Do you remember the first time you laid eyes on your newborn baby? That magical moment stands out for me for each of our four children. I remember gazing at them and feeling such joy, relief that the delivery was now over, and the stirring of love for this new little human that was mine.
That memory can go far from our minds when that little bundle turns two and throws his or her first tantrum. It feels like a hurricane just blew through the entire house. Or when that bundle is four with a mind of their own and decides to vocalize loudly why he or she disagrees with you. In those moments all you want is for them to be quiet, let go of their sibling, give back the toy, and let you get all your work done in peace. How perfect would that be?
This is the point at which our insecurities and default settings turn on the auto pilot mode. We begin to react the very same way our parents did, doing and saying things we vowed never to do with our own children. Why does this happen and what can we do to stay in control? How can we begin to parent our children with a new understanding of ourselves and of them with just a tadka of our parents’ methods?
As exhausting and draining as parenting is, we cannot forget that our child is not a fully formed mature human being as yet. Instead we need to continue to view each as an individual on a path towards becoming their adult selves. Always keep in mind that they are not going to make the choices we want them to until and unless we keep showing them how to! That will only come with patient and consistent instruction.
How do we do this in a manner that is wholly dignifying to our children? It begins with a paradigm shift in how we view our role as the parent and how we view discipline.
Instructor vs. Commander
Children begin their schooling with the basics – the alphabet and numbers. As they progress through their school years they continue to build on what they have already learned until they come to a point where they have mastered all there is to know about a particular subject. At this point they can walk into a courtroom and advocate for their client, walk into an operating room and perform an extremely complex surgery on the brain, or walk into a workshop and take apart and put together the engine of a vehicle. I could go on with all the examples of what people can accomplish once they have received the required instruction they need to perform successfully. All this to say that it took them a long time of learning and practice to get to that point in their lives!
This is what our children need: they need constant instruction to help them learn how to be relationally, emotionally, mentally and physically healthy human beings until we let them fly out of the nest.
Our default setting is to demand behaviors and actions from our children. If you go to a military training school you will hear the commander yelling commands for the cadets to follow. The cadets are required to follow those commands without any hesitation and execute them perfectly. Our default setting as human parents is to expect our children to perform similarly and to bring them to that point of performance by instilling fear of punishment if they do not perform how we want them to. The sad reality is that most of us truly believe that this is how we must raise our children. After all, spare the rod, spoil the child, they always say…
But what if we were to twist this perspective just a little bit?
According the online Oxford Dictionary, Discipline is defined as: ‘The practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.’ This is normally how we view raising children, right? The average parent would say, “we have to discipline our children to be good dutiful children that respect their parents.”
But let us try to unwrap the definition of discipline a little. The online Oxford Dictionary defines Punishment as: ‘The infliction or imposition of a penalty as retribution for an offense.’ Wow, when I read that I was a bit taken aback. It sounds so harsh; and we are raising our children with this as our foundation?
It kills me a little inside each time that my husband and I choose to spank our children, although we are discussing how to take that element out of our discipline process. To think that pain and hurt is required in order for those little bundles of sweetness (or sometimes not so sweet) to learn obedience. Is that the goal of parenting, creating human beings that are obedient to their authorities? Or are we helping mold little human beings into becoming creative, independent, self-confident, critical thinking responsible adults who will go on to contribute positively to their communities? To do so we have to train them holistically in a way that encompasses the body, mind, and soul of each child, and, don’t forget, each child is different. Whew! What a job! It is, I think parenting is the hardest job of all!
This paradigm shift focuses on training and equipping our children with life skills in order to become competent members of the community versus creating submissive individuals that are duty bound to sticking to roles created by their communities. Are we creating ‘Achhe bacche,’ or ‘bhalle bacche?’
When I begin to have this focus, everything I do with my children has more purpose and meaning. For example, when we train 2 year olds to deal with their tantrums, it is important to realize that we are teaching them how to solve similar problems they will face when they begin school as a 4 or 5-year-old.
Or for example, when we begin to show them how to handle disagreements with their siblings it gives them a foundation for skills in conflict resolution for when they are at their workplace or even in their marriage.
Consider how we as parents are helping our children handle the stressors that surround them through each developmental stage of their lives. Are we giving them the tools to progress into the next stage of development so that their development does not get hampered or stunted? According to psychologist Erik Erikson we are continually progressing through psychosocial developmental stages. He described eight stages of development that we experience after birth. Transitioning through each stage while successfully mastering the crisis presented is crucial to our maturation process and if we are unsuccessful at doing so, our development could get arrested at the previous stage. There is so much we can learn from Erikson’s research in regards to parenting and guiding our children through those eight stages of development.
I could keep writing about Erikson, however, I want to conclude on this note; we are not perfect parents. My husband and I are far from perfect when it comes to parenting our children. We are always learning, constantly making mistakes, and hoping against hope that we will not mess up our children too much. We are still learning how to make adjustments to our perspectives as parents and what we expect of our children and ourselves.
So know this – you as a parent are doing a wonderful job if you are constantly aware of your weaknesses and are able to admit your mistakes, and be willing to apologize to your children when you make those mistakes.
There are times when all four of the children are having an attack of the crazies and I get frustrated with them (and don’t even think about practising any of the calming down techniques!). In those moments I make some poor choices on how to handle their crazy. After those times when the dust finally clears I have to admit to the children what I did wrong and how I could have handled things differently and apologize to them.
One of the most beautiful aspects of our children is that they always forgive us and want to tell us how much they love us. How beautiful for us, as parents, to offer them a home where they can truly become individuals with their own personalities and strengths. And refrain from imposing roles prescribed by society.
In the next article I will be addressing practical steps to parent through an instructor’s lens.