Child rearing: What “works”?

What does it mean that a particular parenting technique “works” or “doesn’t work”?

It’s all a function of goals, isn’t it?

There are so many moments of urgency and immediacy in parenting. Sometimes it feels like there are nothing but crises (real or imagined). In this kind of environment it becomes extremely tempting to just focus on what you need to do to get through today – or maybe just this minute – and lose sight of a bigger picture.

But I think it’s necessary to consider what we are aiming at for more reasons than one. First, it has been well said that he who aims at nothing will seldom miss. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it is only possible to measure the success of your own parenting by measuring it against something. Third, if you realize by stating your goals out loud, that they are shallow, unreasonable, or even selfish, you may find you have some re-thinking to do which will inform your parenting methods.

For example, I recently read online the first chapter of a parenting book that a friend was recommending to me. What the author had written horrified me to the point that I didn’t even know where to begin critiquing it. It occurred to me that in parenting, it is really essential to consider what is the final result we are after. Here is what this particular author had to say about what a mother who followed his method would look like:

“Another mother walks in with her little ones and sits down to talk. She says to them, “Go out in the sun-room to play and don’t bother Mama unless you need something.” For the next two hours we are not even aware the children are present–except when a little one comes in holding herself saying, “Pee-pee, Mama.” They play together well, resolve their own conflicts and don’t expect attention when one turns the rocking horse over and gets a knot on her head. They don’t come in and out–they have been told not to.”

It is pretty obvious that the goal of this author’s approach is to raise children who are not bothersome. He doesn’t want to even be “aware the children are present” unless absolutely necessary. These children of his fancy don’t rely on their mother for comfort even when physically hurt. No boo-boo kissing here! They don’t mind being away from their mom for any length of time. Instead, they are satisfied to be comforted by objects such as pacifiers and toys. These “wonderful” children require little hands-on time, and they disrupt the parents’ life and schedule as little as possible. People wouldn’t even know you had kids! You might even make parenting attractive to some of your single friends who thought being married and tied down with kids was likely to change their whole life. But to look at you, it seems parenting could actually be the selfish, responsibility-loathing grasshopper’s dream come true!

Now, if these were my parenting goals, I would certainly say that if the author’s methods get me to this point, they “work”! But considering that these are almost completely antithetical to my goals (and my sanctification!) if I end up with this result, I certainly have failed miserably at parenting.

Parents who have bought into this type of method often tsk-tsk at any way to deal with children that seems to be child-centered. But honestly, what is parenting about anyway? You can be a grownup whether you have kids or not. But you can’t be a parent without children. Thus I believe it is safe to say that children are the key factor in being a parent. Why then is it so horrible to have child-centered parenting? Why is parent-centered parenting any more holy than child-centered parenting?

Critics of child-centered parenting lament that it simply gives a child a selfish world view which will not do him well in the future. However, not only do I believe that this follows from a misunderstanding of what it means to be a child-centered parent, but if you think about it, how does parent-centered parenting teach the child to be anything BUT selfish? You are modeling to your child on more-than-daily basis that as a parent, “MY schedule may not be disrupted. MY time to chat with my friends is sacred. MY nighttimes are my own and I will not allow them to be interfered with by anything so paltry as your needs. I can enforce this because I am bigger and stronger and you are helpless and vulnerable.” As one of my AP parent friends said to me, “After all, we know that man’s chief end is uninterrupted sleep. That’s how he glorifies God.”

What is my goal for my children? That they would come to love Christ, and seek to serve him with obedience for the sake of that love. Will I teach them to love Christ by modeling a God who is quick to punish, who is short on mercy, who requires of us more than we can perform, only to lie in wait and catch us missing the mark in an “aha! Now you’re in for it!” sort of way?

On the contrary, my goal as a parent, starting in my child’s infancy, is to model Christ to him as much as possible. “Follow me, as I follow Christ,” to borrow from St. Paul. Christ has given his body for me, I must give my body for my children. Christ gave up his comfort for me – to the point of unbearable pain – that we might be comforted! I can give up a few (ok, maybe many) nights of sleep to comfort my child. Christ gently guides us and when we fail, forgives us in confession and gives us light penance to keep us from being discouraged. I can use gentle discipline as well to keep from crushing their spirits and becoming frustrated and discouraged. Christ taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” I can adjust my expectations for my children based on their abilities and maturity level, and not expect them to demonstrate the same level (or sometimes greater!) of self-discipline as an adult would.

If I can find a combination of techniques or methods that will accomplish these goals, then I can consider it to have “worked.” Simply shutting the kids up in the here and now, while it certainly might be nice once in a while, doesn’t, to me, indicate my success as a parent in this scheme.

 

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4 Responses to Child rearing: What “works”?

  1. Esther says:

    Wow. You need to write your own parenting book. I liked the whole post, but esp. this paragraph, “What is my goal for my children? That they would come to love Christ, and seek to serve him with obedience for the sake of that love. Will I teach them to love Christ by modeling a God who is quick to punish, who is short on mercy, who requires of us more than we can perform, only to lie in wait and catch us missing the mark in an “aha! Now you’re in for it!” sort of way?”

  2. I loved this post. It’s wonderful to see mothers who are intentional about parenting, What is the goal. Me and jesse have talked about this in length. Something I learned in my couseling classes (for my own life) was if you set goals that you have no control over, they will lead to frustration. I have no control over if my child chooses to serve God, i dont even have control over if he believes in God at all. So making our goal to “that hw would love God and serve him” doesn’t really compute, we would be working to wards something we have no power to anitiate.
    So we modified it to show Soren (our kid) the love and truth of Christ, because we only have control over what we do, not his future decisons. Then we had ro define what it meant to ‘demontrate the love and truth of Christ in our lives’. What does that mean. After studying and looking at scripture, we truly decided that just as salvation was a progressive revelation over time, so it is with a little baby. sharing means nothing as a learned behavior, it can only mean something after a child understands basics rights and has a defined sencse of self worth, then decideds to Give his toy to another. (obviously i havent worked out the logistics but you get the piont). I cannot teach my one year old to ‘turn the other cheek’ i cannot jump to the new testament and start there. You spoke of ‘mercy and grace’ but mercy and grace make no sence to those who did not first understand the LAW of God first, then were revealed who Christ was. He came to fulfill the law, not to abolish it. My son must understand morality, or the law first, then me introduced to how Christ fulfills it. Practically it means that the first 1-4 years there would be alot of training in the law. alot of no’s and alot of bourdries set with consequences. Mercy and Grce would be shown through our everyday lives, but would not manifest itself in regaurds to discipline until the child was old enough to understand it. What are your thought on this?
    SIDE NOTE: I did not like everything that book said. for sure. and i agree that a mother should want to me as involved as possible in a childs life, but i dont think the book was advocating absent and convinient parenting. It had wonderful things to say about establishing boundries with JOY, consistency, and it was very insightful about the psycology of guild and punishment.

    • Sarah says:

      Well, I’m coming from a Catholic perspective. We don’t believe the law was given to break us so God could show us His mercy. So there is definitely going to be a disconnect between us there. I don’t believe in a God who stands there waiting for us to mess up. I believe in a God who makes our environment so rich in mercy, in “outs,” in refuge, via the sacraments and other graces, that NOT to run to Him is the harder way. We believe the law is just a road map that tells us how to best navigate His world. Being given the law (the answers) up front on this open book test of life IS a kind of grace. 🙂 (And so should we view our house rules – as a path to peace and joy and enjoyment of one another, not a means of burden.)

      I think you’re right on the money when you talk about showing Soren the love and truth of Christ by what YOU do. I think children learn by example first and foremost. When we show ourselves to be hypocrites, by not controlling our temper yet punishing them for not controlling theirs, for example, they know this and the lesson they take away is “Whoever’s stronger gets his way” and they will be sure to show us how well they’ve learned this.

      The main thing is to teach our children to love the standards of God so they embrace them on their own. You are right that we cannot choose the way our children take. I hope to equip my children with plenty of opportunities to practice wisdom – starting in the little things and moving on to the bigger things – with room to fail when it doesn’t matter so much – so that by time we let go of the reins a bit, they aren’t floundering for a fall.

      It’s not as though I’m against punishment, per se, but it should not be our primary means of teaching children. They learn more as we walk alongside them rather than dangling carrots on sticks or fear of threats. Just because i may have a well behaved child doesn’t mean I’ve done a good job of parenting. We have to constantly look to our own hearts and motives and see what we are teaching them there about what is important.

      If I had to sum it up, then I’d say this: I want my children to obey by virtue of our relationship.

      I therefore have to cultivate our relationship and make sure they feel it’s something worth preserving. Any “technique” that doesn’t start with this at its heart is going to fail – if not when they are small and controllable, then when they finally leave our influence. But most techniques that do flow from this cultivation of the relationship, however flawed the techniques might be, I think will give children security in our love and therefore not mess them up too much. 🙂

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