Monday, December 04, 2006

Parenting Conundrum

I have been having a discussion about parenting with some friends. Parenting - something we all agonize over... I was laying in bed this morning thinking about it - about all the parenting theories that I have learned about, all the things I have tried and struggled with and thinking about the thoughts of my friends. And this is what I have come up with....

You know, 20 years ago (or 22 years ago when I started studying it formally) when I first became a parent, Adlerian pyschology was all the rage. STEP (systematic training for effective parenting) was the accepted 'way' to parent loosely based on Behavioural Psychology. Books like "Children the Challenge" by Dreikers was a popular parenting standard. Rewards were encouraged and the shaping of children's behaviour was accepted. Training kids.

Now, there are books like "Punished by Rewards" by Alfie Kohn which bring up very good points about the downside of rewards. And books by Gordon Neufeld about attachment. And all the ways people parented before are wrong and there is a new way - let your children find their own boundaries and limits.

Its all so confusing. And all so misleading. There are two underlying themes - parents are responsible for how their kids behave and you can tell bad parenting by how the kids act and if you can figure out the right parenting technique, then everything will be perfect. Seems to add up to a lot of parenting guilt. The problem is that there is a kernal of truth in it all. It is true that how we treat our children affects them. It is true that there is a downside to rewards and that attachment is very important. And it is true that children need to know what is acceptable behaviour in society. It is actually true that we reward and punish our children in millions of subtle ways everyday with our approval and disapproval. It is unavoidable unless we are emotionless robots who respond exactly the same way for everything. And what would be the point of that? And that would actually damage them considerably. We all thrive on human interaction. We all need it. And we are all shaped by it for good and bad.

It seems to me that it all misses the point. There is one single thing that effects our children more than anything else. How we treat ourselves. How we love ourselves. How we respect our own boundaries. How strong we are in ourselves. This one thing affects EVERYTHING we do. We can have the perfect parenting 'technique' but it will fail if we don't love ourselves. Of course there is value in learning different parenting styles and techniques. But it is secondary. If we don't have the first it is all pointless. Why? Because love is the key. When we love and accept ourselves, we can love and accept our children. And if we judge and shame ourselves, no matter how hard we try with different techniques, we will do it to our children. We may not see it at the time, but it always comes out in the end.

So what is the point of all of this? That the most important thing we can do for our kids is to look after ourselves, to be honest about our boundaries; to respect ourselves. When we live in this environment, then the love and respect spill over to our children, our spouses, our friends. It all starts with the self. After that, choose the kind of parenting technique that resonates with you and works with your children. There is no one right way. Love is the way. There are no two parents that are exactly the same and there are no two children who are exactly the same.


stottagus said...

I agree.

Laura said...

some good thoughts.