Monday, October 17, 2011

A response to the response to the response

I love these type of dialogues.  They really reinforce the whole idea that I have enough material in my head to garner a book despite the fact that my children aren't teenagers.  Thank you Anonymous!  I shall call you Ducky because I think even if one wants to remain Anonymous it's just easier to call a person something.  So be you male or female I shall call you Ducky.

Ducky writes an interesting comment which I could respond to in a short manner, but feel needs more explanation than that.  Hence the response to a response to a response.  So let's take a look at what Ducky says.

You're not crazy or extreme. You have your way and acknowledge that other people have theirs - I wish most people conveyed their feelings like you.

I think you have a lot of merit & good thought-process behind what you say.

Thank you, Ducky!  I hope that if I ever write a book on the topic that the introduction will say something to that effect.  A lot of my pet peeves about people who write books on discipline are that when they make their argument for their philosophy they tend to bash the opposing view.  It's far better to dissect a person's thoughts and use logical reasoning than to make statements like "Beware of Baby Trainers."  If I were to write a book, it wouldn't be motivated by selfishness, greed, or fame.  I feel that being a Catholic Christian calls us to use our gifts constructively, that is to say in the way God desires not how we desire.  The point of writing the book is to offer a philosophy, for better or worse, that a parent can glean from.  I don't want anyone to copy cat me because "I said so."

I will only note my observations with parents who are always trying to reason with their tots and speaking in sweet voices. Their children are not intimidated at all by their parents and tend to be terribly behaved.(special cases not included) 
Yes, this "sweet talking" is a peeve of mine as well.  It sends the wrong message.  However, I don't believe in intimidating a child.  I believe in being firm with a child, which means having follow through with what you're saying.  Making threats especially idle ones or yelling don't work.  And given what you've said in your comment I hope that's what you mean.  

The dictionary definition for intimidation or rather the verb intimidate means:  "to make timid or fearful; frighten: to compel or deter by or as if by threats" You've said in your comment that:  I am not saying your children need to fear you, but they need to be intimidated just a little, so that they are afraid to break the rules or act like jerks.  So that would mean that you agree that intimidating a child isn't a good idea.

But let's look a little deeper into what you've said.  Why not yell?  Like all forms of punishment, children become numb to yelling if you yell a lot.  You want to save yelling for times when you need an immediate halt to something that is dangerous.  "Stop!"  "No!"  If you say these words in a yelling voice all the time, they become ineffective for when you actually need them.  It's not really about intimidating them by making a threat.  Children can tell that you are scared, which you should be if there is a real threat of danger.  They will know from your tone of voice that something they are about to do is scary without the need to be intimidating. 

Why not intimidate?  Several reasons...

1) Adults are intimidating enough by virtue of size- I'm an average sized woman.  My son is average in height.  This means that he's literally half my size.  I don't know about you, but if someone who was twice as tall as me and weighed about three times more stood over me, it wouldn't take much to scare the heck out of me.  I'd probably hand over my wallet without a fuss.  However, this tall person would have to do quite a bit to help me not be scared of them.  We'd have to build a report of some sort before I would begin to feel more comfortable around them.  So with that in mind, adults don't need to be intimidating.  They already are.

2) Intimidation doesn't build trust- Trust is important for children to have.  The world is scary and not so nice a place.  To me home should be an area where they can learn and grow safely so they can conquer the forces out there that don't love them as much.  Children who deal daily with bullies feel more confident to seek out help from parents and teachers if they come from good safe homes than they do if they come from homes where they can't make mistakes.  Children, like any other person, make mistakes and make bad choices.  They are going to do this.  And there is nothing that you can do to stop it.  I can't stop making mistakes.  You can't stop making mistakes.  We're human.  But God in through his Grace gives us the ability to conquer most of our wrong choices.  And as parents, we are to mirror God's love, which means we have to acknowledge that children aren't perfect, but we get the responsibility, the gift to guide and teach them what's right and wrong.  As they say, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink.  And why intimidate them anyway?  What does it teach them?  Not to trust you or your judgement.  And to be scared of you instead of learning the consequences.

3) Intimidation causes one of two things:  questions of self-worth or rebellion.  If a child's life choices are hinged on what their parents say, then children won't learn how to make choices.  Even young children need to make choices even if they are limited ones.  They need to learn self-reliance.  And they can't learn either if they are in environment where they are scared.

4) Intimidation makes it hard to question authority- Ducky mentioned respecting authority.  I don't advocate teaching a child to respect authority.  The reason is because after the whole priest sex abuse scandal it became clear why victims didn't speak up or out while it was happening (although several did).  They were afraid of the priest, a person in a position of authority.  They knew what was happening was wrong, but they were intimidated and taught never to question an adult's motives.  Now some people would disagree with this because they think it causes rebellion.  Not true.  My parents taught me to question authority figures with respect.  And this is something any child can learn to do.  I had to respectfully admonish my own piano teacher in high school who later appreciated that I did so with respect for her as well as for myself.  Children shouldn't be walked over by anyone including other adults.

So does this apply to young children?  Yes, I think so.  The reason leads to my next question.  If there is no intimidating factor, how do you get to teach your child to "respect your authority?"  Well, as I said, I don't advocate teaching a child to respect your authority.  Authority is a temporary gift from God.  When a child turns 18, you no longer have any legal authority over them as a parent.  If you screw up and the government says you aren't fit, you also no longer have any legal authority over a child.  If your child grants you this authority when they are an adult, I'd be extremely surprised because somewhere along the way your role will slowly change from authority figure to a mentor.  My dad told me that when I was 16 he was not my authority figure.  He could no longer tell me what to do.  Did he mean his job was done?  No, hardly.  Is it done now?  Nope.  The difference is that I respect my father and his opinion to consult him.

So really what you want to teach your child is to respect you because your their older (and hopefully wiser) parent.  How do you go about this?  Several ways which could take a chapter in a book, but let me throw out a handful.  Don't be a screw up.  Well, I wish we all could not be.  But alas, I am a screw up and so are you.  The difference is to learn how to be a good screw up.  Acknowledge that you do things wrong from time to time and ask forgiveness.  Even ask forgiveness from children.  I goes a long way.  I once made a child cry.  I made a huge mistake.  But when I realized that I was the one who was wrong, I had a choice to make.  I could say "well, I'm the big bad authority figure and therefore suck it up little girl" which makes her respect me less.  Or I can say, "You know what.  You screw up and so do I.  We're not perfect.  I'm sorry.  Can you forgive me?"  And that will go a long way.  Children know that adults screw up (even young children).  It's better to acknowledge that we have short comings rather than to be arrogant and never apologize for them. 

The other thing is that respect is mutual.  At some point outside of infancy, children flex their ability to make choices and be autonomous.  You have to respect that while keeping them safe.  It's why I talk ad nausium about not pushing food on picky eaters, or forcing kids to learn the toilet, or giving kids a curfew (gasp!  I never had one).  If you can't respect your children enough to trust them and their choices, then you really need to see that perhaps the reason has something to do with you not trusting your parenting abilities.  Does this mean that they won't make bad choices?  Again, no.  Ask my dad about me coming home at 5 in the morning once.  Did he make a big deal of it?  Nope.  But I had to deal with be totally exhausted while running errands with him like we had planned.  He trusted me enough to make that choice for myself.  And I grew to respect him because he trusted and respected me.

So again, I welcome all questions to my authority.  But remember, I stand behind what I say because it works.  Ask my dad.  I've never so much as smoked a cigarette in my life nor have I got a tattoo all because when I asked my dad for his opinion he told me he didn't think it was a wise choice.  He could have explained why, but I respected him and so as an old lady with two kids, I've never done either.  And he's never really offered an explanation.


  1. oooo, I get to comment first, how exciting!
    I have 5 daughters between the ages of 20 and 4. While I don't disagree with much of what you say in theory, my only comment is there will always be something your plan doesn't cover. I did spank my older 3. Did it damage them irrevocably? I don't think so, not as much as their father's adultery and abandonment, which obviously no parenting plan covers. I can count on one hand the number of times I have spanked my youngest 2. I needed a system that allowed their teen sisters to discipline them too. I talked, reasoned and explained the morality of sex, drugs and alcohol to my teens. None of them are delinquents who use drugs, they only drink in moderation but 2 out of 3 got pregnant right out of high school and the third lives with her boyfriend. They only attended private Christian or homeschool but none of the older 3 go to church. I guess the point in all this is:
    1.having a plan of parenting and an ideal goal(Heaven) is good.
    2. I see little to criticize in your plan, other than to say each child is different and what works with one may not with the next.
    3. raising kids is not like a recipe where if you put in the right stuff in the right way, you are promised a god-loving, well educated, model citizen. Gradually your kids become independent agents who can choose to cooperate with God or reject Him and we can do our best and pray but are definitely NOT in absolute control of the outcome. What is it Mother Theresa said about it not being our job to succeed but instead to be faithful?
    Honestly, if you had asked me when I had 3 kids under 6 why people's kids turned away from God or got pregnant or got arrested(thank God haven't been there), I would have said they came from a bad family. Now, after going through things with mine and knowing other "good" families with disappointing kids, I would say very little. While I don't believe that our kids are depraved selfish monsters needing to have the sin beat out of us, like the Ezzos or Pearls, I do see that original sin has damaged us humans and some people as they grow up choose to embrace the world and sin instead of battle it in spite of their parents best efforts. The devils is not sitting home with his feet up, he is actively out there tempting and seducing.

  2. Well, that was quite a "book." I think you have a good theory, and good luck raising your children with your philosophy.

    Woa - that did NOT sound right. I mean that completely seriously, no sarcasm - I sincerely hope your kids turn out as well as you did with little authority. But remember, children aren't recipes or theories.

    What we do at home is not the "textbook scenario" you have described. By intimidation I mean that yes, my kid would be afraid to sass me, not to ask me a question. I have three very well-behaved and deeply loved children who are fabulously adjusted. They get compliments all the time in public about their behavior and are great students. They know when adults cross boundaries and would feel quite comfortable telling if that happened. So, I guess my philosophy doesn't always lead to where you said it does.

    Ducky :)


I love to read your thoughts. Thanks for sharing!