Friday, December 21, 2007

Dear Anonymous

I haven't posted about parenting issues in SO long. It's just such a sensitive issue, and sometimes I feel like I'm not following my own philosophy well enough to have the right to proselytize it. But I still get new comments on my old spanking posts every once in a while. Like this one from an anonymous reader:

"Your column is making me feel extremely guilty. with 2 naughty boys who are a year apart and the parenting part left to me - spanking has become a way of life. Yes I dread to think of the day when spanking will be ineffective. If we go visiting then they jump on the sofas, tear the flowers in the garden, act as if famished even if they are well fed up to the brim at home. Of course there is the pressure of relatives that your kids are intolerant, indisciplined. HELP" --Anonymous

Oh, dear mama, I do understand! We've all been there. Raising kids is incredibly challenging no matter how you do it. And active children close in age will always make the relatives talk. Plus we have to deal with our own "need" to please other adults, and the inner conflict that comes when the desires of other adults conflict with the desires and needs of our children.

It's not easy to mediate between our children and the world, but we often have to as parents. It's not easy to be patient and creative enough to find a solution that works for everyone in a situation. It's a lot of effort. But it's also worth it.

At some point we have to ask ourselves: What is most important here? What am I teaching my children about the world, themselves, and their mother by how I react in this situation? What do I really believe about my children?

Do I really believe that they are "naughty" boys who need to be corrected and punished? Or do I believe that they are unique individuals worthy of respect and love as they learn how to navigate this complicated world? Can I trust that they have a sense of what they need and are just trying to express it even if it comes out in ways that are inconvenient for the adults around them?

Kids do need to jump, run, explore, and try new things. They want to know what's in Grandma's pantry that they don't have at home. They want to touch the flowers as well as smell them. It doesn't mean they're "naughty." That's how they learn! Some kids respond to "no" because they want to please the parent more than they want to explore what's in front of them. Others want to learn about the world so badly that they're willing to sacrifice pleasing you. That's a matter of both temperament and trust.

So, what to do with children who trust you enough to follow their own hearts and risk displeasing you? First, be glad that they know you love them. Second, be grateful for the strong wills that will serve them well in adulthood. Know that a child with a strong will can survive a lot of parenting mistakes with his True Self still intact.

And trust yourself. No one loves your children more than you do. You will make mistakes. You can learn from them just as your children will learn from theirs. It takes practice, but after awhile it becomes second nature to notice what your kids need in the way of room to be active and noisy, and to find ways to support them.

Find support for yourself, too. Seek out like-minded parents, choose friends who enjoy lively children, check out online support groups such as We all become more like the people we spend the most time with. So make sure you like how those people treat your children.

And then, enjoy your kids! Have fun with them! Learn to laugh and play like they do! It can be difficult for those of us who eventually learned to be "good" to let go and be silly again. I'm still learning. But our kids are worth it.

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