Thursday, July 14, 2011

Good stuff happens too

As I read through other posts in July's Carnival of Natural Parenting it occurred to me that while the purpose of my own entry was to reflect on how little control we ultimately have, the "outcomes" I focused on were nearly exclusively negative.  In my mind, one of the benefits of letting go of the control is a realization that the behaviors of children are neither universal nor eternal.

One common theme that was mentioned was the goal of empathy and respect. Sibling relationships being the most obvious place for a parent to focus their energy in teaching these values.  I completely share the desire to have my children exhibit empathy to both their siblings and others.  However what I have observed is that often kids can behave in some truly challenging ways with their siblings (or parents) but be quite empathetic and respectful in the larger world.  Additionally, siblings can struggle through their childhood and come out as adults the best of friends.

My siblings and I argued throughout our childhood both verbally and physically.  My mother tried a variety of tactics from ignoring ("Oh he didn't hit you! that was just a love pat") to "time out" all together until we worked out the issue.  It was bad enough that there were periods of time when she couldn't leave a given set of us alone together because it wasn't safe for one or both parties. However as adults my sister and I have an extremely close relationship and my brother, while not as connected on a regular basis, gets along well with both of us.

A similar thought occurred to me recently regarding my own hopes for my children.  I had wanted my children to be excited for adventure as they entered adulthood.  And while I can't think of anything I did specifically to encourage that I consciously did things to not discourage it.  I was a bit sad and concerned when my oldest expressed that she wanted to stay close for college and her late teen years with no plans or desire to move beyond the city where her parents and friends reside.  I was concerned that she was being "held back" and even went so far as to worry that she was trapping herself *for the rest of her life*.  I know that sounds crazy, but when we look closely at our concerns regarding our children's behavior or choices there is often an element of universalizing the issue which is what I was doing.  Then I remembered others who I knew as young adults who stuck close to home.  Some are still there living in the same neighborhood as their parents and are quite happy, others moved on in their own time, perhaps experiencing multiple state moves for employment or adventures to other countries.  The choice that was made at 17, 18, 19 gave no information about the choice they made at 25 or 30.

Believe it or not (from my last post) I am the type that generally believes the world is good place, that things well be all right, that it is okay to trust.  That the fact that you can't take the 2 year old to the playground because they bite everyone within 3 feet of them does not mean that they will be beating up kids for their lunch money a decade from now.  Nor does it mean that the sweet, gentle 4 yr old  who stays glued to your side won't pass through a bit of a "mean girl" stage during adolescence and then come out as an adult with a job in the peace corp, traveling the world.

So while the train may take an unexpected (and perhaps unpleasant) detour or could even potentially derail all together for the most part it I think it will be a fun (and surprising) ride.

Rachael and Marley are playing in an old mini-car at the Firefighter's Exhibit in 2009

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Welcome to the July Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting Philosophy
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared their parenting practices and how they fit in with their parenting purpose. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

Girl ScoutsParenting isn't outcomes based.  That's the long and the short of it, really.  There is simply no way to guarantee any particular objective and frankly I'm beginning to wonder if there is any way to tilt the odds much past even chance.  There are the goals that are obviously based on externalities.
  • I want my child to be successful
  • I want my child to think, look, behave in some specific way
Often parents who study attachment parenting or consensual living will roundly reject those explicit goals.  Instead they are often replaced with
  • I want my child to be happy.
  • I want us to be connected.
And parents then strive to behave in such a way that the child will be happy and the family will be connected.

The challenge with this line of thinking is that children are not blank slates - not even a little bit. At the moment of birth (and many would argue before) there are aspects to the personality that are already in existence.  These aspects also do not guarantee any particular outcome, but they do make it quite difficult, if not impossible, to predict how a specific child will react to a specific behavior on the part of the parent.  Additionally, as much as we would want to, we do not control the world in which our children live.  And again, though we may strive to create a specific type of world that we deem best (at least for our small children), we cannot predict how that world will interact with the unique individual who is our child.

If this all sounds a little hopeless it is probably a pretty good representation of how I am feeling at the moment. Actually hopeless is less accurate than helpless. I have one child ready to launch into adulthood and the next entering adolescence with more difficulty than the first.  I've spent the last decade watching the children of acquaintances and friends go from young teenagers into young adulthood. These are families who breastfed, baby wore, respected their children, practiced gentle discipline, homeschooled, whatever it is that we've all put into practice thinking that somehow our parenting "method" would protect our children from LIFE. But just as even those who eat vegan, Western Price, take our vitamins will someday succumb to our own mortality so too will our children be human in a world full of humans.

Swedish school

Some of it is truly tragic.  The story of Henry, son of Attachment Parenting author Katie Allison Granju, is one such example. My heart breaks for the family on a regular basis. Some of it is letting go of those things that we really thought our children would never do... the son who marries a girl who Ezzos your grandbabies or the daughter who thinks that breastfeeding will hold her back as a woman.  And that doesn't even get into the differences in religion, politics, lifestyle, values that can surface. Sometimes it is having an ordinary life when we had hoped for or expected the extraordinary.  Or maybe there are a series of decisions that are made that lead to a place where our child truly is not happy.  A relationship, a friendship, a decision made at a party one night that has consequences, either short or long term, that are difficult to walk away from. This is when parenting dilemmas go from night weaning and biting toddlers to advice on choosing sex partners based on your willingness to tolerate that person as a coparent and really no you shouldn't text your friend a picture of your butt because seriously, kids go to jail for that.  And by the way if someone pulls out drugs in public get the hell out of Dodge because if you all get busted that's it for your college federal financial aid and frankly I don't have money set aside for a lawyer.

What does that all mean for my personal parenting philosophy at this point?  I'm not sure.  A friend who I very much respect said to me years ago "does it help to know that no matter what your children are going to do things that you don't like?" She was speaking to my need desire for control.  We are told with regards to our romantic relationships that the only thing we can "control" is ourselves - we cannot control our partners.  This is equally true for our children, even if our desires are to control for happiness, hopefulness, goodness.  The fates do not differentiate. We do not get to control another. We do not get to define the outcome objectives for another.

In practical terms parenting must also then turn inward.  We can only control ourselves.  We can only live by our own guiding value systems.  This might be WWJD or the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child. Personally I find platitudes to be rather helpful here - you know "do unto others", "be the change", and all the stuff.  So that's where I try to start. What is it that my child wants or needs right here in this moment?  If I can't do that what is the least wrong thing I can do instead? Sometimes the next part is easy - I know what to do and I do it.  Usually it isn't.  Often I don't know what to do, even with that because I don't really know what they want/need and often they don't seem to either (or they can't articulate it).  Do they need someone to push them out of their comfort zone or someone to hold them tight? Challenge or security?  Change or stability? And let's say that I do have some idea generally what my ideal response would be - doesn't mean that I'm able to pull it off.  After being unloaded on I may not be able to offer the empathy or support my child is looking for - at least not right away.  But I try to put my  stuff (insert significant stronger language here) aside and barring that I try to go back later after I've had to time to process it a bit and reengage.

Family Enjoys a Fourth of July Holiday in a Park at Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, Which Is 12 Miles West of New Ulm...
So I guess my parenting philosophy is to try.  To try really, really hard to be okay with the fact that I have no control.  To try really, really hard to do the thing that will best meet both the needs of myself and my child in that moment. And to accept with love, humility and respect my own humanness and the humanness of my child.  Because ultimately, what else can we really do?

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
  • Between Love and Fear: On Raising our Children Sensibly — Mamma Earthly at Give an Earthly discusses the fear factor in parenting and how she overcame it, despite societal pressures.
  • really, when do i get my cape? — Sarah at small bird on fire is a working city mama trying to learn how to set aside her expectations of perfection and embrace the reality of modern parenting.
  • Baby, Infant, and Toddler Wearing — Child wearing is part of Sarah at Nourished and Nurtured's parenting philosophy. In this post, Sarah describes benefits of child-wearing and gives tips for wearing babies, infants, and toddlers (even while pregnant).
  • First Year Reflections — As her daughter's first birthday approaches, Holly at First Year Reflections reflects on how she and her husband settled into attachment parenting after initially doing what they thought everyone else did.
  • Making an allowance — Lauren at Hobo Mama welcomes a guest post from Sam about the unexpected lessons giving a four-year-old an allowance teaches the child — and the parent.
  • How to be a Lazy Parent and Still Raise Great Kids — Lisa at Granola Catholic talks about how being a Lazy Parent has helped her to raise Great Kids.
  • Philosophy in Practice — Laura at A Pug in the Kitchen shares how her heart shaped the parenting philosophy in her home.
  • What is Attachment Parenting Anyway? — Gaby at Tmuffin describes the challenges of putting a label on her parenting philosophy.
  • Of Parenting Styles — Jenny at Chronicles of a Nursing Mom talks about how she and her husband tailored various parenting styles to fit their own preferred parenting philosophy.
  • Moment by Moment Parenting — Amy at Peace 4 Parents encourages those who care for children (including herself) to explore and appreciate parenting moment-by-moment with clarity, intention, trust, and action.
  • Maintaining Spirituality in the Midst of Everyday Parenting, Marriage, and Life — Sarah at Nourished and Nurtured shares her perspective on finding opportunities for spiritual growth in every day life.
  • Parenting Philosophy — Lily, aka Witch Mom's parenting philosophy is to raise child(ren) to be compassionate, loving, inquisitive, and questioning adults who can be trusted to make decisions for themselves in a way that avoids harming others.
  • Long Term — Rosemary at Rosmarinus Officinalis thinks about who she would like to see her daughter become — and what she can do now to lay a strong foundation for those hopes.
  • Connection, Communication, Compassion — She's come a long way, baby! After dropping her career in favour of motherhood, Patti at Jazzy Mama discovered that building solid relationships was going to be her only parenting priority.
  • My Parenting Inspirations - Part 4 — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama looks at her biggest parenting inspiration and how that translates into her long-term parenting philosophy.
  • A Parenting Philosophy in One Word: Respect — Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction summarizes her parenting and relationship philosophy in one word: respect.
  • Knowledge and Instinct — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment believes that knowledge and instinct are super important … as are love, encouragement and respect. It's the ideal combo needed to raise happy and healthy children and in turn create meaningful relationships with them.
  • THRIVE!The Sparkle Mama wants to set a tone of confidence, abundance, and happiness in her home that will be the foundation for the rest of her daughter's life.
  • On Children — "Your children are not your children," say Kahlil Gibran and Hannah at Wild Parenting.
  • This One Life Together — Ariadne aka Mudpiemama shares her philosophy of parenting: living fully in the here and now and building the foundation for a happy and healthy life.
  • Enjoying life and planning for a bright future — Olivia at Write About Birth shares her most important parenting dilemmas and pours out her heart about past trauma and how healing made her a better parent.
  • My Parenting Philosophy: Unconditional and Natural Love — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama shares what she has learned about her parenting philosophy from a year of following her instincts as a mama.
  • An open letter to my children — Isil at Smiling Like Sunshine writes an open letter to her children.
  • My Starter Kit for Unconditional Parenting — Sylvia at MaMammalia discusses her wish to raise a good person and summarizes some of the nontraditional practices she's using with her toddler son in order to fulfill that wish.
  • Responsiveness — Sheila at A Gift Universe has many philosophies and goals, but what it all boils down to is responsiveness: listening to what her son wants and providing what he needs.
  • Tools for Creating Your Parenting Philosophy — Have you ever really thought about your parenting purpose? Knowing your long-term goals can help you parent with more intent in your daily interactions. Dionna at Code Name: Mama offers exercises and ideas to help you create your own parenting philosophy.
  • Be a Daisy — Becky at Old New Legacy philosophizes about individuality and how she thinks it's important for her daughter's growth.
  • What's a Mama to Do? — Amyables at Toddler in Tow hopes that her dedication to compassionate parenting will keep her children from becoming too self-critical as adults.
  • grown-up anxieties. — Laura at Our Messy Messy Life explains her lone worry concerning her babies growing up.
  • Why I Used Montessori Principles in My Parenting Philosophy — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells why she chose Montessori principles to help her now-adult children develop qualities she wanted to see in them as children and adults.
  • Parenting Philosophies & Planning for the FutureMomma Jorje considers that the future is maybe just a fringe benefit of doing what feels right now.
  • Not Just Getting Through — Rachael at The Variegated Life asks what truths she hopes to express even in the most commonplace interactions with her son.
  • Parenting Philosophy? Eh... — Ana at Pandamoly shares the philosophy (or lack thereof) being employed to (hopefully) raise a respectful, loving, and responsible child.
  • Parenting Philosophy: Being Present — Shannon at The Artful Mama discusses the changes her family has made to accommodate their parenting philosophy and to reflect their ideals as working parents.
  • Who They Will Be — Amanda at Let's Take the Metro shares a short list of some qualities she hopes she is instilling in her children at this very moment.
  • Short Term vs. Long Term — Sheryl at Little Snowflakes recounts how long term parenting goals often get lost in the details of everyday life with two kids.
  • Parenting Philosophy: Practicing and Nurturing Peace — Terri at Child of the Nature Isle sets personal goals for developing greater peace.
  • Yama Niyama & the Red Pajama Mama — Part 1: The Yamas — In part 1 of a set of posts by Zoie at TouchstoneZ, Zoie guest posts at Natural Parents Network about how the Yoga Sutras provide a framework for her parenting philosophy.
  • Yama Niyama & the Red Pajama Mama — Part 2: The Niyamas — In part 2 of a set of posts by Zoie at TouchstoneZ, Zoie explores how the Niyamas (one of the eight limbs in traditional Yoga) help her maintain her parenting and life focus.
  • Our Sample Parenting Plan — Chante at My Natural Motherhood Journey shares hopes of who her children will become and parenting strategies she employs to get them there.
  • Philosophical Parenting: Letting Go — Jona at Life, Intertwined ponders the notion that there's no right answer when it comes to parenting.
  • Unphilosophizing? — jessica at instead of institutions wonders about the usefulness of navel gazing.
  • Parenting Sensitively — Amy at Anktangle uses her sensitivity to mother her child in ways that both nurture and affirm.
  • how to nurture your relationships — Mrs Green at Little Green Blog believes that sometimes all kids need is a jolly good listening to …
  • Philosophy Of An Unnatural Parent — Dr. Sarah at Good Enough Mum sees parenting as a process of guiding her children to develop the skills they'll need.
  • Life with a Challenging Kid: Hidden Blessings — Wendy at High Needs Attachment shares the challenges and joys of raising a high needs child.
  • Flying by the Seat of My Pants — Heather at Very Nearly Hippy has realized that she has no idea what she's doing.