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The Parenting Trap

My mom tells me that when she and my dad were on the way home from the hospital with their first child, they said, What do we do now? and started to laugh. What else could they do? They were Catholics in 1961, and somehow they were just supposed to know how to be a good parent.
They spent ten years having babies, then the next 47 trying to figure them out.
These days we are blessed and cursed with a wide range of manuals which will tell you how exactly you should raise your children. Many of the authors have degrees, and they all have children. I secretly wonder when one of their kids is going to write a “Mommy Dearest”-style tell-all.
I actually had the chance to ask that question the other day, but somehow forgot to. I was so pleased to have the chance to interview Jane Nelson, the author of the Positive Discipline series. She was delightful and warm, and we had a lovely conversation. I felt like I was tongue-tied, though. I kept stumbling over what I was saying, like I was confessing to a priest something I wasn’t sure he’d understand.
Though I can’t say I have succeeded in running a pure Positive Discipline household, Jane Nelson saved my life in a way. She gave me the ammunition to say that my children don’t have to suffer in order to learn. I don’t have to dominate them to be a good parent. She voiced my concern that I raise children not only to behave well now but to be happy and loving adults later.
Following her plan is very, very difficult. It is easy to fall back into “because I said so,” and “do it or you’ll suffer the consequences.” It’s not so easy to respect your child’s feelings, especially because children’s feelings are often so fraught with mystery and complexity. “I hate you” simply doesn’t mean the same thing from a child as it does from an adult.
And what’s especially hard about following her advice is that it often doesn’t look like discipline at all. We regularly let our children make choices that we know are not the right ones. We allow our children to state outlandish opinions. We let them wear clothing that they’re comfortable in. And we don’t make our son cut off his rat tail, er, long hair.
This reminds me, apropos of not much, that my favorite school photo of my daughter is when she was three. She was obsessed with her red rainboots, which she called her motorcycle boots. We arrived to preschool on picture day having forgotten to dress up, so the photo is of her in her favorite outfit. Yes, I do love to see her dressed up in pretty clothing, but every time I see her in her motorcycle boots and favorite purple shirt, it reminds me of the child I DO have rather than the child I sometimes think I SHOULD have.
That’s what it comes down to for me: a manual on parenting is useless if it focuses on creating the child that other people think you should have. If your parenting is all about making sure your kid doesn’t embarrass you, then exactly who are you parenting for?
I also reject the idea that parenting is all about making everything easy for your child. There’s a slightly tongue-in-cheek book review in the New Yorker about this phenomenon – make sure to read all the way to the end or you might think the writer agrees with the books she’s reviewing. Read it here
What it comes down to is that parenting is a balancing act. Sometimes we all get off balance. But if you fall off, all you can do is get back on again and try, try, try.

Posted in Parenting.

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