I’m no expert. But that’s okay, because neither are you.
You might disagree. You might think you’re an expert. Maybe because you’ve read all the guidebooks that other ‘experts’ have written. Maybe because of your devotion to your religion. Maybe because your kids do whatever you say or get great marks or have good careers. But you’re no expert. And those folks who wrote all those books? They’re no experts, either. No one is. In the end, parenting is a grand and glorious experiment.
But I’ve learned stuff along the way. Some of it is obvious. But a lot of it is so counter-intuitive that it blows my mind.
- Breaking your child’s will dangerous and stupid. I was always told that strong-willed kids need to be broken. But that’s about as dumb as saying a clever kid needs to be turned stupid because she is a smart-ass. My son is just about the strongest-willed child I know. And I love it. I want his will to be stronger, in fact. A strong-willed child grows up into a strong-willed adult. And strong-willed adults change the world. A broken child doesn’t. A broken child can only follow.
- Defiance and rebellion is sometimes a good thing to nurture. Because authorities are often wrong. Kids need to know that and they need to learn how to spot it. I often tell my son that if I ever tell him to do something unkind, he ought to disobey. He’s seven and he’s clever enough to know the difference between what is kind and what is unkind. He has permission to disobey me when his conscience demands it. People often tell me that they are worried my son might abuse that idea, but he never has. Ever.
- Punishment is easy. Nurturing is hard. And since punishment is easy, its benefits are severely limited. All parents have that primal urge to lash out at a child who lashes out. We yearn to throw a tantrum at the child who throws a tantrum. But it’s so much more effective and life-building to stop, breathe and talk. Children are not stupid. Anyone who says that has never really sat down to talk with their child. I haven’t ‘punished’ my children in ages. There’s no need. I cannot remember the last time I had a conflict with my children that could not be solved by a good, mindful conversation.
- Internal motivation trumps external threats. I have no desire whatsoever to have a child who obeys me because he fears what I may do to him if he doesn’t. Frankly, I’d rather him disobey. If I want my children to act in a certain way, I convince them of its benefit. I trust that they both have the mental and moral capacity to see the attractiveness of a love-filled life. And it works. Every single time.
- Physical coercion breaks things. I know, I know, we’ve all been hit by our parents and we’ve all turned out fine. That’s what we all say. And we’ve got our Bible verses to back it up. But my road has shown me that demanding obedience by threat of physical pain causes anger and confusion. There is no violence in my house. Not even the socially acceptable violence of corporal punishment.
But I’m no expert. I don’t think you’re a bad parent if your experiments have led you to different conclusions. And I’d never try to tell you how you ought to raise your children. I’m just sharing what I’ve seen. What have you seen?