Positive Parenting vs Being a Parent = Reality Parenting

Reality Parenting

Bob and Carol have a blended family with two children each. Carol’s son Ben at 13 is the oldest of the four. Both parents work, so one of the challenges they have is having family time, all six of them together. Another challenge is finding time to be alone—just the two of them.

One Sunday, recently, Ben was ragging on his mother in that way that only 13-year-olds can, as she was trying to get dinner ready. Carol was leaving the next day on a business trip and, well, you can imagine the situation. Carol was still doing a good job of “keeping it together,” but the tension was beginning to tell in her voice.

Bob said, “Ben, let’s go outside for a sec,” and Ben obliged.

When Bob got them around the corner of the house, he faced off with Ben, and looking him intensely in the eyes said in a calm, clear voice: “Look, I need you to stop ragging on your mother. This is our last evening together for a while, and I need her calm. You go into the TV room. Watch TV or whatever you want to do. But shut the door and don’t come out until dinner. Then, come out and be nice to your mother. I need her calm and happy. Do you understand?”

Bob got what he wanted, and Carol was grateful.

I heard this story, yesterday, as I was in the process of discovering—somewhat to my surprise—that the issue of spanking is not dead. Yes, there are a number of parents who actually believe in spanking—not just confess to spanking, but actually believe in it as the loving way to raise disciplined, responsible children. They believe there are two ways of parenting: spanking and spoiling.

The core problem is the notion that there is a right way to parent. Raising children is a dance containing the full range of human movement and emotion, in which all the members of a family experiment with, discover and develop the full range of their voice and vote.  Any parent who tries to “parent” the “right” way is making a mistake. Parenting is a process of growing up— and not just for the kids.

Here’s another story: A single parent I know (call her Sue) was becoming very frustrated at bath time. Her two-year-old daughter (call her Mattie) resisted taking a bath. Mattie was happy to be taught how to fill the bathtub and get the temperature just right, but as the bathtub was filling, “Okay, time to get undressed,” produced a rageful, “No. I don’t want to take a bath!”

Spanking advocates might advise that this direct defiance calls for a spanking to communicate: “Don’t you dare challenge my authority. When I say, ‘Time to take a bath,’ it’s time to take a bath!” punctuation mark!

Here’s what Sue did, instead.

In a calm, confident voice she said: “It is bath time. Do you want to show me you can do it yourself? Or do you want me to do it for you?”

When Mattie maintained her defiant stance, her mother added, “It is time for you to take your clothes off. Please take your clothes off now?”

When she got another, “No!” Sue picked her up and put her in the bathtub clothes and all.

Sue can’t remember any power struggles after that.

Did Bob or Sue “parent” in the “right” way? Creative minds can think of better ways, I am sure. What Bob and Sue did right was to be true to themselves in the moment. Their genius spoke to them, and they acted. At any point in time, this is what kids want from adults—in and out of school.

Sometimes, kids give parents and teachers a hard time simply to get them to stop being rule-driven and to start being soul-driven. Deep inside kids is a feeling: “I don’t trust any adult who makes her decisions ahead of time,” (Channeling an old Chris Rock line). Kids want to know where the adults stand, and there are a nearly infinite number of ways for adults to reveal who they really are.

Better to do something, be wrong and learn, than to go flipping through some parenting rulebook or blindly to do what your parents did to you. Yes, there are valid principles of good parenting, and the cardinal principle is not to obey them but rather to listen to your genius and to follow the dictates of your soul.


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10 thoughts on “Positive Parenting vs Being a Parent = Reality Parenting

  1. good move. That took guts, I bet. But look, right? You are communicating I care more about you than about appearances.

  2. love how Bob handled the situation and as a mom of a 13 year old boy there are times when my husband and I look at each other with a communicating look that says “did that just happen?” or “did he just say that?” and we are decent, kind, loving, law abiding people. 13 is just 13. I remind myself that we (everyone in my family) are doing the best they can with whatever emotional resources they have at that moment in time and we are in it to win it in the long run. I also love that I have grown into myself as a parent, my reality is not everyone’s reality and I don’t want it to be that would be boring and our life is not exciting per se it is just our life XO

  3. I love the freedom shared here … it is an example of “no right” way to parent, that’s for sure. And trusting, or learning to trust, our parenting instincts is a lost art.
    Giving our children permission to choose freely, and to fail, without fear of losing our love and support, allows them to learn to make a difference (i.e., cooperate, accomplish, support and be supported). This is a point worth emphasizing here.

    Example (Sue, Mattie, and the bath from Rick’s post):

    It is more important to Mattie than anything else to have Sue’s love and support, but when upset, Sue’s love and support was not available to Mattie (no fault of Sue’s, by the way). Mattie’s only “survival” move was to resist her mom’s demand. Force (perceived) causes resistance, in any healthy human being of any age, of any culture – except for Zen students when they want to show off! 😉

    Our upsets are times when our children perceive that our love and support is absent due to their behavior in the previous few moments. They perceive that they are at fault (after all, we are the adults!), and are looking for ways to avoid this happening.

    Our words also both cause and result from our upsets. Words like bad, wrong, must, have to, need to – all these refer to what we should and shouldn’t do, and when we don’t do what we should, or do what we shouldn’t, our experience is one of being bad, or being wrong, and thus possibly becoming unwanted, unloved, and unworthy. No cognitive behavioral learning at these times, only hind brain survival experimenting.

    How do we avoid this? What we say and do will work to comfort and reassure them, or it won’t. We learn to look and see, to be responsible for the results of our own behavior (with a great deal of compassion for ourselves and each other). Try the following ideas on at first, and then make up your own. Look for what works and what doesn’t work. This leads to getting the kind of relating you want in your family. From Rick’s great post:

    Example 1: Telling Mattie that she could get herself undressed or that she, Sue, would do it for her just as a matter of fact rather than an act of pressure (intentional or inadvertent), works. But we are programmed to apply pressure, so let’s be responsible for it and add:

    “Mattie, it is up to you. I prefer that you undress yourself, but if you don’t, I will do it. I love you just as much either way.” And show that non-verbally.

    Then follow through, which Sue did not do – Sue put Mattie in the tub with her clothes on instead of taking her clothes off. That is not a bad thing to do, it just doesn’t result in a learning opportunity for Mattie. Sue can fix that by saying that she was upset, that it was not Mattie’s fault either. Then add a little education: “Human beings get upset, and when daddy or I do it doesn’t mean that we don’t love you. We do.” Though only two, when Sue’s non-verbal messages are consistent with her words, Mattie will also be learning words that she didn’t already know, and begin to see that mommies and daddies do get upset and its not necessarily a problem.

    Example 2: I like that Bob got engaged and went to bat for Carol. His demeanor with Ben, however, sounded like upset (blame and force but no fault of Bob’s – it is how we are taught to discipline our children). Ben will/may comply, but inside he is resisting – Bob did not make a respectful request of Ben, and even if he did earlier, don’t we always want to use respect to get the results we want – especially if one of them is respect? Try this on when Bob gets Ben outside, and see if it feels different to you:

    “Ben, you may have noticed that mom is trying to get dinner done and is preparing to leave town tomorrow. That is a lot to handle. Would you be willing to either offer to help her or leave her alone? She loves you, as do I, and we get frustrated when someone is ragging on us. Do you know what I mean?” Then stop talking and just listen. If Ben gets it, Bob might ask him if he would apologize to Carol for ragging on her. Isn’t that what Bob and Carol and Ben, too, would like to see happening? It’s funny how we, the role-models, don’t ask – respectfully – for what we want. And that’s not our fault, either.

    And if Ben then is not willing to do that or find something else that works, then say: “Ben, what you choose to do is up to you. There is no right or wrong answer … you choose … not me. And if you go back and rag on mom, then I will have you leave the kitchen until you are ready to treat your mom with some love and respect. As soon as you are ready, you are welcome to come back. I know she loves you, but it doesn’t work to do what she doesn’t want you to do around her. Again, it is up to you. I love both of you, and one of my jobs to take good care of your mother. What do you choose to do?”

    If Ben complies with either going in to help Carol, or stays away from the kitchen, Bob can plug his relationship with Ben by saying, “Thanks, Ben, I appreciate that. And, by the way, another one of my jobs is to take good care of you … and have you take good care of yourself. You’re doing great.”

    If Ben doesn’t get it (or doesn’t let Bob know that he gets it), Bob could ask him how he is feeling about it and see what Ben says. But again, pushing will cause resistance, and accepting whatever Ben says or doesn’t say keeps the door open. Ben is, due to the likely history in this family, being careful but also trying to get what he wants in a way that doesn’t work (ragging). Perhaps asking didn’t work in the past … perhaps.

    You can do darn near anything with your kids and have fun, too. Just let them know what you are going to do, listen to them, trust yourself, rethink everything you’ve learned, and bear in mind:

    1 – that getting upset doesn’t mean anything (except that whoever is upset is a healthy human being),
    2 – when we are upset, our love and support are not available to others but that doesn’t mean it is not in there – it is just hidden, and
    3 – force causes resistance.

    Note: Being upset does not justify our behavior. And very rarely do we stop and choose to get upset. Our job is to recognize when we are upset as soon as possible, and let it pass before we engage or go back and apologize and repair what we damaged.

    If there were a right answer for handling children’s behavior, someone would have found it by now, don’t you think? Experiment, play, fail, discuss, succeed, celebrate, fail, celebrate, experiment, fail, talk … you will find gold in the dialogues.

  4. Yup. Or as the mother of two of my children said once: “everything I can’t do when I am mad.” (From “The Genius in Every Child,” chapter 5 Discipline) There are principles of good practice, and then there is the meta-principle: Try to be the self you want to be, and then when you fail say: “Sorry, that was not my best work,” be willing to talk about it, and try again.

  5. Thanks, Rick. Very valid perspectives. Children do know when a parent is acting with soul rather than with rules from a book. A good rule is to act with soulful intuition. In my opinion, one of the secrets to parenting is to create a relationship of mutual respect from day one (literally). Another secret that forms the basis of being a special parent is to always throw a pinch of humor into the dynamic. I loved Sue’s spontaneous response to Mattie’s stubbornness because it had a great dollop of fun on top of her making her point. These are the type of parental moments that bring adults and children much closer together for life (remember, mom, when you put me into the bath with all my clothes on?).
    Bob, on the other hand, handled the situation in an efficient manner but lacked the sprinkle of light-heartedness that might have been applied. Maybe he could have added to his conversation with Ben: “I’d like your mother to be happy before her trip, so why don’t you stay in your room until dinner time and then after dinner , we’ll give her a good send-off tickle monster attack! Then i’ll do the dishes while you have a nice, calm, soothing, friendly conversation with her. Okay, now retreat to your room and plan your tactics!”

  6. Oh, John! I so wish I had been raised in your family! Humor is a sign that our genius is at work. In fact, absence of humor is probably a sign that genius is absent.

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