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.
We’re raising our child without any context of religion or spirituality and I think it’s fairly easy to help them develop a conscience. 🙂 You can cement their understanding that we aim to not hurt people physically or emotionally for the mere reasons that it’s not a kind thing to do, we wouldn’t want anyone seeking to hurt us, and we want to be a part of communities where people respect each other and treat each other well. I believe most people (excepting sociopaths I guess) intrinsically know the difference between right and wrong. Even very young babies react to their parents’ facial expressions of happiness, pain, sadness, etc. Parents just need to support that and help children “listen” to what’s already inside of them. Part of that is modeling appropriate behavior and part of that is actively having discussions about kindness. In some ways from my perspective building on a child’s natural instincts seems easier than trying to explain to a child why god or Jesus or something else external to the child is making rules and watching or perhaps even judging them.
This is so helpful to hear, Kate. It sounds like we’re on the same page with helping our children access their inner sense of what’s naturally good in all of us–and work with the best of them. And you’re right–if they can’t internalize why things are wrong or right, but are always just imposed upon from the outside (using religion or threats or bribes), it won’t stick.
Good topic! I believe parenting does begin with the parent. And while many of us are new to the role (I’m only a 4-year veteran), the parenting information out there is often inconsistent and overloading. I, for one, am thankful for the conversations about differing parenting styles – I am curious about parenting on all corners of the earth. I think much of the mainstream American parenting How-To’s lead us astray, invite confusion, or offer too much permissiveness. I agree the science behind it all needs to be highlighted. As a passionate educator, this subject has inspired me to consider an even earlier approach to early childhood education, and it begins with parents. Thanks for writing on this topic!
Oh good! I was hoping to hear from our local Montessori experts! Thanks, Whitney. It is quite a task to self-educate in order to be a better parent, and therefore be more accessible to our children and help them grow, develop, and be shaped in a positive and affirming light–without over indulgence. And it’s a good thing we have skilled educators to help parents, especially in the early childhood stage. Those early habits die hard!
We aren’t particularly religious either, but I was raised with a strong sense of empathy, and I plan to do the same with my daughter. (She’s too little for me to say how it’s working!) I recall having many, many conversations with my mom about how what I was doing would make other people feel, or how I would feel if someone did that to me. It gave me a strong conscience, and I like to think it’s also influenced me in many other positive ways. My husband was raised in a much more religious context, though he and I are pretty much on the same page now (more spiritual than religious), so I think it will be interesting to see where we differ in our parenting as our daughter grows up.
On the greater topic, I just heard an interview with Pamela Druckerman last week on MPR, and I think all these “French parents do it better” and “Chinese parents do it better,” etc. are ridiculous – If just one parenting style was “right” we’d all be doing it. Fortunately I don’t think that’s what she intended with her book, it’s just the media spin. I think there’s great value in learning what other cultures do well, and incorporating what works, but that doesn’t mean we’re all doing it all wrong, or that they have it 100% right.
Those conversations we have with our children to help guide their behavior are invaluable! I can’t wait until J is old enough to really “talk through” things. Though, as he’s a boy, and if he’s anything like my own little brother, he probably won’t want to process as extensively as the ladies in my family!
That’s interesting that the media would slant her book to be an-all-or-nothing approach (sensation sells!). I would actually like to read it (I did read Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother) one of these days and see what I can glean from it. What I read about it seemed that its emphasis on internal controls & waiting are in line with my parenting style.