Thursday, January 31, 2008

Parenting by grace

I've hugely changed my mind on what the 'right' way to parent is since my daughter was born. And I fully anticipate changing my mind 57 more times as different children and their different stages come along.

I thought she'd be on a schedule, be spanked for disobedience, and sleep in her own bed ;) She sleeps with me, is not on a schedule, and I do swat for disobedience, but that's rare.

I guess, it's a matter of the heart. I'm not set on spanking her, if there was something that worked better I'd do that. I don't believe spanking is for all children or all parents. It's just that for her it works. If I was having to swat her multiple times a day, I think I'd find something else to do.

I've also come away from the idea of 'punishment'. I don't punish her because she 'deserves' it. I'm not called to judge what she deserves, but more to encourage her to do what is right. And if what is 'right' is not swinging the lamp around or touching the electrical outlet, then a little flick might encourage that. Just consistently pulling her away from something sometimes might do the trick as well. I'm now a big believer in doing the least amount of negative response as possible, so if a consistent distraction works and accomplishes the desired outcome without negatively impacting the family, I'm happy to do that.

I've also seen families where the children dictate everything the family does, and I know I didn't want that. This is what initially turned me off from 'grace based parenting' that I'd heard about, but I believe that's just some people taking a concept and following it to a ridiculous extreme.

Both hubby and I come from families where the parents really had an agenda to 'show us who's boss'- his parents by physical discipline, mine by emotional manipulation. I don't really feel a burden to have her believe that I am boss. I'm guessing she does, but proving the point isn't something I'm interested in. Believing that God gave her to me for a time, rather than believing her to be 'my property' has been the best thing He has taught me regarding parenting, I think.

When I ask her to do something, I tend to really check myself to make sure she is capable of doing it relatively easily and that it's really necessary. I'm sure she *could* sleep through the night without nursing, but it's not necessary for me right now. If I really wanted to push, I *could* blanket train her (to stay on a blanket quietly on the floor for a set amount of time) but again, it's not really necessary. We were at a friend's with a Christmas tree a while back, and I knew it was perfectly within her ability to not touch it even though she would really like to, so I did require that of her. It's not so easy for her to get in her jammies at night without complaining if she's over-tired, so I don't require her to be quiet while I do that, but I do demand that she not physically fight me about it as I'm dressing her.

This whole experience has been really interesting to me, and humbling. I have to admit that I *do not* have control of her, I'm not ruling her by fear but rather encouragement. I don't believe disobedience is always sin on her part (this was what I believed before), and it may be not necessarily sin, but at least wrongness on *my* part for asking something of her that she is not really able to do or was for my selfishness rather than what she needed.

An example of something that illustrates my change is if a toddler is going over to the dog food bowl in a friend's house. He wants to see what it's all about. Curiosity is how children learn, it isn't a bad thing at all. But mommy doesn't want him to make a mess and tells him not to touch the dog food bowl. He is still inching closer to it, and she tells him again not to touch it. He continues to go closer to it.

Before, I thought that he 'deserved' a spanking for touching it, and if he spilled it, he would have to pick up all the pieces and put them back, and if he didn't, he would get a spanking for not following directions and it would repeat until he had picked up all the dog food.

Now, I most likely would try to distract the toddler with something else, but not completely remove the dogfood bowl from the situation as I do still desire to teach my child self control. If he didn't want to play with the other distractions I provided, and he still went back to the dogfood bowl, I might give a little flick on the hand as he went to touch it. This isn't about punishment, it's about a little negative stimuli to encourage him not to touch it. If he presisted, and the dog food got spilled, I would tell him we had to clean it up, and taking his hands, 'together' we would pickup the dog food. This isn't as overwhelming to a small child as being instructed to pick up the food on his own, by an angry parent. This is gently but firmly encouraging him to fix his mistake, and helping him do so.

If the dog food was absolutely still tempting after all this, then the child just most likely isn't capable of resisting the temptation and I *would* put it up. I'd prefer to use things like this, if possible, as a self discipline training tool rather than making everything 'babyproof' but I don't desire to exasperate my child either.


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