When the latest and greatest in parenting advice just doesn’t sit well…

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So much advice floats around in cyberspace.

We parents can spend much of our days living in uncertainty about this child-raising, and so we welcome any and all advice, but after browsing through these plentiful articles, I can only hear the words of Alfie Kohn, a prominent author and lecturer, when he says, “More than a hundred parenting books are published in the United States every year, along with countless articles in parenting magazines, and most of them are filled with advice about how to get children to comply with our expectations, how to make them behave, how to train them as though they were pets. Many such guides also offer a pep talk about the need to stand up to kids and assert our power—in some cases explicitly writing off any misgivings we may have about doing so” (Unconditional Parenting, 4).

I used to be the parent who read every book published and took notes on all those article-tips because I used to be a parent who wanted my children to always, no-questions-asked, no-arguing-allowed behave and obey and comply, too.

But in the last year, I have begun to understand the beauty and wonder of emotionally intelligent parenting, of engaging in mutual relationship with my children (important note: this is most definitely not a “friends” relationship but more of a mentor/mentee relationship), of honoring the ideas and opinions of children because they matter, even if the whole world thinks they don’t.

I have seen the miracles of it.

Maybe giving generously and mindfully and intentionally when it comes to our children looks like breaking them free from the hold of society’s expectations (“This is what many people in our society seem to want most from children: not that they are caring or creative or curious, but simply that they are well behaved. A ‘good’ child—from infancy to adolescence—is one who isn’t too much trouble for us grown-ups” (Alfie Kohn, Unconditional Parenting, 2)) and raising children who know what it’s like to feel and dream and listen and overcome and most of all love.

This is what parenting from a relationship does.

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One recent article began with the author saying, “When your kids tell you you’re mean, take it as a compliment.”

I believe words are important, so I need to clarify this. Kids will say you’re mean. My 7-year-old says it at least five thousand times a day. Kids will feel like they hate you and that there is nothing else they can do with all that pent-up emotion but to let it out in hate words because emotion can be hard to control when you don’t really know what to do with it. But if we only take those words as a compliment, we miss the mysterious beauty of that big-emotion moment.

We miss hearing a child’s heart and teaching a better way.

When our children call us the meanest parents in the world, when they say they want a new family, when they tell us they’re going to run away in the night while we’re sleeping, those words open an opportunity to listen to the hearts of our children; to practice empathy in our parenting so we understand a heart that is, this moment, hurting enough to wish for a new mom or dad; to engage and accept and educate about that anger and sadness and frustration instead of ignoring those negative emotions.

Children don’t live in relationship with people they think are mean, not by choice. They do live in relationship with people who love them and understand them and honor them, and this does not mean we give in or erase all those boundaries we’ve drawn around the non-negotiables, but it does mean that when our children run into those boundaries or crash against those places where we’re unwilling to give in, that we engage in conversation and listen to their side and seek to understand how they feel.

Our children deserve better than “because I said so.” They deserve parents who bend to their level to identify with and teach about all those confusing feelings, parents who explain the reasons why so they know and feel the love behind those reasons, parents who then empathize for the disappointment of a child who does not always get his way.

“When children feel understood, their loneliness and hurt diminish,” writes Dr. Haim Ginott (Between Parent and Child, 8. This book was first published in 1965, so this is nothing new.). “When children are understood, their love for the parent is deepened. A parent’s sympathy serves as emotional first aid for bruised feelings. When we genuinely acknowledge a child’s plight and voice her disappointment, she often gathers the strength to face her reality.”

Sometimes all it takes is to feel we’ve been heard, and this is true for the children, too.

An article-author said, “This rising generation has been called the laziest, rudest, most entitled kids in history,” and I just have to say here that it grieves my heart that we have already labeled an entire “rising” generation so prematurely, before we have even given them a chance to come into their own selves.

(And, who does this labeling anyway? I know I didn’t…)

How about we just get rid of that ugly word, “entitled” for…maybe the rest of our century? (My generation, too, has been called entitled. (Side note: about 80 percent of us grew up in control-based homes. Weird, I know.) Read my response here.)

So, in an effort to embrace the whole picture of parenting, I have compiled my own list of ways I believe we, as parents, can begin to live in relationship with our children, offering them the honor and respect and dignity all children (and all people) deserve.

(If we disagree, that’s OK. You know your child better than I do, and you know what works for your family. Sometimes we can get caught up in the so-mysterious makes-me-feel-inadequate nature of parenting and forget that we know more than we think. Trust your intuition. And if it doesn’t feel right to “do it the way it’s always been done because we turned out just fine,” then, please, trust that intuition, too, and be open to hearing another way.)

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1. Consult your children.

One parenting article recommends making your children go to bed at a reasonable time. I agree. My kids are in bed after baths and Story Time and Silent Reading and Prayer time, between 8:30 and 8:45 every evening (depending on which mishaps we encounter along the way). But this was not just a parent decision. We have consulted our children on the bedtime routine and periodically revisit it during our weekly Family Council meetings every now and then. (If you are wondering what any of the above mentioned activities are in my family, click here.)

Consulting children, though young and still in need of guidance, on these everyday issues helps them learn to make decisions and negotiate and compromise, and it also gives them greater ownership in keeping to the schedule they helped make.

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(Note: I am NOT saying that if kids say they should go to bed at a time with which we are uncomfortable we cannot suggest and enforce another time. We are, after all, still the parent. But we should always explain our decisions and the reasons behind them (see #5 below). A little consultation and explanation goes a LONG way.)

Kohn writes, “Our default position ought to be to let kids make decisions about matters that concern them except when there is a compelling reason for us to override that right. We should be prepared to justify why, in each case, kids shouldn’t be allowed to choose” (Unconditional Parenting, 168).

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2. Don’t be afraid to compromise.

While many parents believe that compromising with our children means they will expect it every time or they’ll learn they can just walk all over us or they’ll discount what boundaries we do set up as immovable, this is simply not true.

“ ‘Give ‘em an inch, they’ll take a mile’ turns out to be true primarily of children who have only been given inches in their lives,” (Kohn, Unconditional Parenting, 174). “In short, with each of the thousand-and-one problems that present themselves in family life, our choice is between controlling and teaching, between creating an atmosphere of distrust and one of trust, between setting an example of power and helping children to learn responsibility, between quick-fix parenting and the kind that is focused on long-term goals.”

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3. Give kids the freedom to make their own decisions.

As much as we’d like to believe that we can teach our children how to make the right decisions by demanding that they obey our already-made decisions, this is not the case.

“The way kids learn to make good decisions is by making decisions, not by following directions,” (Kohn, Unconditional Parenting, 169-170). “It makes sense to raise (children) with respect, to offer then unconditional support and to give them choices on a regular basis. That foundation allows them to evaluate the controlling people and institutions they’ll eventually face by applying the higher standard they encountered while growing up. It also means they’ll be more likely to work for positive changes in our society rather than just accepting power-based arrangements as they are—or believing those arrangements are inevitable.”

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4. Let your kids argue with you.

Allowing our kids to present their point of view not only gives them practice in forming their own opinions but also communicates to them that we honor and value those opinions, that their voice is important enough to be heard in a world of “more important” adult voices.

“What counts is that kids know their needs matter to us and that we’re willing to take their ideas seriously,” Kohn writes (Unconditional Parenting, 175). “Data shows that children are more likely to control themselves if their parents are willing to negotiate and are open to changing their minds in response to children’s arguments.”

“(Children) will feel less need to challenge every decision when they’re confident that it’s possible for them to object,” he adds.

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5. Don’t discount the importance of explaining the reasons behind your decisions.

Whether it’s asking for treats every day (One article says we should not give our kids dessert every day, and I wholeheartedly agree. My kids get dessert maybe once or twice a week. We are also a family that does not eat processed foods, which means our desserts are not quite as sugary as traditional desserts.) or asking for TV privileges or to play video games, we must explain to our children why we make boundaries—because love stands behind those boundaries.

Even our 3-year-old and 4-year-old can tell you why we don’t eat processed foods (because food is energy and processed food is not real food, and real food fills our bodies with the energy it needs to walk and run and jump, is what they would say).

After a recent birthday party, my 7-year-old had a tummy ache, and he said, “I think it’s because I had too many treats. Treats make me feel bad.” He knows they make him feel bad and he also knows his parents don’t let him often eat them. In his mind, that means his parents don’t want him to feel bad. This is love.

(Note: Kids understand a whole lot more than we give them credit for. They always deserve a reason for what we do, and if we can’t provide one, maybe we should evaluate whether it’s a hill we want to die on—because there can be too many hills, and then we just die on them all.)

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6. Feel with your children.

This is the meaning of empathy. One author says we should let our children feel loss. “If your child breaks a toy, don’t replace it. He’ll learn a valuable lesson about taking care of his stuff. If your child forgets to turn in homework, let him take the lower grade or make him work out extra credit with his teacher himself.”

I would add to this that we must mourn the loss of that toy with them. We must tell them that we understand how disappointing it feels to have that low grade because of something we forgot—because once, when we were a student, we aced a pop quiz but forgot to put our name on the paper and so didn’t even get credit for it.

Sometimes, we just want to know we’re not alone.

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7. Make them do hard things, but be on hand to help.

One author says, “Don’t automatically step in and take over when things get hard.” I agree. But it is all in the way we frame it to our children.

If we say, “You need to do this yourself,” we are the people who could help but won’t. If we say, “You need to do this yourself because it’s good for you to discover that you can do more than you think. I believe you can do it, and I want you to believe you can, too, but I am here to help if you try and you still have trouble,” then we are the people who care and believe and will help when absolutely needed.

Realizing limitations and asking for help is an important skill for adults to have, too. Our children won’t learn it if they’re only told to fend for themselves in the hard places.

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8. Pull some strings if you really need to.

“Don’t pull strings…if you don’t like your child’s teacher, science partner, position on the soccer field or placement on the bus stop, avoid the temptation to make a stink or pull strings until he gets his preference,” one author said.

It’s true that less-than-ideal circumstances surround adults on a daily basis, but I would add that we must be on stand-by for our children when the time is right (and we’ll know when it is). We must help our kids figure out their own solutions to their problems, not so we can solve them all for them, but so we can help them learn how to brainstorm. If we pat them on the back with that, “Tough break, kid, Figure it out,” how will they ever learn?

Self-imposed guilt over one such “don’t pull strings” sentiment kept me from doing it last year, when my son started kindergarten. If you don’t yet have kids who have started school, let me be the first to tell you: Sometimes our children are placed with teachers whose personalities do not click with our children. My oldest son had one such kindergarten teacher, and I felt it in my gut the first time I met her. But I did nothing.

This year, his first grade year, he has a fantastic teacher who understands his brilliance and doesn’t try to tame that doesn’t-think-like-anyone-else brain. At a recent parent-teacher conference, his current teacher told me that his kindergarten teacher had put him on the list for the district’s behavior intervention program (He didn’t talk back or say disrespectful things or hurt other people. He just asked too many questions about the way things were done, according to the write-up. At home, this questioning usually consists of his saying, “Why do we have to do it that way? Why can’t we do it this way?” which usually results in our saying, “Oh. Yeah. It probably would work better that way, wouldn’t it?” Children often have a much simpler way of seeing things than we do. My husband and I don’t want to miss these amazing contributions.), but she, the first grade teacher, took him off the list because she saw absolutely no need for it.

If I could live the whole last year of his life over again, I would have asked for a teacher change because my gut said so.

Don’t be afraid to pull strings when it matters.

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9. Don’t expect your children to behave all the time.

I believe this is an unnecessary expectation we parents like to place on our children. Kids do not always have the capabilities we think they should have. Many times, what we parents expect them to do in the way of behavior is way beyond what they are physically and mentally and emotionally capable of doing and understanding. We just don’t realize it.

If all we demand is obedience, our children lose pieces of themselves.

“Amazingly well behaved children do what their parents want them to do, and become what their parents want them to become, but often at a price of losing a sense of themselves,” writes Kohn (Unconditional Parenting, 6, 7). “If we place a premium on obedience in the home, we may end up producing kids who go along with what they’re told to do by people outside the home, too.”

To the parents of teenagers who complain “He was such a good kid, so well behaved, so well mannered, so well dressed. Now look at him,” author Barbara Coloros says, “From the time he was young, he dressed the way you told him to dress; he acted the way you told him to act; he said the things you told him to say. He’s been listening to somebody else tell him what to do…he hasn’t changed. He is still listening to somebody else tell him what to do. The problem is, it isn’t you anymore; it’s his peers.”

Again, this does not mean we don’t establish boundaries and we don’t have moral principles. Kohn says, “We need to establish clear moral guidelines, to be explicit about what we expect, but in a way that minimizes coercion. Yes, there has to be some force behind what we say to them…but it’s important that force itself doesn’t become the message. If it does, we create a climate of fear that gets in the way of learning. If we lead kids to worry that doing bad things will result in the withdrawal of our love, all we buy is temporary compliance without understanding or intrinsic motivation” (195).

An adult who behaves honorably and respectfully and lovingly because he believes it’s right, not because someone tells him it is, is worth a whole childhood of misbehavior, if that’s what it takes to teach him the right way.

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10. You can’t make your child do anything.

As much as we’d like to believe we can, we can’t.

If we threaten, we only teach them to threaten others to get their way. If we coerce, we only teach them to coerce others to get their way. If we withhold love we only teach it is perfectly acceptable to withhold love from others who do not give them their way.

One author suggests making your child apologize, and I used to be the mom who did. Until I realized I was making my children lie.

It’s hard to feel sorry for something we did when we are living in the heat of emotion. We know this as adults. When I am arguing with my husband and I feel out-of-control angry and words slip out that I really don’t mean, I cannot, truthfully, apologize for my rash reaction because I still feel angry.

Neither can our children.

Often, it is not until the end of the day, after a gentle reminder from a parent, that my children are ready to apologize—and mean it—for their not-so-great choices.

And they absolutely learn from us. If we are not willing to apologize for our mistakes, neither will they be.

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11. Even children deserve honor and respect, especially from their parents.

Our children will not learn the way of honor and respect (one author calls it manners) if we do not relate to them with the same honor and respect.

“Love is the whole and more than all” (e.e. cummings). Honor and respect stem from love.

We all deserve to be treated with love and honor and respect, including the children. Period.

12. Teach them to serve.

This is both a conversation we need to have (explaining the why) and an example we need to set. If we are not willing to mow the yard of the widow next door, neither will our 13-year-old be.

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13. Listen to what your child’s emotions are telling you.

One author says, “While parents don’t ever want to hear it, there is a time to tell a kid to stop the waterworks when they don’t get their way or they get their feelings hurt. Remember that old, ‘You want to cry? I will give you something to cry about!’ line from our parents and grandparents? Well, it really wasn’t such a bad line.”

I disagree. Our children’s emotions are important, and if we, their parents, discount those emotions, they begin to discount them, too, wondering if they should be sad about this or if they should really feel angry about that.

Children don’t keep crying because they think it might get them their way. They keep crying because no one has sought to understand why they’re crying and empathize with the grief there in a little heart (empathy does not mean giving in so they stop crying but understanding a broken heart). We would never, ever tell another adult, “You want to cry? I will give you something to cry about!” Neither should we tell the children.

Why? See the last two sentences of # 11.

“Strong feelings do not vanish by being banished; but they do diminish in intensity and lose their sharp edges when the listener accepts them with sympathy and understanding” says Ginott (Between Parent and Child, 17).

Ginott also says, “It is a deep comfort to children to discover that their feelings are a normal part of the human experience” (21) and “At times of strong emotion there is nothing as comforting and helpful as a person who listens and understands. What is true for adults is also true for children. Caring communication replaces criticism, lecturing and advice with the healing balm of human understanding” (29).

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14. Parenting is not a job.

Many parents say it is, but I think what we have here is a semantics problem. Parenting is not a job, it’s an honor, a responsibility, a gift. It is not a job that names us boss so we can demand obedience and compliance and no-arguing submission. It is a mutual relationship where we serve one another in love and teach by example how to love and honor and respect.

“Behind all these skills of caring communication is a deep respect for children” writes Ginott (Between Parent and Child, 57).

“The critical question is what kind of people we want our children to be—and that includes whether we want them to be the kind who accept things as they are or the kind who try to make things better,” writes Kohn (Unconditional Parenting, 8).

One author ends her article with this: “With a little luck, your kids can turn the tide and make their generation one known for its hope and promise.”

Maybe I’m an idealist, but I’d like to believe that my children’s generation is already known for its hope and promise.

Our children become what we say and who we are. Let us speak life into them and live truth in front of them. They are tomorrow’s hope and promise.

To learn more about emotionally intelligent parenting, check out these books:
Between Parent and Child, Haim Ginott
Unconditional Parenting, Alfie Kohn
The Heart of Parenting, John Gottman
How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk, Adele Faber
Parent Talk, Chick Moorman
Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, Laura Markham

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16 thoughts on “When the latest and greatest in parenting advice just doesn’t sit well…

    Kelly Muir said:
    January 4, 2014 at 11:07 am

    Thank you so much for the blog credit and repost. We all have our method of parenting. Everyone has their own approach but, overall, Consistency and love are key. I will have to give my grown children a shout out this morning and let them know that my parenting style was compared to training pets. They will find that to be quite funny. I do wish you the best of luck on your parenting journey! Now, I am going to have go read the other article your referenced. It sounds like a good one…

      racheltoalson responded:
      January 5, 2014 at 5:53 pm

      Thanks for your response, Kelly. And thanks for reading my alternative point of view. I appreciate your taking the time to read with an open mind!

    Julie said:
    January 5, 2014 at 10:09 am

    Hi Rachel,
    I saw your comments and found your blog on Kelly Muir’s honey badger post. Thanks for posting your views and blog. I am more in line with you and have read a few of the books above, although I could stand a rereading. I will read more of your post and blog, but specifically we have a problem with our five year old being disrespectful. Loud in church,snatch from sister, hits us when mad… We’ve gone over what’s acceptable and not, rules and coping with anger, empathy, kindness, but sometimes he continues and we don’t know what to do, what happens then. That’s what I can’t find.Time outs (quiet calm down time) doesn’t work or feel right to me. Plus getting him to go or stay anywhere is impossible. We sometimes physically remove him and hold him, but restraining him like this just makes him madder and me not feel good about what I’m doing, but if I let go he’ll run back and start hitting or whatever the unacceptable behavior is again. I feel like I’m missing something, somewhere. Ideas?

      racheltoalson responded:
      January 5, 2014 at 6:40 pm

      Hi, Julie! Thank you so much for reading my post. Sometimes I don’t think we parents give ourselves enough credit…we feel so clueless about the raising of our children, but something I have come to learn is that I can trust that feeling in my gut. I know when something sits well and when something doesn’t sit well. We should trust that more as parents, instead of letting other people dictate how we feel about how we’re parenting. I never intended anyone to feel inadequate about their parenting, because I don’t think that’s the way to approach anything, but I did want to present an alternative point of view and what I thought was a more complete picture. In the last year, I have come to know and understand the beauty of emotionally intelligent parenting, and it has not only changed my children and my family but it has most of all changed me. It is hard, hard, hard most days because I have a lot of children, but it is ALWAYS worth it.

      As for what to do with your son, I do not know him personally so cannot presume to know what would work best. But I can tell you that I have a 7-year-old who is a very strong-willed child (just like I was as a child), and the challenge, all along, has been to mold that will in the right direction and not completely crush it. A strong will will serve him well when he’s an adult, but it is NOT easy in a child. One thing we do in our family that is atypical (at least I think it is) is we engage, every week, in a Family Council meeting around our dinner table. We ask three questions: “What did we do well, as a family, this week? What did we not do so well this week? What are we (personally) going to do about improving the family experience next week?” What this has done is open a conversation in which we can discuss things like what we need to do to get somewhere on time, whether school or some other engagement (this has been a struggle with our oldest) and whether or not they’ve played well together (most weeks, we’re discussing how we can play more nicely together, and we are seeing improvements every single week). The last question helps the kids come up with their own solutions for problems. For example, my 7-year-old, who shares a room with two other brothers, has decided he’ll sleep in our library on school mornings so he’s not distracted by his brothers and can get ready on time. We saw nothing wrong with that solutions, and he’s been doing it for three weeks. Sometimes kids just want a little bit of control over something, and this is what asking them to come up with their own solutions can do. Many of the ideas on my “definitions” page have come from my children, and they’re brilliant ideas.

      The anger/hitting is another issue completely. We will always restrain the offender, particularly if he seems bent on continuing the behavior, and then we say, “We touch each other gently.” Our 7-year-old has very little problems with this, and only with the brother who is closest in age to him (boys just fight. It’s incredibly hard to understand from a mom’s perspective!). Our 4-year-old is going through a hitting stage, though. Developmentally, this is normal, but still not acceptable. We always filter everything through our family value. “Love is the whole and more than all.” We remind our children of this. Hitting is not an action made in love. As for what to do about it, I would give him a choice. “You may continue playing without hitting or you may go sit on the couch and read for a while.” This leaves no room for any hitting but also gives a choice that is acceptable either way. We just had to do this with our 7-year-old last night. He gets to take a bath by himself, while all his brothers heap in a bath together (it’s a wild and crazy time!). But the other night, he went over his allotted time. The choice has always been, “You can take a bath by yourself and do it in 15 minutes, or you can take a bath with your brothers.” (We have previously had the discussion why 15 minutes is the maximum time he can spend in a bath–because that’s all the time we have to give if he’s going to get the proper amount of sleep.) He didn’t make it. So last night, he had to take a bath with his brothers. He argued about it last night, too, begging for one more chance, and my husband gave him a choice. “You can take a bath with your brothers tonight or you can choose not to have a bath and take a bath with them for the entire next week.” He chose one bath with his brothers. :)

      Many kids are also very perceptive in knowing where parents come from. My children can always tell when I’m parenting out of desperation or when I’m parenting out of a teaching place. Sadly, it’s hard to parent from a teaching place in public because of all the eyes. When we go to church, my son takes art pads and drawing stuff with him, and he’s good most of the service. We are worship leaders at our church, and so he has to spend more than an hour and a half, collectively (for two services) unattended. We’ve been doing this for three weeks so far, and he is slowly getting better. But really, 90 minutes of sitting still and quietly is a LOT to ask of any child. So we practice grace when there’s not a good day because we all have our bad days.

      Lastly (I know this is turning into a blog post itself!) I wanted to encourage you with a few other of my writings you may not have had a chance to see. You are not alone! Don’t give up! (Below is a lot of reading, but I’ve written a lot about my strong-willed child. Sounds like you might have one on your hands, too.) I hope this helps!
      http://racheltoalson.wordpress.com/2013/12/04/how-to-honor-a-nagging-big-emotion-child/
      http://racheltoalson.wordpress.com/2013/08/30/the-children-who-show-us-the-way/
      http://racheltoalson.wordpress.com/2013/10/28/how-to-raise-the-best-children/
      http://racheltoalson.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/dear-mama-and-daddy/?relatedposts_exclude=2293
      http://racheltoalson.wordpress.com/2013/12/30/when-you-just-want-a-do-over-this-parenting-day/

    Dewain said:
    January 9, 2014 at 7:51 pm

    I understand the need for love. But sadly love in todays world means an endless tolerance for insubordination and verbal abuse. You hate the word entitled yet in our schools student have said, “By just being in your class I should get an A, I don’t have to do any work!” Or a dozen other versions of those sentiments. Sounds very much like entitlement to me.

    I’m sure you must have worked in probably a series of jobs outside your home. Did you question everything that was asked of you by your boss or supervisor? Did they have to explain in detail why you had to file that report, meet that client, or serve that burger?

    Why should children be endlessly allowed to question everything that they are asked to do? We should absolutely love our children, but we are the parent, A role ill suited for a five year old.

    Discipline does not equal abuse! Obedience to family rules is not a Nazi way of child rearing! And because the sun rises and sets on your brilliant, talented and extremely rare and gifted child, lots of parents think the same thing about their own children. Which is how we should all feel, while raising children that contribute meaningfully to their school, neighborhood and community.

      racheltoalson responded:
      January 10, 2014 at 8:23 am

      Thank you for your point of view, Dewain. This is why I say we all have our own way. My way is not the way of “endless tolerance for insubordination and verbal abuse.” The problem I see most of the time is that people assume that because we who choose this way are parenting from a place of empathy and compassion and not control, that means no boundaries are in place in that home and that the parents are not really stepping into their role as parents. I assure you, this is not the case with most parents who choose this way. My home has rules (in fact, we are in the middle of crafting a Family Play Book–parents and children, together), but the children have been included in the discussion on rules. My home has a schedule, a bed time, an expectation for school mornings; the children were included in that (allowed to make suggestions). If rules are broken or schedules are not followed, there are natural consequences (these consequences have been discussed beforehand). And, later, when the emotion has passed, there is teaching. Always. This takes a ton of time, but I believe it’s important for my children to learn and realize the importance of rules and schedules and expectations so the motivation to follow comes from within, not from without.

      I feel people make great generalizations when it comes to children. Not all children, when they get into a class, believe they deserve an A (not even a majority of the children I know–and I know a lot who are parenting this way). My children certainly don’t. And that’s because in the middle of all that empathy and compassion, we are teaching. We are teaching that the world is hard, that they we must work hard to navigate it and not expect favors, that we must, most of all, love and honor all people. We parent from a place of teaching because it’s important for us that our children become who they already are instead of who we want them to be.

      Actually, I have only ever worked in journalism (or for myself), and, thankfully, it’s a profession where questions are welcomed. Most creative jobs are like that.

      The children who know they are allowed to question, and that their questions and suggestions will be listened to and valued, are actually, usually, not the children who will question endlessly. I know it’s ironic, but that’s what research has shown. Usually the children who question endlessly are the ones who are allowed no control over their lives, no choices to make themselves (or not many) and absolutely no opportunity to question anything. (This is one of the most valuable takeaways from Dr. Haim Ginott’s book. Ginott was a child psychologist who studied children for decades.)

      Children become just like us (scary thought, but it’s true). That usually (not always) means that the ones who speak disrespectfully and who cut corners and who bully have parents who do the same. It’s not because the parents are permissive or engage in emotionally intelligent parenting, which is what parents who don’t understand this way assume. My son asked a few weeks ago if he could take a trash bag to school so he could pick up trash on the playground during his recess. Why? Because his daddy and I sometimes carry a trash bag to school or on walks to the park or nature walks so we can beautify nature.

      Lastly, I’d like to ask you a question. Do you believe you deserve anything? A paycheck? A nice car? A good child? We are all entitled.

    BA said:
    January 10, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    Your definition of entitlement seems to be different than the one I use. I/we all deserve the fruits of our labors. I deserve that paycheck because I completed the tasks assigned and helped whatever entity I work for grow and succeed.

    I deserve that nice car because I worked to have the financial resources to provide that for myself. I have a much better chance of a “good” child if my efforts and goals are in line with having a “good” child.

    Entitlement is the belief that rewards, in whatever form they take, should be mine because I exist, or because of my last name, or zip code, without the hard work and discipline that usually accompanies those rewards. Now of course we live in an imperfect world and the ill qualified and undeserving reap where they have not sown, but as someone once said, “The harder I work, the luckier I am.”

    Good luck with your life and children. I still heartily believe that love with doses of discipline and high expectations allow children to grow and thrive.

    This is not meant to be negative, but I’ll be truly interested in your conclusions in twenty years when your children are grown and your posts will be full of your own experiences and not the quotes of others.

      racheltoalson responded:
      January 10, 2014 at 4:35 pm

      Thank you for your response, BA. I suppose that in 20 years I will look back and see the effect this parenting has had on my children, the same way that when I look back on the last six years, I can see that our original approach to parenting (a more conventional approach) was not working (for us). This is exactly why I defer to experts who have lived with their research and data for 20 years or more (because I am not an expert), and why, based on their findings, I’m willing to try a different way, and I’m willing to challenge the blind acceptance of convention vs. asking real questions about each of our unique situations and what sort of “parenting technique” feels right to us and is not just something someone told us to do. The conventional way didn’t feel right to us. This one does, and I trust that intuition, and I hope my trusting, going-against-convention will help other parents trust their own intuition. I have seen the miracles this way of parenting has wrought in my children and the miracles it has wrought in me, just in one year of practice. My children may be young, but we have already learned valuable lessons about how empathy and compassion lead a child to obey because his heart says to, not because his mom and dad say to.

      As for the entitlement, I appreciate your words. It helped me create a stronger distinction between the word entitlement and the phrase “false sense of entitlement,” which is what’s being thrown around in the parenting community. However, maybe we should all ask ourselves these questions: Is it OK for me to expect a fair wage for my efforts when more than half the world is working just as hard, if not harder, and not earning a fair wage for it? Is it OK for me to expect to have a nice car, or maybe two or three, when many of my brothers and sisters don’t have enough food to eat? Is it OK for me to expect a nice house when my brothers and sisters and even my children are sleeping in cardboard boxes and on streets? That’s where my definition of entitlement comes from. Because I do feel I deserve a nice house, because I’ve worked hard for my wages, but this does not change the fact that I have brothers and sisters all over the world and in my city dying of hunger and preventable diseases. But I digress. That’s a whole other blog post, an issue my family will be exploring in the coming months.

      Entitlement is such a dirty word that when someone uses it in a blog, or in a conversation, as a you-shouldn’t-parent-this-way-or-your-children-might-become-entitled, I feel like that advice is harmful. It’s a fear-based tactic. “If you don’t want your kids to have this undesirable trait, don’t do it this way, or at least make sure you do it my way.” It’s a premature label we’re placing on a generation before that generation has even had a chance to show us otherwise, a generation whose families and parenting styles haven’t even been proven to produce entitled children.

      Thank you for your well wishes for the future. I still believe that all children deserve to be honored and respected, with appropriate amounts of control over their own lives.

    Becky said:
    January 10, 2014 at 8:03 pm

    RT – you’re awesome. If only those who question what you write about knew you, observed you and even attempted to understand you, then they would never question the things you write of. You inspire, you challenge us to be better parents then we think we already are. As a Child of God, you chase Him with every breath you breathe, every word you write and every song you sing. I know how your children will grow up – they will be God loving, God chasing, creative and unique children who will do nothing short of seeking Him in their every path. 143

      racheltoalson responded:
      January 10, 2014 at 11:22 pm

      Thank you for speaking life, Becky. You cannot know how much your words mean. And, yes, that was Camp Eagle. Beautiful, beautiful place! 143!

    Becky said:
    January 10, 2014 at 8:04 pm

    Oh, and I’m pretty sure = these pics were from a place I truly love – Camp Eagle?????

    jen said:
    January 11, 2014 at 12:38 am

    You are such a caring mom! Your children are blessed to have you! Parenting books stress me out. :) however, I am a teacher and my favorite classroom management book was teaching with love and logic. Their parenting with love and logic book is outstanding and based on this post I think you would enjoy it, too. I think what you said here is so important, if we threaten our kids that’s how they learn to treat others. I have to work on it every day! It’s big work, this parenting. :)

      racheltoalson responded:
      January 11, 2014 at 8:45 am

      Thank you so much for the book recommendation, Jen. I read between 120 and 150 books every year because I’m a weird introverted autodidact (my daily overstimulation cycle with five young boys is out the roof. My poor husband), so I will definitely put it on my list. Parenting books or articles that say “You have to do it this way or else” annoy me. There’s not one right way to parent. I just want to get people thinking about how we see our children. What lens are we looking through?

      Parenting is a big work. And empathic parenting is very hard work. There are many days I fail. But my children and I are learning together, and this is a great place to be. Now I’m going to go check out your blog. :)

        jen said:
        January 11, 2014 at 2:18 pm

        It is a little more of a do ít this way which no one can ever achieve perfectly, right? but at the heart of it is sincerity, compassion and teaching our children to make their own choices while the stakes are low. I feel like I like to just collect all the best nuggets of wisdom from all the things, you know? :)

        racheltoalson responded:
        January 11, 2014 at 2:47 pm

        Exactly! That’s exactly what I do! (And I’m talking about the books that are written in tones of “you should do it this way or else your child is going to be an awful child,” really.)

    […] little incredibly amazing people He had given me to love and honor and cherish, and we slid into a parenting way that finally felt right and good and true. And those chains of control and fear and […]

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