I recently posted about a parenting article which seems to have been a pretty hot topic of conversation, among some circles anyway. As I’ve continued to talk about, and think about, the ideas put forth in this article, something began to bother me. Often times, when parenting is discussed, it is discussed as if it’s a singular something you do; something that is consistent. On one hand, I see that it is- at least there are aspects that should (ideally) be unwavering (e.g. unconditional love, boundaries). But, in a lot of other ways, it is decidedly inconsistent. And this is partly why I struggled as I did to see how to translate The Atlantic’s cult of self-esteem article into real change in my parenting practices today; because what was obviously missing from the discussion is that being a “good” parent might require different tactics- alternative approaches- depending on the developmental stage of your child.
This issue of understanding normal developmental stages and behavior has been brought to the forefront in our (and other parent friends who have children about the same age) awareness these days with one of Eleanor’s favorite new words. No. She doesn’t use it as much as other children whose parents I know, but she does use it. And passionately sometimes. Sometimes she’s deadly serious (“NO [to breakfast first]. Walk NOW.”) while other times it’s obvious that she doesn’t really mean it (“No mommy” [as she laughs excitedly at my tickling her]).
“NO is exactly what he should be saying at this time of his life. It is a POWER word key to his burgeoning autonomy. He’s feeling his independence. Don’t let it rattle you in the least. In fact, welcome his differing opinion and acknowledge it. That’s what he wants. Just don’t give in to it.”
This made sense to me. Her behavior was normal, and rather than fighting it- trying to change it- what I (and Tim) really needed was to feel empowered to handle it. The key, Janet continues, is to give your child options, so that he/she doesn’t feel bossed around, without giving into their demands. “Be effortlessly in charge,” she writes. Children push their boundaries in order to learn exactly where they are (“How far can I go before Mom and Dad say no?”), and while they might fight the fact that the boundaries exist, they are so important. Ultimately, it’s what makes them feel safe- knowing that mom and dad are in charge and that they [the child] can count on that. All. The. Time.
Janet also talks about how important it is, especially during this developmental stage (i.e. toddlerhood) to set boundaries on actions, but not feelings. This feels right to me too, and is in line with other another book I’ve read about the importance of helping your children learn to identify, label, and deal with their emotions. “Children need rules for behavior, but their emotional responses to the limits we set (or to anything else for that matter) should be allowed, even encouraged. Toddlerhood can be a time of intense, conflicting feelings. Children may need to express anger, frustration, confusion, exhaustion and disappointment, especially if they don’t get what they want because we’ve set a limit. A child needs the freedom to safely express his feelings without our judgment.” (Her latest post, Gentle Discipline in Action, is an excellent demonstration of some of these very issues [she has another, with specific tips on discipline, which I’ll discuss soon…or you can search her website for it yourself].)
I am going someplace with this. What I mean to communicate, in a not-so-direct fashion, is that I feel increasingly less discouraged by things I am doing with my 2-year old that seemed, at first blush, to be things which might ultimately turn her into one of those college teacups that Lori Gottlieb wrote about, and instead feel empowered that I can do these things, mindfully, because she’s only 2. If I’m still doing them when she’s 24 (or even 10) then someone can call me on it.