Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Perfect Parenting?

As I clumsily stumble my way down this road called parenting I often find myself lost and confused.

Aren’t we all?

The truth is I can’t figure out what kind of parent I am.

There are four different parenting styles, and two main parenting philosophies out there. The four main styles out there are authoritative, authoritarian, indulgent, and neglectful.

According to Wikipedia (my best friend), Authoritative parenting is characterized by a child-centered approach that holds high expectations of maturity, compliance to parental rules and directions, while allowing for an open dialogue about those rules and behaviors between the parent and child. Authoritative parents set limits, demand maturity, but when punishing a child, the parent will always explain his or her motive for their punishment. Their punishments are measured and consistent in discipline, not harsh or arbitrary. So in English these are the parents who explain to their child the why about everything. Why it is not safe to run out into traffic. Why the child must sit in time out after throwing their glass of juice across the room. Punishment is always consistent and equal to the dirty deed. Authoritative parenting is considered the “best” style of parenting because these kids are the most successful socially and academically.

My problem with this type of parenting is sometimes your 2 year old doesn’t need to know WHY they cannot touch the stove because they wouldn’t understand anyway. They just need to know it is important NOT to do it. I believe this type of parenting gives children way too much credit, that they can understand really complex concepts and can think their way through situations and never act on impulse.

Authoritarian parenting is characterized by high expectations of conformity and compliance to parental rules and directions, that does not allow for open dialogue between parent and child. Authoritarian parents expect much of their child but do not explain the reasoning for the rules or boundaries, unlike the Authoritative parent. Authoritarian parents are unresponsive to children’s needs, and are most likely to spank a child as a form of punishment instead of grounding a child. They also expect children to comply with their demands no questions asked. These are the “do it because I said so and I’m the parent,” sort of people. This type of parenting supposedly produces children who have low self-esteem and don’t take initiatives.

My problem with parenting like this is sometimes the parent tends to punish the child out of anger and frustration instead of being consistent. The reason I advocate for parenting like this is because it teaches children about respecting authority without question, which is an important concept when relating to God. That is why it is important that the parent doesn’t punish out of anger because it will give the child a false image of who God is, more like an angry, frustrated God instead of a loving God. While parents do not always deserve the respect they demand, God ALWAYS deserves respect and healthy submission to authority.

Indulgent parenting is characterized as having few behavioral expectations for the child and is characterized by warm affect. Parents are nurturing and accepting, and are very responsive to the child's needs and wishes. This type of parent simply wants the child to like him or her at the end of the day and will do anything the child requests to do (sometimes they might do this out of fear that their children will rebel in negative ways if they are too strict. Indulgent parents do not require children to regulate themselves or behave appropriately, and some parents find it easier to communicate with their children in this way. These are the parents who caters to their child’s every need. This type of parenting supposedly produces spoiled, self-centered brats.

Sometimes I wish I was more like this because those children seem so happy and love their parents, but at the same time I worry for their future. What will happen when someone doesn’t meet their needs or expectations? How will they cope if never faced with disappointment?

Neglectful parenting is when the parents are low in warmth and control, are generally not involved in their child's life, are disengaged, undemanding, low in responsiveness, and do not set limits. Parents are unsupportive of their children, but will still provide basic needs for the child. Neglectful parents are focused on their own needs more than the needs of their own child. These are not parents but rather baby making factories that have children for their own selfish reasons but could care less about their kids. This goes without saying that the children produced through this type of parenting are usually pretty messed up. I’m sure we can find most of them in jail cells.

I would never advocate parenting like this. Ever.

Next we come to the two main philosophies of today, Attachment parenting and Parent-focused parenting.

According to attachment theory, the child forms strong emotional bond with parents during childhood and this has consequences also at adulthood. Sensitive and emotionally available parenting helps the child to form a secure attachment style, which fosters child's socioemotional development and well being. On the contrary, neglecting the child's needs lead to insecure forms of attachment, which is a risk factor for many mental health problems. Many attachment parents also choose to live a natural family living (NFL) lifestyle, such as natural childbirth, home birth, stay-at-home parenting, co-sleeping, breastfeeding, baby wearing, homeschooling, unschooling, the anti-circumcision movement, natural health, cooperative movements, naturism and support of organic food (Side note: they usually don’t vaccinate either). Critics of attachment parenting believe that the "child-centeredness" of this approach causes the parent's lifestyle to be out of control, and leads to clingy, overly dependent, selfish children.

I participate in many of the ideals of attachment parenting. I stay at home with my kids, breastfeed them, co-sleep with my son, baby wear both my kids, I am considering homeschooling, and I would love to feed my kids organically, if I were a millionaire. BUT I believe there are limits for each parent and I set limits I am comfortable with. I am unwilling to breastfeed or co-sleep with a 6 year old child. I believe it is important to nurture my relationship with my husband by enjoying some kid free time in our own bedroom, which is impossible if you co sleep or breastfeed forever. I also think it is important to have some alone time for myself in order to regroup and recoup so I can raise my children and stay sane. If you are with your child every second, there is no time for yourself to be able to make sure your needs are met as well. I like to think of when you’re on an airplane and they say “put on your oxygen mask first before assisting with your child’s mask.”

The other end of the spectrum is more parent-focused parenting, (such as Babywise) which emphasizes a structured parental care framework to assimilate the child into the parent's lifestyle. Characteristics of this parenting philosophy include "crying it out" (allowing the baby to cry without responding immediately to the baby to allow the baby to learn to self-comfort), parent-directed feeding (feeding the child on a regular schedule or based on certain time intervals), and an emphasis on the baby sleeping through the night on its own and learning to self-pacify.Critics of parent-directed parenting believe that this approach contradicts innate biological and developmental needs of the child, potentially causing long-term psychological and developmental damage.

While some people say babywise is a Christian philosophy, something they over look is the different interpretations of time itself. There are 2 ways to see time, clock time or event time. Clock time says “at 3 pm this must happen” such as a doctor appointment. Event time says “after the baby eats the baby will need to be burped.” Since babies cannot read a clock they base their entire life on event time. The bible was written by event time (probably because they didn’t have clocks) so trying to fit life into a schedule isn’t 100 percent biblical. Nor will it keep you sane. Many people become so obsessed with their schedule they forget to enjoy life and miss out on some pretty wonderful moments. Something I do agree with here is “crying it out” in a very limited sense. First off my daughter had colic so she screamed 24 hours a day, unless she was sleeping. If I didn’t set her down, I would have had to wear a diaper. Secondly, when you have 2 children you can never attend to both child’s needs at the same time. If my daughter needs to use the toilet but my son needs to eat, the toilet takes priority and my son will just have to be upset for a minute. I believe in some form or another, this helps to teach the child about patience, which is a spiritual gift (Galatians 5:22-23).

Then we come to something called “Christian Parenting,” when parents claim to apply biblical principles to parenting. Christian parenting can be strict and authoritarian or "grace-based" and share methods advocated in attachment parenting and positive parenting theories.

This is how I was parented. My parents blended authoritarian, “because I said so” parenting with grace based parenting, like when I smashed their brand new car into a pole and totaled it and they didn’t kill me. While they weren’t perfect parents I want my children to be raised in a similar fashion.

I think sometimes I try too hard to fit myself into one style or another when really I should just figure out a proper balance within my personal values. I get frustrated when I cannot be consistent like an authoritative parent because my child is throwing things across the room while I am busy breastfeeding my son. I feel bad when I punish out of anger instead of love and over do it. I’m embarrassed when my child is the out of control one in a group of kids because I lack proper discipline in certain areas. It breaks my heart when I realize I have spent my time selfishly instead of enjoying time with my children. I get angry with myself when I realize I am not meeting the needs of my children.

But at the same time, I am not perfect, only God is. If I was the perfect parent, my children would have no need to seek God’s love and provision. I just pray that in the end I have done enough to point to Him that my children will love, respect, and honor God with their lives.

If there was one thing I could change about myself it would be that I would pray more, because I know that when things are beyond my control, God can pick up the pieces.

For that I am grateful.