Is it just me or has the world of parenting become one of complete and utter confusion and chaos?
It seems to me, that at every opportunity, there are opposing philosophies and ideologies at work trying to sway the general masses to think one way or another, with absolutely no logical balance in between. I remember struggling with this reality in the earliest years of parenting, and suffering greatly because of the different extremes that were presented.
I was not, at the time, aware enough to recognize no one was teaching a balanced approach to parenting, so I was thrown here and there in the tumultuous waves of parenting (especially since my waves consisted of three children in three years…eek!)
This chaotic “lack of balance” approach has apparently continued living la vida loca in the webosphere, where I have come across a few viewpoints on today’s parenting perspectives (curious about the articles I read: check them out here and here).
I believe that a significant cause of the problem is that we have lost the truth behind what it means to “neglect” a child, but, ironically, the fear of being considered neglectful is alive and vibrant for many of us.
5 Solutions to Find Balance in a World of Parenting Extremes
In my opinion, there are two general ideas of what parenting looks like:
A. The Disconnected/Unattached/Angry Parent – Self-focused, self-absorbed, lacking in compassion, gentility, or regard for child(ren) and their feelings, lacking in consideration for likes or preferences of child(ren), neglectful of child’s emotions, fears, thoughts, etc., abusive, is more concerned with their own agenda and feelings than with the child’s, may use physical correction or other forms of punishment (time outs, cleaning, etc) out of anger and frustration, may be fearful of the child growing up to be an entitled, selfish adult and, therefore, works with the goal of depriving the child “so that doesn’t happen,” passionately angry and easily outraged, or the flip-side: unemotionally detached from any care whatsoever for whether the child comes or goes.
B. The Overly-Attached/Emotional/Sensitive Parent – Solely focused on the child, protective to the Nth degree of the child’s heart and feelings, does not allow the child to ever feel sadness, disappointment, anger, or fear, is more concerned with child not experiencing what are considered “negative” feelings, works hard to always make the child feel “positive” feelings, may avoid some or all forms of punishment for not wanting to disturb the child’s heart, takes on responsibility for the child’s feelings, fearful of disappointing or upsetting the child, fearful of permanently damaging the psychology of the child “for the rest of the child’s life.”
These are the two general extremes, which I think are generally thought of for parenting, but I also believe most of us have a thought process that tells us the first is terrible, and the second is preferable. A parent that establishes rules, routines, expectations, and standards is now often automatically associated with being a detached and emotionally unconnected parent who does not care for the well-being of their child.
In the same light, a parent who is concerned about the emotional well-being of their children and who wants to please and nurture their children’s hearts is now often moved into the category of being an overly-connected parent who takes on all responsibility for the emotional state of their children, absolutely refraining from anything that may be interpreted negatively by the child. The truth is that neither of these parenting ideals needs to exclude the other, nor does either have to move into the extreme, but very often all we see and hear about are the extremes.
So, here’s my proposition: let’s bring critical thinking back into the parenting picture, pulling from the best and learning from the worst of both of these parenting models. Both of these perspectives represent two very valid and critical components of what it means to be a parent.
Not only are we responsible for our child’s emotional well-being, but we are also here to prepare them for living the life of a responsible adult living in the real world. We have them under our care for a fraction of their lives, so the time we spend teaching and molding them will set the stage for the rest of their time on this earth.
5 Suggestions for Finding Balance
1. Do not take a blanket approach to parenting – Parenting is all about learning how to appropriately respond to any given situation. There is a time for everything under heaven and on the earth (see Eccl. 3), so there are some times when a more stern discipline is far better than a calm and gentle discussion on a problem. There are times when saying “because I said so” is MUCH wiser than trying to explain logic to a child who cannot possibly understand the “why” (or who simply rebels at an idea that counters their own desires), while there are other times when an explanation is much more effective. There are some children who respond just fine to being told “no,” while there are others who rebel at the first sign of not getting their way.
Each of these, and many, many others, require a different approach to the given situation, so we, the parents, must always be looking for what is the best way to handle the given situation, rather than what does the latest blog post say about how we should act in a likely completely unrelated, hypothetical situation.
2. Set Boundaries Within Reason – It is, in my opinion, essential for parents to have boundaries for their kids, and for children to learn to live within those boundaries. It is GOOD for a parent to tell their children that they may not go in the road. It is good for a parent to set limitations and boundaries for bed times, nap times, disrespectful or inappropriate behaviors, etc. It is fine to schedule in time for a mom to get a break from the day-in-day-out parenting activities (yes, children a blessing, but that does not mean that they are easy or emotionally stabilizing), and to set a boundary that children have to be in a separate space for a time without causing destruction.
Boundaries are a good thing when used properly. They become a bad thing when taken to the extreme (e.g. keeping children in their room for most of the day so mom can have “quiet time,” never letting a child ride a bike for fear of injury, not letting children talk at all, etc). So, again, let’s use some reasoning here and keep things in check with balance.
3. Consider Parenting Children As Preparation for Adulthood – Years ago I remember reading somewhere that freedoms and responsibilities (because the two go hand-in-hand) for children should look like an upside down triangle, starting with very little freedoms and few responsibilities and gradually expanding to more and greater freedoms and responsibilities as the child grows, matures, reaches greater thinking development, and approaches adulthood. With this model of parenting, the child starts out much more under the wing of the parent, but gradually grows in confidence and ability into adulthood, hopefully allowing for a seamless transition to the demands of the real world.
In this context, the parent should see themselves as a guide and manager of the child in preparing them for adulthood. This is not to be confused with expecting a small child to be a little adult; this should never be the goal or purpose. Children are children; that will not change, but it is our job as parents to help children begin to learn to think in a different, more mature way so that when they reach adulthood they are no longer responding as immature children (there is nothing more disturbing than a grown adult reacting like a child over an emotional upset, no matter how insignificant). This process takes YEARS, which is GREAT since that is exactly what we have with them!
4. Study Up to Gain a General Understanding of Age-Appropriate Expectations (and then take them with a grain of salt) – It is valuable to have a general understanding of what small children actually are potentially capable of doing at various ages, but it is also important too that those guidelines be taken with a grain of salt and really tune into your own child and their strengths and weaknesses. It is so important for us to remember our intrinsic value as parents. There is no one else in this whole world who knows our children as well as we do, so the intimate knowledge that we have should always trump any guide given by a detached, external source.
If the guideline says that a two-year old should be able to bring their plate to the dishwasher, but your child is already asking to help hand wash the dishes, then go a step ahead and accommodate your child. If the guideline says that a four-year old should be able to sweep, and your child can sweep, but does it messy, remember that these are things that takes years to actually master and do well.
When there are weaknesses present, it does not mean that the child is not ready for the task, but it does mean that the child will need more patience from you, the parent, more grace with the expectations, and a set standard for what you want the child to grow to be able to do. I am not a fan of lowering the standards because a child is still young. I am a firm believer in teaching the standard (e.g. “There are still crumbs left over here on the floor. Please, come back and clean them up, sweetie”), but keeping expectations appropriate. Having a standard does not have to mean having an expectation, unless you make it that way, which I would not recommend.
5. Learn to Parent Responsively– Often in today’s culture, what we see on tv, in movies, and in the news, are emotionally unstable parents, who respond with outbursts of emotion rather than calculated and calm intention. Some people may struggle with this more than others, especially if they came from an emotionally tumultuous upbringing themselves. Unlearning this reactive style of parenting, and learning a more responsive style is not easy, but it is important.
When a parent is responding to a situation, the emotions should not be expressed reactively, but rather addressed verbally. Learning to use words to express feelings allows for a flow of communication that is mutually respectful, and should be encouraged and shared by both the parent and the child. For this reason, a parent must be willing to “eat crow” (i.e. be humble) because children ought to be allowed to freely express how something or someone’s behaviors affected them. Let’s face it, no parent is perfect, so we must have a humble heart to be able to realize that our children should have the freedom to express hurt, disappointment, or sadness because of something we have done.
We may or may not agree that there was fault in a choice we made (such as saying “no” to a child’s request and them getting upset by the choice), but the open line of communication allows for continued discussion over the topic and provides an opportunity for further dialogue and expressions of love, protection, and support. This is especially important during times of heightened parental involvement, such as times where discipline is needed, or an in-depth discussion on personal matters (e.g. the “sex” talk, puberty, emotional reactions to the opposite sex, etc).
As a parent, it is very critical to learn to keep emotions stable and not explosive. This not only helps to protect our actions, but also sets the stage to keep our children’s hearts. Responsive parenting puts the mind in charge, rather than the emotions, and keeps communication open and beneficial.