Sunday, March 04, 2007

parenting philosophy for newbies

[All done in the first person for approachable tone, but it's hypothetical really :) ]

Thinking about letting go - jumping off a cliff - will there be a soft landing?

Most of our parenting is based on parental authority. What the parent says goes. If it hurts the child, it is for their own good. We just have to be strong. To hang in there. To hurt our children in their own interests because it will be Better In The Long Run.

When child complies, life is great.

And this situation goes on until suddenly the child is too large and old to obey us Because I Said So and they are out till God knows what hour of the night doing God knows what, and all our old techniques of persuasion can only turn into Not Under My Roof and more and more emotional distance and honestly we have no idea what interests our children or motivates them, all we can do is watch from the sidelines and worry. Just look at the older children forums on the big message boards. That's what every parent is struggling with.

We all love our children so much and are desperate for them to be happy and fulfilled, and we want to help them prepare to take their place in wider society as successful, fulfilled people. We all do.

But look at the threads here, girls: Child won't sleep where I want him/her to sleep. Child doesn't want to go to nursery, how can I make him/her? Child won't go where I want him/her to. Child won't eat a meal the way I want him/her to.

All my posts are coming from having read some wonderful books on parenting and education, by authors like Deborah Jackson, Alfie Kohn, John Holt, Jan Hunt. And from having found out a lot about the philosophy of Karl Popper, which he never applied to parenting but which holds as its central concept the principle of fallibility. and then finding a (now defunct) blog called Rational Parenting and then a radical website called Taking Children Seriously.

And this is what comes out of it:

In a conflict situation, instead of asserting your authority or giving in to your child, try to find a solution which everyone genuinely prefers to their original plan (a "common preference"). Suddenly problems are not a disaster but something to get your teeth into, out of which all kinds of fun and learning and closeness can come.

In a conflict situation, remember, you might be wrong and your child might be right. (that's the fallibility bit) It's that old story where 10 month old is trying to grab your fork and you are going "no no that's not safe" and then you turn away for a second and when you turn back child is solemnly and dextrously feeding you pasta. Humbling.

It's a completely different philosophy of parenting from anything most of us have ever encountered before, and I believe it leads to gloriously happier families.

In a reply, someone said she thought compromise is good

I don't advocate compromise. I hate compromise. I want X, you want Y, and we get Z which is a mish mash of both which noone wanted. A common preference is much better than a compromise. The people involved don't meet in the middle. Instead they find ways for everyone to get what they originally wanted, or they find things which everyone genuinely prefers to their original desire. It sometimes involves some serious thinking outside the box.

A simplified version might be:

I want chicken for supper
You want mushrooms
we have chicken and mushroom pie, which noone really likes.

Common preference:
I want chicken for supper
you want mushrooms
One of us suggests beef instead. Wow! I'd like beef even better than chicken! you'd like beef even better than mushrooms! Everyone is happy.

No comments: