Saturday, 19 February 2011

Hover Parent

Helicopter Parenting Vs. Free Range Parenting is a false dichotomy...

I have thought about this, quite a lot over the years --not the least because I have fielded criticisms from both ends of the spectrum: that I am overprotective and neglectful. It's really, really funny when they're both from the same person...
The phrase I've always used is benign neglect... but I think I need to work on that a bit. I have felt it wasn't quite right for a long time, but haven't really sorted it out in my own head yet.
I believe very strongly that a great many of the problems we see with kids, young adults and society is a massive lack of appropriate supervision. Not someone guiding the kids' activities or telling them what to do or how to do it (of which there is an overabundance, and all of it lacks respect), but someone actually watching them --their development, their discoveries, their forays into the social landscape. 

99% of what goes wrong in any child-on-child interaction could be prevented by anyone with half a brain watching it escalating, long before it gets out of control. What we usually have is someone studiously ignoring them until they're too annoying, or too violent, to un-ignorable and then meting out punishment which appears to be mainly about having interrupted the grownups.
What I'm suggesting is not the same as helicoptering over what's going on all the time, leading kids to this activity or that, or interfering with their play and discovery, telling them what they're learning or quizzing them endlessly... and it is certainly not stopping them from overreaching themselves, trying hard things, becoming frustrated or otherwise engaging in the wide and messy world. 

It is over-managing so their fragile little selves won't have a bump or a bruise ever that I've always been extremely sarcastic about. I don't need my kids not to have a sad. I don't need my kids to feel they're entertained 100% of their day, and whether they are or not is frankly none of my business. In fact, I think the worst of helicopter parenting is that 'your feelings are my fault' aspect that is, in my view, intrusive into a child's private life in some cases to the point of abuse.
My kids were not out 'on their own' when they were 8, 10, 12 or 14... I was with them. Not necessarily doing what they were doing --but there. And almost always the only adult there. I was writing a book, or reading, or writing stories or chatting with whoever was there including other people's children just like they're people, but I was there. 

We had a lot of parents hovering around the gym/dance studio/sports field until the kids were 8 or 10, then I was alone -- unless there were younger kids in the program. 

My kids didn't have a curfew, ever. They were expected to be home (or picked up) when they were done what they were doing. They were expected to have a reason to be out, including a destination and an activity. 'Hanging out' and 'being home later' was not on the menu. They were dropped off and picked up, very often with their friends in the car...
It's tempting to say, now that they're 19 and 21, that they're 'this way' because of how I handled them... but I suspect they came as themselves and are still themselves. If anything, I'll take credit for their total lack of nervous habits, but otherwise it's all them. However: here we are... they're adults and I do not worry about them. I trust them, know them very well, and believe they can handle absolutely anything that comes their way.
I believe this is because I stood back and watched things develop, instead of driving their lives (or padding the world with bubble wrap) --there to help if they needed it, there to stop things that were getting out of hand, and there to watch them handle things well, very often. 
Photo Used with Permission (Creative Commons, Attribution)  Seven News Helicopter over Perth's Swan  River by Michael _Spencer

Monday, 14 February 2011

Family Attachments --Why Dr. Phil is Wrong

Children need to break away, emotionally, from their parents in order to mature.

That is Dr. Phil's belief about the world. And I'll tell you why he's wrong.

Human Cooperation = Survival

In our cooperative culture, the one where every person alive relies on the strengths, talents, gifts and cooperation of everyone else... where people who don't cooperate for the common good are considered to be the most heinous of criminals, the most irredeemable of the sinners, the most selfish and narcissistic of the insane...

Yes, we do have a cooperative culture. We need other people, not just to thrive, but to survive. We need others working on our behalf far away from us, and emotionally we need people working on our behalf right in front of us. We need to know that others value our contribution, we need to make a contribution and we need to value others' contributions. Our basic expectation of life is so cooperative, we can actually ignore the vast majority of our experience in any given day and say 'it's a competitive world' based on the few, rare and still largely cooperative aspects of life that we compete in.

For just a simple illustration: Millions of people on millions of miles of road every day totally take it for granted that all the cars travelling in the other direction will stay in their lane... unless they're drunk, drugged, unconscious or crazy.

The Insanity of Breaking-Away

Where is the benefit, to individuals or humanity, to intentionally break a loving connection with anyone? How is it better to destroy a connected, loving relationship with anyone, if maintaining mutual respect and cooperation is a choice?

How is that good for anyone?

How is it good for parents, to connect with their children and hold their success as a success of their own, to support them, to give to them and to cherish them, and then stop? Why stop?

Who benefits when family relationships are destroyed? 

That is a John Taylor Gatto theme: the intentional destruction of family relationships is to create a society where individuals identify with the state (or the platoon) --to accept propaganda as truth, to take orders without thinking about them, to sacrifice the self for the good of this flag's team, to help control the behaviour of others who also need to rely on the attention and love of this group for their acceptance in society.

It is also a Gordon Neufeld theme: the intentional destruction of family relationships in order to control groups of school children --to get the kids themselves to mold the behaviour of their classmates to avoid group punishment, and to adhere to each other in a deep neediness so they become attached to external things (grades, approval of emotionally-distant professionals, class rankings, school colours, pep rallies) and more readily-controlled through fear of losing that approval or connection.

An illustration of the effect on children: a small human was visiting our home, and struggling to get her own way in some minor conflict over what to do or how to do it. For her, the next act was Defcon 2: she said, "I'm not your friend anymore." For my children, for whom friendship was a lovely, unnecessary, extra in their family-attached lives, it was a cause for empathy. One of them leaned over and very gently said, 'do you need to call your mom and go home now?' My kids had never experienced the withdrawal of affection as a control tool, and felt no risk in having this one child dislike them. How different would  grade 9 be for most children, if they had that kind of stability?

Children grow into adult afraid of rejection when they have already experienced the destruction of attachments. Adults afraid of rejection make better soldiers for governments, better factory workers for corporations, more obedient citizens and more desperate consumers... it's good for the government and the economy to have only a very small proportion of the populace capable of asking astute questions, thinking about the implications (or the foundations) of the propaganda, or resisting the Buy More, Buy Now imprecations of the corporate machine.

Whenever it sounds like it might be good for society, or people, to be incapable of thinking critically about the actions and propaganda of the government... or the environmental organization... or the military junta... or the commercials during the Oscars ... ask 'who benefits?'

Dr. Phil is wrong: to be a mature, stable adult in the real world today, the very last thing that is necessary is intentionally destroying mutually-respectful, human attachments.
Photo used with permission (Creative Commons, attribution) Spirit of Cooperation by NovriWahyuPerdana

Friday, 11 February 2011

Creative vs. Simplistic Parenting

Here's the question of the day, thanks to a reader of my last post:
Why is it that parents keep looking for the simple answer? Is there no room in their lives for a bit of creativity when dealing with a child?
What a great question!

And, it coincides with the posting, by a friend on Facebook, of a story of real parenting creativity:

Scott Noelle, author of The Daily Groove --a parenting newsletter available by email-- wrote a piece about sending notes to your future self (love notes, encouragement, etc.) and tucking them here and there where you'd stumble on them later. A reader commented, including a long story about his experience after finding one, while his 3 year old was having a wobbler, that said 'have fun.' 

This commentator brought creativity of the moment to a situation that many parents would have simply responded to with 'order the child around, if they fail to obey, pick them up and make them do what you want them to do...' A solution that feels simple, obvious and efficient... Does anyone have a tale about what happens when you 'just pick the child up'? or 'just order the child around'?

The problem, of course, with simple, obvious and efficient answers to complex problems (like 'how can I help this overwrought 3yo thrive while I want to accomplish anything else today?)' is that if the problems were simple, obvious and efficient there wouldn't be a problem.

Even 3 year olds are not simple, obvious or efficient. They're people, and like the rest of the people they bring complexity to the world. Of course, we want pat answers --our lives would be smoother, less challenging, less draining and who doesn't want that when we deal with everything else, all day every day?

I understand the allure of the simple answer. I love the simple answers. I want the simple answer to work --who wouldn't? What's not to love?

Well, quite simply, as Barbara Sher puts it: 
If we really wanted bliss in our lives we'd get a 6-pack and a full cable package.
We don't want bliss --ease, simplicity... we might think we do, especially when we're stressed out, but we don't. We thrive on challenges, we strive for mastery, understanding, effectiveness. It's nice if it happens to coincide with efficient, simple and obvious --but we are not energized by those experiences.
Photo used with permission (Creative Commons, attribution license) Father Swinging Son 
PinkStock Photos! by D Sharon Pruitt

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

2.1 Choices --Thinking About Parenting Styles

It is with glee that I notice, once again, that I'm way over the edge over here on the coast... I wouldn't do (or recommend) doing any of the three choices given by, as quoted in an article from St. Catharine's The Standard... click on that link if you want to read the full article, but this is the segment I'm commenting on today:
Your toddler and her friend are fighting over a doll.
When the friend pulls it away from her, your daughter punches the girl and grabs it back.
Do you:
Take the doll away and explain to the girls that they can have it back when they can share and play nicely together?
Do nothing. After all, it is your daughter's doll. Her friend can find something else to play with; kids need to sort out their own problems.
Take the doll away and tell your daughter that you're selling it in a garage sale. She can start saving her allowance if she wants it back.*
The first is 'strict' parenting, the second is 'permissive' and the third is labeled (mis-labeled, in my opinion) 'balanced.' What the third option really is, though, is just as controlling and authoritarian as the first. Different, but the same end of the spectrum. 2.1 options, not three.
When a child is struggling for ownership over her object --with anyone-- it just can't be a parent's job to take possession of the object. Unless what the parent really means is 'none of your stuff is actually yours.' It doesn't matter if the object is removed forever or if it can be purchased back from the thief: 

It is either the child's possession or it is not.
Think about this in the context of the society we actually live in: you and your neighbour have a dispute over half of a driveway that is owned by one party. Does the court step in, take it away and rent out the space to just anyone until the actual owner buys it back, with a threat to sell it if they don't pony up fast enough? 

Why are we teaching children that anyone who considers themselves an authority gets to 'own' their objects until they're satisfied that atonement has been made sufficient to the infraction?

Three things:
  1. Children do not learn to share in an environment where they own or control nothing. All the energy they might have to share something with genuine generosity is spent in fighting for, confirming and protecting their ownership.
  2. We do not live in a 'sharing' culture --it's a fun idea, but no one is allowed to come to your house and use whatever they want for however they want whenever they are there. Here is an example: I'm sending a friend over later to get your car... you can have it back when she's done with it, in whatever condition she happens to leave it. This is, of course, fine because you were taught to share, right? Is it different because it's a 5 year old, or is it only because their stuff is not valuable to anyone but them?
  3. There is a sliding scale of extremely strict to a more balanced style of authoritarian parenting. The key is whether or not someone other than the child is seeking to control what the child does, what the child thinks or what is important to the child... the question to ask is 'what if the child still doesn't do what the parent wants?' The answer to that clears up any doubt that this is about command and control, carrot and stick parenting, whether it uses the rapport-building manipulative communication styles or straight-up ordering kids around.
There is no real 'third option' in this article... just one point on the permissive end and two points on the strict/authoritarian end and one at the other end.

Which is unfortunate, because there is a third option.
*Toddler, seriously? We're going to make a toddler 'save their allowance and buy it back'? A toddler?!
Photo used with permission (Creative Commons license, attributed) Sharing by PlatinumBlondeLIfe