Thursday, January 27, 2011

Buck Up Little Camper

Do we need to toughen up as parents so that our children toughen up?

As I further contemplate Isabelle's need to control her emotions I wonder. 

Here is a brief history of my parenting philosophy:

When I was pregnant with Jake I read a sum total of zero books on parenting or raising children.  I am not totally clear what my plan was but it never occurred to me that I needed to read any books on the subject.  I have always been a bit of a realist and combined with the fact that I was the first person I knew to have a child I really didn't go through a, "when I have a child I will be the perfect parent" phase.  I figured I would just plug forward one foot in front of the other and everything would be fine.  I never stressed about Jake's behavior problems because I always said I wasn't trying to raise a 2 year old I was trying to raise a Man.  Take the long range view of parenting when your kids misbehave.

Of course parenting is a little challenging so I did glance at a few parenting books over the years.  However, I hate being told what to do and really hate being told I am at fault for my child's behavior so basically I hated parenting books.

Finally I found one that didn't tell me parenting was a one size fits all pursuit and actually encouraged the positive reinforcement style I had sort of developed (and gave me the phrase "positive reinforcement" to describe my parenting style) while suggesting some structure around it. 

I also really believe in open communication with my children and will tolerate a higher level of what some may see as disrespect from my children than most as long as I feel like they are trying to communicate something to me and not just being mean, insulting or trying to manipulate me.

And I really think it is important to understand my child.  Each person is going to respond differently, be motivated by different things, be hurt by different things, need a different style of parenting.

All that to say I am not a very tough parent.  I am not super strict.  My children do get away with murder, they don't always obey and I often do nothing about it.

Just thought I would share.

So two things come to my attention recently as I think about my daughter and her emotional drama.

(As I side note I do realize that 5 year old girls are known for emotional drama and this is not a permanent phase but I just want to establish something now that will lay ground work for a lifetime of being an emotional woman.)

First of all:  I was with some friends recently, one of whom is a middle school nurse.  On her shoulders has fallen the management of several students who have panic attacks about going to school.  What struck me about it was she talked about parents who come and rescue their children as soon as an attack happens rather than making them work through it at school.  She felt it gave the kids the message that they could not work through it at school.  Now this isn't supposed to a commentary on the validity of mental health, I realize I am simplifying here, but rather a question about whether or not we are creating children who can't deal with trouble because we don't ever ask them to.

Second of all:  Have you heard about this new book by the tiger mother.  I imagine you have all heard about the woman who wrote a book about being a "Chinese mother" and the borderline abusive behavior she and other chinese mothers bring to parenting in order to get the high achieving results many chinese mothers get.  Here is what strikes me about that:  they don't wonder if their children are gifted or not, have musical talent or not.  They assume they do and just a good dose of hard, very hard, work will draw it out.  They don't coddle children thinking they need "down time" to recover from the hard work of 30 minutes of homework but are busy insisting on 3 hours of piano practice a night and zero social life.  I spoke with a woman at our church who was raised by a "chinese mother" and she said, "yes", it is real, that is how chinese mothers raise their children.  And A- is a bad grade.  I mentioned Jake's B's which while I wish were A's I am still proud of and she told me if her mother was there she would be giving Jake a lecture about his poor grades and what he needed to do to pull them up. (Which sort of made me wish she was there...)

I cannot tell a lie.  I am a coddler.  I still carry my 5 year old around like she was 1 year old and I did the same with my now 16 year old.  I can't remember exactly when I stopped carrying him places but I assure you it was til at least 5 years old.  I am thinking 8 maybe.  In my defense I don't have other children to carry so there is no obvious moment when I need to stop.  And it is WAY faster to carry them in than walk through a cold parking lot with a slow 3 year old or a stubborn 5 year old.  Just saying.

Are you still reading this because I am very close to my point...

Last night Isabelle came into our room, told me she had a bad dream and waited for me to roll over so she could climb in bed with me.  Now I do not parent in the wee hours of the morning so mostly I just roll over because I do not want to even wake enough to speak to tell her to leave and I know she will just bug me until I am actually awake if I try to ignore her.  But somehow in my unconscious consciousness all this struck me and I wondered if letting her get in bed with me after a bad dream rather than developing coping skills while laying in her own bed was really the loving parent thing to do.

I mean, yes, I remember laying in bed as a child in terrifying fear because of a bad dream or simply because I had worked up some crazy terror over the shadows on the walls.  And, no, I don't want my child to have to go through that torment.  But then again everyone goes through it.  So why does my daughter need to get in bed with me?  Why can't she be scared too?  I still sometimes wake up from a bad dream scared but I don't have to call my mom in the middle of the night to over come it.  I do what I did when I was little.  I pray and ask God to protect me and believe he will.  He always has. 

So I pulled myself out of my sleep stupor enough to tell Isabelle to go back to bed and pray about it.  She cried and I wanted to roll over and rescue her from that cry (or was it rescue my sleep from that cry?) but I didn't and she was in her room and back to sleep within a couple minutes, actually more like a minute.

OK so is there some sort of balance between the "helicopter mom" who rescues their child from everything and the "chinese mom" who pushes to extreme limits?

So what I am wondering here is this: Am I feeding into some of her emotional issues by not letting her learn coping skills on her own?  Am I so afraid she will learn unhealthy coping skills that I am keeping her from learning them at all?

I think a plan is starting to come together:

Step one: Teach her to tell herself the truth.
Step Two:  Be Joyful.
Step Three:  Buck Up.

Parenting is exhausting.


  1. Solely from observations, most everything in parenting has to do with balance. They have to learn the coping skills from somewhere, however guiding them through step by step holding their hand and not letting them figure out how to utilize those skills tends to do more harm than good. I have quite a mix of kids who's parent's style of parenting is very obvious. We have the kid who cries when he doesn't get his way and expects special treatment in EVERYTHING (he's 8...), we have the kid who frantically does her homework because she's afraid of her parents getting mad, and we have (more than I like to see) the parents who have checked out and let them do whatever they want causing them to have learned unhealthy coping mechanisms (and I don't mean leniency, I mean choosing not to try at all). There really is no easy answer, like you said there is no one-size fits all. I think she does need to learn those things, but once she understands what you're teaching she definitely needs to learn to buck up. Again, different perspective than a parent and just observations that I've had.

  2. an enjoyable read. :) i literally had the exact same middle of the night moment with Grace last week. Have been diligently trying to keep her out of our bed. She came in and I wouldn't budge and she managed to get back in her own bed and stay there until morning. A shocker and it is so nice that God gives us these little victories now and then. Of course the next night she couldn't pull herself together at 3am so i got out of bed and made her a bed on the floor of my room. Hey, I still call it a victory when she wasn't actually in my bed! :) and you know i still carry and coddle grace too, because no one came behind her and i don't have any reason to stop...she is the perpetual baby now. :)