“Remember in the end, it’s with YOU you have to live.” -Unknown
My summer reading list has included two great parenting books. The first is called “SCREAM FREE PARENTING”, and the second is called “HOW TO TALK SO KIDS WILL LISTEN AND LISTEN SO KIDS WILL TALK”. I’ve read about a dozen parenting books in the last few years and frankly consider them required reading for anyone looking to improve themselves and their relationships with their children. Each one offers a different style and can serve as manuals to help each of us navigate the ever-changing landscape of parenthood. When I was a child, I found myself surrounded primarily by two schools of thought. I would describe them as “Loosey Goosey Parenting” (think Ring Dings for snack, unkempt beds, and endless sessions of Atari) and “My Way Or The Highway Parenting” (think standing against the wall to improve your posture, lots of “don’t you dare talk back to me”, and hours of reading to be able to watch one lousy show on PBS).
Undoubtedly, I was a product of the latter. Children were to be respectful and take orders without questioning authority. Poor behavior led to spanking and being “fresh” one too many times meant having your mouth washed out with soap. Open, honest discussion about how we could work better together were few and far between. I had it drilled into me from a very young age that parents knew best. Don’t get me wrong: I grew up very loved and taken care of, and for many of us raised in the 1970’s, this was how we were parented. I don’t fault my own parents, and do believe they did the best they could.
As I’ve grown older, I realize more and more that authoritative parenting did very little to benefit me as a child. Too often as a parent I’ve taken the easy way out by shouting that someone go to their room or threatening to take something away that has absolutely nothing to do with the negative behavior that just took place. My worst days are when I’ve yelled at my children in front of other people or have berated them in front of their siblings. I consider this one of my ultimate downfalls as a mother. I take full responsibility for the fact that any sort of screaming is actually having the reverse intention of serving as a model to my children as to what is in fact acceptable behavior. I am by no means a perfect parent, but I take the job seriously, and with that comes continued education. If you were a teacher, a doctor, or a lawyer, you would be expected to keep yourself abreast of new trends and practices to improve your trade. Why should parenthood be any different?
In “HOW TO TALK SO KIDS WILL LISTEN AND LISTEN SO KIDS WILL TALK,” there is a passage that I’ve already read three times. I know I will re-visit it often, and I wanted to share it here:
THE HARDEST PART IS THE SHIFT WE HAVE TO MAKE IN ATTITUDE. WE HAVE TO STOP THINKING OF THE CHILD AS A “PROBLEM” THAT NEEDS CORRECTION. WE HAVE TO GIVE UP THE IDEA THAT BECAUSE WE’RE ADULTS WE ALWAYS HAVE THE RIGHT ANSWER. WE HAVE TO STOP WORRYING THAT IF WE ‘RE NOT “TOUGH ENOUGH” THE CHILD WILL TAKE ADVANTAGE OF US.
IT REQUIRES A GREAT ACT OF FAITH TO BELIEVE THAT IF WE TAKE THE TIME TO SIT DOWN AND SHARE OUR REAL FEELINGS WITH A YOUNG PERSON, AND LISTEN TO HIS FEELINGS, TOGETHER WE’LL COME UP WITH SOLUTIONS THAT WILL BE RIGHT FOR BOTH OF US.
THERE IS AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE BUILT INTO THIS APPROACH. IT SAYS, “WHEN THERE IS CONFLICT BETWEEN US, WE NO LONGER HAVE TO MOBILIZE OUR FORCES AGAINST EACH OTHER AND WORRY ABOUT WHO WILL EMERGE VICTORIOUS AND WHO WILL GO DOWN IN DEFEAT. INSTEAD, WE CAN PUT OUR ENERGY INTO SEARCHING FOR THE KINDS OF SOLUTIONS THAT RESPECT BOTH OUR NEEDS AS INDIVIDUALS.” WE ARE TEACHING OUR CHILDREN THAT THEY NEEDN’T BE OUR VICTIMS OR OUR ENEMIES. WE ARE GIVING THEM THE TOOLS THAT WILL ENABLE THEM TO BE ACTIVE PARTICIPANTS IN SOLVING PROBLEMS THAT CONFRONT THEM- NOW, WHILE THEY’RE AT HOME, AND IN THE DIFFICULT COMPLEX WORLD THAT AWAITS THEM.”
I think each of us has to find what works for us, while hopefully not losing sight of the fact that we want to look back and feel like we truly did our best as a parent, however we define that individually. I, like all of us, am a work in progress. I try, I fumble, I fail. Some days feel like the breeze is at my back, while other days I feel like I’m a punching bag which is being beaten to shreds. The key is getting back up, dusting myself off, and having the faith to go on. If you’re feeling like you need support, give a good parenting book a try. You never know what you might learn!