I want to start this post with a disclaimer. It may be very easy to read this post and it might seem like I am trying to say I am a perfect parent and I have it all figured out. I’m not and I don’t. Parenting is a process and this is where I’m at in my process and even then, everyone’s process is different. I found gentle/positive parenting through some good friends I really respect whose children are turning out great, but even if I didn’t know anyone, it still makes sense to me – even if it will never look 100 percent the same for our family as it has for other families, we are taking from it what works for us and leaving behind what doesn’t (the parenting tool kit approach that I picked up in one of my Facebook groups). Just to give you an example though of how I am not perfect in this, let me tell you what happened earlier this week. Dominic got into the cupboard and broke two bowls and I just blew up at him. I was so mad and so angry that I yelled at him until he cried. Even though Dominic was just being curious and the bowls were too heavy so he dropped them and it was my fault because I knew the child lock on that cabinet only works some of the time and I could have switched it to a different cabinet with less breakable (which I have since done) I still chose to take my frustration at the situation out on him. I am in a continual process of becoming a better parent – God’s not finished with me yet. I am also not trying to call anyone out as a bad parent, I’m just trying to point out problems I see and things I feel are problems. I recognize that everyone’s process is different. If you choose to comment, please also choose to be respectful.
“The true character of a society is revealed in how it treats its children.” -Nelson Mandela, a great leader that the world lost yesterday.
I picked this quote, in part because of the fact that Nelson Mandela died yesterday, but also because I agree with it. I believe that how someone treats waiters and waitresses* shows what kind of a person you are. And how you treat children is also very revealing about your character.
And while I can’t speak for other countries or societies, I can say that I think in America we are doing pretty poorly on that front.
And it starts by how we talk to our children. Because most of the time it’s pretty poorly. We yell, we swear, we belittle, we cuss at, we put them down. And we think because we’re talking to children, that makes it okay. Most of the time, if other adults talked the way we talked to children to other adults on a regular basis, we would think it was wrong. If your boss was always yelling and exploding at you, people would tell you that wasn’t right and to find another job. Even if children do it to other children, we usually think it is wrong. But put an adult talking that way to a child, and most people won’t blink.
Let me give you some real life examples I’ve overheard. One time, for example, I was waiting for the bus and a mom and her 2-3 year old son were waiting with me. This was a transfer so we had to wait a little while. I was bored. The kid was bored and full of energy so he started dancing around the bus stop sign, as there was nothing really else for him to do in that area. The mom started making comments to him about how he was acting like a pole dancer and a stripper and putting on a show for me. Not only were her comments overly sexualizing the little boy, but I also found them to be very shaming. They made me feel uncomfortable but I didn’t know what to. Another time I was at a store in the dressing rooms and I heard this mom berating her daughter, telling her how awful she looked until the girl was in tears.
But let’s look at a general situation – what would you respond to better? “Please your your shoes on.” Said with a cheerful smile. Or “PUT YOUR SHOES ON NOW.” Yelled at the top of your lungs. It’s not rocket science that people usually respond better to kindness. I read in a book (that I’ve mentioned before – The Every Day Parenting Toolkit (which for me has been the thing that I’ve read that lines up closest with how I want to parent and makes the most sense to me)) that you can often get kids to listen better if you say please. And after I read that I started trying it out and it surprised me by making a difference and working. Now does it work 100 percent of the time? No, but I can tell you that neither did yelling. And only one leave us both feeling good about our relationship. Because I do not feel good when I lose my temper – I just feel out of control.
I also disagree with the way we make kids do things that they don’t want to do that benefit us but don’t have any real benefit. Obviously, I am not talking about everything. There are some things that I have to put Dominic through no matter how much he dislikes them. Diaper changes, for example, he hates diaper changes most of the time. I try to make it fun, but sometimes he still thinks it is no fun. But I change it because not changing it would lead to horrible diaper rash from sitting in a stinky, poopy, wet diaper all the time. Trust me, it’s not like I love changing poopy diapers, because really, who does? But sometimes parents push their kids into things that their kids have no say over that are scary or terrifying for the kid. I’m not talking about gentle encouragement here, because I think there is a time and a place for that, but let me give an example so hopefully you see what I’m talking about. Around this time of year, a lot of people have their kid get their picture taken with Santa. Now, some kids love this, but for other kids, especially little, little kids, they are less than thrilled. In fact, some kids are terrified. And in some sense, they are supposed to be afraid – as this is a stranger, who they don’t know, who you are suddenly putting them in the arms of. We tell our kids not to trust strangers, but then it’s okay to sit on a strangers lap? Anyways, sometimes parents make their kids go through with it for the sake of a picture. I think things like that are wrong – there is no real benefit to the kid and it’s what the parent wants out of it (the picture). I think there is a time and replace for respecting the fact that sometimes there are things that kids don’t want to do and it is okay for them not to do those things.
And this kind of leads into the next point. We don’t give kids very much bodily autonomy. We have people that we like and so we want our kids to hug them or kiss them or be held by them. Because we think they should like them since we like them, but we forget that these people – some of whom we may have known forever – are strangers to our kids. And I think it’s important that kids be able to say no if they don’t want a person touching them. I am sure I am not perfect at this, I know, because sometimes I want to give Dominic hugs when he doesn’t want them, but I’m working on it. Not just because it’s their body and so they should have their boundaries respected, but also because many experts agree giving kids bodily autonomy helps to prevent childhood sexual abuse. And if there’s anything I can do to keep my kid from becoming a victim of that, I am more than willing to do it. I will tell people that Dominic likes to give high fives and fist bumps though as a way to connect with him, but even then, I try not to force him to give anyone those things.
I also want to talk about the way that we don’t always allow kids to express emotions. Too often when kids are expressing emotions they get labeled as “bad kids.” They are told to stop crying – especially boys – and suck it up because it’s not that bad. And if you’re told not to have emotions often enough and for long enough, then you really do start to hide your emotions and it leads to more problems later in life expressing yourself. It should be okay for kids to have emotions – happy, sad, angry, upset, excited, surprised and so on – but too often we only allow kids to have “pleasant” emotions. They can only be happy. And I think a lack of being able to express emotion has lead to a lack of being able to show emotions as adults and a lack of being able to be vulnerable, which I think is important in your relationships as an adult. I met a friend of a friend a few months ago who told me that if her mother took something away from her when she was little and she would cry, her mother would tell her to “Stop crying or she would give her a real reason to cry.” That’s a perfect example of not allowing kids to express their emotions. If someone just takes something away from me, as an adult, I’m probably going to be upset. I might not cry, but sometimes crying is the only way kids (little kids especially) have to express that something bothered them. And I don’t even feel like I, as an adult, am always allowed to express my emotions – or that I don’t know how. Several months ago, some friends said some things that, to me, were extremely hurtful. I haven’t been able to tell them how hurt I am for fear that they will just brush it off, but I also haven’t been able to move past it either because I haven’t been able to tell them how much it hurt me. I don’t know where it came from, but I just knew that I couldn’t say how much it hurt me because they wouldn’t take me seriously, that my concerns would just be brushed off and dismissed. And that is what we are teaching kids when we don’t allow them to express even the “unpleasant” emotions except when we deem it’s appropriate. We’re telling them that it’s not okay to feel this way. We’re telling them to be less than who they are.
Dr. Brene Brown talks about vulnerability and feelings and shame and the way it connects to relationships and if you have time, you should definitely watch her TED Talk which I’ll embed here (kudos to my friend, Danny, to introducing me to her and her work). It is difficult to be vulnerable, but I think our society would be a better place if we were more able to be vulnerable with one another. If we were more willing to share our true feelings. If we were more willing to let others know our hurts, maybe in return, they would be more sensitive to us. If we had people around us who made us feel worthy of love and connection, maybe we would have a better world. Just maybe. Anyways, see what Dr. Brown has to say about it.
Last week, on one of the million Facebook pages that I follow where moms ask questions to get advice from other moms, a woman talked about spanking her daughter for wetting the bed. I think that is a sign of just how out of control things are if it is okay to punish a kid for something that they can not control. And I think all of this disrespect for children stems from how we view children (which I talked about earlier) how we view respect. We think of respect in a couple ways. First, that it’s something that has to be earned. And second of all, that respect is for people who are equal to or above us. But children don’t have a long track record, so there’s no way for them to have earned respect, and children also are generally viewed as below us so we don’t afford them that respect either. Which is what makes it circle back to my Nelson Mandela quote – the way we treat children says a lot about us. Do we respect them? Give them mercy and grace even though they’ve done nothing to deserve it? Why can’t we respect them? I looked up the definition of respect and this is what it said: “esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person.” I have a sense of the worth of my children – they are precious and invaluable, why would I not want to respect them as human beings? It doesn’t mean putting them up on a pedestal or telling them they can do no wrong or making them win at everything or not setting boundaries, it means recognizing their human-ness and treating them like you would treat another person.
Lastly, I want to talk about bullying. If you look up the definition of bully, it is “a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people.” Children are smaller and weaker people than adults. Do we use our actions to habitually intimidate our children? Or do we respect them? Are we bullies? Just questions to ask yourself, I’m not going to make any judgement calls on this one.
And more questions: What would happen if we could raise kids who could express their emotions? Who weren’t afraid to be vulnerable? Who weren’t afraid to be themselves? Who felt loved and belonged? Do you think we would change the world?
Kudos to you if you read this all the way to the end! Sorry it got so long! Tomorrow I’m going to be talking about how we tell kids they are capable, but yet our actions tell them they are incapable.
P.S. This is also a good read on this subject.
*And house elves.