By Ashley Allman
My sister, who is not yet a mom, recently shared this quote with me:
“When a child hits a child, we call it aggression. When a child hits an adult, we call it hostility. When an adult hits an adult, we call it assault. When an adult hits a child, we call it discipline.” ― Haim G. Ginott
This quote means something. It speaks to the harsh reality of our society’s view on parenting. In reading recent articles and responses to them, I’ve been surprised by the great number of people who fully endorse physical ‘discipline;’ and beyond that, there are many more parents who simply resort to harsh discipline out of anger, frustration or a feeling of helplessness.
If our children are going to learn how to respect others, empathize and peacefully resolve conflicts, they must be shown how to do so starting from day one. We as parents must dig deep within ourselves to break the patterns of anger, yelling, criticizing and spanking that often come as knee jerk reactions. We must find gentle, loving ways to be authoritative and firm with our children, relying on teamwork, love and mutual respect to help shape them into happy, healthy, functioning members of society.
For me, discipline has by far been the hardest aspect of being a mom. Positive parenting is a challenge for me. I have never questioned the rightfulness, effectiveness or justness of this approach. However, I’m naturally impatient, a bit of a control freak, emotionally sensitive and sarcastic; traits that don’t easily lend themselves to a calm parenting style. Conversely, I’m nurturing, sensitive and empathetic, which balances me. But when your personality gets in the way of the type of parent you want to be – like it sometimes does for me – guilt, doubt and inconsistency creep in.
I have two very active, energetic and strong-willed young boys. Their father and I have strong personalities and we are both passionate and often forceful communicators. As expected, our sons are the same way, which creates a charged home environment that can turn to chaos when stresses or emotions run high. My husband and I have always instinctually gravitated away from using force and toward a more diplomatic approach to raising our boys. But with such powerful energy in our house, it has been difficult to walk the line between being consistently authoritative but gentle, and letting our kids run the show.
The many parenting books I have read (Raising a Son, Raising your Spirited Child and Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child are my favorites) have given our family some great tools. But I’ll be the first to say that when you are dealing with daily power struggles, children who question every bit of authority, and public unruliness, it is hard to stay cool and calm. More and more parents seem to be looking for ways to maintain parental authority while leaving behind the negative methods that leave everyone in the family feeling guilty and betrayed.
Doing the right thing for our kids can be exhausting – but the hard work pays off for the well being of the individuals, families and society as a whole. Below are a few tips that have helped my husband and I achieve the balance of being positive, empathetic parents who enforce fair, solid boundaries for our kids.
1) Love comes first: Of course kids need boundaries, but most importantly, above all things, they need love. We all love our children desperately, so this is the easy part. Making sure you put time in every day to nurture your relationship with your child will help build the security, safety and bond that he needs in order to recognize and respect your parental authority. Without a solid relationship as the foundation, your child will continue to question if you really know what’s best for him, and whether or not he should listen to your guidance.
2) Sometimes the “bad guy” is really a “good guy”: It is like a knife to the heart when one of my boys calls me a ‘bad guy’ and genuinely means it. I want to be their hero, friend, comforter and safe haven, not the bad guy. But the old adage ‘you’ll thank me later’ does sometimes ring true, and we must be consistent for our children to learn right from wrong. I have accepted that it’s OK to be the ‘bad guy’ if I’m being empathetic and if I know that by doing so, my boys are learning an important lesson that will benefit them later on in life. Plus, putting in the hard work now is what ultimately solidifies our spot as our children’s lifelong heroes. I look forward to that.
3) Find an outlet: I need outlets for venting my frustrations and for recharging my energy. Exercise, good music, time with other adults and fresh air are mine. If we’re having a tough day, I usually find that getting outside or a spontaneous dance party in the living room can instantly turn moods around – and refuel my body to make it through calmly until bedtime. I need a good long talk with my husband every night to unload anything I’ve been holding in through the day. This is sometimes hard for him after a long day of work, so when he doesn’t have the energy, I call my mom or sister. It’s amazing how just talking can be such good release. Figure out how you alleviate your tensions and how you regain energy and make those activities a top priority every day.
4) Celebrate small successes: There have been countless chaotic mornings, when after I drop my son off at preschool, I begin to reflect on how we could have had a smoother start to our day. I think about all the things I nagged my oldest son about (getting up and down from the breakfast table a dozen times, not putting on his socks, refusing to let me comb his wild hair, etc.), and immediately regret how I forgot to applaud the good things he did that morning (fed the dogs, helped his brother find a toy, put his dishes in the sink). I realize we all could have had a happier morning if we would have focused on the positive. Most recently, our family has been working on celebrating our small successes and letting the small “failures” go with nothing more than a simple correction. The more we applaud our children’s deeds, good choices and cooperation, the more of it we’ll see.
Parenting and finding a discipline style that fits your family is a journey. I know mine still has some rugged terrain ahead, like most families do. But we’re working on it and focusing on love and empathy each day. Please share your tips too, so we can all navigate these crazy seas a little better.
Ashley Allman is a Seattle-based writer and co-founder of online natural products boutique, Ash & Alys Babes. She spends most of her time playing house with her two spirited sons, husband and two dogs, all of whom she uses for inspiration in every aspect of life. Ashley is committed to raising her children green and focuses a great deal of energy on feeding her children a healthy diet and raising them to be responsible stewards of our beautiful Earth.
I admire attachment parenting philosophy quite a bit and that is primarily what guided me when my babes were little. I have mentioned in the past though that my endeavor to be a good, attached parent kind of lead me to a place were I was lost, frazzled, and on the verge of a divorce. I felt like I was a slave to my kids every need and only now with more modern books on AP, like Mayim Bialik’s Beyond the Sling am I seeing warnings to make sure that marital and personal relationships as well as career not be sacrificed to the AP Gods. It is really easy to let AP or other similar parenting philosophies turn into permissive parenting with the parents being afraid to be the authority in their own homes.
And yet despite my love of AP, some of my authoritarian upbringing always popped up and it made me feel selfish and guilty. Should I really just be flat out saying no to this request or should I be looking for a compromise that will show that I am respecting my child’s wishes and desires as an individual? Should I be down on the floor playing Legos with my child to show I am a playful parent or is it okay to do what feels right to me…which is require him/her to self entertain (and quietly) so I can enjoy a cup of tea and a phone call with an old friend? I was constantly questioning how instinct was leading me to react/parent/discipline and how I felt I “should” be parenting because this or that book on AP or cooperative parenting said I should.
In hindsight I wish I had just listened to my instincts more. This is not because I think I made mistakes (though I am sure they are many) but rather because I let parenting become my career and my life as a stay at home mom and my self worth became largely wrapped up in that. With two boys on the autism spectrum that is just a recipe for disaster. It was only after my family almost broke in half that I realized that if mama isn’t happy and satisfied in her own personal and professional life…no one is going to be happy.
I decided to make it my goal to take the upcoming year (2011) and devote it to self care. I didn’t ignore my kids or my husband but I carved out time for myself each and every day, sometimes several hours of the day and did stuff just for me. I went to the library, I went to the movies, I got pedicures and manicures, I went to the gym 4-5 days week, I went thrift store shopping, and I refused to take kids with me if I didn’t want to. Heck, I took a solo two-day vacation and have another booked in a couple months. Previously, I always hated it when I heard women say they were trying to find themselves but I understood it perfectly after that year was up. The pre-child me, who had many and varied interests, was back in full force.
Anyway, that was a really long winded intro to telling you about a parenting book I recently read and throughly enjoyed. The book is Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. It was written by Pamela Druckerman, who is an American living in France and raising three kids there. She wrote the book after seeing how much differently American children behave than French Children. While her 18 month old was bouncing off the walls in a French restaurant and making her consider eating at home forever more, the French babies and children were happy and chatty yet largely docile. French parents were not frazzled and stressed, instead they seemed to really enjoy parenting. After finding a study that showed American parents were twice as likely to consider themselves unhappy with child care when compared to French parents Druckerman decided she wanted to know what French parents were doing differently.
I must say that I absolutely loved the book and it gave me so much food for thought. So much about AP and other child centric parenting philosophies, like radical unschooling, lead parents to focus on the needs and wants of their children to the exclusion of everything else. Radical unschooling even boasts the idea that you never say “no ” to your child…you always find a way to say “yes”. Hearing no will kill their spirits or something. French parents also believe that children should be respected and their wishes honored but only in balance with the needs and wishes of everyone else in the household. French parents believe in teaching their children from infancy how to exhibit self control and deal appropriately with frustration and the dreaded “non” or “no”. The reason those French babies and children were not acting up in the restaurant is because they had already had many months or years or training to wait and be “sage” or in control of himself or herself. And rather than being dull and sparkless children you get happy children who also have amazing manners and self control. This is in contrast to the American idea that exerting that kind of influence or restricting our kids in such a way will kill their spirit and crush them emotionally.
The French seem very rigid and structured in many ways and yet they also believe in letting their children devote time to nothing but pleasures and fun. They believe in speaking to their children respectfully and like they would any other adult, even from the time they are infants because they believe that all babies are rational and capable of learning. That aspect is very AP friendly even if some of their other ideas are not (no co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding, etc.). In many ways they are AP parents who just never let the the household become child centric in any fashion and parents who are not afraid to be the authority in their homes. And amazingly enough all the French seem to be on the same page with this. The way the French children are parented at home is the same way they are cared for in government run creches (or daycare), which sound amazing BTW. If France is what right-wing Americans have in mind when they talk about socialism, then we need lots and lots more of that evil socialism please!!!
Overall I think the book has a lot of value and the arguments made for stricter households, proper manners, and not becoming a slave to your children are well worth the read. I didn’t agree with everything of course, such as not breastfeeding past 3 months, but most of it I quite heartily agreed with. It was also a true pleasure to read. How many parenting books keep you up at night long past bedtime?? A resounding A++ and I really hope there will a follow up that deals with parenting French teens, since I am one year away from that milestone.
equilibre (eh-key-lee-bruh) – Balance. Not letting any one part of life – including being a parent – overwhelm the other parts.
Our life with autism… I don’t talk about this subject much and that is because it is very uncomfortable for me. It means walking a fine line between sharing my life and sharing too much about my children, who deserve privacy. It also means letting my dirty laundry air, so to speak, and admitting to everyone that our family life isn’t pretty. Hopefully I can tread well with this post and not think I need to go back and edit out various parts. ;)
This past week has been a roller coaster ride of emotion for me. I had a very long chat on the phone with one of the school psychologists who will be working with my youngest son during his transition to Kindergarten this Fall. I will also meet with her and some of the others who will likely be working with him, this morning. I think she wanted to prepare me to hear some difficult things but this has actually been a long time coming. My youngest (6) has been in a special needs preschool program for three years now. He has a speech therapist and an occupational therapist. We have not yet sought that official medical diagnosis but I have known for a very long time what the problem is…autism. With a 12 year old autistic son we know well what it looks like. At any rate the psychologist told me that he would most likely be getting an “educational diagnosis” of autism from the school, so that they could plan his IEP and services accordingly.
I was disheartened to hear that he has actually regressed quite a bit this year and it confirmed what I also noticed. The boy who could count to the mid teens last year is lucky if he can count to five now. His hyperactivity has increased and his ability to follow directions has decreased. His temper flares are getting worse even if his social interaction is getting better. He has many, many challenges to face and they are very different than what our other autistic son faces. It was this “new territory” that has made me want to read up on autism spectrum disorders more.
Both our boys have two very prominent common denominators and #1 is social awkwardness. They do not know how to read social cues, pick up on how others are feeling or reacting to them, or communicate and make friends with other kids easily. This makes them the “weird” kid in school. What comes so natural to many kids, the ability to interact and connect with others, is hellish and frustrating. It also means it is easy for them to be either the bully or the bullied. My oldest has been both. My youngest has also been bullied but so far cannot even recognize that he is being persecuted. They are just THAT out of touch with social situations.
#2 is devotion or obsession with certain hobbies and topics to the exclusion of everything else. With my oldest it might be fishing or paintball. With my youngest it is dinosaurs. These are the only things they want to talk about and can do so for hours, literally, much to the frustration of other kids they come into contact with. Because of issue #1 they never understand that give and take requires them to actually talk about other people’s interests too. It just never occurs to them that others may not like these subjects or not want to listen to a two hour lecture about them. As far as they are concerned the world revolves around them and their interests.
There are also numerous differences in their disorders though. My youngest paces, waking back and forth across rooms constantly, for hours at a stretch. He will pace until he literally collapses in exhaustion. My oldest makes wild hand gestures and clicking sounds. He will also emit high pitched screams out of the blue and for no reason. He is often not even aware that he did it. The 6 year old has to micro manage every detail of his day, picking the exact episode of Team Umizoomi he has to watch and the exact food he must eat and will choose not to eat if you don’t have what he wants. The 12 year old has a fear of crowds and will insist on wearing hooded jackets even in summer so he can “hide” from other people in crowded areas. All of this makes daily life challenging but ironically this is the easy stuff.
Our oldest boy has issues with being violent and abusive. He has ODD as well as autism. We have tried counselors and psychiatrists and we even tried medication for a brief spell. I often tell people it is like living with an abusive spouse only it is your child. I have been tackled to the ground in the past but more frequently I am called every horrible name in the world. Asking this child to do the dishes will result in a 10 minute tirade about how I am too stupid, lazy, and disgusting to do anything for myself. In general he seems to have very misogynistic attitudes about women and his sister is also a victim of his horrible commentary.
On the plus side though this kid is wicked smart. Even at 12 years old he can tinker around with electronics and fix them. He recently fixed the mood lighting in our conversion van. He builds amazing things with blocks and Legos and he is way beyond his grade level in science and math. When he is actually interested in something he is also a very hard worker.
My youngest son is a very lovey dovey and prefers women to men. Although I think he has learned a bit too much from his older sibling of late. His quirks are much more manageable in comparison but I think he will ultimately be considered academically handicapped.
How in the heck do you handle two very difficult boys with very different manifestations of this same disorder????? I liked the 8 guideposts from Raising Resilient Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders:
- Teaching and conveying empathy
- Using empathetic communication and listening actively
- Accepting our children for who they are – conveying unconditional love and setting realistic expectations
- Nurturing islands of competence
- Helping children learn rather than feel deflated by mistakes
- Teaching children to solve problems and make sound decisions
- Disciplining in ways that promote self discipline and self worth
- Developing responsibility, compassion, and social conscious
The book has a lengthy chapter to discuss each and they were incredibly helpful. I struggle with finding ways to show that I accept my boys for who they are without also giving them the impression that I accept certain unsavory behaviors or “tics”. I also struggle with empathy when I am feeling attacked, as I often am.
The only thing I would have liked to see is info on how to become more resilient as a parent because I think that is “key” to dealing with children with these kinds of issues. You have to be in a good mental and physical place yourself in order to devote the kind of energy it requires. Two years ago I literally felt like I was drowning with the stress of being a mom to these two special boys. My husband has always worked over the road, or second/third shifts so I have essentially been single parenting for the majority of the week for years. I had a wake up call that spurred me to join a gym and start taking time away for myself more often. I decided it was time to get a bit selfish and demand time for myself. It was literally the best thing ever. Once I felt better, I coped better and I parented better.
Typically I avoid reading autism books because I think I deal enough with these issues every single day but this book really helped me work through some things in my mind and I would like to find more. Do you have any autism book recommendations for me?
When I reserved this book from my library I had no idea if I would enjoy it or not. I don’t read too many parenting books anymore because my kids are getting older. While attachment parenting is a topic near and dear to me I don’t need a refresher on subjects like breastfeeding, babywearing, and co-sleeping so much. Rather I go for books about specific issues nowadays and geared toward older kids. I think I ended up getting it because I really, really like Mayim Bialik. I loved her show Blossom when I was a child, I loved how she gave up acting to get her degree and PhD in neuroscience, and I REALLY loved how she chose to parent in a holistic, natural, green, and attached way. She just seems like the type of mom I would love to hang out with and be friends with. So who wouldn’t want a peek inside at the inner workings of her house and family?
The book, Beyond the Sling: A Real-Life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way, was such a breath of fresh air and I enjoyed it so much that I had to share. I devoured and enjoyed every morsel of this book from start to finish, even chapters that discussed baby stuff I will likely never be confronted with again until I have grandchildren. Actually this book really had part of me really longing to have another kiddo so I can experience some things I wasn’t that receptive to when my youngins were babes, like elimination communication. Yet by the end of the book I was sighing in contentment because I still have lots of my parenting journey left and we are in a place now where we can enjoy it without the sleep deprivation. ;)
The opening chapters go into what you can expect to learn and why this is such an important issue. Mayim takes her background in neuroscience and shows that attachment parenting not only makes sense logically, it is based in science as well. There are many scientific reasons and many biological reasons to parent this way and often that gets overlooked by those who would claim attachment parenting is too granola touchy, feely or prone to raising dependent brats. The science does not agree with these latter ideas… at all. Lots of good information to be had here for when you run across naysayers.
The chapters on natural childbirth, breastfeeding, constant holding, co-sleeping, potty learning, etc were all a little irrelevant for me, even though I do still have a six year old in my bed. I loved reading these chapters anyway though. I think this book would have been pretty darn near the perfect book for me back when I became a mom for the first time and I will be recommending it to all the moms-to-be that I come across. I also loved that it is a look inside the life this family unit and it holds nothing back. Being an attached parent can be very isolating in the first few years because you are essentially devoting your life to the very valid needs of your child who wants to nurse on demand, be held constantly, sleep in your arms, and otherwise be the center of your world. You also tend to stay away from social settings where others might try to make your parenting values seem bizarre. Getting to read about another mom experiencing all of this makes you feel less alone.
From here the books goes into consumerism and toys, media in the home, medical interventions, letting kids be kids, and gentle discipline. LOVED it all! There wasn’t anything that I recall that I disagreed with. In fact I think I must have looked like a bobble head with all the head shaking going on to show how emphatically I agreed with Mayim’s point of view on just about everything. I also loved how she kept confirming that despite her belief in these things she was by no means perfect in their practice. Many authors remind you that they are not perfect examples of what they preach and that their ideas are not meant to judge in any way but few get that message across as well and as believably as Mayim Bialik, in my opinion.
My favorite part of the book was the section on mommy needs and keeping your relationships strong. As I have said before, attachment parenting can be very difficult where balance is concerned. When you have young babies your time is devoted to them and their needs and it can be easy to forget that other relationships need nurturing as well. I was not very good about keeping this in mind and my marriage almost collapsed a couple times during those early years. Most attachment parenting books don’t even discuss this all import topic either.
I feel that when our children are young THEY should be the priority. That means breast feeding wherever and whenever baby is hungry, co-sleeping even when you’d rather have your husband all to yourself, and never letting my child cry or go without being held because I have “other things” to do. As my kids get older I think they benefit from seeing parents who love themselves, prioritize some of their own needs, make time for each other and the marital relationship, and have varied interests. As they get older they benefit less from having a shadow to meet their every need and more from seeing good examples of others doing and living for themselves. So in terms of priority for the first five or so years of their lives it was all about them. Now the priority list looks somewhat different but during those early years there were lots of things I could have done to make sure my relationship with my husband was secure and attached as well, even if it never involved a date night or even leaving the house. Thankfully I married a great man who put up with me.
So… I give this book a very enthusiastic two thumbs up and will be recommending it all around. It has sound science, great advice, logical answers to challenging questions and issues, and important information about often overlooked aspects about this style of parenting. Check it out when you have the chance!
Beyond the Sling: A Real-Life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way
This week the Green Moms Weekly Question addresses opposition from family and friends when you take the more granola path as a parent. The question is “What type of topics in natural parenting cause opposition among family and friends and how do you handle it?”
I think this is a really awesome question because it can be very polarizing for some people. Personally though I have had very little negative response to my parenting choices, so I count myself lucky. There are numerous places were ones parenting choices can rub people the wrong way and incite negativity and bickering amongst family and friends though. Here are some of the more sensitive issues in my mind.
Breastfeeding – Natural moms are more likely to breastfeeding exclusively and for extended periods of time. Because breastmilk is at the forefront for a long period of time this means breastfeeding in public is often times just part of the package. Baby needs to eat when baby need to eat right? I was an unabashed public breastfeeder myself and I never once had an issue with anyone making negative comments from family, friends, or even strangers. In fact whenever chain restaurants made the news for being anti-breastfeeding I would often stage my own nurse-ins by making a special trip just to breastfeed in their place of business. I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful of anyone but I did want to do my part to make breastfeeding something that people recognized as completely normal and acceptable.
Vaccines – Lots of natural parents choose not to vaccinate because of the potential side effects and all the horrendous ingredients in the vaccines themselves. I have had no trouble from other moms and my own family totally supports my choice in this matter. I have had trouble with doctors though and I do my best to show them that I am not some patsy they can push around. I am an intelligent mom who is making an informed decision and they will not change my mind.
Positive Discipline and Attachment Parenting- This can be a biggie within families sometimes. Chances are your parents or grandparents may have been raised in a family where the belt handled discipline problems or where children were supposed to be seen and not heard. This can cause issues when you decide to choose respectful and peaceful parenting. It can get even stickier if you have a child with “issues” such as autism, hyperactivity, sensory problems, etc. Those problems were just not around so much back when our parents and grandparents were having kids so their can be lots of misunderstandings. I had few issues but if I did I only had to remember that my husband and I alone were the ones that knew our children through and through. What total strangers or extended family thought was of little consequence.
Homeschooling and Unschooling – This issue isn’t unique to natural parents by any means but lots of attached, green, natural parents are choosing to homeschool. This can be a big problem for some of our family and friends who think we are somehow doing a disservice to our children’s education by going this route. I cannot say I had total support when I chose to homeschool my oldest but in all honesty I can admit he wasn’t being best served by a home education, it was just the best we could do with what we had available at the time. But I feel for parents who struggle with negativity from friends and families about their educational choices because it can be an amazing and joyful experience for parent and child, AND they can get a great education, despite what critics say.
Cloth Diapering – When you tell people you use cloth diapers it is not uncommon to hear “Ew! Gross!” My own mom thought I was a little nuts when I told her I planned to cloth diaper my second baby but she was a quick convert when she saw how easy it was and how cool and modern cloth diapers had become. Plus I ended up sewing my own diapers and starting a very successful diaper business. I even hired her a seamstress on occasion and she became my biggest champion so it all worked out. Still it helps to have a nice diaper on hand when you tell people you cloth diaper so that you can turn those “Ews” to “Aaahs”.
Cry It Out – Mainstream parenting advice seems to favor letting your babies cry themselves to sleep. Of course it does. We live in society where mom’s convenience is prized as the most important thing but I didn’t become a mom to put all my own needs first so I never let my babies cry it out. Whenever someone gave me the advice to just let my baby cry I would tell them I am one of those newfangled “get off your butt” parents. There was little they could say after that one.
Co-Sleeping – This can be sticky too. Many people will advise parents to never let their babies into their bed or they will never get them out. All 3 of my babes slept in my bed and my nearly 6 year old still does. I have few worries (okay, no worries) that he will still be there when he is a teenager. I am not sure why co-sleeping bothers some people but I just laughed it off if anyone made comments to me.
Natural Childbirth – I think I only had one family member comment on my intention to have a natural birth and I think that comment was actually a defense of their own choice to have drugs. I wish more moms realized that it isn’t a competition. If I choose the natural route that doesn’t have anything to do with you and your choices. I say stand by your choices and make your own positive body message be heard but just realize that some will view it as criticism of their choices.
Anyway… your turn! What natural choices have you made that rocked the boat with your friends or family?
Find out how green moms Carrie and Rachel answered this question as well.