April 1997

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Explanations Over Distance!

By Beth Weiss, Copyright 1998

I have a certain fascination with parenting "experts", and seem to find myself reading column after column, book after book, dedicated to parenting.  Sometimes I learn something, and sometimes I get so annoyed that I want to shake the paper!  For example, John Rosemond recently wrote: "So today's parents try to have good relationships with their children.  That sounds fine, but the problem is that you can't try to have a good relationship with your child and lead at the same time."  His theory is that well-intentioned parents are too busy worrying about whether their children like them, and not busy enough being leaders to their children.

Okay, I admit it, I think that's hogwash.  I think it's essential that parents have a good relationship with their children.  And I'm annoyed by the idea that having a good relationship with one's children will inevitably lead to poorly behaved brats.  I certainly don't want my children to grow up to be obnoxious.  But I don't want them to grow up thinking that their parents are distant, unapproachable, and too busy "leading" to care.

There are lots of times when my kids are upset with a decision I've made, because, well, parents have to make hard decisions.  And sometimes, parents even get to make easy decisions that their children don't like, such as "No, you may not have a Sweet Tarts for breakfast."  Easy decision, big tantrum, many tears—no Sweet Tarts.  Obviously, as a parent, I have to make decisions that my children don't like, but that doesn't mean that I have to make myself unlikable, any more than "bad behavior" turns someone into a "bad child".

There are many parenting experts out there who think that parents shouldn't explain themselves to their children.  And they point out that our parents didn't explain themselves to us and we all seemed to turn out okay.  Well, my mother used to go ballistic if one of us kids stepped on her seatbelt or pushed our feet into the back of her car seat.  I couldn't understand what she got so upset about; I was just playing, and moving my feet around—and she never explained why she cared.  I thought it was arbitrary, mean, and senseless.  Once I had kids of my own, and had someone step on the seat belt from the back seat, I knew exactly why she got upset: that hurt!  But explaining went a long way towards stopping the behavior in my kids.  Once Jordan knew that it wasn't comfortable for me if he pushed his feet into the back of my car seat, he quit doing it.  Having a reason gave him motivation and understanding, and that's a lot easier to build on that a strict non-explained rule.

An explanation, to my way of thinking, shows respect for the child, and lets them know that you think they are capable of understanding consequences and making appropriate choices.   Distance and aloofness do exactly the opposite, in my experience and opinion. I don't want my children to obey me because they’re afraid of me, or are so desperate for my approval and love that they are jumpy and driven.  I want them to obey me because they trust me to help them learn how to grow up.  Jordan, at any rate, already understands that teaching him the right ways to behave is part of my job.

I just can't buy in to the idea that parental remoteness and distance caused the good behavior or that if it did, it did it for the right reasons.  A child who behaves perfectly so that mom and dad will smile at her, or because she knows that if she doesn't, she's going to get a spanking she’ll never forget, is doing the right things for all the wrong reasons.  I want to see my children do the right things because they know that it's the right thing, not because they're afraid of what will I will do to them.

Good parenting, discipline, leadership, positive relationships, and absolute acceptance are not contradictory ideas.  I believe that children should know that their parents will always love them, always care for them, and always lead them in learning how to be responsible, loving, and caring people.  And that's how we raise our children to be the type of adults we'd like them to be.  Distance, remoteness, and aloofness may be fine for animals, but not for families of people!

Best wishes,

Beth

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