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Sunday, August 4, 2013

Parenting

Take what you like and leave the rest…

For all of you hard-working parents out there who love your kids the best way you know how, my intention is to share strength, experience, and hope on the subject of raising our babies.  The following is simply what seems to work best for our family, so please take it all with a grain of salt.  What works for us has so much to do with our time and our place in the world.  We can only do our best with what we have been taught ourselves.  Are there really any experts?  If any of us actually did this perfectly, would we not be robbing our children of great material to cry about in their future therapy sessions?  My wife and I agree that we will be the best parents possible if we only mess up our kids minimally.  All kidding aside, some of the following suggestions are meant as just that – suggestions.  If anyone really knows “The Way”, they would have cornered the market in their infinite wisdom.   So far, no one has done that, and we are simply left with endless controversy.  So, I’ll try my best to not pretend I am any sort of ultimate authority in these matters, I’ll try to maintain my sense of humor, and with any luck, you’ll only mess up your kids minimally too.

Are my kids my friends?

Sort of yes, and sort of no…  It seems I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to love, nurture, and guide my children until they venture out into the world on their own one day.  I hope they’ll still be available for my nurturing and guidance when they’re adults as well, and, ideally, our relationship will certainly change.  It seems like my primary job as a dad with youngsters, however, is to value, teach, and guide them.  This sacred relationship evolves very quickly, and then they’re gone.  While all sorts of healing and relationship-building can transpire with our adult children, there is no way to recover their early childhood and do it differently later on.  So, do my kids need to like me?  Do I get to be their friend?  Sure!  We must play, be silly, and get down on the floor and roll around making the sounds of various farm animals.  

The real key is TIMING.  I often need to ask myself if my “pal time” with the kids is mostly what I need, or is it good timing for the entire family?  Since my primary task is to teach and guide, what am I modeling for our children when the timing of my silliness is awful?  For instance, I may want to make funny faces and put goofy things on my head, and my wife may be tired, overworked, irritable, and in need of mature support.  What am I teaching our kids when I put my wife’s emotional needs second to OUR play time? 

What if the children have made poor choices that day or are not in the mood to be silly themselves?  Until our proverbial “house” is in order, I think that “friend time” must wait.  I want to model responsibility and accountability first, or they’ll have to learn it the harder way as adults (when consequences are more serious).  Teaching appropriate social behavior seems like our fundamental task as parents.  This is not easy, it’s rarely fun, and it takes lots of time, energy, and patience.  The investment, however, has had wonderful results.  Our four year old, for example, seems to have better communication skills than many adults.  When he is REALLY pissed off, he makes this incredible angry face and says:  “Mom……Dad…… you guys said I have to come to dinner right now, and you turned off the TV right while I wanted to see the end of Curious George.  I am VERY VERY ANGRY WITH YOU RIGHT NOW!”  He then stands there patiently awaiting our response.  It’s hard for us to NOT smile sometimes, as he’s so incredibly cute, and we’re distracted with how proud we are of him for using his words so well and not acting out his anger in destructive or hurtful ways.

By the way, teachable moments are often very enjoyable and playful as well; they’re not always a chore!  In fact, we started a tradition of having certain family members sit in the “hot seat” during family conferences.  It wasn’t meant to be fun, but it was so productive and non-threatening that our daughter used to want to PLAY “hot seat!”

We made up a little “golden rule” in our home that’s worked beautifully ever since our kids were toddlers.  It goes like this: If anyone wants to play silly and rough, and the other family member isn’t in the mood, the magic word is “abracadabra…”  In other words…”STOP!”  This works for everyone in our family, and the word is sacrosanct.  This has been a wonderful way to insure mutual respect, good boundaries, and emotional safety.  How else can I REALLY know when my son wants me to stop playing “daddy-monster?”  So, are my youngsters my friends?  Do I want for them to like me?  Of course, though only to a degree. My first concern is that I’m preparing them to be socially functional enough when they eventually leave our nest.  I’m optimistic that we’ll develop real friendships later on as they become adults.  In the meantime, my kids have plenty of friends; they’ve only got one Dad…



Time Out or Time In?

When we do not approve of certain behaviors, we have something I call a "time in."  Instead of sending the kids off by themselves, it seems to be more of a learning opportunity for everyone when we sit with them while they "cool off."  This takes patience and resolve, and SO much can transpire non-verbally during this time together.  Our kids learn that it is safe to be angry, sad, or afraid in the presence of others.  They learn that isolation is not always the best solution.  We have also come to appreciate that our children may CHOOSE to process their uncomfortable feelings alone, and I think it's important to give them that space too, as long as it doesn't involve further acting out behavior.  This "alone time" is THEIR choice, and that's very different from ordering our kids to sit alone in the corner.


When to Punish?

 Never!  Punishing our kids teaches them to be afraid & confused.  We prefer to use consequences to teach our children how to behave responsibly.  What’s the difference?  Very simple – Punishments are random and impulsive, while consequences are neither.  When our kids make a choice that we don’t approve of, and it’s a NEW bad choice, it’s time to sit them down for a NEW lesson; it’s a teaching time.  We want to be very gentle, for how could they know right from wrong if it was their first try at a new unwanted behavior?  Now…the NEXT time…all bets are off!  Ideally, we have all come up with an appropriate consequence for the unwanted behavior.  By appropriate, I mean that the consequence should “fit” the crime.  We must then follow through consistently and firmly...






When they tell us how much they hate us, what they really mean, deep down, is “thank you for loving me so much…I feel so safe and secure, and the world is NOT utter chaos…”



A Few Final Tidbits…

  • One of the greatest gifts I can give my children is the routine modeling of authentic amends.
  • When my kids say "it's not fair!"  I usually agree with them, validate their anger, and tell them that now they get to practice tolerating unfairness...
  • When my kids push my wife’s buttons, and she’s about to explode, I’m learning to NOT rescue everyone and to NOT intervene.  It’s important for them to find their own way and to learn their own lessons.  The world can function just fine without me - what a concept…
  • It’s our kids’ job to push our buttons…it’s not personal…I need to remember that I’m the adult…
  • Stay tough, be consistent, and NIP IT IN THE BUD!
  • I like teaching my kids to advocate for themselves.  I want them to practice asking for everything and expect nothing.  I also think it’s important for them to get what they want sometimes - just like in real life…

David Lader - August 4, 2013


Reposted from davidlader.org