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.?


At 3:04 PM, Anonymous Sara said...

I have HUGE fears when it comes to this kind of parenting. It resonates so strongly in me, makes sense when I really look at human behavior - but all my life I've seen what "wishy-washy" (my father's word) parenting has produced and I haven't been impressed. I think I've absorbed my parent's bias against this kind of parent, and when I say "this kind of parent" I mean a lot of people who are unfortunately lumped into the same category, who I'm sure were well-meaning, but didn't reall hit the mark and I didn't really like the result in their kids. This makes me wonder if I could do it justice or not. . .if this is a slipperly slope to being way too permissive and not giving my child enough structure to count on. . .I could go on and on. I like the title of your post. I'm hoping that being reflective will keep me on a path that is best for me and my child, if that makes sense.

At 8:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

] I also have a truly visceral reaction to the idea of "letting kids get away with stuff when they know better."

What I don't know is: How does one know when they know better? I mean, one might *think* they ought to know better by now, one has only reminded them ten billion times already after all ... but still. How does one *know* they know better? Maybe one child understands at age two, while the other doesn't get it till she's seven? And then it's possible to forget sometimes. Maybe they just don't understand *quite* how it's supposed to work, this "politeness" thing? What does "please" *mean*, really? I can't define it, and I really am hard-pressed to explain it well to a youngster, except to say, "Well, I don't know, but you just have to say it, that's all, just because it's considered nice, just because I say so." I lived in a foreign country for a while and said some pretty bonehead things sometimes, thinking I was saying it right in the other language but really I was being abrupt or rude or insulting or swearing or something. Whoops. People kindly pointed me toward the loo or whatever anyhow, which was really swell of them, and some of them would very nicely clue me in about my gaffe -- not withholding my change at the cash register or withholding the info about the location of the toilet until I said the thing correctly to their satisfaction or anything, just letting me know -- which was also swell of them.


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