Thursday, December 19, 2013

Why is parenting so easy for some and hard for others?

In one month I will have been a parent for ten years.  This never ceases to boggle my mind to be honest.  Most of my life I swore I would not have children because I did not want to be responsible for messing up another human's life.  Then in a fit of madness I decided what the heck? Let's give it a go and see what happens.  Then the first three weeks after my daughter was born I would find myself lying awake at night frantically trying to figure out who would be the best person to raise her because surely there was no way I wasn't going to mess this up horribly.

Infancy was stressful for me because I had read way to many books about raising children and the extreme threat of creating an attachment disorder which would result in a sociopathic child loomed over my head every time my husband suggested we let her "cry it out" or that we didn't co-sleep.  We didn't by the way co-sleep because our bed is tall with a big gap between the mattress and the wall because of the headboard and I sleep with the blankets up around my ears - so that is just a set-up for smothering the baby on accident with blankets or something like that.  There were plenty of moms in the city who were hell-bent on telling me I wasn't doing "attachment parenting" right (cause they "read the book" apparently) and my child was doomed.

What I took from attachment parenting theory was that you put the child's individual needs before your personal agenda.  I didn't take away that there are "rules" (ie: must wear baby in pouch at all times, can't ever use a babysitting, must co-sleep, must breastfeed to three years old, etc).  So, that simple idea of putting my daughter's individual needs above my own personal agenda is what has fueled my entire parenting philosophy ever since.  That's it.  No rules or restrictions, just try to think in every situation that is confusing "what does she need?"  It helps to think back to how did I feel as a child?

I guess you need to think to about what does a child need as opposed to want.  And what has really helped me with that is learning about handling horses.  Young kids and horses need pretty much the same thing - structure (which includes discipline), understanding and approval of their general being, and to know they belong.  So, when a sticky situation comes up, I step back and think "what is my agenda? Ok - throw that away" and then "How do I meet the three basic needs?"  And that's it.  And honestly, it's been pretty easy.  And apparently it has been working because my daughter is turning out to be fairly happy and confident.

I think what screws parents up so much is this idea that they need to do more than that.  Or that they aren't allowed to meet the first need of structure (with discipline) because it will "inhibit the child's natural spirit" or some other such nonsense.  And I'm sure they got that from some book.  And they can't praise good behavior because that is "controlling" and will make for a weak willed, praise-hungry child.  And they have to make everything a democracy with the child (often as young as toddlers) having a vote in what happens to them.  Can you imagine?  "I vote never to go to the dentist!" and mom votes to go to the dentist. Well, how will you break that tie?  Structure! There is no choice - you are going to the dentist and you'll be fine. Let's go.  But theories and books and some random study that wasn't even scientifically executed has said that that kind of control is damaging and anyways Mom hated her parents for making them do stuff so maybe that's why Mom is insecure now as an adult? So maybe little Johnny shouldn't have to go to the dentist?  And then it just spirals and little Johnny will know next time he doesn't want to do something he just needs to looks sad and say he doesn't want to do it and why is mom so mean?! And mom won't make him and a whole pattern of control by the child has now been established and the mom is baffled so reads MORE books with lots of theories and poorly done studies that all contradict each other and boom! Parenting is super hard.

I remember a story my brother (who is considered a "guru" in his field of child psychology and is flown around the world to lecture and has written "important books" - all of which  I think is weird, especially the hero-worship part from his students - but that's another story ...) once told me a story about saying "No!" to toddlers.  He was out walking dogs by the lake with a colleague and the colleagues dog kept trying to chase the ducks.  His colleague would gently explain to the dog, "You don't need to chase the ducks.  We have plenty of toys and good food at home.  If you think about that you won't need to chase the ducks.  And chasing the ducks just causes the leash to become tighter on your neck so the outcome is not what you were hoping for ..."  yet the dog continued to chase the ducks until my brother finally snapped, "Good God, man! He's a dog! Just tell him no!"  He told me the same applies to very young children because they just don't have the reasoning abilities (nor the focus) to listen to you rattle on about how to reason out good choices.  When they're older and they have the frame work ingrained in them subconsciously about what is "right" and "wrong" then you can start helping them reason out their choices - but if they are cognitively incapable of doing that why would you try to make them?

I think a lot of it is that we are so disconnected from animals in our society.  If people have never seen a mama dog or cat or horse with their babies they have no idea how other mammals raise their young.  They don't over-think it.  They don't attribute cognitive abilities to their infants and toddlers that the kids don't have and then not understand why the kids aren't using those abilities.  They don't worry about if their three-year-old will be a confident, popular teenager or if their two year old will go to an Ivy League School.  They deal with who their baby is and what their baby needs right now in the moment and because they are animals they don't have an agenda other than "keep baby alive, keep baby in line".   Why humans think that is an unevolved bad thing is beyond me.  It seems to me the most reasonable way of going about things.  But we as a species overthink things so much and worry so much that we mold and shape this perfect little human (that we are actively doing things not to mold and shape because that would be wrong - but in reality we are trying to mold and shape him to be the perfect, empathetic, happy, child who more than anything doesn't hate us ...).

So, as one of the people who thinks being a mom is pretty easy and is having a great time of it my advice is don't read any books on child rearing,  get rid of your personal agenda for your child (go the therapy if you have to for that) and provide the three basic needs: structure, understanding and let them know they belong and are part of your herd.  And relax!  (of course this is all different if your child has special needs - in that case add in professional help but do lots of research and make sure the professional is not a quack and has strong scientific evidence to back his/her practices - not a bunch of flimsy theories and fly-by-night attempts at studies that are most likely fabricated).

And with that my theme song (again - I just posted it a few months ago) for my daughter:

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