Saturday, July 29, 2006

Be Reflective

One of the first things that Kohn advises to those parents who hope to show uncoditional love to their children is to reflect. This means not only about our parenting choices now and in the future, but about our pasts and what underlying assumptions we may bring to the task of parenting.

I consider myself a very fortunate child. Unlike many, I made it through childhood and into adulthood with few regrets and a great relationship with my father (my sole caregiver from about 1 year through age 12) and my stepmother. My father may have been considered rigid (my grandmother tells the story of the time I did not finish my dinner, and on our trip to the ice cream parlor, I did not get to have an ice cream cone), but he did not micromanage. There were a few firm limits that I didn't have much trouble understanding or obeying.

For this reason, I think I come to parenting with a strong tolerance for limits, as long as they are reasonable and consistent. However, Kohn has made me wonder how necessary they are and what impact they will have on my children. In our house, there was no dessert unless dinner was eaten - all of it. Bedtime was bedtime. We spoke politely to friends, guests, and each other in public or at friends houses. If I impose these rules/limits on my child, will he develop unnatural eating habits? Will he say things because he feels compelled to and not because he cares?

Another area of my life that I believe will influence my parenting in what may be a negative way is my desire for approval. Perhaps Kohn's right - having received good grades in school and college, I may be dependent on external sources of evaluation. This may explain my vast need not to ruffle feather in public. I would consider it humiliating to get into a fight with my husband at a party, to have my dog jump up on a stranger, or to have my child throw a fit in the grocery store. Being in a public place will make it difficult for me to really think through any sort of parenting decision.

This could be a product of my parenting style or a product of my years as a teacher, but I also have a truly visceral reaction to the idea of "letting kids get away with stuff when they know better." Last night, for example, I read a post on a message board in which a mom was seeking help because her child did things she found rude. In one instance, he shouted "Mommy, get me some water now!" My instant reaction is "No way, you spoiled brat. You can ask me politely." It took many leaps of logic to come around to understanding another parent's suggestion to simply get him the water. I'm still not sure that's the "right" thing to do.

Finally, and perhaps because my father proved unbending on certain issues, I am extremely stubborn. Once I am entrenched in an argument or have declared that something will be a certain way, I am generally unwilling to back down. I can see this as a problem area in the future; will I insist on enforcing a particular decision just because I've made it?

I guess in some ways, we need to treat ourselves with the same understanding we give to our kids. I am certain I will do things that, upon reflection, I will wish I hadn't. However, the more I think about them, the better I will become at managing those qualities that lead to snap parenting judgments.

So, what about others? What do you bring to parenting that worries you or that sits in conflict with the ideas presented in U.P.?