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Tuesday, 21 January 2014 00:00

Parenting & The Golden Rule

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casey beachAnytime we look past what the world expects of us and into our hearts, we find truth...

 

And when we take that truth and turn it into an outward expression of kindness, that is love put into action. And to love… to truly love… takes courage.

 

 "Courage is the most important of all virtues. Without courage you can't practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage." Maya Angelou

 

So, as a new parent, where do you start? How can you be intentional, purposeful parents who lift your children up and give them strength and hope? Especially in a world that demands that we follow certain rules, accept certain truths and hand down expected forms of discipline when our children misbehave and don’t follow the rules? How do we wade through all the suggestions, recommendations, guidelines and opinions? With all the varying expert advice, how do we know if we’re doing it right? 

 

I will first say this: I don’t have all the answers.

austin beach

And I don’t think anyone on this side of Heaven really does. But, after almost 20 years of parenting, I will attempt to offer my humble opinion on the matter.  I believe that learning to be parents is no different than, and actually starts with, learning to give birth. God has instilled in your hearts the ability to parent just as naturally as He has equipped you to give birth. It’s instinctual. It’s natural. Just like pregnancy and birth, parenting brings with it so many questions. Just in the first 2 years you will likely face some of these: Breast or bottle? “Cry it Out” or Co-sleep? “Baby Led Weaning” or baby food? Cloth or disposable? Will you vaccinate? Pacifier or thumb? Time-out or spanking?  As your children grow, the questions don’t stop. How do you get them to eat their veggies? How do you encourage them to behave in public? How do you ensure they stay safe out of your sight? How do you make them “get along” with their siblings? If they don’t, do you put them in time out for 1 minute or 5? Then the teen-age years hit and if you are merely following a set of suggested guidelines, you have to review your system, check the books, talk to experts and devise another plan. Do you still spank or are there age limits on that? Will you ground them from their phone or their Playstation? Do they lose privileges for a day or a week? And for the real bad stuff, how do you implement this “Tough Love” thing your friends have told you about?

 

Whew… so many questions! Wouldn’t it be nice if there was one simple way to figure it all out? Well, maybe there is… After years of attempting to follow rules and take expert advice, what I have concluded works the best and reaps the healthiest results is a simple rule I learned when I was about 4 years old… The Golden Rule. Like with labor, I believe that we often over-complicate the most natural of things and what is left is an unrecognizable version of what God intended. I do believe that we often do this with relationships as well; especially with our children. I believe it’s done primarily out of fear and with the best of intentions. Society tells us to distrust the dependency that our children naturally express “for their own good,” and instead come up with guidelines to “manage” their needs. When you have a need from someone you love, would you rather have that need met, or managed? Your baby will have the same answer. We make things too complicated. If we insist on treating children differently than adults at what point do they suddenly change their operating system? Age 11? 14? 18? 21? No one can answer that because there’s no such thing. All humans operate the same way. In my opinion, parenting is a simple matter of applying the Golden Rule in every situation. Otherwise, its way too confusing and you will always be left wondering if you are making the right decision. I apply ALL the same rules to my children as I do in my relationships with any other human being in my life (and for that matter, animals and plants as well).

 

Here is a list of some of the rules my husband and I have adopted regarding our children (you may agree with some, all or none, again, this is what has worked for us):

 

1. We don’t hit them. Ever

2. We don’t bully them or call them names

3. We don’t embarrass or humiliate them

4. We don’t use guilt to coerce them into satisfying our requests

5. We don’t ask them to understand things beyond their level of comprehension

6. We don’t restrict them from speaking

7. We tell them the truth

8. We console them when they cry

9. We are attentive when they need our help

10. We extend them mercy instead of punishment when they make mistakes

 

 

 

I could go on, but I think you probably see the pattern here. It is undoubtedly the same rules you have for the way you would treat your boss, your friend, your wife or even me. austin and baileyChildren and adults are no different. They have the same needs and feelings. So what happens when those needs are not met? We have already learned by studying the labor process that interventions become necessary when something has interfered with the natural process (whether it’s an illness, medical condition or a technological convenience). Well, a primal need is part of the natural process of life. And when that is disturbed, it has to be met in other ways. I believe that all aggressive, manipulative, coercive and hurtful tendencies are birthed from unmet needs. It may be unmet needs by our friends, our spouse, our employer, or our parents. The human body will figure out a way to adapt to unmet needs, as a coping mechanism, if those needs are not met early on by the people who are naturally supposed to fulfill them.

 

           

The reason scripture says “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is because our species, like other creatures in nature, learn our behavior from each other.  If the behavior that we use is neglectful, abusive and cruel, then that is the behavior that will eventually come back to us.  Make no mistake that your child will eventually treat you exactly like you treated him. I’ve seen it with my own eyes and believe me, nothing can be more beautiful or uglier than seeing a version of yourself reflected back to you years later… You get to pick which one you will see by the choices you make early on. The ONLY person you need validation from is your child; every single other person’s opinion is irrelevant compared to that. 

 

 But how do we really know we are applying these principals consistently? In order to decide whether any specific treatment of another person (of any age) is acceptable, ask yourself two questions:

 

  1. “What do I want this person to do that’s different from what they are doing now?”

 

If you ask that question alone then many forms of punishment may seem effective because fear and coercion will usually get an immediate response and altered behavior… but then ask yourself one more question…

 

  1. “What do I want this persons REASONS to be for doing what I’m asking?”

 

Punishment or coercion to elicit a behavior damages good will and self-esteem.

 

 

So you may ask, “Gaylea, how can we possibly maintain any level of order or routine in our household if I don’t teach my baby to become self-reliant? How will my children learn to behave without punishment? How can we maintain harmony without control?” I used to ask the same questions and honestly, I didn’t trust myself or my children enough early on to believe the answer that was always being whispered to me… the answer that was always in my heart. So, here it is:

 

A family’s foundation that is built on empathy, compassion, cooperation, patience, attentiveness, self-control, kindness and forgiveness will birth an inherent discipline that does not have to be enforced by punishment… because it is enforced by LOVE.

 

           bailey beach When I first started trusting myself and attempted to utilize compassion instead of punishment as my main base for parenting, I sought out resources. I read books, watched videos and asked questions. There seemed to be many “brands” of this style of parenting and just as many different people giving different forms of advice. I started to get confused again. I wasn’t sure if I was adopting “Attachment Parenting,” or “Empathetic Parenting.” I attempted to memorize advice given by Dr. Sears but found myself relying more on Dr. Seuss. I was again making things too complicated! Just like when I first chose to have “natural birth,” I didn’t want to take a class that was based heavily on memorization, learning a series of breath patterns or enforced strict rules about what I could and couldn’t do or say… that didn’t seem “natural” to me either. I felt like I was facing the same challenges with my quest to parent naturally. I began to get frustrated trying to learn this hip, “new age” parenting style, until I realized that it wasn’t new at all! It’s actually as old as time. Many of the things that I now recommend for new parents are practices that were considered to be the norm for thousands of generations and biblically considered to be the “Fruits of Spirit” (love, joy, kindness, gentleness, self-control, faith, goodness, patience and peace). They have only been questioned within the last 100 years. It all stems from simply believing in our hearts what we know to be true. Although I don’t believe you have to follow a set of guidelines and suggestions from a specific method to practice this type of parenting, there are a few things that I do believe really helps in growing a happy, healthy child:

 

 

 

doula and midwife supportFall in love with your baby by having a safe, healthy and positive birth experience. This will require preparation and commitment to learn about the birthing process and how to weigh benefits and risks of common maternity pitfalls.

Breastfeed (if you can) your baby until he no longer needs it. Breast feeding strengthens the immune system and produces hormones for babies that assist with sleep and relaxation. Breast-feeding also produces hormones in mom that help with patience and loving, making the job of parenting a little easier. When your child is older continue to provide whole food, balanced nutrition. Children often misbehave because they are hungry, thirsty or have received inadequate nutrition (just like adults quite frankly). This can include sugar and certain chemicals and dyes often found in popular foods marketed for children. 

eveKeep your child with you and close to you as much as possible. The following are practices that I utilized (and still utilize) to keep my child as close to me as possible from the time of birth (homebirth, baby wearing, co-sleeping, homecare and homeschooling). Each family will have to decide what works best for them.

Respond quickly and compassionately to your child. Examples are holding your baby when he cries and stopping what you are doing to look him in the eye, on his level, when he asks a question. You can’t love your child too much!

Use love instead of punishment for teaching and behavior modification. Punishment damages the relationship between parent and child and when we make a child afraid we stop learning dead in its tracks. We are designed, as human beings, to instinctively want to protect and cherish each other. We must be taught how to be unmerciful.  Bearing witness to the truth, regardless of how inconvenient or uncomfortable it might be, can be done by anyone.  Parenting is the most profound way of bearing witness in my opinion. And because of the significance that God has placed on parenting, I think the way we witness has the potential to shift humanity. Human life is a supreme gift, no matter whose life it is, and it must be appreciated, defended, and honored at all costs.

Finally, remember a little thing called grace. Extend it to others freely and to yourself often.

 

 

There are no perfect parents. There are no perfect people. We make mistakes. Punishing OURSELVES for those mistakes is no more effective or reasonable than punishing our children. We MUST forgive ourselves and understand that at any given moment, we all do the best we can with the information and inner strength we have at that moment. Forgiveness is critical in my opinion. It releases us from the crippling emotion of guilt and shame and gives us the freedom and confidence to parent with love and compassion. It also teaches our children the importance of grace, forgiveness and mercy.

 

  “Don’t give up, I believe in you all… A person’s a person, no matter how small.” Dr. Seuss

 

 

 

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