Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Parenting, Positively or Negatively

I have written roughly 20 different drafts of this post.  I have sat at the computer too many hours to count trying to write this without totally sounding like I do everything the right way or have all the answers.  Because I don't.  But my emotions are a huge mix between anger, frustration and deep concern when it comes to this new fad called "positive parenting."  So if you get to the end of this post and totally hate what I have to say, just remember that I have 19 other drafts that you would have hated more...I guarantee it.

It all started when I heard a couple of moms at the library talking about positive parenting.  One mom was telling another how this style of parenting has done wonders for her child.  This mom's child is a whopping 13 months of age and just the sweetest little girl I know.  This was not the first time I've heard the term positive parenting, so I decided to check it out.  For those of you who have not heard of this style of parenting, let me give you a brief overview.   Basically it is parenting done in a positive way.  By positive, I mean there seem to be a large number of parents that don't even use the word 'no' when talking to their children.  It is all about talking things out with your kids...always, always explaining why you do what you do and having only natural and logical consequences in loo of punishments. And putting a kid in time-out is not considered a logical consequence.

My first few drafts had snippets of actual online conversations between parents about how they would deal with this and that.  While my initial intention was to show an actual example of what I find so wrong, I soon realized that I was only picking out the over-the-top comments and not showing an accurate overview of the whole parenting style.   I myself have been known to fit into a parenting category that is all too often inaccurately and fallaciously described so that was definitely not my intention here. 

In order to try to accurately describe positive parenting (pp) I will tell you that, while the basic guidelines do not condone putting children in time-out, there are in fact pp parents that do in anyway.  There are also pp parents that say the word 'no' to their children.  There are probably a healthy number of parents who simply look into positive parenting as a starting point for child raising and ignore the numerous parents who are a bit over the top. And while I too try to make things as positive as possible, as I'm sure most parents do, there are times when the positive in the situation needs to be that we forgive and still love our children when they have done wrong. But actions and inactions have consequences and sometimes those consequences aren't so positive.  From what I gather, it seems that the purpose of no punishments and always being positive is to build your child's self esteem.  Supposedly when you put them in time-out, it is showing your child that you only love them when they are good and not when they are bad.  This isn't something I agree with at all.  I believe that your child learns that his/her actions were not appropriate.  A time-out gives them time to think and process.  I think that, as a parent, if you tell your children you love them no matter what, then they will know you still love them when they need to be punished.

The majority of articles, blog posts, and book snippets I have read all seem to ask the same question.  Do you want your children to obey out of fear or respect/love?  While the authors of these text make it seem like these things are on opposite ends of the spectrum, they really aren't.  For those of you who are not Lutheran and therefore have not studied Luther's Small Catechism, Luther pairs "fear" with "love" in the explanation of each of the 10 commandments.  The fourth commandment is Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother.  What does this mean?  We should fear and love God that we may not despise nor anger our parents and masters, but give them honor, serve, obey, and hold them in love and esteem.  Do we fear God's wrath?  Absolutely!  But we also know He loves us and cares for us. 

As a child I never got into much trouble when in the care of others.  So whether it be a babysitter, school teacher, Sunday school teacher or a friend's parents, I was sure to be on my best behavior.  And, as much as the thought of getting chastised by another adult made me cringe, I feared and loved my parents enough that the thought of reporting back to them that I was misbehaving simply kept me in line.  I just chose to store up all that snottiness for my parents, specifically my mom.  Being snotty to anyone was unacceptable, but it was a big no-no to be snotty to people who where not my parents.  Parents expect their kids to be snots.  But just because a behavior is expected does not make it acceptable.

My parents were very good at teaching me and my brother what was and wasn't acceptable.  I love them more and more for being such faithful and loving parents, for always telling me they loved me even when I was bad, and for punishing me when it was needed.  Yes folks, I just thanked my parents for punishing me.  Did I like it at the time?  Absolutely not.  Did I feel back then that punishments were necessary?  That would be a big fat no.  But if it wasn't for my parents positive and loving guidance (even if it didn't seem so positive and loving at the time), I would not be a decent human being today.  I assure you that if 'no' had never escaped my mother's lips and time-outs were never given, I would be a self-serving, bratty adult.  I still fear my parents.  I fear I will disappoint them.  Deep down I know that was always my fear.  Sure I feared the punishment, but I also feared the disappointment.  Having this type of fear isn't a bad thing.

But you know my biggest concern about the positive parenting model?  It isn't that I find the parenting method to be a conscious effort to undermined the parents that choose to do things the old-fashioned way.  I don't care if you spank or don't spank.  Each child is different and will respond in a different way.  No, my biggest problem is that this method doesn't seem to take original sin into account at all.  I was horrified to find out how many people don't believe in original sin.  Seems like this is something we went over in confirmation, but I was in 8th grade and boy crazy back then.  I'm sure I was playing footsie under the table when I should have been listening.  Sorry Dad.  At least I got the original sin part...I just didn't get the part where we were told others don't believe it exists.

I know it is hard to believe that the sweet little baby you hold in your arms seconds after birth is sinful, but he is.  I know it is hard to grasp the fact that the sweet and helpless child you see before you has sinful thoughts, ideas and actions, but he does.  And throughout all of these online articles and conversations I've seen parents react in two different ways that both stem from the same unbelief in original sin.  Either a parents asks, why is my child doing this?  There must be a reason.  Maybe something is bothering him.  Or they say,  it's natural/normal for children to do this.  He will grow out it.  So I must say, yes, your child's actions are normal.  Your child is doing this because your child is sinful, not because there is some deep dark secret you must uncover.  And while your child will most likely outgrow these undesirable actions if you teach him that they are unacceptable, they will never outgrow being sinful.  Take comfort in the fact that, through God's grace, we are saved.  All of us poor, miserable sinners, both big and small, have salvation.  And we are constantly being shown forgiveness, the same forgiveness we show our children.

I'm disheartened at the fact that my boys will probably struggle to find suitable mates amongst the rising count of positively parented girls.  I find it infuriating when I see a kid throw the monster of all tantrums and get his way.  And I find it utterly frustrating when parents give the kids the reigns.  But above all, I find it sad that some of these kids will never know that the horrible thoughts and actions they may think and do are our sinful natures at work.  And every time we ask for forgiveness in the name of Christ, God grants it.

It is important to let your child know that you love them no matter what.  But even though we love them and will always forgive them, that doesn't mean the consequences will always be positive or be viewed as loving.  As I end my 20th draft I'll be bold and say that if your child does not think you love them even when they are bad, then you are doing something wrong.  And that doesn't mean you should throw all forms of punishment or discipline out the window.  It means you should tell your kids you love them...even when they do bad things.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for such a thoughtful post. My husband is a police officer and he can tell when a young person he has stopped has never been told "NO". On one occasion, he told a young man to put his hands on the steering wheel. The young man continued to root around the seat and his pocket saying "but I was just. . ." Not knowing if this young man had a weapon, my husband started to pull his own gun. I don't want a police officer to be the first one to tell my child "no". What a dangerous situation for the child.

Katie Fiene said...

That is a great example of why we tell them 'no'. I honestly wasn't even contemplating dangerous situations as much as I was thinking about these kids holding down jobs and supporting families. Thank you for your great comment.

Melissa said...

Yes. Yes. Yes and double YES.

Great, thoughtful post, Katie. Your thoughts fly in the face of the psycho-babble and set it straight. I often wonder to what ends pp really works itself out? Simply to have children with high self esteem? Is that really what this theory offers? I'm sure most parents realize what a dead end system that is, but unfortunately, for those uncatechized there is a disconnect between wanting a child to thrive and instructing them on right and wrong. As you so well put, discipline comes in many forms, be it spanking, time outs and/or 'no.'

That said, doesn't it just crawl up your spine when you hear parents brow beating their toddlers with long explanations? Speaking of which, my toddler is screaming at the top of his lungs at the moment. I hope he grows out of this before I pull out my and his hair.