Monday, March 16, 2009

Spontaneous Parenting Theory

“Parents who are afraid to put their foot down usually have children who step on their toes.”
-Chinese Proverb

Yesterday I was sitting around the table (at Chez Cora's) with my family. The kids were lost in their own worlds and us adults were discussing parenting. In the midst of our conversation (which was specifically about discipline) I spouted the following theory:

Although some children have natural ADD or ADHD, I'm wondering about how many children's behavioral issues stem from disciplining mistakes made at home. Since so many children are parented by single parents (or because the other spouse is gone so much its almost the same thing), many children end up with only one functional parent. This one parent undergoes what all parents do - the incessant challenging of authority. A single parent must continually fight the desire to "sluff off," compromise, and ignore infractions as the disciplinarian of the household. Unfortunately when one is parenting alone this slide becomes imperceptible. In other words, the parent sluffs off in acceptable levels of discipline without even realizing they've done it. They begin to accept rudeness, disobedience, lack of respect, non-responsiveness, demandingness, etc from their children. Perhaps deep in the back of their minds they realize something is wrong, but they often feel powerless to do something about it.

My theory is that this natural slide of parental discipline and control is worse the more alone the parent is in their duties. There is something beautiful about having two parents call each other on stuff ("Hey, why are you letting him talk to you like that?"), offer fresh solutions ("Why not send them to their rooms?)"), and be an encouragement ("I know you feel bad about taking away her dolls, but you did the right thing"). In other words, parenting seems best when it is done as a team. I have called Jobina on things and she points outs my parental mistakes to me.

I realize my own "slide" mentality when I watch our kids alone for an extended time. Laziness at calling the kids on things, assigning and enforcing consequences, etc. naturally seems to happen the longer I parent the kids by myself. The old stereotypical view that women make the best caregivers and can do just fine without assistance seems dangerous to me. To raise behaved, psychologically healthy, and confident children is not easy, but it is easier (I think) when parents have the opportunity to love and influence their children as a team.

Am I saying that single moms and dads cannot hope to parent as well? Not at all. I think that there are many single parents who are better parents then some mother/father teams! But I think that they have to work much harder then an involved two parent family to get the same results. Also single parents can rely on family, friends, and church family who can help "parent" children and provide those extra person supports (accountability, encouragement, solutions, etc) that every parent needs so badly.

My theory (which you are free to poke holes in by the way) challenges me to not sluff off (which I often do) in the parenting of our children. I'm also challenged to keep my eyes and heart open to be a support to the single parents in my midst. And as long as theory becomes action, I should be OK.

May Light increase!


Moxymama said...

I think you hit on some key points. My husband works a lot and so much of the parenting duties fall to me. I notice after long weeks of my husband's absence I have a tendency to let more slide, mostly out of sheer exhaustion of constantly having to correct, discipline, guide, lead, etc. It is much easier on weekends when my husband is home more and he and I are able to "tag team" and support each other more.

Karle said...

For me it's always a conscience effort on Monday to not let things slide. Mark is back at work so they have to test the waters every week to see if mommy will give in this time. So aggravating, but when I think what they'd be like at age 12 if I give up now, it's so worth the effort.

Mark said...

Yes, parenting is tiring! Children continually test the waters/push boundaries and we sometimes feel that it's hopeless because the changes they make rarely last long before they are challenging us again. Perhaps this is the reality of parenting - children have a sinful nature that will continually move them to challenge us and so we must as parents continually rise the challenge of not giving into them. Our work is never finished - we only get short reprieves and rests occasionally! We must be in it for the long haul.

Dayna said...

good post, mark! i'll try to remember to re-read it some day! i just finished an 11-hr day of babysitting. fun, but tiring... yet nothing compared to day-in, day-out parenting! i salute each of you and look forward to one day joining your ranks!

Catherine said...

I agree with your comments that being a single parent can be hard. I am a single mom of two young kids. I believe though that if you believe in yourself and others, you can be successful especially with discipline. I actually wrote a book on the struggles of a single mom and one of them is discipline. I think some single parents take shortcuts because they are tired and want the easy way out. They may not think about what is best for the kids in the long run. Being a single parent is a sacrifice, but well worth it.