Happy parents = Happy kids?

I hate this argument.

I mean, I do believe that happy parents make happy babies. Babies pick up on our emotions and will react to them. If we are stressed, they will be stressed. If we are sad, they will be sad. If we are happy, that will be happy. As a human being, our emotions and what we project will affect the people around us. Depressed people will bring others down and happy people will lift others up.

However, this argument is something that comes up often in parenting discussions and most often it comes up to justify a parenting choice that puts the needs, wants or expectations of the parent, over the needs of a child and that is where I have a problem.

When we choose to become parents, we choose to accept that there will be differences in our lives and that there will be some of our needs, and definitely some of our wants, that are put on the back burner. Is it about being a Martyr? No, not at all. It is about being a parent. An infant is helpless and they simply cannot meet their own needs. As parent we must meet their needs for them. It is that simple. Of course there are times that our needs may come second, but we should be mature enough to accept that we have to wait sometimes.

So now I hear it:“Exactly, which is why we have to “teach” our kids that sometimes they don’t always get what they want right away”. No! this is not the way it works. It is actually the opposite.

If our needs have not been met, then it has been ingrained inside us to do everything and anything to get our own needs met now, because if we don’t do it, it won’t be done. But, If our needs have always been met, then we have the trust that our needs will come to be met even if we have to wait. This includes not only the physical needs but of course, and maybe more importantly, the emotional needs as well.

So to learn that we can wait, we need to have our needs met.

For an infant, or a young child, that does not yet have the capacity to meet their own needs (physical and emotional), If we do not step up and meet their needs, ALL of their needs, their needs will simply not be met, and that, is not acceptable.

Also remark that by putting our needs on the back-burner, it does not mean ignoring them or disregarding them completely. We do have needs but they may not always be done in the way that would want. We have to eat. We have to sleep. We have to go to the bathroom. In these cases, it becomes essential that we find a way to meet everyone’s needs and this is when the scale needs to be balanced but can easily be tipped. This is when we often need to make compromises with what we “want” to then meet every one’s needs.

The thing is, the more we meet our children’s needs, the more they will know they can count on us and the more independent they will become, because they always know there is someone to fall back on. This is the one of the fundamentals of a secure attachment and this type of attachment will flow into all of the stages of childhood until a child becomes an adult and is ready to be on their own and will make it easier to parent. (read my post on Discipline and how non-punitive parenting works) This is the exact opposite of what mainstream parenting practices which is why it fails and why so many adults have trouble putting others first when it counts.

Our society has unrealistic expectations. Babies are expected to sleep through the night, they are expected to not breastfeed as much as the need to, they are expected to sleep alone, they are expected to willingly and happily go with other people other than their parents, they are expected to adhere to a parental schedules. There are so many expectations. However, societal expectations are not congruent with biological needs. They are not natural and they are based on a point of view that has been manipulated and skewed over the years in favour of parental wants over biological needs.

This is when that instance of parental wants often supersede a child’s needs. This when the argument “Happy mom = happy baby” often comes out to justify the favouring of a parents want over a child’s needs.

The thing is, parenthood is not always easy…

A mom should be happy, but happiness is also a frame of mind. You have to be happy within what is handed to you, even in the worst of times and you must have realistic expectations and meet a child’s needs and understand that they’re the ones that know best what they need. And, no, I am not talking about giving kids everything they want, I am talking about giving then what they need. A cookie is a want, food is a need. Going to bed with the pink blanket and not the green one is a want,  Going to sleep cuddled or nursing is a need.

And before it comes up, I do think moms need to take care of themselves and keep healthy to be an optimal parent. That is very true. But it is a choice on how that is done.  Babies are only dependent for a short time in their lives and their needs are actually quite basic. The need to eat, the need to sleep, the need to be cuddled, the need to be loved and feel secure. Meet those needs now and there will be little tears, and pretty soon they grow up and can make their own breakfast while you get a few extra zzzz’s. They will even start making yours.

Discipline and How Non-Punitive Parenting Works

This is in part a continuation of the post “High standards and the cycle of coercive parenting…

We must break the cycle.. But how?

You need to discipline children, because if not, they will never learn. Right?

Ok.. True..

But what does the term “discipline” actually mean and how can it be accomplished in a non-punitive manner?

As I pointed out in the previous post, we live in a world in which most people see discipline as being the imposition of consequences or rewards as a way to modify behaviour. Whether it be spanking, tapping, time-outs, time-ins, praise, sticker charts, rewards or whatever quick fix we can find, the goal is to change behaviour, without regard to the impact that our actions have on attachment.

For non-punitive parents, discipline simply means “to teach”. The emphasis is on preserving a healthy secure attachment in order to do so.

Yes, attachment is the way to discipline.

Attachment is important in any relationship, but, not only is it important, it is required for a relationship to work well for everyone. This is true of all relationships.

We often only hear about attachment as in the attachment parenting movement. Breastfeeding, babywearing, co-sleeping and all of the other components that help us develop secure attachments with our infants, yet the ideology is often forgotten when a child enters the toddler years and beyond. In our society, many parents thrive for independence, not only physical independence but emotional independence, which is something a child will not be ready for until they are in their late teens or young adults and are able to stand on their own two feet in society.

Of course, all children are attached to their parents, however, there are different forms of attachment. There is secure attachment, which is the one I will talk about here; but then there is also ambivalent attachment, avoidant attachment and disorganized attachment.

So while all children are attached, not all attachments are equal. (You can find a quick overview of the types of attachment here.)

The securely attached “easy” child wants to please us. They want to do things for us, they want to be with us and love us. They want to follow us and be good for us.

This secure attachment, this preservation of emotional dependence, is not only important with our infants, but it is as important and even more so, as our children grow.

In the book, “Hold onto Your Kids” Dr. Neufeld and Dr. Maté talk about 6 ways that we attach to someone in a secure attachment. As we grow closer, the attachment grows. And as children mature, this attachment goes through the following stages and you can see the correlation with ages….

From infant, toddler, pre-schooler up to the age of 6/7.  though of course, it is never too late…

The stages are:

  • Senses (all of the physical ways that promote attachment)
  • Sameness (mimicking and wanting to do what the other is doing)
  • Belonging and Loyalty (The “mine, mine” stage)
  • Significance (feeling that we matter)
  • Feeling (giving your heart away, falling in love)
  • Being Known (wanting the other to KNOW you, telling all, sharing all)

Of course I could go into these much more, but I have so much to say already…

So what does Attachment do and why is it so important? And, what does it have to do with discipline?

  • It arranges a hierarchy; We are the parent, we set the boundaries.
  • It renders the other person endearing; Our children love us and like us, and we love and like them.
  • Brings us home; We are where our children feel safe and comfortable.
  • Creates a compass point; We set the direction and they will follow.
  • Activates proximity; our children want to be with us.
  • Evokes a desire to be good; our children want to please us.

Therefore, attachment actually fixes things in a way that the child who is well attached is inclined to want to please us, do things for us, be with us, love us, follow us and wants to be good for us… when a secure attachment is in place, they fall into being that “easy child” (ok… most of the time)

This is the foundation for discipline.

We need to be attached in order to teach, we need to be attached in order to learn.

We learn from those whom are attached to. The grandmother that was always there for us and listened to us without judgement whom we would never want to disappoint; The teacher that made the most impact and who we learned the most from; The friend that was always there for us and who we emulated because we thought they were the coolest. I speak in the past because this attachment works in this way until we are ready to be emotional independent.

Once we reach adulthood, we should be able to be on our own two feet emotionally speaking, and though we still have secure attachments, those attachments will have different characteristics. But children are not at that stage yet, nor are they ready to be.

This is why a secure parental attachment is so important, because if we not our children’s “home”, their compass, if hierarchy is not established in a healthy manner, we are left without the framework in which discipline and teaching come naturally.

Non-punitive discipline is founded on the basis that strong attachment and unconditional love will provide healthy relationships and that children want to emulate what we model, follow our guidance, want to please us and will reciprocate the respect we give them.

So what about behaviour? How do you get a child from not hitting? How do you make a child be polite or not run into the street? How do you make a child obey?

For those coming from a punishment and reward frame of mind, this whole attachment thing doesn’t sound realistic. They just don’t get it. It is because the focus is still on the superficial, often age appropriate, behaviour.

Behaviour is seen as a something negative that needs to be corrected. It is an all or nothing. If you don’t punish then you must just let your kids get away with murder and walk all over you. How else are they going to learn how to not do things? It is an us against them mentality.

The reaction is so predictable at times that it most often follows this formula:

“If I don’t ______ (give a bedtime/force to eat/limit computer/put in time out/tap his hand) then my child would always/never_____ (never sleep/eat anything but pizza/never get off the computer/learn that what they do is wrong/understand not to run into the traffic).”

This ideology leads us to believe that children can not and do not have intrinsic motivation to do the right thing, so punishment (providing a bad experience), or rewarding (pleasurable experience) is the only way children can learn. But this is not true, and we know that it is not true when there is that secure attachment.

Time-outs are probably the most used punishment in our society. They are seen as not being harmful because they are a step away from hitting. But their harm is very real, and it is essential to the very essence of how they work. Time-outs teach that love is conditional to behaviour. This of course is not the parent’s intention, but actions speak louder than intentions. Time-outs only work because they are using the relationship and secure attachment, as leverage. This is why time-outs stop working. The child becomes differently attached and hardened and the leverage is no longer there. The Time-out is a quick fix that may superficially change behaviour but it is done at a very high cost.

Again, the focus is only on behaviour. The goal of punishment; to stop “bad” behaviour. The risk of harming attachment is not even taken into regard.

The non-punitive parent has a different understanding of how behaviour is corrected. Instead of relying on external motivators to change behaviour, we connect and tap into the secure attachment that we have and use that relationship to teach alternatives and demonstrate what we expect them to do.

The twist in this is that time-outs use attachment as leverage to get children to behave in the way the parent finds appropriate and in the end strips that attachment. Non-punitive parents use attachment to their advantage and in the end build that attachment even more. With the former, punishment needs to escalate to keep a balance, with the latter things become easier. Non-punitive parenting is in no way permissive parenting, it is not about ignoring behaviour, it is about correcting behaviour through positive attachment and teaching through that attachment.

So, how is one to break the cycle?

A problem that arises is that we are so used to a fixed set of instructions. When a child does X we must do Y. One set of rules for all children.

But with non-punitive parenting the focus is no longer on the behaviour itself but is on the child and the relationship. Because of that, books and articles that focus on non-coercive, non punishing ways of parenting, focus on the philosophy of a secure attachment instead of being the how-to manuals that simply correct behaviour that are on the opposite spectrum. So unlike the books that focus on punishments and rewards, there are no parenting manuals or simple formulas that will work with every child in every situation so you may need to use your imagination and find a solution that will work for your child.

Non-punitive parenting is far from the permissive, lazy parenting that many make it out to be. There may not be punishments and rewards, but there are rules and boundaries and age appropriate expectations. We may not force our children to say sorry but we do expect them to learn it and say it when they feel it. We may not punish our children for hitting but we will not let them hit and will help them find alternatives. We are not our children’s friends, but we are not their enemy either. We are their parents. We work with our children not against them.

Non-punitive parents understand that healthy attachment is the key. It doesn’t mean that we never have rough patches, or we don’t do things that we regret, or that our kids never misbehave. But what it does mean is that we don’t believe in quick fixes, we focus on emulating the behaviours we want to see reflected and teaching them to find solutions. We work on fixing the problems, not the symptoms.

 

a boy and his shadow...

 

Further reading:

High standards and the cycle of coercive parenting…

High standards and The Cycle of Coercive Parenting…

I saw this article linked to Facebook this morning…

Research shows 50 years of motherhood manuals set standards too high for new mums

New research at the University of Warwick into 50 years of motherhood manuals has revealed how despite their differences they have always issued advice as orders and set unattainably high standards for new mums and babies.

……

“Dr Davis found although the advice from these experts changed over the decades, the one thing that didn’t change was the way it was delivered. Whatever the message for mothers, it was given as an order with a threat of dire consequences if mother or child failed to behave as expected.”

“Dr Davis said: “Despite all the differences in advice advocated by these childcare ‘bibles’ over the years, it is interesting that they all have striking similarities in terms of how the experts presented their advice. Whatever the message, the advice was given in the form of an order and the authors highlighted extreme consequences if mothers did not follow the methods of childrearing that they advocated.”

“Levels of behaviour these childcare manuals set for mothers and  are often unattainably high, meaning women could be left feeling like failures when these targets were not achieved. Therefore while women could find supportive messages within childcare literature, some also found the advice more troubling.”

This article was shared by a group on Facebook that is against “Baby Training” in the form of sleep training such as CIO (cry-it-out) or controlled crying. And I completely agree with them that part of the focus of the article is to show that so many parents are coerced into trying to achieve unattainable standards when it comes to children’s sleep that goes against what is biologically and physiologically normal. I could go on and on about why controlled crying is harmful including the changes in cortisol levels and the long term effects on stress but I think that a previous article by Dr. Gabor Maté sums it up perfectly…

People cannot consciously recall what they “learned” in the first year of life, because the brain structures that store narrative memory are not yet developed. But neuropsychological research has established that human beings have a far more powerful memory system imprinted in their nervous systems called intrinsic memory. Intrinsic memory encodes the emotional aspects of early experience, mostly in the prefrontal lobe of the brain. These emotional memories may last a lifetime. Without any recall of the events that originally encoded them, they serve as a template for how we perceive the world and how we react to later occurrences.

Is the world a friendly and nurturing place, or an indifferent or even hostile one? Can we trust other human beings to recognize, understand and honour our needs, or do we have to shut down emotionally to protect ourselves from feeling vulnerable? These are fundamental questions that we resolve largely with our implicit memory system rather than with our conscious minds. As psychologist and leading memory researcher Daniel Schacter has written, intrinsic memory is active “when people are influenced by past experience without any awareness that they are remembering.”

The implicit message an infant receives from having her cries ignored is that the world — as represented by her caregivers — is indifferent to her feelings. That is not at all what loving parents intend.

Unfortunately, it’s not parental intentions that a baby integrates into her world view, but how parents respond to her. This is why, if I could relive my life, I would do much of my parenting differently.

However, the baby training aspect was not exactly the first thing that came to mind when I find started reading the article.

The first thing that came to mind was how much it shows that the cycle of coercion is being perpetuated; from the authority of the book (or people giving advice), to the authority of the parent, to the focus on punishment and reward to keep control, to learning to make decisions because of external motivation and in doing so, continuing that cycle of control and coercion.

 

flowchart

 

This cycle keeps coming up in parenting circles and discussions. It is the stern “reality” that if you are not “in control” then you are permissive and being controlled.

There is no middle ground and no alternatives. Everyone knows that babies and children are master manipulators and are masters of controlling so you can’t let your guard down for a second. You have to be in control. The parents that don’t use punishments or rewards are just letting their kids run wild and walk all over them and they will never to do things because internal motivation just doesn’t happen. Kids have to “learn” and the parents will have a “wake up call” down the road when they kid is doing whatever they please, jobless or even in jail because they never learned how things work “in the real world”. (I wish I was exaggerating, but I have seen all of these said in parenting threads… even just yesterday)

But I “get” it… the ideas that these parents have comes from this cycle. The whole tone of these parenting methods is by using rewards and punishments and warning that any deviations from the method will be punished. If you don’t listen to the authority and exert control, your baby won’t sleep, your toddler won’t learn to not run into the street and will get hit by a car, your child will disobey and become a delinquent and people will hate them and look down at you as the parent for failing to do the “right” thing. Following the rules of the book and the authority will in turn create “good kids”.

The parent’s behaviour is being controlled by the very ideology of punishment and reward and they are in turn is teaching the same to their children.

The problem though is that following the rules, especially when goals are actually unattainable, is that the parents and children are doomed for failure. Parents end up needing to step it up a notch to be more in control and are forced to choose between doing what they are told and doing what feels right.

I have never heard someone say that it feels right to make their baby cry itself to sleep. They say that it just needs to be done. They are taught that there is no other way, and are led to believe that these behaviours are not normal. The fact is that it is completely normal, but to admit to it or relent control is the equivalent of defeat.

The thing about this cycle is that if someone breaks it, they actually have to have a whole paradigm shift. It is a completely different way of seeing things when you start trusting in yourself and trusting that children will thrive and succeed without being controlled. It also means that we must be able and willing to accept and forgive ourselves for the choices they we may have made in the past that have had negative effects. It is easy to become defensive and say that it didn’t happen, or minimize the effects, but it is not constructive to do so.

It is time that we stop this cycle.

If there is anything that we wish to change in the child,

we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves. 

~C.G. Jung

Continue to read: Discipline and How Non-Punitive Parenting Works

Thoughts for Anaya

Today, just a bit more than an hour ago a family lost their little girl… A daughter, a sister…

My heart is breaking for them… I can’t even imagine…

Her name is Anaya and I first started to hear her story when buzz started on the Internet in search of milk donors not long after her diagnosis. I have been following her story ever since then.

Baby Anaya was diagnosed in May 2010 with Infantile Krabbe Leukodystrophy. She first started showing symptoms in February of 2010 at the age of 4 months. This rare disease causes demylination in the brain due to lack of a specific enzyme required to metabolize fats. It can strike families with no medical history of any neurological problems. Two healthy parents who both carry a recessive gene for this enzyme deficiency can produce a perfectly healthy looking newborn, who, at the age of three or four months, will begin showing symptoms of Krabbe Leukodystrophy.
The outlook for kids with Krabbe is bleak. In most cases a baby diagnosed with infantile Krabbe will develop normally for a few months and then lose their motor skills, the ability to hold their heads up, the ability to smile, laugh or speak, followed by loss of sight and hearing. Seizures may or may not occur and average life expectancy is less than 2 years.

With the love of her family, the gift of mama milk from many candian moms and amazing care, Anaya lived for nearly 2 years and 3 months.

This is not the usual type of that I write but there is something about Anaya and her family that touched me and effected me so much. When I looked at her pictures, I saw my little girl in her. I felt a connection, I had her in my thoughts often especially when I was next my own little girl’s bedside.

So today I grieve with the family, and thank them for sharing her life with so many people.

To know more about Anaya’s life you can read her mom’s blog here…

How far I have come…

I have said it in the past, yet I will say it once again. I have always wanted to journal, yet never found the medium that inspired me to keep at it. This blog is what changed that for me. Now, as more years go by, I am enjoying going back and seeing how much I have evolved as a parent and as a person… as I updated the blog I happened to find myself re-reading a few old posts. It is amazing to me how far I have come in the last years.

When I started this blog I was a mom of two… Xavier was 2 and Colin was about 9 months old, I was the moderator of the AP board on a very popular mainstream site and needed a place to rant. I defined myself as “AP” though I was past that “list” stage, yet it was still was a way to find like-minded people. I was not yet an “unschooler” though I did know that we would be homeschooling with little to no structure. I had ideals, I had a parenting philosophy, I knew what was important to me, yet I did not have the experience. I read what I wrote so many years ago and realize how I was so “new” at being a parent.

So many things have changed over the years, yet it has only evolved in what I see is a positive way. I remember being told “oh, you just wait and see…your kids are young/you only have one/you only have two” when it came to subjects that were not in the mainstream, as if my ideals would change as my children grew or I had more. I agree, they have, but they have not been crushed or been left behind, they have only evolved or have been reinforced.

I used to have ideals that I believed were true and possible, now I have the same ideals that I know are true and possible. I have seen my children learn to fall asleep without ever being trained or crying and without having sleepless nights, I have seen my children wean without weaning them. I have seen my children learn to walk though I always held them and wore them. I have seen how EC works and how amazing it can be to have a baby not wear diapers. I have seen my children learn to read without having taught them. I have seen my children learn boundaries without punishment, whether it be physical or emotional.

It is what I have seen and experienced that has made something change in me.

I no longer have the rants in me that I once had. I saw that shift when I decided to change the name of my blog from “Paxye’s Rant” to “a hippie with a minivan” back in 2007

I knew that I didn’t need to rant as much anymore but I don’t think I understood why as much as I do now.It is in this respect that I see how far I have come…

I now see that my rants were often signs of defensiveness. Not defensive because I felt I was doing something wrong, but because it was all still so much of an unknown. I was parenting in a way that was foreign to the way that I grew up, that was foreign to the way those that surrounded me parented. I knew in my heart that it felt like the right to parent for us, yet I did not yet have a concrete example of the results that would be attained by doing so. Of course, I am still learning each and every day how to break the cycle of the way that I was brought up. I am still a fairly “new” parent with many trials ahead of me.There are still many mistakes to be made and that have been made, that I have learned from and am still learning from. But, I can see that it is no longer as easy for other parents to say “just wait and see”, I am now a more seasoned parent of four that is not only talking the talk, but has been walking the walk.

I look forward to seeing this post in another 6 years and again understanding how far I have yet again come from where I am now.

By |March 2nd, 2011|Awareness, My Life|Comments Off on How far I have come…|