Thursday, January 31, 2013

Parenting Philosophies: Are they really helpful?

Last Thursday, my colleague Alyson Lanier and I recorded our first in a series of 4 classes of essential tools for parents. I've been teaching this information for quite a while now and yet I was completely struck by something I saw in a new light.

As parents, most of us are trying so hard to find some way of raising our children that makes sense to us. Maybe we resonate with a Waldorf philosophy or Attachment Parenting calls to us. Perhaps we feel fed by Continuum Concept parenting or Unconditional Parenting or Connection Parenting. There are some wonderful ways of looking at parenting that can be so very helpful for us on our journey in resources like these. I know they made a huge difference for me.

In our class, we were talking about parents who are following a philosophy that doesn't quite fit for them. Maybe they are following Attachment Parenting ideals, which seemed like a good fit when their child was a baby, but now there is tension around co-sleeping. Mom wants to let the child wean from the family bed herself, but feels resentful of this now much bigger child who continues to sleep (read hog) in the bed with her or with them.

I remember when my boys were younger and I encountered many situations where something I was doing didn't feel right, but I didn't know what else to do. It happened more often than I'd like to admit. Sometimes having a sort of mantra to go to really helped (i.e. put the baby in the sling), but sometimes I really needed more.

The problem comes in here because no book can tell you the answer to every challenge your child is going to throw at you. Why? Because there is no other child just like yours with your child's unique life experiences. And because there is no one just like you with your unique life experiences. And there is no family who comes together in the same way as yours does. So how in the world do we expect a  parenting philosophy to give us specific answers about what is going on with our child and what we're supposed to do about it? The best a philosophy can do is point the way, help you see something with new eyes. And the best philosophies point you back to yourself and to the relationship. For that's what this is all really about.

Relationships. Most of us have some challenges in this area. We aren't quite sure what an emotionally healthy relationship looks like or how to have one. We struggle with our relationship with our partner and then we struggle with our relationship with our kids. We don't know when we need a boundary or how to put one in place with respect. Or we blow up because we've exceeded our boundary (probably for a long while) and don't know how to navigate that with love and respect for everyone.

Another important point from the class was about the system and the field. The space around us- between parenting partners, in the extended family, in the greater community- all affect our relationships. We can't have a secure attachment with our child if there is abuse in the family. If parents are at war, the world of our child is not safe.

To illustrate this idea, I had a mom I was working with who was doing everything she could think of to create a positive life for her daughter. She limited her screen time, worked really hard to practice gentle parenting, was homeschooling and planned lots of really great activities. From the outside, it looked like she was doing everything right. But her daughter wasn't sleeping well at night and had some other somewhat alarming behavioral issues that brought her into my office. When we looked more deeply, I discovered that this mother was in an abusive relationship with her partner. She didn't realize that this would have a negative impact on her daughter because she was doing her best to shelter her daughter from any direct abuse. But we can't hide the energy of such things from our children. They are marinading in it, much like a fish in water that is polluted. It doesn't matter how pretty the coral in the aquarium is if the water contains poison. While this situation was extreme, it reminds us all that just following a set of guidelines from a parenting philosophy, no matter how wonderful it may be or how much it resonates, misses the point.

The foundation of an emotionally healthy family includes emotionally healthy partners with a good relationship. It doesn't have to be off the charts fabulous, but don't think that our children don't feel the tension between parents if it is there. When parents really love each other, our children feel that. When they don't, it is essential to work on that relationship and then see what happens with the kids' behavior. It is important to not ignore the elephant in the room when it comes to parenting and partnerships.

This week, we're going to be talking about Creating Connection in relationships and our early stories and how those shape our families. We'll be revisiting attachment and trauma, along with a quick peek at neurosequential development. You can join us live at 1pm EST. We hope you'll join us! Here's a link to to sign up. And here's a link to the main page to read about the course!

Did you join us for the class last week? What did you think? What did you take home with you? I'll be sharing more as I go through the class, but I invite you to please share your thoughts below in the comments.

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