Back to Back Issues Page
Be Consistent, Issue #002 -- Balance in Parenting?
May 05, 2008
Hi There!

How to achieve a balance in parenting?

A warm welcome to you if you are a new reader of Be Consistent.

This month I thought it would be interesting to look at balance in parenting, especially in light of the series of articles I have been writing about overprotective parenting.

Recently a reader asked how balance in parenting can be achieved if she keeps to a consistent schedule with her children. Her question is, "How do my children learn to be independent and to think for themselves if we run to a parenting schedule?" As a mother she believes that her children need to know where they are at by having routines. However on the other hand, how do the consistent routines help her children to think for themselves?

I'm a great believer in both routines and structure to enable smooth family life, especially when children are young. However, I'm also a firm believer in raising thoughtful, considerate and responsible children too. To make this a part of themselves, children need to be given opportunities to learn, fail and achieve. Strong routines, which don't provide room for thought can also prevent this from happening.

So how do we achieve a balance in our parenting which enables routine living and yet also enables children's independence?

It's a very good question and one that I'm sure you all have different answers for. I'd like to suggest that you send your replies to me via the Contact form so that we can compare answers and help each other to achieve balance in our parenting. I look forward to hearing from you.

Contact Me Over-Parenting Overprotective Parenting


News Story 2008

Here's a fascinating news report from WEEKEND AMERICA which is thinking along the same lines of balance in parenting. This article is great because it is written from a Dad's perspective and incorporates many of the ideas about overprotective parenting that have filled the news headlines in recent weeks. Enjoy!!

MY EASY GOING MYTH!

My weekends are dominated by being a first-time father of a toddler. I've been doing a monthly series about the values I hope to pass on to my daughter, who's now turning 15 months old. Last time, I was talking to Washington Post writer Shankar Vedantam about what we teach our children, and he made an important point:

"I'm not sure it's the things you actually convey through your words that impart the most valuable lessons to your children. Most of the important things you communicate are not going to be communicated through your words but through your actions."

My daughter is watching her parents closely and drawing her mental map of the world based on her life at home. Today, I want to find out what that map looks like. What information am I giving my daughter -- are all of us giving our children -- without even knowing it?

I asked clinical psychologist Mary Jane Rotheram to pay me a home visit. Rotheram directs the Global Center for Children and Families at UCLA. The center is trying to convince parents to have these home visits regularly instead of waiting for a problem to come up. Dr. Rotheram came to my house and sat down with me, Susanna and my wife Sara in our family room. She asked us to name the most important gift we want to give our daughter. Both of us answered "self-love" and Dr. Rotheram told us it was a good sign that we agreed on this.

Then she asked us about what happens in the morning at our house. Sara described how she and I get up and start getting ourselves ready, and about 45 minutes after later we hear the crib rattle or Susanna begin to cry or talk to herself. Sara goes upstairs and greets her and receives a big smile. Susanna grabs her "snuggly," her soft crib toy. Then they sit in the glider together, Sara talks to her and nurses her, and they stay there for as long as Susanna needs to wake up and welcome the day together.

This also got a positive reception from Dr. Rotheram. She told us that this kind of consistent, positive routine has been linked to long-term healthy families, not only in the United States, but in France, Switzerland, Africa, Japan, and Vietnam. She explained that humans are creatures of habit. It's important that we think we know what's going to come next. And our daughter's case, it gives her the confidence to soothe herself in the morning until her mother arrives. Meanwhile, she always has her snuggly to hold onto.

Dr. Rotheram questioned us for more than an hour and watched Susanna interacting. She told us Susanna is thriving and that we are communicating our value of self-love.

In fact, she was so positive that I didn't completely buy it. I mean, every upbringing has some downsides, right? I wish Susanna could live at the edge of a forest -- what values are we communicating with all the concrete and pavement around her? Also, she's got no extended family nearby. And here's the big one: she spends four days a week with a nanny while her parents work. What does that say to her?

Dr. Rotheram assured us that there are no downsides of spending time in child care when it's good child care. In fact, she said, there appears to be a benefit: When both parents work, it forces children to take more responsibility.

I was skeptical. "Really?" I asked. "No part of you says, 'Uggh, parents are farming out their parenting to other people so they can make money?'" I acknowledged that maybe this was my own guilt speaking.

Sara said she doesn't feel guilty about leaving Susanna with the nanny, just sad sometimes. But I was insistent: "You don't feel at all guilty that she bonds with you, she nurses with you, she wishes you'd stay? And you're going to some office?"

Despite how strident I sound, I've always thought of myself as a mellow dad. I know all about the modern, overanxious, perfectionist parent. The helicopter parent, the over-indulgent parent, the hypercompetitive parent, out to produce the perfect child. I get it -- it's crazy. Humans have done fine for millennia without Baby Einstein. I'm enlightened.

But I'm not really sounding that way, am I?

Dr. Rotheram told me that my concerns are "typical of every parent in America right now." We're feeling uncomfortable and guilty and trying to give them more. "That kind of stress makes for long-term dissatisfaction."

I protested: No, no, my anxiety is just about her being a happy kid. I don't care about her grade point average!

"That might be true, but I would challenge that," she said. "You're thinking that you're happy and you're fine and whatever she does in achievement mode is going to be okay with you. I don't think so."

Sara agreed with her that I'm not as easy-going a parent as I think I am.

Dr. Rotheram told me that I reflect the culture I grew up in. "In America, individual achievement is highly, highly valued. Parents who want their kids to intellectually achieve at school have a whole set of things that they're doing to help those children at least be as high-achieving as everybody else in the neighborhood. And you're doing everything that parents would do to try to do that."

She was referring to the fact that when I read to my 15 month old, I point out the individual letters and spell out loud.

"She's already imitating you, touching letters and making noises even though she has no idea what it is that you're trying to do with the reading. But you are a person who highly values achievement. And while right now she doesn't go to school, wait until the first time she goes out at preschool and you're all of a sudden comparing your kid to every other preschool kid.

This was shocking to me: "I don't want to be that guy. I'm gonna be THAT guy?"

"I'm not sure," she replied, "but I'd encourage you to have the confidence. Look at what you've done so far -- a beautiful, verbal, on track, happy kid -- and still, you're anxious about it."

And so, I'm unmasked. According to this parenting expert, I am helping my daughter accept herself as she is. But maybe I'm not taking my own advice.

And how long will it be before those two things collide?


Look up the sitemap to read more articles of this nature.

Quote of the Month:

You don't really understand human nature unless you know why a child on a merry-go-round will wave at his parents every time around - and why his parents will always wave back. ~William D. Tammeus

That's all for this month - Cheers everyone.

Don't forget to keep in touch

Back to Back Issues Page