Thursday, May 1, 2014

Parenting: Two to Three Years

I know I'm not posting regularly, so thanks to those of you who are sticking around!

To be honest, it's extremely difficult emotionally for me to look back at what I did in ignorance when I know now how damaging my choices were.

So, I've already made posts in this series herehere, and here if you want to catch up.

Two to three years old is still a time of tremendous growth in the child's brain. At this stage, kids are starting to make the connections between objects (matching pairs, assembling small puzzles, understanding that numbers have value, etc.), showing rudimentary logic, and understanding sequence. It is at this age, you child might be able to follow a set of two instructions, such as, "First, pick up your Legos, then get your shoes." It is more likely your child won't consistently be able to do both tasks without reminders or help, but this ability is beginning.

The most important thing parents need to realize about this age is that two year olds' flawed understanding of cause-and-effect leads them to believe that everything that happens is a result of an action on the part of the child. For instance, your child may say, "I looked at this book, and then the mail came!" Consequently, s/he may express confusion when s/he looks at the same book the next day and the mail doesn't suddenly appear.

This age is also firmly rooted in the belief that "words are magic" and if they can come up with the right combination, what they're saying is absolutely true. For example, if your two year old spills a drink (because s/he wanted to carry it to the table "myself!"), s/he may blurt out, "I didn't spill that!"

From the parent's perspective, it's easy to conclude you have a little liar on your hands. However, your child isn't speaking an untruth to deceive you. S/he is trying (in his/her immature, child-like way) to actually fix what s/he's done! Instead of punishing your child, you can say, "Oh, no...accidents happen. I know you didn't spill on purpose, and you wish it didn't happen. Here's a towel; you can help me clean it up." This dialogue shows the child how to take responsibility while gently pointing out the difference between "I didn't spill that!" and "I didn't mean to spill that."

 I have a two year old right now who has been disciplined in this manner. She will come running to me saying, "I need towel, Mommy! Clean my mess!" Obviously, being two, there are times when she tries to take care of things all by herself, and I find a towel carefully placed over spilled cereal or tracked in mud. I take great encouragement from those instances though, because she is showing independence and personal responsibility the best she can.

Reasoning doesn't work well with this age. Again, they believe they can cause any effect and are still learning to distinguish fantasy from reality. Therefore, punishments like time-outs aren't as effective as they appear. Twos are great with sequence, so they may write on a wall, then put themselves in time-out because that's what happened last time. They don't understand why they shouldn't write on the wall or that time-out is meant to be punishment. They are simply following a known sequence of events.

Sadly, two is the age when many parents begin spanking (if they haven't already). With so much cognitive development happening, twos behavior is illogical and erratic. Strict rules and physical punishments at this age can actually impair cognitive development and make kids more aggressive. Severe punishments can cause brain damage.

All the traditional Christian parenting advice I previously followed sets up a damaging paradigm in the home. Spanking and punishing children for a normal part of cognitive development isn't loving. I daresay, it even provokes in them angry exasperation. This in turn causes more behavior problems, followed by more punishment. It's a vicious, vicious cycle.

Instead, I encourage you to work with your child, not against him/her. The goal is not to "make" your child do this or that; the goal is to encourage your child to make the best choices s/he can at this age and give positive reinforcement when s/he succeeds.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Finding My Voice

For those of you who don't know, I grew up IFB. The Independent part of the name means there are some variations. For instance, I grew up believing the King James Version of the Bible was the best translation, but other translations of Scripture were tolerated. At my church, some kids went to Christian school, and some attended public school. Unfortunately, we Christian school kids thought we were "better" than the public school kids, but that attitude didn't come from the church leadership. We were in a rural community, so women wearing pants was a non-issue, although dresses and skirts were expected at church services.

The promotion of patriarchy and subsequent views on the silence and submission of women and the breaking of the will of the child seems to be pretty universal in the IFB, though.

As you can imagine, being a female child in a Christian Fundamentalist Cult is pretty devastating.

I am naturally gregarious and intellectual. I want to know the reasons why we do things. "Tradition," "the Bible says so," "because I said so," and "It's the right thing to do," are not satisfactory answers for me. I'm naturally transparent and open.

These attributes were shamed and squashed by the unreasonable gender roles and developmental expectations in the IFB cult.

I talked too much. (Women are to be silent in church & children are to blindly obey their parents.)

I asked too many questions. (Questions meant I was "questioning authority.")

I shared too much. (Truth is a liability in a cult!)

I was too smart for my own good. (I picked up on inconsistencies between what was preached and what was practiced.)

I expected to be treated like an equal. (Clearly, I was inferior and didn't know my place.)

I am learning to find my voice again, after being beaten into silence in word and deed. And it's hard. It's terrifying.

But after the shouts of patriarchy drowning my voice, insisting on my silence, I am hearing men telling me that not only can I speak, I must speak.

My husband, reaffirming countless times, "I want to know what you're thinking. You have good insights, and your opinion is important to me."

A brilliant author of prose and poetry who responded via social media to my throwaway comment that speaking out was a mix of terror and elation, "Then you know you're doing it right."

A pastor who not only asked my opinion regarding a particular church ministry, but also took me seriously and asked me to please work on speaking my mind more often instead of trying to placate me.

So, I am speaking, despite my terror, despite the possibility I will again be told to be quiet. Here is my voice.

I don't know how
to express myself
without sounding
Or something else I'm not
supposed to be.

Because I'm a woman,
I'm supposed to be
submissive (subservient)
pleasant (always)

But when I express myself, I'm
or (heaven forbid) ANGRY.

God is not embarrassed
by my expressions of emotion
or my questions.

God shares my RAGE
against victimization

So listen.
Just listen
to my words.

Don't police my tone.
You haven't felt
the whip of injustice
the helpless
of abuse.


Parenting: 1 to 2 years

I'm discussing my successes and failures with various Christian parenting methods.
As stated here and here, I used punitive discipline methods touted by Dobson, Tripp, and Ezzo, who are popular in Christian circles for my oldest two children. Starting with my third child, I began to transition toward attachment parenting and gentle discipline.

This post touches a bit on child development from ages 1-2 and the effects both punitive discipline and gentle discipline have on a child.

There is a huge amount of cognitive and emotional development that happens between ages 1 and 2. Your baby is growing into a toddler! Learning language! Refining motor skills!

At this age, your child is learning that s/he is an autonomous being separate from mom or dad. This can cause a lot of anxiety and because language is still in the early stages, often results in either clinginess or tantrums (sometimes both!) when the child gets overwhelmed.

Punitive discipline methods teach parents to view such reactions as evidence of the child's sin nature. From this vantage point, a tantrum or clinginess is a child's desire to manipulate his or her parent(s) into conforming to the will of the child.

Such "dictatorial" behavior must not be allowed in the authoritarian punitive paradigm, or the child "wins." Therefore, a parent who subscribes wholly to the methods espoused by Dobson and Ezzo particularly (and to a lesser extent, Tripp) focuses on changing the child's undesirable behavior without regard to the cause of such behavior.

As you can imagine, spanking (hitting) or even isolating an anxious child is going to make the anxiety worse. Each incident will either escalate, with the child growing more and more frantic and the parent increasing the level of punishment, or the child will eventually shut down his or her emotions once s/he realizes only certain feelings are allowed to be expressed.

In the gentle discipline approach, teaching (discipline) happens through modeling, conversation, and natural or applied consequences that do not involve hurting or punishing the child. So given the above scenario of a clingy child or one in the throes of a tantrum, a parenting ascribing to gentle discipline would first attempt to figure out the cause of the unwanted behavior in order to meet the child's needs, and then address the behavior.

For instance, if a child is being clingy, holding onto the parent's leg and screaming loudly, the parent would first pick up or sit down with the child to calm him or her. The parent may say something like, "I see you're really upset (or sad, or angry - whatever is accurate). Are you afraid I'm going to leave you alone?" The child may answer verbally or signal with a head shake whether this is so. The parent would then reassure the child of love and security; if the parent is indeed leaving the child with a sitter, the parent will reiterate that the baby sitter is a safe person, acknowledge that saying goodbye even for a little while is hard, and give the child a specific reminder for the time the parent will return, like "after your nap."

In the gentle discipline paradigm, there is no correction needed, because the child's behavior is normal and age-appropriate. S/he will outgrow tantrums as more language skills and understanding of time and place are assimilated.

Many people raised with the idea that all discipline is corporal punishment balk at the idea of letting a youngster's behavior go unchecked. They erroneously believe that this teaches young children their behavior can be used to manipulate others. I know I believed I would actually damage my children socially by not physically disciplining them.

Studies are showing and continue to show that the opposite is in fact true. Physical punishment (hitting, spanking, switching, belting, smacking, etc.) has been shown to retard the growth of grey matter in the brain, potentially decreasing intelligence and even increasing the risk of mental illness. Spanking causes increased aggression and devalues both parent and child.

In my own experience, I saw that my spanked children feared me. They often behaved perfectly appropriately and followed instructions immediately. But they were like automatons. Their imaginative play became stunted. Instead of the elaborate scenarios they used to act out that were variations on a theme, they played the same scene over and over, almost like the movie Groundhog Day. Their nightmares increased. And when they did show inappropriate behavior or tantrums, it was huge, over-the-top, utter meltdown behavior.

My children who were parented gently were more work. Yes, it's much easier to threaten and smack than to work through a situation and try different solutions. But, my gently parented kids delighted in my presence instead of looking skittish. I enjoyed them more, too, because I saw their behavior as normal development rather than a personal affront to my parental authority. Our relationship was build on mutual respect instead of a hierarchy.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Parenting: Newborn to 12 months

There is an axiom which states, "Children spell love T-I-M-E." This is true throughout childhood, but it is especially true for the baby.

Today, I'm writing about my experiences parenting 5 babies. I've moved from rigid scheduling to attachment parenting in the last decade.

As stated previously, when my oldest was born, I used Gary Ezzo's Babywise. Therefore, we had a very strict schedule of eating, sleeping, and play time. If my baby was hungry during play time, I waited until feeding time to nurse her. If my baby was sleepy during feeding time, I tried to force her to finish a nursing session. And if she wanted to play when it wasn't play time, I would respond with a firm, "NO." and try to force her to follow the schedule.

As a result of trying to get a baby to conform to my needs and routine instead of being flexible, I had a lot of anger and frustration toward my baby. Since Ezzo repeatedly warns the parents are teaching their child to be selfish if they bend even the slightest to the baby's will, I viewed my newborn as manipulative and strong willed.

I used prefold cloth diapers with pins, and I would instruct my baby to be still so I wouldn't poke her. If she squirmed, I would allow her to be poked, instead of placing my hand between her and the pin to keep her safe. I look back now, and I am so ashamed of myself and somewhat shocked that I thought a baby could understand and comply with an instruction like that. However, when I remember that I had the toxic mindset that babies are manipulative, selfish sinners and that Ezzo implies babies understand more than we think, my actions are understandable. Unforgivable and ridiculous, true, but understandable.

My second child was born 16 1/2 months after my first. He had some life-threatening health issues and was transported by ambulance to a hospital with a NICU hours after birth while I remained behind in the hospital where I delivered.

As a result of this traumatic event, I threw out almost everything that I'd done with my first baby and spent a lot of time playing with and holding both of my littles. I still responded punitively (smacking hands or diapered bottoms) to unwanted behaviors, BUT... my new little guy was obviously very sensitive, physically and emotionally. I could see shock and pain in his eyes when I smacked his hand or even when I firmly and loudly told him, "NO," for things like hair pulling or squirming during diaper changes. My oldest had responded with loud, angry cries, which I read as confirmation of her "rebellious spirit." (Extreme fundamentalist brainwashing will completely twist how you view normal behaviors.)

But the pain my little guy responded broke my heart and made it obvious I'd have to be more gentle with him. Besides, with two kids in less than a year and a half, I was too exhausted to stick to a schedule. I was in survival mode.

I did still do my best to keep a fairly consistent sleep schedule for the littles, and honestly, I was very fortunate that they both slept well (and long) from very early on. My oldest began regularly sleeping 6 hours through the night at two weeks and my second did the same around four weeks. I later found out, this is not typical!

By the time baby 3 was born, I was learning about both gentle parenting and attachment parenting. I was also shedding a lot of my fundamentalist mindset, so the methods I'd used before were no longer appealing to me.

I was also aware that the methods I'd sworn by previously only worked because my kids were afraid. Afraid of being hurt, afraid...of me. Their mother. The one person in the world who is supposed to unconditionally love, nurture, and protect them.

The time I spent with them, just loving on them, reinforced to me that everything I'd done previously was counter-productive to building our relationship. Proverbs 14:1 says "The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down." It was with great grief and moral conviction that I realized my own actions, however well-intentioned, had created a rift in my relationship with my children.

My third baby really drove this point home to me. With two other small children to care for, I chose to wear the new one in a wrap carrier. She spent much of her time snuggled in close to me while I fixed meals, folded laundry, pushed other children on swings, and went for walks. Nursing and naptime could also be accomplished in the wrap!

Honestly, she is a pretty high-maintenance gal, but she was so easy to care for at this time because her needs were met. And because her needs were met, there was a trust between us I'd not experienced with my older children. Because we were always in close proximity, I learned to trust her cues for feeding, sleeping, and playing. She trusted that I would meet her needs.

I've heard over and again how true love cannot exist without trust. How then, can we expect our tiniest children to understand love when we consistently and repeatedly break their trust by physically harming them when they do not comply with our wishes? 

Minor infractions at this age are just that: minor. A "nip it in the bud" mentality will only serve to create disunity in your relationship.

For this age, the best discipline is teaching your child unconditional love. Respond to her needs. Snuggle with him. Play. Laugh. Take the time to enjoy each other's company. 

You won't regret it.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Hello, there!

It's been over 7 months since I've posted.

So, hi, again!

I left off discussing child development & my negative experiences with a lot of popular Christian discipline methods. I will complete that, I promise. But I've been having to re-evaluate my current parenting, and I couldn't diffuse my focus enough to self-evaluate my past and present at the same time.

I hope to get back to posting more regularly, hopefully once a week. Maybe you'll even get a bonus post once in a while!

In the meantime, try to keep warm.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Parenting Methods

I've been thinking (since I'm such a treasure trove of experience, what with having 5 kids and used many parenting "methods"), I should post a series on parenting. 'Cause I'm an expert & my kids are perfect (she lies as her kids whine about finishing chores in the background).

Really, it's because I want parents to know some of the stuff your kids do that makes you crazy is normal, even necessary. And I want to spare you some grief by discussing some parenting experts whose methods are so-so and others who I think you could benefit from.

I'll start today with a quick overview of past & present methods or books I've followed and my recommendations.

On Becoming Babywise, Gary Ezzo
Yeah, it's controversial. For good reason. It "worked" in the sense that I felt in control. However, issues. So many issues.

The combination of my fundamentalist upbringing (parent is ultimate authority, child is a sinner from birth & tries to manipulate the parent, early physical punishment) combined with the very black and white thinking Ezzo presents made for a horrible dynamic. I didn't hold my first baby enough because I was so concerned with following the schedule. I also have a condition called overactive letdown (undiagnosed until baby #3) that is made worse by following conventional breastfeeding advice. Combine that with the rigid clock-watching involved in Ezzo's method, and I had a very fussy baby who was constantly projectile vomiting (too much foremilk upsets the tummy) and consequently hungry, yet I'd let her cry until feeding time rolled around again, only to repeat the cycle. It was torture emotionally, but I was afraid I'd raise a selfish kid by giving in to her "demands."

In addition, Ezzo's credentials have been called into question.

My recommendation: Avoid, unless you're the type who can take a piece of good advice here & there, then mentally discard the rest. You'll likely ignore a lot of the book and pick up only a few tips, so consider what your time is worth before reading.

Shepherding a Child's Heart, Tedd Tripp
I got this when my oldest two were toddlers. I love the way Tripp consistently talks about connecting with your child's heart, getting to the heart issue of the behavior. The con is that it seems every negative behavior is labelled "sin." Kids can't just have a bad day.

Also, he advocates spanking, but he doesn't describe the whole process (to my's been a while since I read it. Feel free to correct me!). I grew up in a home where "spanking" was any physical punishment applied to the buttocks. So, being hit with a belt, a custom paddle, a wooden spoon, a ping-pong paddle, or a hand on the butt or upper thighs (clothed or naked) was all spanking. In my opinion, if you're going to advocate spanking, you should be specific in your definition of the term. As much as I dislike Michael Pearl, at least he's explicit in his definition of "switching."

My recommendation:  Cautiously recommend; while there is great emphasis on connecting with your child's heart, Tripp's view of dealing with children's wrongdoings is extremely punitive.

The Strong-Willed Child, Dr. James Dobson
My parents are Dobson fans & my mom had several of his parenting books. She passed this one on to me. Basically, his premise is if you get into a battle of wills with your child, you must win at all costs. He also advocates spanking at the first sign of defiance instead of waiting until a last resort. Because of this advice, I spanked early & often.

The problem I see with this is that you never know for certain what's going on in someone else's heart & mind. Add to that the fact you're dealing with children who do not have the same thought processes as adults and are still learning how to express their autonomy & feelings appropriately, and there's a huge chance you're going to misinterpret the child's motives.

In shades of Michael Pearl, Dobson also likens training your strong-willed child to training a dog.

My recommendation: Avoid; this book sets parents up for an adversarial relationship with their children.

Get Off Your Butt Parenting, aka Effective Practical Parenting (GOYBP or EPP), Joanne Davidson
Found this as an online resource after baby #3. Highly practical, extremely effective method that is a wake-up call to parents who expect to be able to sit on the couch & have their young children quietly and cheerfully follow instructions. (Guilty!) It emphasizes the importance of having a relationship with your child and advocates natural & imposed consequences. Great real-life scenarios & tips with examples of imposed consequences

My recommendation: Highly recommend. EPP tends toward imposing consequences but doesn't completely rule out punishment, so it's good for those transitioning from punitive parenting to positive or gentle parenting.

The 5 Love Languages of Children, Gary D. Chapman & Ross Campbell
The theory is that each individual has a primary love language that they "hear" love best: Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, Quality Time, Gifts, or Acts of Service. If a child feels insecure in the parent's love, s/he will act out. The parent learns to see the acting out as a signal to meet the child's need for unconditional love by communicating in that child's love language first, and addressing the negative behavior second. Using this method, I've found that once I've reaffirmed my love for the child acting out, s/he will apologize and make amends for the negative behavior without me having to do anything else.

My recommendation: Highly recommend as a resource to help understand your child. It's not primarily a "discipline" book, and as such, doesn't have a lot of tools to use from that aspect.

Your X-Year Old, by Louise Bates Ames & Frances L. Ilg (a series from age 1-16)
According to Ames & Ilg (and the Gesell Institute) every child goes through developmental phases of equilibrium (where they cope well) and disequilibrium (where so much is happening in terms of development that they aren't able to cope well with normal disappointments). These phases tend to shift roughly every 6 months in the cycle of development. As a result, your child can go through the 3 1/2 year disequilibrium stage at age 3, 3.5, or 4, depending on his/her development. My barely 4 year old is currently exhibiting disequilibrium behaviors typical of 3 1/2, and my 5 1/2 year old is right on with the disequilibrium behaviors for that age. My oldest son didn't seem to have any equilibrium at all between 5 1/2 & 7. It just depends on the kid; these are simply typical developmental behaviors.

I haven't read every book in the series, but I found Your Six Year Old: Loving & Defiant to be invaluable. Six has been the hardest age I've had to deal with so far (and I have a tween, y'all!). So hard, in fact, that I've been dreading when my younger set gets there. If you can snag a copy from your local library, do it!

My recommendation: Highly recommend. In fact, I can't recommend it enough. Get your hands on a copy for your age child, somehow!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Eastern or Western?

If you've read this blog much at all, you've probably already figured I'm not a proponent of corporal punishment.

To be even more clear, I am a Christian who rejects the notion that our modern spanking methods were lifted directly from Scripture.

About 8 years ago, I was introduced to the concept of gentle parenting. Some great resources I found are Gentle Christian Mothers, Arms of Love Family Fellowship, Hermana Linda's Why Not Train A Child?, Dulce de leche, and Dare to Disciple.

One of my favorite resources (and not just because he's a male voice that other men in the ├╝ber-patriarchal environment of Fundamentalist Christianity wouldn't disregard on anatomy alone) is Samuel Martin's Bible Child. I am incredibly impressed with his scholarship and tremendously appreciate the work he has put into researching this topic in particular. Not only does he publish his findings on his blog, he also provides a free e-book to anyone willing to take an honest look at Biblical discipline.

In this recent post, Sam explores the prejudices we can have toward things that are unpretentious or rustic, often conflating simplistic with inferior. Also specific to my background, ideas originating in the East were viewed with suspicion, whereas theories with Western origins were often accepted without scrutiny. Eastern practices were "improved" by overlaying or combining them with Western variants.

One (relatively minor) example of this was one of my Christian school teachers discussing the Bible passage, "O how I love thy law! It is my meditation all the day." She described meditation as keeping something constantly in your mind, "not that Eastern idea of meditation where you sit cross-legged and say, 'Om.'"

Even then, my mind boggled. Wasn't the Bible written in the East? And wouldn't it stand to reason when David wrote of meditating, it would look like the Ancient Jewish practice of meditation rather than simply keeping something in mind?  (I'll grant that om is Hindi, and thus not likely something David or any other Bible patriarchs would've been familiar with!)

I've had to confront my ingrained prejudices and racism since I've begun honestly examining my beliefs. I've found there is much about the Bible that I was taught from a Western perspective that genuinely doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

It is always good to periodically re-evaluate our beliefs. Obviously, we learn as we grow and mature, so it makes sense that we come into deeper understanding of our values. We discard what we discover to be half-truths, and we explore our new grasp of wisdom.

We need not fear taking information from any source, so long as we carefully analyze it for Truth.