Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Gentle Parenting...

...does not only reflect my beliefs about how I raise my child, and will raise my children. It reflects what I believe to be right about people and life. Gentle parenting goes beyond the sling, beyond the family bed, the extended breastfeeding, extended rear facing car seat, the cloth diapers. Beyond the "methods" I use that have garnered me a label (albeit one I am happy with). I giggle a little when I'm referred to as a hippie mom. I get a kick out of it, and I refer to myself as one, too! But past the easily identifiable, these are some of the values I try to uphold in my daily life as a mother, a friend, a wife, a relative, and as a member of society.

There is some peace that has come with leaving my 20s and having a child. The most significant weight that I have been able to relieve myself of is the need to nurture relationships that are not nurturing to me. I haven't mastered this one yet, but I realize now that the time I have is better spent loving those who love me, and connecting with those who want connection. I hope I can pass this down to my lovely daughter. I don't want her to waste too much of her time, like I did mine, on people who don't appreciate her...flaws and all.

As Charlotte gets older, the topic of discipline comes up more and more in our household. I feel incredibly fortunate for the years of teaching I have under my belt. Not that I have it all figured out, but I have an understanding of a few things that I intend to take with me as I raise my children. The first is that no two children are alike, therefore connection is key. While some kids will do something out of anger, others will do the same thing out of curiosity or mimicking. Some children will push boundaries, others are exploring their environment. Some respond to modeling, others resond to discussion and reason. My point is that understanding the place my child is coming from will inform my approach.

Discipline is about guidance, not control. Of course I would love it if my kids were "well behaved" at all times, but I would love it even more if they sought to understand the world they live in and experience it without fear. And I want them to spend their lives using their minds and creativity to enjoy life, rather than to express hurt and overcome childhood fear, humiliation, parental control, and repressed inquiry. I know that I won't be able to use every second of every day to foster these behaviors, but I can certainly try. And that is what I fully intend to do. It will be time consuming. It will try my patience. But, like building a cathedral, beautiful things take time and patience to render. Life is not simply about obedience.

And before anyone has a chance to tell me, "Just wait until your two year old is throwing a fit while you are sitting at a restaurant. Then tell me how you feel about obedience," I will say this: children need boundaries, and that might mean we leave dinner early, but it doesn't mean humiliation is in order. Kids are not "bad". And I say that with the experience of having a stapler thrown at my head, a sharp pencil aimed at my arm, and a swollen eye behind me (not from Char, of course). Trust me, a fit in a restaurant doesn't bother me in the least. There is always a reason for behavior, and I know full well that pushing mommies buttons is sometimes a reason. But children remain in a state of "me, me, me" for quite a while. Foresight isn't something that is inherent. Toddlers, especially, want what they want when they want it. And I cannot physically change the structure of their brains to NOT want it when they want it, no matter how badly I want to. Instead, I empathize. It is most certainly OK for a child to be upset or angry. These are real emotions that need validation and understanding. That doesn't mean I will give in, but I will not take away my child's right to her emotions. Then, I redirect. The storm will pass. Will I use time-outs? Probably, but I'm not sure how she will respond to them. Will I spank? No. Spanking has been proven to be a short-term solution, with no real long-term benefits, and can be detrimental to a child who just might have a sensitivity to it that could possibly damage the parent-child relationship. And I won't risk that.Will she learn consequences? Absolutely. Natural consequences. Boundaries can be set without physical harm, humiliation, and isolation. But do I have my Master Plan all drawn up yet? Nope. On to the next thing.

My mother is about as kind a woman I'll ever know. She, like everyone, has flaws, but she consistently modeled patience, kindness, empathy, and love with me and my siblings. And when I was growing up, and my first instinct was to pass judgment on other people in certain situations, she reminded me that empathy is a virtue, judgment is not. And don't pretend that you've got all the answers and have the right to judge.

Judgment should be an Olympic sport. There's some serious talent out there, and Motherhood Judgment could be its very own special category. In this category, there would be various events: Breastfeeders vs Formula Feeders, Natural Birthers vs Elective Intervention Birthers, Sleep Trainers vs Non Trainers/Cosleepers, "Traditional" Discipline vs Gentle/Positive Discipline, Strollers vs Baby Carriers, etc. And it seems that some of us have been entered into these events unwittingly, involuntarily, and by some of the people we consider friends. So, since I refuse to join in these games, my counterparts can treasure their Judgment Olympic gold medals while I focus my attention on doing my best to raise a child who does not feel the need to scoff at the choices that other people make.

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