Parenting from the box

shape sorterI remember to this day, when the humbling happened.  Of course getting taken down a few pegs only happens when you were on a perch to start with.  Beautiful and I thought we had parenting by the tail.  Holding something by the tail is well and good as long as the tiger you are holding doesn’t have teeth.  Coco and Princess were, model children.  Clearly our parenting wisdom was validated by the fact that they were “turning out.”  Time and again, other parents would say, “Just wait until they hit X.” and X never came for us.  Later, we noticed other parents asking us how we achieved the results we did.  Yes, we were feeling pretty good.  I mean stick your thumbs in your suspenders and rock back on your heals kind of good (except I don’t have suspenders).

Then Thunder happened.  I am so thankful that our Lord brought him.  When I consider all of the blessings he and the other siblings that followed brought, I am moved to tears.  Being able to see one of them go from sadness to a beaming smile because we were there for a skinned knee, or shared a root beer float, or some other minor little thing that was meaningful to them makes every sacrifice absolutely worth it.  But Thunder brought another blessing as well.  He brought a big dose of humble pie to two parents that thought they had parenting down cold.  Sometimes I forget that other parents have not had the blessing of raising children that did not spring from their DNA.  Consequently, they probably still have a bit of pride in their results.  I don’t mean to take anything away from their accomplishments or their children, nor is my goal to try to inflate what is happening here.  Rather, my point in this post is to raise awareness, because I was once again reminded of the ignorance that some parents still hold.

I was looking through some support forums the other day where a parent had my exact problem.  They were looking for a way to disable a feature on some technology for their children.  One parent posted a bit of a snarky comment that you can’t “raise your kids in a bubble” and went on to describe the rules she put in place for her two boys, now grown and making good choices.  The outcome, clearly validated her methods and so the rest of us should get on board.  [Sound familiar?]  Fear, not, I was kind in my reply.  I realized though, that her perspective, is common and the danger that it represents is very real.

Children are not little plants or machines.  You don’t put the perfect mix of nutrition, hydration, and affection in, and out comes the perfect child.  If they have issues, clearly you got the recipe wrong.  That is not how it works. 

Each child is unique and you need to constantly pay attention to their needs, expressed and never articulated.  You have to meet them where they are at, and take them from there.

I remember getting asked by pediatricians for many years about the child proofing in our home.  Social services actually inspects for child proofing when they do their home inspection.   Why is that?  Because every child, at some point, doesn’t understand boundaries.  Others, even when they do, are wired in such a way that they have to test those boundaries.  No parent in their right mind would let a child come to fatal harm in order to learn consequences.  We protect them from what they cannot understand or what they are unable to resist in order that they will grow as much in maturity as they are able.

Some kids will never get there.  They will never get to the point that they will make those good decisions on their own without lots of help.  It could be because they cannot sort through the decision matrix (common with children that endured trauma).  It could be because they cannot connect the consequences with the action (common with children exposed to alcohol in vitro).  It could be because they need to role play through the situation before being in it (common with most children).   What happens to these children?  they end up as adults that cannot make good decisions.

— Warning Political Tangent —

I am conservative and I think we have a lot of good ideas.  One idea that most of us conservatives hold that I think is horrible is the idea that all we need is for everyone to have opportunity.  Work for everyone and everyone works.  WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!  Some people did not get the right care growing up and likely are not getting the right care as adults.  You could put opportunity on their doorstep, or better yet, in their lap, and they won’t know what do with it.  They cannot hold a job because they do not know how to function.  What do we do for these people?  It is a serious problem and callous policies on welfare will only make it worse.  I know, we all know people abusing the system, but that is no reason to make everyone suffer.  We need to understand the full scope of a problem before we start holding our opinions overly tight about how to solve them.

— Tangent end —

There is no safe box for you to parent from.  There is no formula that works on every child and produces perfect results.  There are a lot of great ideas and some methods that definitely help and yield good results, but even these will have set backs.  Since I took away your box, I will give you a list.  Not a firm list, or one you can just check the boxes on, but a list to serve as a guide.

Parenting methods that work all have these common elements (all are Biblical, by the way, but not the list most would look for):

  1. Care of the biological needs come first – if you aren’t providing adequate nutrition and hydration, their behavior issues are on you.  It is also a good idea to consider how biology might be affecting your child’s decisions.  Not every behavior problem is a spiritual problem (in fact, very few are).
  2. Listen before you speak – Children frequently resort to bad behavior when they were not being heard.  If you are not listening to them, you are not really caring for them.  You are also not proving to them that they can, and should trust you.  Children with delayed communication are going to act out more, so expect that and give them what tools you can (sign language is great for little ones).
  3. Model right behavior – Show them how it is done.  Don’t expect them to know unless you work through it first.  Jesus came to earth, not just to die for us, but also to show us how to live.  Model it before they are in it.  If they get something wrong, take them back to the situation and work them through doing it right.
  4. Protection not punishment – If your parenting response is punishment oriented, you need to recheck how God deals with us.  We all receive WAAAAY more grace than we deserve.  If your child cannot make good decisions about something remove them from the temptation.  That is exactly how God deals with us.  Yes, negative consequences do come  and some you need to let your children experience.  But you need to protect them from getting into situations they cannot handle until they have the strength and knowledge to handle it.

I understand that this list is going to cause a lot of you some grief.  It did for me for a long time.  However, the more I studied the scriptures, the more I saw it.  Give it some time before you dismiss it.

The bottom line is that there is no parenting box.  The quicker you come to grips with that, the quicker you will be a better parent.  If you have only raised a few of your own children, keep your perspective in perspective.  You have a miniscule sample size from which to draw your evidence, and it is not even close to being representative of the general population.

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