually parent this way, though?? Not with the no supper, go to bed thing anyways.
The food thing can be tough, don't I know it. And it is something I've found has a variety of approaches without going the no supper go to bed route.
You might find my recent food and my middle son post interesting to read
(it's kind of an aside, but I talk about this philosophy with food where you offer a variety of healthy choices so in that way it's similar)


I usually find it harder to respond when people actually criticize my choices, rather than when people express their own. I usually go the silent listener route. But when people I'm related to say things like, "When you breastfeed past six months you're just doing it for yourself," to me as I breastfeed my nine month old, I really want to deck them.
I usually share the WHO recommendations for length of breastfeeding.

Anyways, I just wanted to say that I hear you on this one, it's difficult to listen to such old fashioned philosophies which really do seem to so obviously work solely toward external compliance (and internal unhappiness and/or rebellion? At the very least a lack of critical thinking skills).


melissa v. said...

Oh yes, and a moment of competence for me has to be similar to 'B' above--when I get feedback about my kids' sweet naturedness, good manners, or kindness towards other kids, then I feel that my AP style has found fruit. And it feels darn good!

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

It's so hard to talk parenting in little bits and pieces like that. Our society does so much to silence kids, to put them under our collective thumb; it's just heartbreaking.
Yesterday we walked into the library and a mother was hissing at her 5 or 6 yr old daughter, "are you done being a brat? are you done talking? you're not going to do anything else today. i'm going to touch your ass when we get out of here." It was awful, and the girl didn't say anything the whole time, just sat there looking sad.
I said out loud to Kieran "it's awful that someone would talk to a child like that." There was a woman standing next to me who heard me - she was with the mother/daughter. I hope she passed along what I said.

Becky said...

Because my new parenting skills seem to be the same or similar to my family's, I haven't encountered any problems. We'll see in the next year when I need to discipline her! Right now I'm in Germany visiting my husband's family and they're so helpful! They're teaching her new things, feeding her new table foods, and giving me a little break! I hope that it'll always be that way-- that visiting the grandparents or whoever will be a learning experience for her. It's nice to have a new perspective!

kelly said...

It's interesting you think you can diagnose this woman's child as being "hyperactive" and know that it has to do with a particular food/beverage (perhaps one you have a moral judgment regarding). Perhaps it might be better for your friendship if you said something rather than sat in silent judgment/diagnosis. I have said in similar scenarios, "I notice you complain about your son's hyperactivity. I have a theory sugar contributes to hyperactivity, I was wondering what you think." I have had so many friendships benefit from these kinds of discussion. As long as we're bringing some humility and openness to such conversations they can often forge better friendships and help one another as parents. If a parent responds defensively, that's OK too: some people have deep-seated anxieties about things, some people aren't ready or willing in that moment to delve into something, esp. if they're finding family life overwhelming. If we're loving, open, and honest we can have these supposed "awkward" conversations and they can blossom into lovely ones.

I pretty much speak up when it makes sense to do so. Sometimes it isn't relevant to the conversation. In the case of the no-food-go-to-bed scenario I would have quite naturally laughed and said, "Oh I would never do that!" - with an intention either to offer up our strategies, or an intention to return to her story, whatever she seemed to want to do. I also understand and empathize with parents who have these strategies, even if I do not employ them. Offering empathy to parents who feel angry and confused about their child's "picky eating habits" is easy to do when I see the parent as not being Wrong but having needs they're trying to meet (however poorly this may be going).

But then... I have a lot of practice and we've been non-mainstream parents for quite some time. I'm relatively solid about our parenting practices, honest about my mistakes, and open to hearing other philosophies (if I wasn't, I wouldn't have come to the ones I hold today). Far from making me "uncomfortable" these are some of the best conversations to have. I have been told I have a knack for discussing controversial issues without offending and I do enjoy it and I know I've influenced many families.

That said, when my children were younger I remember having that competition/comparison/envy drives far more than I experience today. I have tons of theories on why this may have been, but I've hijacked your blog long enough!

Thanks for another fun post!

nerdmafia said...

your friend with the coke zero and the hyperactive child: it CAN be tricky to bring up things like that to another parent(especially with a friend because she trusts you so everything you say has a bit more weight to it than if it was just anyone out on the playground making a comment). but maybe next time you see the son drinking soda or other sugary drink and his mum's complaining about his behavior (or he's acting up later on), just casually mention, "do you think he might be sensitive to sugar or caffeine? i was reading that some kids are more sensitive than others with stuff like that and it helps to cut down on sodas, fruit drinks, or even 100% juice. i always water down juice for the girls...part of it is to keep them from getting too sugar crazy, but it also helps me stretch the juice out a little bit longer, so we can save a little bit of money at least." i find that approach works for me because my friend doesn't feel like i'm criticizing her...i'm just passing on "something i read somewhere".

LOVE your blog. í'm still in the planning stages for my own pfc's (potential future children), but i'm a full-time nanny to two girls (3yo & 18mos), and it's reassuring to hear all this AP stuff, especially about comments that other parents/caregivers make about parenting style. i've had a LOT of other nannies criticize me for wearing the girls (w/an ergo since my big girl was 5mos old and still w/the 18mos old even though she's walking a lot more lately). they say it will make the girls too clingy and dependent, but i really believe it just makes them feel secure and loved, and in the end that helps kids to be more independent because they know you're always there for them. anyhoo...thanks for blogging this.


Jenna said...

I hear you on all of that. I guess the part that makes it uncomfortable is that its not "working" at this point in terms of the traditional goals of discipline (like doing as they're told and meeting preset behavior expectations).

My buddy is almost three and after a number of medical conditions, his communication and some other skills are not "age appropriate" yet. He is just getting to the point where he puts 2 word approximations and only has about 10 words that he uses regularly. I feel like I'm balancing wanting to treat him as a 3 year old, which I really feel like he is cognitively, with not being able to have a 2 way conversation.
He does still throw and damage things and occasionally hits as his way to express being frustrated. He only started oral eating 6 months ago, and he doesn't do any traditional eating method and I don't expect him to as long as he has access to food and drink when he's hungry.

Anyways, I don't know if that makes any sense. I don't feel like I can share my "techniques" yet because they haven't "worked". Even though, in my opinion, he's learning at his own rate how to try to express himself and it doesn't matter if he behaves like he "should" based on his age..

kelly said...

I have no idea if this will help or be interesting to you but several years ago at our playschool there was a very exuberant, violent child that many of the parents didn't like. So many people judged the mom and pored over all the ways she must be doing it "wrong".

One time I hosted a class where we went around and named one thing we did that we were proud of as parents. She said that she was a no-TV household and she did whatever it took to keep her son occupied and not watching TV. Now... I'm not saying she was doing something right or wrong. I will say until then I thought she was just too lazy to "discipline" her son (I have come a long way since then). I realized I was wrong. Whatever her faults, if she had them in relation to parenting, they weren't "laziness". That's just where my mind went when seeing this rowdy kid.

It was a moment of great humility for me and I've tried not to judge parents' as human beings or their strategies based on how I see their kids behave. This has been a huge gift to me.

Long story short, find your supporters and remember, other people don't know sh*t sometimes. :-)

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