Ever wonder why sometimes the job of being a parent is like playing a curling sport–moving the rock around and hoping the game would turn out.
See if you can tell the similarities (hints: the athletes=parents, the curling rock=the child)
When it comes to child-rearing practices, they all seem geared toward knowing what to do and what not to do when a behavior or situation occurs. This might make child-rearing look like two entities “against” one another (“adult” vs. “child”), like an “object to object” model. Either the adult does something to a child (i.e., calling time-out, presenting choices, or grounding a child), or the child does something to an adult (i.e., throwing a tantrum, breaking ground rules, or talking back). The “object to object” model, which is not bad, could also leave parents wonder: “Am I doing the right thing for my child because the tips in parenting books and magazines don’t seem to work.”
The “object to object” parenting model often deals with issues as if issues are problematic. The model only creates structures for behavior instead of realizing that a behavior as an assessment just benefits adults. Let’s take “temper tantrum” as an example. It is one of the top concerns for families with a toddler, and it is usually seen as a problematic behavior for adults. For that reason, tons of strategies are created to prevent such behavior from happening, or to stop it. In the meantime, we look at a tantrum (behavior) as a thermometer (assessment) of how children are well-behaved, or being cooperative. The most limiting aspect of “object to object” approach is that, it often takes place from the view of adults with their own explanations of what the behavior meant to them. Family members are unknowingly stuck in roles that define and limit each of them, what they see and know about the other family members would be partial. What if the relationship between a parent and a child is no longer about dealing with a behavior, or conforming to norms, like, “it should be/shouldn’t be”?
What if, having a tantrum is not a problem, but an opportunity? What opportunity, you might ask? What if, it’s an opportunity for toddlers to exercise what self-respect is, and gain control over their environment? As for the adults, could the opportunity be the role of partners, and most importantly, allows our children be partners with us as well?
Another thing I have noticed lately is that, as a society, we see children/youth as “property”. They are not related to as human beings. I am no expert in “child-rearing”, but the notion that children are “raised” seems disturbing, something akin to growing crops, herding cattle or domesticating animals. It views children like chattel, expected them to kowtow to the wishes and the rules of adults who are suppressed from time to time.
What if the purpose of “family” is exploring and discovering the view of ALL individuals, and creating what works for all?
One of the little boys I work with is three years old. One afternoon, as we were dancing to his favorite music, I noticed it was 5 minutes till dinner time.
Me: It’s almost time for dinner. Let’s go wash your hands.
Little Boy: (with frustration) No. I don’t want to.
I could have insisted he should wash his hands right then because the fact was, it’s also my time to go, and I would be late for my appointment if this washing hand scenario was going to take more than 5 minutes of “my time.” As soon as I caught myself that I WANTED him to do what I wanted him to do, and wanted him to follow “my schedule/my time (a.k.a. “My view is more important than a three-year-old.”). I thought, “What would he want me to do at this moment?”
Me: You want to dance some more?
Little Boy: (big smile) Yeah, I want to dance with my friends (his stuffed animals).
Me: I want to dance with you and your friends, too. But I have a problem.
Little Boy: (looked at me) What problem?
Me: I need to go now, AND I also want to dance with you. How can we make it work?
Little Boy: silent for about 10 seconds) How about dance 10 times?
Me: (smile) Hmmm, how about going downstairs and dance with mommy for 5 times?
He grabbed 4 stuffed animals immediately, and joyfully ran downstairs. We danced 5 times, and he washed his hands. Surprisingly, I arrived at my appointment on time.
What if all we had to do was shift our orientation to the baby, the toddler, 2 and 3 year old, pre K and kindergartener, and create partnership from there with our children? By the time a child is five, they are generally engaged with the same concerns as adults. In fact, their world has much more variety and creativity. They can fully distinguish work from play. They are sexually curious, belonging is an issue, a career or the thoughts of what they want to be when they grow up is fully engaged (i.e., wanting to be a dancer, artist, soccer player or a stock broker). Family is important and so are their friends. They have environmental concerns, money (ownership and charity), education (discovery and learning), physical activities and well-being, being in communication and aware of social conventions (cultural awareness).
What if a partnership between parents and children is created through the notion of “all views are valid, and valued; therefore, appreciated and celebrated”? What would “family” look like then?
Could this be a time for families to design their own model free from the social standards?