Category: parenting

Parenting: Us vs. Them?

Part 1: What Do You Mean by “Good”?
Part 2: Parenting: Us vs. Them?

Kohn observes that many of the books on discipline have to do with winning battles, how to outsmart them, to get them to do what we want, etc. The language that is often used seems to pit us versus them. But, the real question, Kohn asks, is “do we want to see our kids as opponents to be beaten? (100)” He suggests that this kind of thinking and language comes from a hypercompetitive society, where parents who adopt this are people who need to win. I would suggest that parents who adopt this could also just be desperate for a solution to help them to parent their kids better.

Most who know us know that one of our adorable little children is particularly hard to handle- strong-willed and near impossible to motivate with punishments or rewards. This little lady has driven Jake and I nearly crazy at times, because we just didn’t understand how her mind worked or what we were doing wrong in parenting her. During the worst weeks, I found myself to be open to a lot of different ideas, simply because I was desperate to find something that helped me get control over her so that our family could move beyond tantrum after tantrum. Thankfully she has eased up some, and we’ve all found a way to communicate with one another better.

Kohn suggests an authoritarian approach (i.e. high control) to parenting is not healthy. However, sadly enough, the christian community has fallen into the deception that in order to be godly parents, we have to break our child’s will and teach them how to be obedient to us, without question. The reason behind this idea is that we have to help our child to know that it not his or her will that they should do, but God’s will. I must admit, this sounds very sound and reasonable. But, the more I’ve been thinking through my relationship with God, and how I see Him dealing with His children throughout Scripture is more flexible and relationship-based.

For example, we know that some places in Scripture say that God changes his mind sometimes. Moses was able to talk God out of a couple of his ideas. God invites us to be like the persistent widow who asks and asks and asks, even if the first answer is no (um, can any parent relate to that?!). God doesn’t just want our obedience, he wants a relationship. He teaches us– discipline is involved, but not punishment. He gives good gifts to both good and evil people (sending rain on the just and unjust). I have a lot more work to do in Scripture (and life) before I can make any real definitive case for any of this, but initially, these are my thoughts and reflections on God’s relationship with us.

I’d be curious to get your thoughts on this- is it our job to break our child’s will? And what does that mean and look like?

And another question I’ve been wondering- does God love us with a conditional love? Kohn suggests that the God of the Bible seems to do so. Initially I said, “of course not!” But, as I was thinking more about it, I wondered if it wasn’t an easy assumption to make.

Throw Away the Carrots and Sticks

pic taken from the Laughing Owl

Part 1: What do you mean by Good?

Part 2: Throw Away the Carrots and Sticks

One of Kohn’s foundational points of his book Unconditional Parenting, is that the way we use rewards and punishments in our parenting communicates to our children that we love and accept them only when they’re obedient. Kohn spends several chapters defending his stance, explaining that the carrot and stick approach is simply behavioral conditioning and doesn’t get at the heart of the person, and in reality, it just doesn’t really work.

One reason that a heavy-handed, do-what-I-say approach tends not to work very well is that, in the final analysis, we really can’t control our kids- at least, not in the ways that matter. It’s very difficult to make a child eat this food rather than that one, or pee here rather than there, and it’s simply impossible to force a child to go to sleep, or stop crying, or listen, or respect us. These are the issues that are most trying to parents precisely because it’s here that we run up against the inherent limits of what one human being can compel another human being to do.

Isn’t this so true? No matter what I do, I can’t get my kids to eat, sleep or respect me if they don’t want to. I don’t think I really understood this until having my second child. My first child is a “by the book” kind of kid. My second child has been such a challenge because of her strong-will. Up until recently, there has been nothing that she loves so much that she would stop or start doing something because I tried to use it as motivation. Carrots and sticks just don’t work for her.

So, instead of using rewards and punishments with children, he recommends the following:

1. Be reflective. Be honest with yourself about your motivations for dealing with your kids how you do.

2. Reconsider your requests. What if your child doesn’t want to do what you want them to do? Is it something that they really ought to do because it’s important? Or is it just something that you would prefer them doing? From our family recently, I asked Asante to stop banging his colored pencils on the kid table. He said okay, but why? I realized that I just didn’t want to hear it, but everyone was awake and there was no reason he shouldn’t. So I said, “Thank you for obeying, but you bring up a good question. There’s no good reason. You can go back to it”, and then i went to a different room where it wasn’t so loud.

3. Keep your eye on your long-term goals.

4. Put the relationship first. Make sure that whatever we do, it is worth the strain that it will put on the relationship between us and our child. Sometimes it will be, but sometimes it won’t.

5. Change how you see, not just how you act. Instead of seeing inappropriate behavior as blatant disobedience (sometimes it will be, but with younger kids in particular, it’s much harder to decipher real motivations), look at the behavior as a problem to solve, and work with the child, instead of doing something to the child.

6. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. We want to be respected. So do our kids, even our young ones. Remember that kids aren’t just sheep to be herded, they are real humans with desires, feelings, preferences, etc.

7. Be authentic. Admit when you were wrong, apologize to your kids, speak from our hearts. This is a big one for us. We apologize to our kids on a regular basis- when we lose our tempers, when we say potentially hurtful things, and when we say they can do something and then things end up not going the way we planned.

8. Talk less, ask more. Ask questions instead of assuming the answers. Why did you push your sister? Why did you throw that tantrum? How are you feeling right now?

9. Keep their ages in mind. Let kids be kids. Don’t expect a 4 year old to be a 10 year old. Don’t expect a 2 year old to behave like a 4 year old. I have to remind myself of this nearly every day.

10. Attribute to children the best possible motive consistent with the facts.

11. Don’t stick your no’s in unnecessarily.

12. Don’t be rigid. Predictability- yes. Rigidity- no. Allow the rules to be eased up sometimes.

13. Don’t be in a hurry.  Anyone with a small child will know why this is on his list of suggestions.

He suggests that the goal of parenting is “empowerment rather than conformity, and the methods are respectful rather than coercive” (62).

What do you mean by “good”?

Part 1: What do you mean by “good”?

I just finished a very interesting book called Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason. It’s by a guy named Alfie Kohn, who has written in the areas of parenting, education, and human behavior. Kohn is one of the leading progressive voices in the field of education, and critiques many of the traditional views on parenting and education. I think it’s also important to note that he doesn’t seem to be a follower of Christ, but he seems to be very concerned about children being moral, compassionate, generous, “other”-oriented people.

While there are some major arguments in his book that I do not agree with, I must say that this book has probably been the best parenting book I have read to date. A key question he asks at the beginning of this book really made me think: What do we mean when we say that a child is “good”? Do we mean that s/he is curious? Or compassionate? Or helpful? Or creative? Or do we mean that s/he is well-behaved or obedient?

The next question is- do you want your child to be that quality as an adult– is your child being “good” your long-term goal in parenting? I’ve been thinking about these questions for a week or two, and I have to admit that my answer is no. I don’t want our children to just do whatever they’re told. I want them to be able to think, to respond, to have discussions, to challenge the status quo if it needs to be challenged. I definitely don’t want my girls to just do whatever they’re told (i.e. cave into peer pressure from a boy in the back of a car). I want them to be compassionate, generous, faithful, creative, loving people.

But the question stands, is how I’m parenting helping them to have the tools they need to become those kinds of people? Kohn suggests that most of the books on parenting are actually not helpful in helping kids to become anything but obedient, and rely heavily on the use of control and manipulation. In this book, Kohn makes a case that there may be a different kind of discussion that may prove to lead us to a kind of parenting that helps our children develop in more whole ways.

FAQ: Family Responsibility

Some questions that have been asked (or implied) by multiple people (including myself) over the course of the discussion about our responsibilities as it relates to those outside of our nuclear family.

Isn’t there a specialness to a nuclear family that isn’t there with others?

Of course there’s a specialness- even psychologically, we have some crazy hormones that help us to form that bond with one another (spouse and children). So, naturally, yes, definitely a specialness (thanks for that, God!). And for many of us, yes, it’s not there with others.

I would like to argue that God wants us to be moving towards having this specialness with everyone. In John 17, Jesus prays that His disciples would be one with each other like the Father and Jesus are one (uh, which is some serious unity). This isn’t just a “let’s hang out with people from other denominations and sing nice songs”…this is some serious “knowing” of one another. Just as a set of parents develop this specialness with a child that they adopt or foster, we can develop this oneness with others. I have to say that there are people in my life that are not my husband or children or mother or father that I care for deeply. I consider them true family and they do I… well, at least I think they do 🙂 (we have spent or will be spending holidays with one another instead of being with our biological families). On the other hand, there are some extended family members of mine that I have no relationship with, no bond with, and would not consider them my friend (and there are some that I haven’t seen in years, but still feel a deep bond and love for). I don’t think that specialness is intended to be limited to the nuclear family. And if it is, everyone whom God has chosen to be single or chooses to be single better get married and have kids, because when your parents die, you won’t have a special bond with anyone (note the sarcasm, I don’t really believe that).

Isn’t my child my responsibility? Is it really my responsibility to look out for someone elses’ child too?

Yes, our child is absolutely, 100% our responsibility. However, our child is also other peoples’ responsibility (to a degree)– our community whom God has placed us in. We are our brother’s/sister’s keeper. Maybe they are not in our culture, but there certainly was a sense of this in the early church’s culture, as well as in many cultures around the world today.

We’re called to love one another. Love isn’t partial (choosing one person over another, favoring one over another, check out James 2). As hard as it is, I think we’re called to creatively love our own nuclear family well (if we have a nuclear family) in a way that loves others well too. If we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, that literally means to love someone else like we love ourselves (and probably our family too). We are never given an exempt card on this, that I know of, in Scripture.

Doesn’t Scripture lift up the importance of the nuclear family?

From my understanding, when Scripture is referring to family, for the time in which it was written, the readers would have known that it was talking towards a very “extended family.” Very few people thought in the terms of nuclear family in the way that we do (spouse and kids).

Why is it so bad for the church to build itself up around the importance of family (read: nuclear or biological family)?

A partial love for our own families may speak volumes to those around us who don’t have that kind of love, but it stops speaking lovely things when they get to know our family and see that that love is not for them to be included in on. Ask any single person you know, and they will tell you that the lifting up of nuclear family values in the church today does not speak love to them. It speaks exclusion. And loneliness. And rejection. It’s lovely from a distance, but it doesn’t show them God’s love for them.

Isn’t the idea of family the best for a peaceful, God-centered society?

I have no idea. I’m not a sociologist. But, what I do know is that God desires us to love one another well, with a deep unifying love. If we have an intact nuclear family, then we are in the minority. This conversation may go well for us, but there are a lot of people on the outside looking in. Children whose parents don’t care about them all that much (and those children can be found in our church buildings as well). It’s not the children’s fault. Are we supposed to say, “Too bad for you. You have no one to have a special relationship with. If your parents would die then maybe I would love you and take you into my home because that’s the point when God calls me to love you [as an orphan].” No way! It’s like asking Jesus…so, who is “my family” (Luke 10.29)?

The Sacrifices We Make

What would you give up for your child?

If you’re like most parents, you would pretty much give up anything- your money (ha, which you do), your sleep (ditto), your health, your opportunities. We spend time, money, and energy making sure that our kids have the opportunities they need to grow and become all that they can be. For the past several weeks I’ve been spending all three of those things creating developmentally appropriate activities to do with each kid to help them to reach some goals we’ve set for them by the end of the year. Some of those nights I would have much rather been reading, writing or scrapbooking, but, that’s what a mom will do.

But here’s a trickier question- what would you give up for someone else’s child?

I remember Bill Hybels from Willow Creek Church say that he told his congregation during a big back-to-school clothes/shoes/supplies drive to buy the same quality of clothes or shoes or school supplies that they would buy for their own child. If you shop at Walmart, buy clothes from walmart for the drive. If you shop at Gap Kids, buy from Gap Kids. If you normally spend $100 on a pair of shoes for your kid, buy a $100 pair of shoes for the drive. I wonder what the congregation actually did, because you see, it’s hard to sacrifice for someone else’s child.

This is the question that the editors of Conspire offer in “Our Children, Our Souls.”

In a world that insists that resources are scarce, where the playing field is fractured with structured and intentional inequality, children force us to confront directly this question: ‘Who am I willing to sacrifice so that my own live well?’

This question haunts me.

And if you are a follower of Jesus, it should probably haunt you as well.

Are you willing to give up some of your time for other children? Are you willing to give up a little money for other children? Are you willing to give up a little energy and hard work for other children?

Are you willing to give up some of your children’s opportunities in order to create good for other children? If giving up “best” for your child meant moving another child from “bad” to “good”, would you do it?

These are the things I think about as I play and love and dream with my three precious little children. I want the best for them something fierce. But as I pray for God to break my heart for the things that break His, I’m beginning to realize that while He entrusted these children to my care, I would be failing Him and them if I just did what I could to give them the best opportunities in life. He wants them to care deeply for others. He wants them to learn to love kids who are really different from them in all kinds of ways. He wants them to fight injustice and dream of ways to show compassion for those on the margins, even if they don’t recognize what that means. You see, sometimes what I think is best isn’t what God thinks is best.

Father, give me wisdom and courage to raise these children in ways that would love you and love others. Help me to love others, not only as I love myself, but also as I love my children.

Jesus, Please Don’t Come Knocking at Bath Time

The family and I spent Saturday night at an event in University City called Jesus, Bombs and Ice Cream, which was a fun night of being with like-minded people, dreaming and challenging each other to pray and move towards move Jesus, less bombs, and more….ice cream. I must say that Jake and I were hesitant to go because we were unsure of how the kids would do (3 kids + 7-9pm event + loud music + adult environment=???). But we are SO glad we did, because the kids all rocked it and have been talking about how Jesus feels about war, nonviolence, and ice cream (oh you can only imagine some of the profound and WEIRD conversations we’ve had with Asante). It’s made a huge impact on him, and even Aly a little too.

Anyway, at the event, they were running a special deal on a subscription to Conspire magazine (put out by the Simple Way), so I bought myself an early New Years gift. The current issue is themed “children of God“, which is mostly about parenting. It has been challenging and encouraging me a lot; so much so that I just have to share some of this stuff and hopefully get some of ya’lls feedback. Even if you are not a parent, there is room for you at the table here. Most likely you have little ones in your life that you care deeply about and in which you play some sort of role in their formation.

To start out this series, I want to share a small portion from a poem to God that one of the contributers wrote…

I will not raise my children ignorant of pain

I will not raise my children to believe they are the axis on which the world turns

I will not guarantee they will not go to bed hungry;

They will recognize the cries of the world before they know their multiplication tables….

When you come knocking at bath time,

may our fate not be forever sealed as goats

because we washed backs and played with bubbles….

Almost everyday I feel great tension between the duties of caring for my children and caring for people outside of my immediate context. I think for the first time ever, I have encountered material that seriously interacts with this tension.

Parenting in the Kingdom of God is not for the faint of heart…

Are you Waiting for Superman?

Jake and I are watching Waiting for Superman, a documentary on public education and reform in the United States. While I could give my opinions on the documentary and on public education in general, I would rather discuss the christian’s responsibility in the public schools.

The opening scene is of an educator recalling a memory from his elementary years when he learned superman wasn’t real. He cried. His mom thought it was something like finding out Santa Clause wasn’t real, but it was because he realized no one was coming to rescue him. Who will rescue the kids and their education?

Asante is becoming school age in the next year or two, so Jake and I have been looking into and discussing how to best “school” him. Do we homeschool for a year? Would we ever want him to go to a private school? What are the public schools that are available to him here, if we’re still in Philly when it’s time for kindergarten? Does the public school available affect our decision about schooling?

I know and love many people who homeschool their children, all for a combination of a number of reasons. Most of these people are Christians. While I understand the reasons, I still must ask the question- what would need to happen before Christian parents decided to send their kids to public schools? Even if Christians homeschool, is there a way that they can still impact, influence and love on the kids who are in public schools?

There is no superman who is going to save the public schools. Although there are systems that need to be changed– reform that must happen, it is also going to take teachers and students who help transform those schools. If Christians are op-ing out of the public schools, they are op-ing out of an organization that nearly every child in that community participates in. We want to transform our communities. We want to touch children with the good news of Jesus. But we remove ourselves and our children from the very place where those interactions can happen?

For me, I want the best for my children. And I know that I could do better than some of the public schools around here. But do I make decisions based on the best for my child? Or for the good of the school and community? My biggest obstacle in making this hard decision is fear. I’m afraid that if I send Asante and eventually the girls to a mediocre school, I’m taking away something from him- opportunities, positive environments, etc. But am I also taking away his ability to make friends with people who are far from God? Am I taking away my or Jake’s ability to volunteer in the classrooms, helping make the schools a better place?

This is not an easy decision for many parents, so I don’t want to pretend it is. And for some families, homeschooling is the best decision. BUT, I want to begin a discussion about how we can be serving students and their educational futures no matter which schooling decision we choose. What are your thoughts… especially those of you who have chosen to homeschool?

Grow Together in Faith as a Family

For those of you who are raising families, or are dreaming of doing so one day, this may be a good book to put on your future-books-to-buy list. Amazing Adventures, Creative Connections and Daring Deeds is a book dedicated to the grow of a family’s faith together. Way too many times in American church life today, we leave the growing and fostering of our children’s faith to the local church down the street, while ignoring the HUGE responsibility that starts for us parents at Day 1 of child’s life. While this book is probably not for kids that young, this would be a great one to start when the children hit around the age of 3 or 4. Not only does it focus on reflection, Scripture and serving the community around you, but I think it will bring the family together by pushing everyone out of their comfort zone.

One chapter talked about giving generously, and I suspected that the “action” challenge would be something generic like give a few boxes of mac and cheese to your local food shelter. But, the authors (Tim and Alison Simpson) surprised me by challenging the family to pack up EVERY SINGLE PIECE of unopened non-perishable in the house and take it to a food bank or shelter.

Pick this one up. This isn’t for the family who wants to do a little fuzzy devotional together, but for a family who wants to be challenged in growing outside of their comfort zones, with the hope of these kind of things becoming an everyday part of life.

Here’s free excerpt to check out.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from NavPress Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Do Men Feel the Identity Struggle Too?

For the past week or so, I’ve been discussing some issues related to the identity of a woman in current American society. Are we really oppressed? Do we have choices? What are those choices when it comes to wanting children and/or working? What are some discussions that couples-to-be need to be having in order to insure fulfillment of both partners?

Today I want to bring men into the picture. Do they deal with these issues of identity too?

Last night Jake and I were discussing this very thing. He was sharing with me his idea that maybe a portion of woman’s struggle with her identity is a generational issue. Some women have a hard time making a choice that is different from what her mother, or aunt, or grandmother would think is proper for a woman. Being the first woman to work outside of the home in one’s family could be a hard choice. Even if that’s what a woman wants, it can feel like she’s “oppressed” because she’s making a choice that is different than what she saw as “womanly” or “motherly” growing up. It’s a crisis of identity that takes significant time, soul-searching and prayer to work through.

Jake said there can be a similar male issue as well. Many men of the older generations have a lot of skills. Many are tradesmen or craftsmen- they know how to weld, they have electrical training, they can build things, they’re really handy. When men growing up in that environment decide to do something different- maybe they pursue more academic subjects or decide to be a stay-at-home dad- then they feel a sort of crisis of identity as well. They feel like because they’ve chosen a different route in life, they don’t feel like they have as much to offer. When their dryer breaks, they don’t know how to fix it. Instead, they have to call someone else to come fix it. If they want to build a new cabinet space, they have to hire someone else to do it because they just don’t know how or don’t have the skills to make something that looks nice. They are not “providing for their families” because they stay at home with the kids while the wife is working. It’s hard because they’re not fulfilling what was considered “manly” growing up.

Things change over time. Roles, responsibilities, expectations. Maybe we as a society need to allow more room for people who want to do things differently or choose paths that look a little odd to the status quo. And as we’re beginning to raise the next generation, we may want to constantly be thinking about our expectations for them and how we can allow them freedom in their choices- allowing them to explore who they are and what they like instead of putting (amoral) boundaries around them relating to our likes and dislikes and wants and desires. Of course, much easier said than done. 🙂

Sleeping update

Several have asked how Aly’s sleeping has been going these past few days.

Somehow Aly has begun to sleep through the night again (my definition of this is sleeping from bedtime until 4a (8-9 hours). Anytime after 4a I will feed her, after which she falls asleep immediately and sleeps another 2-3 hours.

I’ve been perusing several books (I won’t get to read any of them closely until my classes are done in a couple weeks), but I’m really enjoying some of the Dr. Sears stuff. The book I’ve been looking at closest is The Baby Sleep Book. Although I don’t like some of Sears’ stuff, I do like others. Particularly, they say, “trust your own instincts and make your own decisions about what is best for your individual baby and you” (5). I love how they empower the parents to make decisions based on what works best for the family, instead of saying that one certain way works best for all families.

I think we decided she’s too young/sensitive to let her cry it out right now (she’s 7.5 months old now). I really think it was separation anxiety at its peak– she’s starting to ease up during the day from being very clingy, so maybe we’re on the downhill? Last night was a rough one- she woke up at 1a and then at 4a, wanting to be asleep SO bad, but just very restless, tossing and turning. We gave her some teething tablets, and she went back to sleep after they kicked in.

So, all this to say, I think right now we’re taking it night-by-night, knowing that some will be rough due to anxiety issues or not enough food during the day or teething, but as long as we’re not noticing a pattern in the times she wakes up, it seems like it’s okay and probably related to external circumstances instead of an unable to self-soothe issue. We’ve heard her cry a little in the middle of the night, but then within a minute or two, put herself back to sleep. Hopefully this means she’s learning how to sleep, but other things are just getting in her way?

I’m going to post more of my reading after Christmas!