Do you ever wonder why this parenting-lark can be so hard? Or why you’ve got no idea what to do in some challenging situations with your children? Or why you completely lose it with your kids and say & do the things you always vowed you wouldn’t (and end up sounding just like your mum?!)?
One of the reasons why (and we have ALL done these things) is that we’re often doing things differently to how we were parented.
We are on a continuum of parenting, where each generation wants the best for their children and evolves a new way of being with them. This continuum is speeding up due to the explosion in brain science over the past 50 years coupled with the ease of spreading information through the internet.
So it can be really helpful to understand the context of where we’re at and why, I believe, Aware Parenting and Parenting by Connection will soon become the dominant paradigm.
So here is a very simplified potted history:
OLD WAY – AUTHORITARIAN
This is based on the view that children need to be disciplined and socialised in order to become a functional, loving, considerate adult. It’s up to parents to train their children and instil good values. If they don’t, children are going to be feral creatures who will create a destructive ‘Lord of the Flies’ universe (remember what happened to Piggy?!).
With this view, it’s no wonder that sayings such as “Spare the rod, spoil the child” proliferated and that increasingly harsh methods were advocated to make children comply.
Parents were in charge and their needs were the most important – ideally “Children should be seen and not heard” (remember hearing that?!). Experts advocated treating children like mini adults and warned against giving much physical affection (a pat on the head would suffice). Tantrums were viewed with horror – in the Middle Ages children who had them were thought to be possessed by the devil. Although the belief in the need for exorcism reduced (thank goodness), there was still the prevailing view that tantrums were a sign of lack of control and that a child’s spirit needed to be broken in order for them to become a rational-thinking, civilised person.
Parents who didn’t appropriately discipline their children were seen to be weak and indulgent – their children were going to be spoiled brats. This was all in the context of a wider society’s disdain for any show of emotion. These were the days when women were diagnosed with hysteria and men were not supposed to cry.
And then along came the ATTACHMENT THEORY
In the 1960’s John Bowlby recognised the child’s need for a strong bond with their parents as necessary for optimal growth (hooray!). Parents were encouraged to spend time with their children, to be in tune with their child’s emotional state, and he raised the dangers of harsh discipline.
REACTIONARY WAY – PERMISSIVE PARENTING
Which then paved the way in the 1960’s and ’70’s, for parents to incorporate the Attachment Theory in their approach. There was obviously much upheaval against the old order throughout many sections of society, and this included in the home.
Some parents completely rejected the old way of doing things and felt that they should be totally child centred. Their main focus became meeting the needs of their children. There was a fear of squashing the child’s spirit and wanting their child to be free to fully express themselves. The ground-breaking book The Continuum Concept had huge impact and people started to trust children more.
But by becoming child-centred, parents often found that their own needs weren’t getting met. And many found it unsustainable and unhelpful to not give their children any boundaries at all.
The Authoritarian Way SOFTENED
Smacking increasingly was shown to be damaging for children, rather than helpful, and corporate punishment in schools was outlawed. But in the absence of physical threats, parents still needed to find a way to control their children and get them to do what they (the adults) wanted them to do.
Enter the world of praise, rewards and Time Out. So instead of just focusing on the ‘stick’ to motivate children, the ‘carrot’ has become the primary method, with perhaps a bit of ‘stick’ thrown in. As parents we want to do what’s best for our children, AND we want our home/family to run smoothly. So we have searched for nicer ways to discipline our children, to help them become all that they can become, and to find tools that make our job as parents easier – because we’re all busy and full of parent guilt, and we need guidance on what to do when things gets tough.
But whilst star charts, stickers and saying ‘Good Boy/Girl/Job’ are seemingly nicer, they are just the other side of the same coin. It’s still about controlling children to do what adults want them to do. Manipulation is used rather than outright coercion. [I highly recommend reading Alfie Kohn’s brilliant article for a more in-depth discussion on this.]
And likewise with Time Out rather than a smack – it’s still about punishing children with an increasingly unpleasant method to make them comply to our will.
So hooray for the pioneering and amazing work of people like: Aletha Solter, Patty Wipfler, Alfie Kohn, Dr William Sears, Jean Leidloff, Laurence Cohen, Robin Grille, Dr Sarah Buckley, Dr Thomas Gordon, Steve Biddulph, Marshall Rosenberg, Dr Marion Rose to name a few.
[For an in-depth explanation of parenting through the ages, I highly recommend Robin Grille’s book Parenting For A Peaceful World – it’s an absolute eye-opener.]
The New Paradigm
The new way is a more democratic way. It’s one that recognises that both parents AND children have valid needs, emotions and reactions. It’s a way that is all about CONNECTION – with each other, with other parents and with ourselves.
The new way recognises that we are all born inherently good, cooperative and loving. That we are hard wired to connect with our family and each other, so that we’re designed to cooperate, be considerate of others and form strong emotional bonds. It recognises that when we don’t behave lovingly, considerately or rationally, that there is a really good reason why. So parents can now work WITH their child when things get challenging on the understanding that their child is essentially good but is having a hard time.
Parents can now set boundaries lovingly [Dr Marion Rose coined the phrase ‘loving limit’ which I love] or even playfully, because they know that connection is what’s going to help their child the most. Patty Wipfler from Hand in Hand Parenting has given naughty or bad behaviour a different term – ‘off-track behaviour’ – which I also love as it implies that the child’s core way of being is loving. It also implies that we, as parents, can help our children get back on track to being the lovely, kind, intelligent child that they really are.
Connection is The Key
- It’s connection that allows a child to feel safe to off-load their horrible feelings with their parent
- It’s connection that enables a parent to remain loving when their child is behaving irrationally, annoyingly or having a full-on tantrum.
- It’s connection that prevents children from going off the rails in their teenage years
- It’s connection that allows all of our brains to become calm and clear again
- It’s connection that brings the most joy to the world (i know, i’m waxing lyrical here, but you get my point!).
So – Why Is It So Hard To Stay Connected?
- It’s hard primarily because it’s not the way we were treated when we were being annoying or upset.
- It’s hard because many still don’t believe that they should ‘reward’ bad behaviour with a loving response.
- It’s hard because we can suddenly flip into rage when we’re at the end of our tether.
- It’s hard because we’ve got SO much on our plates – our lives are so full and busy and stressful.
- It’s hard because it’s really difficult to be with someone when they are wild with anger or grief – it pushes our buttons and brings up our own unresolved feelings of anger, sadness or grief.
- It’s hard because we don’t often see this way of being with our children modelled in society.
- And it’s hard because it’s messy, chaotic, loud and seemingly out of control.
BUT – the rewards are incredible
– for your children, for yourselves and for our society at large (i know, i’m waxing lyrical again!).
Imagine someone sticking with you when you were at your ‘worst’. When you were so crazily upset that you couldn’t think straight, you were biting the heads off anyone who said the wrong thing, you were being so irrational and unreasonable. Imagine someone, who loved you deeply, staying with you throughout; knowing that you were going to get through it just fine; that you were simply off-loading a heavy burden of emotions. And then imagine the calm, the lightness, the peace you would feel afterwards. The very real sense of love that you would have for that person, and that they would have for you.
And now imagine how amazing our society would be if we all felt that and could offer that to others.
What Will Come After?
Hopefully more connection, more compassion, more support for each other. Our children will evolve even better ways of being with our grandchildren(!), and they in turn will evolve for our great-grandchildren.
The continuum continues…..