Parenting Style Talk: Maybe It Starts With the Parent
There’s lots of talk around the world of media about parenting styles lately. I propose we should focus a little more on who we are and how we behave, and let it follow suit. Are we putting our needs first, disguised as “what’s best for my child”? Are we failing to corral our own behavioral patterns and instead blaming our child’s behavior for our negativity? Let’s look at these articles first and see what secrets they purport to divulge on the great Parenting Style Solution.
Remember last year when Amy Chua wrote “Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother” and there was an excerpt in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Why Chinese Parents Are Superior,” and then a follow up rebuttal piece by Ayelet Waldman “In Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom?” Both are excellent reads, I might add, and the comment sections are fabulous(ly entertaining) and interesting.
Now there’s the “Why French Parents are Superior” piece in the Journal by Pamela Druckerman, author of “Bringing Up Bebe.” Once again, there are various rebuttals, like these letters to the editor in the WSJ and this article in the NYT: “Building Self-Control, the American Way.” The authors of the NYT article run this blog called Welcome to Your Brain, and they just came out with a book about brain development from conception through college. Totally need to get this!
This last article is most compelling to me, partly because it’s based on the science of the human brain and how we’re wired, and partly because I think helping your child to internalize a behavior code is the ultimately effective parenting goal. How you get there, whether you’re a Tiger Mother or a Frenchie, or a mere middle American, is best left up to you. If you can instill in your child a sense of right and wrong, build the bell tower for, and provide the bells for, a conscience, and insist on self-control, and do these tall orders without killing yourself or your child, you’re pretty amazing as a parent. And if you don’t have your own conscience developed, or self-control yourself, you have a low statistical probability of being able to pass it along to your progeny.
How do you help your child build and develop his conscience? For us, we’ve inform our consciences with a combo of natural law, Church teachings & wisdom, and our experiences. We’re impressing upon J that “we” do things a certain way in our family, sometimes citing to “Jesus likes x behavior” and other times citing to the Golden Rule (why not to hit the dog with a hockey stick, because one day she may grow opposable paws and hit you!). I think it would be very challenging to raise a child without a sense of something greater than themselves, without some sense of Higher Power, or spirituality/religion. People do it, and raise morally and ethically aware children, but I’m not sure how. If this is your take, I’d love to hear your insights!
As with all infant/baby/toddler/child development, the more exposure to certain ideas and behavioral patterns early on, the more cemented they are as part of the child’s make-up. It’s never too early to introduce the concept of right and wrong (okay, wait til after 6 months . . .).
And as a parent, we have to walk the walk. Believe me, being 32 weeks pregnant, sitting through even a short mass at church has been so painful lately! I’m just dying to lay down in the pew, or leave early. It’s not physically comfortable! The only thing that keeps me there is a) I want to receive Holy Communion and b) I think that it isn’t going to get any easier to go to mass the more children we have, and if we don’t go or leave early because we feel like it, we’re setting a crap example.
The French article talks all about the non-instant gratification and how French parents cultivate their child’s sense of patience, waiting, and place in this world (i.e., don’t interrupt me, I’m having a croissant with une amie in the park and this is adult time). It strikes me that self-control has to start from the child being in possession of his or herself, a concept that springs from respect by the parents of the dignity and personhood of the child. If I, as the parent, give you, as the child, respect and treat you kindly but firmly, then you as the child internalize a healthy self-image.
We are a mirror to our children. If their every misstep aggravates us, if their poopy diapers disgust us, if their whining annoys us, if their neediness repulses us, how will they view themselves? Really, it seems like these books and articles should be directing parents to get self-possession and self-control. Don’t react emotionally to every thing your toddler does (easier said than done. I posted about embracing the challenges of parenting here).
So set a high expectation of behavior, while being realistic as to what your child can actually tolerate and continue to respond well to, and then correct & move on. Correct & distract. Correct & give a stern look or talking to, and then get back to puzzles, books, maps, and hugs.
Yes, some children are high needs. Yes, many children are difficult to shape and guide. But we can control ourselves, and it seems like a good place to start. Reach out & ask your mom, aunt, fav older parent-figure in your life how they did it. Sometimes the older generation has more wisdom (and more of a sense of humor about it) than our fellow equally frustrated peers. Parenting does start with us.