Tuesday, 12 February 2013

So, How

I decided to continue on from the theme of yesterday's blog, to expand on my parenting philosophy.

Look at it this way. When a child is born it does come pre-programmed with some stuff. If it was raised by wild animals it would still not behave exactly like them, because it has a human brain, which functions a bit differently, which is why we do human things. Kids who are severely neglected don't achieve all they could but they sort of scramble through development because the potential is there. It's quite remarkable really.

Assuming then, that we want the best for them, we take this package of potential and we aim to help them reach it. When you are doing this, presumably you have some sort of end goal in mind, an objective. I actually use the word objective in everyday speech, which might be a little odd, but I find it helps. When I give my kids chores to do, for example, I explain the objective to them, it goes a bit like this.

"OK, guys, the objective here is to get all the wood into one location, rather than spread around."

This gives them some freedom to think about how they will achieve the objective, while being quite clear on my overall expectations. I have found this to be far better than simply handing out instructions.

My objective as a parent is to end up with adults who are a benefit to human society. That is to say not only will they do no harm, but actually add something to it. At the same time they will have a sense of self-worth, be confident, and above all, happy. This is how I define success.

Last night Michael told me he was doing some volunteer work this weekend. I was a bit confused at first, and said "Don't you have all your community hours already?". He said he did, in fact well over the 40 hours required, but you could keep going anyway, and he cited a friend who has over 400 hours.

He's doing it because he wants to. There's probably some kudos among his peers, maybe it impresses girls, who knows, but that doesn't matter. He's chosen to over-achieve in vounteering, and I really don't care about the details. He may do this for the rest of his life. Good. I'll collect a parenting point for that, thank you.

The thing is, since the day he was born, he has heard only good things at home about doing stuff like that. Nobody here ever derides it. He was raised in a culture, therefore, that is pro-help. This sends a message to children that it's the right thing to do, it sort of comes naturally.

At the same time he was never pressured or guilted into it. He wasn't dragged unwilling to join in with projects somebody else decided he should do. Anyone reading this who can see the difference here, gets it.

So, anyway. That worked.

Not all plans we have with our kids work out. They have ideas of their own. They have distinct personalities. That's how it should be. You work with what you've got rather than try to turn them into something else. The objective is to turn them into good people, not a specific type. There are many good people in the world, some very serious and some very frivolous.

So, yesterday, having posted my somewhat opinionated blog all over the place, including a friend's Facebook wall, I read comments on the topic by total strangers. One, who may or may not have read my blog, but gave her own potted parenting philosophy, showed up in my email notification, but wasn't at the page when I went there. She had a change of heart about it. That solved my dilemma of whether to reply or not. And probably for the best.

You see, among her ideas was the idea that if her kid had a tattoo before the age of 19 he would not be welcome in her house. This was cited as tough love.

No my dear, that's not love at all. In fact the nicest thing I can say about that is that it is completely ridiculous.

If you love a child you don't abandon him, period. Even if he becomes a serial killer. In fact he would need his mother the most then. You don't have to approve of his actions, you don't have to forgive him them at all. But you don't reject him. You may, if your child goes totally off the rails, have to limit your access to him, but you may just be the one person who can help.

It would take some pretty serious misdemeanors to refuse a teenager access to his own home. If he was a threat to the family, or perhaps to the property itself, one could understand. Doing it because he decorated himself makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Maybe she realised that after she'd written it, and that's why she took it down. Maybe. Still, it was in her mind when she wrote it. Her kids had better watch out.

As many of you know, we adopted a teenager who had regularly been refused access to his own home. He wasn't a danger to the family or property. He was just unwanted baggage in his parents' lives, and it was easier for them not to have him around. Their loss and my gain. It may have affected my opinions about parents who make such stupid statements about kids not being welcome in their homes, but I don't believe I'm the one over-reacting here.

So, let's try out my idea of how we send messages to kids. That's what it all comes down to. When I make a decision with regards to a child, what message am I sending? With  this particular so-called tough love, people seem to think the message they are sending is "your behaviour is unacceptable, you broke my rules, and I have put my foot down". Which may be so, but another message goes out right along with it, which is "I have my priorities screwed up".

We mustn't dwell on our own attitudes towards tattoos in this example, because that's not really the issue. In the mind of the parent it's about breaking rules. The problem is that some of these rules aren't very sensible.

Rules like "be home by midnight" make sense, because they are for safety, and if the kid has to go to school or work the next day, also to ensure they get enough sleep - it's for the child's own welfare. Rules like "do your homework before playing Xbox" also make sense. But some rules are more to do with parental tastes, prejudices, and so on. If the objective is obedience it might make some sense, but what is obedience for? If it is not for safety and welfare?

If we are trying to raise a kid to be all he can be, obedience is actually of limited benefit. Robots are obedient. We're not raising robots.

When it comes to discipline, in fact, what we are trying to do is make ourselves redundant. To develop the child's own SELF-discipline. For that to happen he has to make decisions for himself. And he has to screw up a few times, in the process of learning that. Some kids definitely need longer than others in that process, some seem to need to learn the hard way. At no point in the process does rejection or abandonment by a parent help. "I am angry, I am disappointed, I am at my wit's end with you" are reasonable messages. "I give up on you and I don't want you any more" is not, and certainly not for minor issues.

Positive is better than negative. Encouragement is better than nagging. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

The other question that arose yesterday was the standard "You can't be a friend to your child". I don't agree with this. The problem is with how many people define friendship. Good friends are not enablers. They tell tell you when you are out of line. They tell you when you need to smarten up. They listen when you have a problem, and they give good advice on how to sort it out.

But I have seen many parents seem to be unable to be both. I've watched. They have a different voice they use on their kids, it's a firm, authoritative voice, but with a strange tone, it sounds fake, and if anyone spoke to me like that I'd have the urge to salute. I wonder if they talk like that to them all the time. I don't know, I'm not there. But it's as if they are trying to act a part. Actually, it's bloody weird. Where do they get this from? Was that how it was for them as children?

A parent is not a drill sergeant. They're not staff either. I'm always blown away when I see people waiting on their older kids. A lumbering teenager with his trousers round his arse plonks himself down in a chair and calls for Mom to fetch him a drink, and she gets him one! Later she tell me he shows her no respect, and I have to look shocked. In this house the older kids wait on the parents. It's a far better lesson.

I have too much to say, and probably to no real avail. Those who agree with me know all this stuff already, and those who think I'm wrong will carry on as they are, but I'm going to close by sharing, for the umpteenth time, an observation that I see as vindication.

Over the years I have been told two things by many different people, at many different times, but the point is, the same person makes both observations.

1. Melanie, you are too hard on your kids.
2. Melanie, you have great kids.

OK then.


  1. You do realize that you are preaching to the choir? The parents who NEED to read this stuff don't bother..and it always becomes very apparent when you have the misfortune to meet their children.

    1. Yes, I know, I know. I've met your kids, and they are fine young men, so I know you know. But apparently it's not obvious. Cause and effect is lost on so many people.

  2. I enjoy your posts so much. Invariably, I always learn something enlightening. I have to admit I missed the memo...there are parenting POINTS being tracked??? ;)

    Seriously, as a mutual fan of Balance, I feel your success must come from the realization that you CAN provide structure AND be a friend. You have added another young person to your family and that says a lot right there.

    You are enjoying grandchildren, which says there is a line of love being extended that must be working fruitfully. When you speak, I listen with open ears. ;) Kudos, my friend ~ Blessings!

    1. I do think balance is a big, big part of it, yes. I'm always a bit confused by those who either don't understand balance, or don't see its value. Maybe tomorrow I should concentrate on that.

  3. Even with Bunky, who seems to really not care about any kind of future, I have not completely failed. He and I look a lot a like. And complete strangers will come up to me and tell me that my son is the most polite man they have ever met. I don't ever see that at home, but the world sees it and that is the important part.
    Yesterday in a store I heard a small child tell her mother "Listen to me or I will beat your a$$ and put you to bed". The mother actually started listening which was very sad and kind of funny. But it made me realize my kids would never talk to me that way because I don't talk to them that way.

    1. I see Bunky as one who needs time to find himself. After the transformation of my eldest from the laziest teenager in history to total workaholic, I know this can happen. One day a motivation arrives, and after that they are self-driven.

      There is definitely a phenomenon of kids talking to their parents the way they are spoken to, and we all hear our words come back to us in some form or another. BUT....in the example you cite, there's a bigger problem, yes. Because the mother reacted to the child's wishes, it becomes reinforced.

  4. My parents were old-school. If I did something outside of what was expected, I was put over my father's knees and/or had privileges denied. I knew when I had done wrong. But sometimes what was said made me wonder: I was once threatened with being sent away as "incorrigible" because I refused to go sailing on their boat with them. What parent puts a hobby before the welfare of their child? In later years they didn't know why I didn't respect them; well, if you don't respect the kid you can't expect them to respect you.

    1. There, that's a perfect example. They were expecting obedience without thinking it through. And yes, respect has to be earned.

  5. "They have a different voice they use on their kids, it's a firm, authoritative voice, but with a strange tone, it sounds fake>"

    Lol. My daughter told me I did not sound like myself when I tried to be more like my own parents. I went back to being my more sloppy self.