Saturday, February 10, 2007

And now, something besides anxiety, sort of

I've been reading two books, Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn and The Myth of the Perfect Mother: Rethinking the Spirituality of Women by Carla Barnhill.

The Kohn book I started reading after an exasperating attempt to implement an incentive chart. It didn't work for me. I felt that I spent all my time monitoring every blessed thing the girls did to see if I needed to add points or subtract points, and I had a sneaking suspicion that getting them to comply wasn't the same as encouraging actual kindness, helpfulness, and general character development. When I started investigating my feelings about incentive charts, I ran across Alfie Kohn, who has taken up arms against most conventional forms of behavioral modification in favor of, well, something rather amorphous that combines listening, respecting children, playfulness, and the avoidance of criticism OR praise as forms of parental manipulation. That last floored me, because it's drilled into us to praise our kids as much as possible. Though I have at times thought that gushing over every kind or nifty think my kids did was an easy way of not actually thinking about any of it very deeply. Oh that's so beautiful honey, what a great job you did! On to the dishwashing. He referances research that shows that children praised for doing nice things actually act less generously in situations where there's no "reward" and children begin to loose interest in projects and activities after parents praise their efforts, or they start thinking only in terms of how to earn another pat on the back. Anyway, I have only an imperfect idea of how to parent the way he describes, but has been a very thought-provoking read. I have another of his on my stack to read: Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise and other Bribes.

The second book addresses the problems with the "ideal mother" as promulgated by mainstream evangelical Christianity--the mom who never complains of boredom or dissatisfaction because motherhood is her ultimate calling, self-sacrificing, stay-at-home, homeschooling, success or failure measured by the behavior of her children, which in turn indicates how well she is training them in the faith. There's some of that where I work. One woman told me that she didn't believe teen rebellion was inevitable, if a child was reared properly (so of course rebellion would be a sign of poor parenting). Homeschooling is how you keep your children from the evils of evolution. Spanking is biblically mandated and if you don't you're some kind of liberal weirdo. I even heard one woman mention the Ezzo's, who are crazy wacked out Christian child rearing "specialists" who believe in something called "first time obedience," which sounds like it would be at home in a fascist regime. Then there was the time I read a forum discussion on schooling where one angry dad declared that he "wouldn't sacrifice his covenant children in the public schools." Well, back to the book. Barnhill is much nicer than I am, since I'm inclined to throw my hands up in exasperation and find a children's illustrated guide to evolution, so there.


  1. What you wrote sure brings back memories. The worst mistake I made as a young mother was to read Dr. Dobson. Made me feel like a bad mom and made the kids feel bad when I tried to implement some of the ideas I got. The books you describe, by contrast, sound like they may actually be helpful.
    Best wishes Alice, and hang in there!

  2. "...the Ezzo's, who are crazy wacked out Christian child rearing "specialists" who believe in something called "first time obedience," which sounds like it would be at home in a fascist regime."-what a great line.

  3. I raised five children. Not sure how I did it. Made mistakes I'm sure. Avoided the mistakes I thought my parents made. Made new ones of my own. Dr. Dobson wasn't much help to me. Use your common sense, pray a lot, trust God to fill in the gaps.

    Last spring I had a biopsy for very tiny calcifications. Actually a lumpectomy--he took out a lot more tissue than I expected. Turned out benign. Hope you get good news from yours.

  4. Firstly, I don't think anyone does the perfect job in parenting. It is just too demanding in every aspect of life to do perfectly.

    Secondly, teen rebellion is much more complicated that simple issues of raising children. Part of the rebellion is the natural requirement of children to take on their own destinies. I would guess that over-controlling parents are at greater risk of having rebellious children.

    Thirdly, children are people. It isn't like baking a cake. They are complex, a mixture of experiences and genetics, and most importantly, a sould which transcends everything psychologists, scientists, behaviorists AND theologians have to say.

    I could add more, ending up somewhere around thirty-fifthly, but that is probably plenty.

    The idea that we can insulate our children from the world and prevent their adaptation to it is counter to the admonishments of the Bible to engage the world.

    There is a Christian sub-culture which offers radio stations, tv programming, bookstores and all the "necessities of life" that allows people to live their lives without ever coming into contact with the people Jesus sought out. There are even "New Testa-mints" a Christian breath mint!

    Parenting can be complex and messy. Life is complex and messy. Putting a sanitary cover on the world isn't the way to teach our kids the tough lessons that life brings.

    Thanks for allowing me to sound off.

    I appreciated your post and it's stance.

  5. About the praise thing, after reading that too much was actually negative, gosh sometimes I just want to stop reading altogether, I started trying to do more like is described in How to talk so your kids will listen...
    So not oh you're such a great picture drawer but rather oh I really like the red you chose for the flowers. Praising the work rather than the person but I have no idea if this is any better.
    But honestly, I have to wonder if all these 'positive' parental things I do can possibly make up for my regular freak outs and occasional yell-fests. As for the whole insular Christian whatever thing going on at home, I just can't figure it out. And forget even trying to explain it to the French.