Benefit of the Belief

As parents, we’re all pretty used to being the ones most “in the know” in the family, right? We’re “the bosses”, “the head honchos”, “the leaders”, “the responsible parties”. Sometimes we don’t own our leadership roles enough, but more often than not, we own them much too much. Fear of permissiveness is so rampant in the parenting world that most of us would rather err on the side of too much than not enough control over our children — if only because of the tsunami of cultural pressure to appear “in control” at all moments. But more on that at another time…

The point I want to make at the moment is that, often, we can get carried away with controlling our children — managing what they say, how they see and perceive, even what they believe. We can even let our need to be in control run amuck with our relationships with our children and find ourselves so enmeshed in micro-managing the details that we lose track of the human hearts involved. And by the way, we don’t even have to be authoritarian to make the common mistake of over-parenting. We don’t have to be mean, we don’t have to “lose it”, we don’t even have to raise our voices to drown out the emerging voices of our little ones.

Now, the pinpoint I want to highlight here is the precise moment when parental control of the minutia of our children’s lives overextends into the realm of controlling their knowledge of, or relationship with, themselves. It just so happens that there are times and places and, in the eventual, whole epochs of their lives when our children will know more than we do about what they think and need and are. Let me say that again, just so we’re clear — sometimes, and (with any luck) increasingly as they age, our children will be the ones who know best how to be them(selves) in the world. Maybe you’ve heard of or remember that old TV show, “Father Knows Best”? Well this is the polar opposite, and our job in this case is to respect their authority.

Indeed, you read rightly, I say “respect their authority”. I choose that phrase specifically because of the reverse context in which it is so commonly used. Parents, regardless of creed or religion, all seem to unify over the subject of the necessity of teaching children to “respect authority”. And this is one instance, or rather a class of instances, where I strongly suggest we afford our kids just that much respect.

It’s an interesting word — authority — meaning both an aspect of one’s power over another, and (sometimes though not always simultaneously) also a description of one’s prowess or knowledge in a certain subject area or practice. It’s an obvious linguistic nod to the notion that knowledge and prowess command certain privileges, and perhaps chief among them being power over others. What I am talking about in this case, though, is the latter definition (and exclusive of the former, if that is more comfortable for the parent in question…), in the sense that we would hope that our children would be learning to be, and in the process of becoming, “authorities” on themselves. Can you think of a better way to encourage that self-knowledge than by respecting their early attempts at such?

(Examples, examples — I am perpetually seeking examples…)

Respecting our kids’ authority can happen in so many simple scenarios. Everything from accommodating their choices of clothes and meal options, or allowing them to pick the next activity of the day, to honouring any of their specific requests, hearing out their opinions, or even celebrating their aspirations to be a fire-truck or mer-person when they grow up. We can respect their preferences about the littlest things, as well as respecting their notions about the grandest. We can believe them when they say they see monsters, or faeries, as well as when they say they are finished with dinner.

Don’t worry, this is really a “Neil Armstrong Moment” staring you in the face — it’s one small step for you… one giant leap for your relationship and your child’s development. It may seem hard to get your mind around, but once you do, the opportunities are everywhere, always waiting for you to offer your respect to your child’s authority on her-or himself. You will find it easier than you think, but watch that you don’t slump into “the land of lip service”, which is worse for your relationship with your children than defying their authority in the first place.

I bet you can make up your own reasons why it’d be beneficial to give children some room to develop and express their own understanding of themselves, their preferences, their beliefs, their values, and their own ways of being in the world. But I’m still going to give you some of mine:

  • Developing an understanding of all of the above aspects of self inevitably engenders a level of “self-awareness” that benefits a child’s continuing development and lifelong happiness.
  • When they have the chance to figure out and claim what they like, we don’t have to guess what they want as much! And there will be much rejoicing (and much less frustration).
  • Allowing some of this process to occur when they are young will save them loads of time when they are in their 20’s trying to “figure out who I am”. We will have given them an uncommon opportunity to see and know themselves for years longer than the average kid.
  • Having a clearer sense of their own values, growing accustomed to having their preferences respected, and having practiced expressing them in various scenarios, our children will be more equipped to handle the inevitable peer pressure to do things that conflict with those values and preferences.
  • Developing a culture of respect around our children and their authority of self models to, and actually programs, them to expect and offer the same in their relationships throughout life. (You might want to read that one again.)
  • Offering them the psycho-emotional space to be their own people in this way, i.e. resisting the urge to control their every particle, thought, and motion, and honouring their attempts to know, and make choices for, themselves affords them a greater chance to become the leaders of tomorrow (rather than the followers).

The bottom line is simply that we had better get used to the idea of our children knowing themselves better than we do, if we want them to reach full maturity. How we approach that is, of course, up to each us, but in the end, approach it we must. Our children are born to outlive their reliance on us — if we are self-secure and bold enough to let them out of our looming shadows.

And again, remember the power of being genuine. If it’s helpful, think of it this way: We aren’t offering our children the benefit of the doubt, but the benefit of our belief.


Be well, my fellow authority respecters.


About Nathan M McTague, CPCC, CPDPE, CMNEC

I'm a cofounder of the Center for Emotional Education, and I've spent the last 16 years working with the world's most powerful women, femme, and nonbinary leaders who have been incredibly successful, but who still struggle with debilitating emotional overwhelm that gets in the way of their relationships, their health, and their work. I help them learn how to operate their emotional system, heal from longstanding emotional wounds, and rewire their brains to be better at feelings, so they can finally have the relationships, the health, and the next level business success that they deserve. I lead courses and trainings, and offer 1:1 healing and growth support for my clients all over the world — so that they can move from emotional overwhelm to Emotional Sovereignty, and fully own their lives.
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21 Responses to Benefit of the Belief

  1. kloppenmum says:

    I was struck by this concept first when our Hare was about three and would happily and often leave the house with his clothes inside out and back-to-front. As a parent, I always ensured his clothing was weather appropriate, but otherswise he was generally left to his own devices. Many of the parents I knew at the time could not cope with it: their children had matching clothing correctly assembled. Yet, here we are six years later and the Hare is happily oblivious to fashion or trying to impress anyone with his clothing, the other children won’t leave the house without labels and hair-product. The danger, of course, lies in where to draw the line. While I agree with you entirely around spontaneous or non-conscious decision making, I’m not entirely sure we’re on the page with conscious choices. In our house, we look at it as providing a skeleton: for example, taking into account their indiviudal wishes and tastes, we make the decisions around most meal times. It is overwhelming for children to have to make conscious choices all the time, and I blogged about this in my preventing power tantrums post. However, if our nine year old gets up and makes a perfectly sensible breakfast for himself, I’d call that an appropriate decision. If he chose to eat chocolate biscuits or was dithering between options, I think that’s where being an adult with authority, helps him to understand he doesn’t have to ‘be the adult.’

    • If I understand correctly, Karyn, I’d say we are in agreement about the need to find balance between allowing our children the space to make their own way(s) and providing a structure to assist them, as well as facilitating the needs of the others involved (family members, strangers, us…). The place I think we might all differ (and ought to) is where exactly that balance lies for each family.

      I am assuming that I am being read mostly by parents who will err on the side of more parental control than less (not a pessimistic assumption, but a statistical one), so I want to swing their proverbial pendulums in the opposite direction. I reckon they will pull back to where they feel most comfortable.

      As for my own, we shop together, and discuss meal options, even with the 3 year old, at the time of picking the food. Then when meal prep-time comes around, we will often ask them what they want while we are finalizing the plan for what we will have. Our kids eat great stuff, though, so that one is a minimal concern for us. With sweets, we definitely provide structure and information about health, etc., and we will step in, particularly with the wee ones, to regulate how much they eat at any given time. We also let the 10 year old, with sisters in tow, celebrate her birthday by eating all the ice cream in one sitting that they wanted because that was what she asked to do in celebration…

      Also, I like what you say about ensuring that our kids know that they can express their blossoming selves freely without fear that we will let them take on more than they can handle at any given point or stage of development. We want them to be empowered to take their own reigns, so to speak, not forced out into the wilderness without guidance. They are worthy of our honour and respect, and also worthy of still getting to be children!

      Thanks for joining in, Karyn, as always.

  2. One of the hardest things I find as a parent is to let go and trust my children – to give them their own authority. I believe part of it comes from growing up never having a say in anything and now craving the control I lacked as a child.
    Despite my off days I’m happy that over all my children are already figuring themselves out and, hopefully, won’t grow up wondering who they are or why they have no control over themselves.

    Great post.

    • Thanks for adding to the discussion, Sarah.

      I think I had similar trouble with my first daughter, especially. I didn’t even let her fool around with a spoon and some food (while in a highchair with a tray and a bib covering her whole torso), because I was trying to control the environment (i.e. keep myself and other things tidy), and control how much food she was getting, and control how long it took us…

      I keep learning more about it every day. Now, our 3 year old barely stays at the table during dinners at home, but instead of forcing her, or strapping her down, or giving her gold stars, we keep talking and negotiating and working it out with her, while modeling what we want, giving her the space to learn the system of staying at the table during meals, acculturate by getting used to the idea as age appropriates, and adopt the system by her own process.

      Because it is a “low stakes” case, we are willing to go further than we might otherwise to “work with” her meet everyone’s needs, rather than “doing to” her to control her. We have occasionally (and would/will in the future if it feels necessary) become more adamant about her staying at the table — say when we’ve been at a restaurant, or at the grandparents, or when she is older. She has respected that thus far without much trouble — I think because she feels generally honoured and because we don’t try to force her regularly.

      Alfie Kohn writes elloquently of a simliar phenomenon with parental use of the word “NO” in his important work, Unconditional Parenting, which I would encourage every parent to read.

      Keep growing, MamaDandelion! And know that you already are creating better lives for your children, by simply being more conscious about what you’re doing. And thanks for your encouragement, too!

      Be well.

  3. kloppenmum says:

    You’re welcome, I was just looking for the clarification you have provided. I love the idea of eating a whole lot of ice-cream as part of a birthday treat. Our boys would be so excited! 🙂

  4. This is an interesting conversation.

    I think our family definitely leans toward the more radical side. We buy the food, but for the most part the girls choose what they eat for each meal. Tonight I made pizza soup (YUM!) but the girls had waffles. They didn’t want the soup, we had time to make the waffles so we did. Some nights they eat what we make some nights they don’t. During the day they mostly choose all of their food. Sometimes it’s what I’m having sometimes it isn’t. They have a better idea of what their bodies need, than I do. Over the course of a week they have a very balanced diet some – days they eat nothing but fruit, others it’s nothing but cheese (exaggerated, but close enough). If there’s candy in the house they have free access to it. They rarely eat more than a bite or two, it’s not limited so they don’t gorge. I have to admit that when we have cake or pie in the house I’ll have it for breakfast, so it’d be silly to deny the girls some while I eat it in front of them.

    We take the same approach about pretty much everything – or at least that’s our intent. We still have a long ways to go in order to let go of our own pasts, but I think we’re heading in the right direction.

    They have the opportunity to decide for themselves, but we don’t force them to, or leave them high and dry if they seem lost. We’re always there to help them through a situation if they need it. We don’t make the choices for them, but we provide them with the information they need.

    Some people think this means that we let the girls do whatever they want, whenever they want – but it doesn’t. We’re not absent parents or non-parents, in fact from what I’ve seen the way we do things takes a whole lot more time and effort right now (while they’re little) than if we did everything for ourselves and kept them under our control.

    There’s some appeal when I see other people’s children stop doing what they’re doing just because mom or dad (or even a random stranger) says something, but I LOVE that when we tellt eh girls to do or not do something, they question us. They ask why or why not. They aren’t likely to just do something because someone says to – it needs to be right for them. To me that is the best outcome ever.

    • Woo Hoo, Mama Dandelion, you folks are wildflowers!

      I agree with all you write here.

      In terms of food, we’re quite a bit like you. The long range view of a healthy diet is important in feeding any toddler…

      Sugar regulation, though, is an interesting tidbit that underscores the uniqueness of each family and the individuals involved. We’ve leaned pretty far toward no regulation, but I mentioned it here because we have felt the need to regulate it in the past and because of it’s seriousness, would regulate if it came to it. In order to be kindest to all participants, I’d prefer not to get into the details, but in our family, we’ve had to do some “rehabilitative reprograming” of body awareness with respect to sugar in particular. I was trying to avoid having to mention that earlier, but I’d rather be a bit more precise now. With sugar intake in particular, I think if you can start with no regulation (and maintain the atmosphere that sugar is nothing sacred), then it works swimmingly to let their bodies figure it out, as you describe. If one has begun otherwise, then a transition is likely to be necessary before they can self-regulate — again with sugar in particular.

      Also, I think I have mentioned (somewhere previously on this blog), that I consider it one of my greatest parenting achievements that the first question we answer after making almost all requests is, “Why?” And I’m not convinced that it does actually take any longer or more energy, when I see the tantrums other children and their parents are throwing when going the other route…

      Such a pleasure to have you involved here, Sarah.

      Be well.

      • Thank you.

        I think for our family no sugar restrictions has worked because we really don’t have it in the home very often and when it is DH and I don’t really touch them. We’ve had a large box of skittles sitting on the shelf for months and the girls will ask when they want some – DH is more inclined to say no than I am. But he says no b/c the girls have taken to not actually eating them, but rather chewing them until their tongues change colour, then spitting the candy out! Ugh yuck. But I figure at least it keeps the majority of the undesirable ingredients out of their bodies – and they clean up after themselves so I don’t have to.

        Cookies, cakes etc are a different story – oh if they’re in the house, I eat them. : ) But the girls will have their muffin/cupcake or two and that’s it, though Ella enjoys eating the frosting by the spoonful – at least we try to avoid refined sugars in home baked stuff. DH and I are definitely more prone to gorging than our girls are. They eat what they need and that’s that.

  5. kloppenmum says:

    I’m going to agree to disagree here! For me it’s essential that our children don’t have to make too many conscious decisions, because developmentally they are not ready to do so. Yes, I know they can -that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. It also gives me the geebies the idea of children asking, why, to our basic decisions. (Situation matters here.) We have worked hard to develop a deep sense of trust with our children so they ‘trust’ our advice and instructions. They know they can rely on us to make decisions in their best interests, so they can get on with the serious business of playing. We don’t tantrum; they don’t tantrum; sometimes things happen…just because that’s an adult decision.

    • A lot has to do with individual families – I know that what we do would not be right for everyone – in fact I’ve met some people that would most likely not do well at all with our style. But a lot of that has to do with trust. Trust in oneself as well as trust in their children.

      I also know several families that wouldn’t need to take our route b/c they’re already at a place of harmony within the family while the parents still maintaining ‘control’.

      For us we offer guidelines more than rules – 7PM rolls around and we send the girls to bed – however if they said ‘no’ we’d say ‘okay’. In fact this was the first step we ever took toward this path of parenting.

      I have a background that can make me prone to abuse – and one night trying to put the girls to bed resulted in a fight that made me leave the room and lock myself in the bathroom while they climbed out of bed and ran around like mad. At that point I knew I needed a different way, I never wanted to ever feel that way again. Bed time went out the window and next thing I knew every time a fight started over something, I really looked at why I was saying something had to be a certain way. Sometimes there’s a good reason why and we tell the girls and they very rarely question it. Because they do trust that when we set limits those limits are for a reason.

    • So interesting, Karyn and Sarah. I am with you both, but neither of you seems to be with the other.

      Again, this seems to highlight the point of family-unique parenting, as well as, child-unique parenting. My partner, Natalie, and I were talking about your Owl, Butterfly, and Hare classifications for your three children — and our own Sagittarius, Leo, and Taurus — and how different children respond differently and require individually responsive handling. We will all have to make our lefts and rights as is most appropriate for our own, and for what each family member is in this life to learn.

      That being said, I think there is common ground to be had, if we can remain open to the places where we diverge from one another. A limiting factor for all of us here is that we are each trying to sum up, what is a moment-to-moment process. This, obviously, just can’t be done. Period. So what we each are presenting is a thumbnail version of a huge interactive field of possibilities for any given day or situation. You comment that “situation matters here”, and that is true across the board.

      Sarah, what you say about not regulating children’s sugar intake does have merit biologically speaking. If sugar isn’t used as a reward, and isn’t made into a mystical treat, kids do naturally regulate themselves without the developmental issues that trouble you, Karyn, with conscious decisions. They just don’t wind up craving it as much. I’ve seen that, and the difference when sugar is used as a reward and/or to increase the potency of superficial bonding moments. Sarah, you also add that sugar is not always “around” at your house, so there is some adult regulation going on there (in addition to DH being more willing to regulate on site). And, Karyn, perhaps you’ll agree that there’s some laudable authenticity and consistency in that Sarah isn’t going to eat the cake in front of the kids and then say they can’t have any.

      Karyn, what you say about conscious decisions and age/developmental appropriateness rings true for me. And judging from what you say, Sarah (“They have the opportunity to decide for themselves, but we don’t force them to, or leave them high and dry if they seem lost.”), there is an unmentioned age appropriateness consideration going on there, too. So how do we know for an Owl, or a Hare, or a Leo, what is the exact age when any/some/more conscious decision-making is appropriate. Sarah, you’re from the “wilder” side of the spectrum, I gather, but I bet you aren’t asking the 2 year old whether or not she is going to brush her teeth. And Karyn, if Sarah’s children are the kind for whom it works, and they are attuned by Sarah’s parenting/bonding to making what could be called conscious choices (or at least responding to the opportunity to do so), then who are we to say which decisions are the age appropriate ones.

      For me, when I saw my daughters making their own conscious decisions, and it was early, I thought, “So soon? Are you sure?…” And I resisted letting them make more decisions until I was sure they could do so without undue stress to any of us. That worked (though, differently) for my first two girls. Now, I do indeed find myself asking the 3 year old (Taurus), “What boots are you going to wear today? Do you want to wear this coat? No? You all right with me brining this one incase you do get cold? No? Which one do you want to use if you do get cold?” And that may not be the end of it. Because she is who she is, and I have parented long enough to be how I am about it, I won’t mess with our connection/bond/trust over this subject enough to shove her into a coat, nor am I foolish enough to think that either of us will have an easier time if I do. Generally, though, it doesn’t have to come to that because of our ability to negotiate, and to let her explore and find out she gets cold without a coat in the middle of winter in Montana, and because she knows that we don’t ask her to do things that aren’t good for her or necessary (a common aspect for both of you ladies, as well). I also know I will not let her freeze. By the way, before she was old enough to work this through together, there was indeed more than one occasion when we were just putting her in the winter get-up and she fussed and protested, but we did it anyway, and then comforted her as we headed out the door…

      And that is true for Natalie and me across the board, too (maybe Sarah, you will chime in about how you feel) — when it has been necessary, when we do have to make decisions that aren’t popular or preferred but feel non-negotiable to us, we still offer our little ones empathy for the feelings they are having over their disappointment. We may even go so far as identifying with how they didn’t like what we just did. So they know they aren’t being punished, and our bond isn’t threatened even though we had to quash their intentions.

      About letting them ask “Why?”… I will admit, that when Bella asks “Why”, she is usually on her way already. When Xi asks, it is because she just might have a better idea to share, so she pauses doing in asking. When Echo asks, it is with a genuine interest in how things work, and because she is giving you the benefit of the doubt while she resists saying, “NO”. (Which, although we never used the word with her, is her first, most natural response to anything.) And because we don’t over-manage them, they have no resistance built-in to hearing our requests, so their asking us about it doesn’t mean they are not going to comply. Also, raising three girls to ask, “Why?” before they will do something, fills me with a sense of security I cannot begin to explain to you, Karyn. What better preparation can I give them for the questionable things they will inevitably be asked to do, or go along with when they are older and away from parental control or guidance? I can tolerate a lot of “Why’s” for that. Besides, I’m interested in raising powerful women, not sheep. The more tenuously they follow, the better. And our bond does indeed ensure that if it comes down to it, they will trust us with their lives without thinking about it, let alone asking “Why?”.

      I can feel a post coming out of this, but let me just wrap up by saying, I am generally seeking balance in parenting between a few ideas. They are: what feels most natural, what is most respectful/beneficial to the relationships involved, what most prepares the children for living in an adult world, and what works best for each of us. All of these variable considerations play into how we treat our girls in any particular situation. If we miss something at the time, we go back and redress it as appropriate, until we feel we have made the most balanced choice between these guides to our approach.

      Whoa… that was the long version of agreeing to disagree while still claiming common ground…

      Thanks again for your insight and willingness to discuss it, Karyn and Sarah!

      Be well, all.

  6. I’m not sure if I’d say age appropriateness for decision making – possibly more ability appropriateness – or desire appropriateness. For instance today Agatha did not want to go out, but we needed to. It wasn’t a decision we could hand over to the girls. However we didn’t need to take the rest of the decisions away from them. Ella wore her bathrobe and ski-pants out today – and didn’t want to wear her winter coat. We just agreed and let it be. We didn’t discuss the weather (-25C) she knows its cold already. Agatha didn’t want to leave, so she refused to put boots or shoes on. She then had a choice either she could put something on her feet and walk, or she could go barefoot, or she could be carried. She choose barefeet – until she got to the door. Her shoes were on within seconds and she happily skipped to the van. At 2.5yrs many would say choosing outer wear appropriate for the weather is not an age appropriate decision. But to us, there’s no point forcing it. If we force the shoes, then climbing into the van is also a fight, as will climbing into the carseat, and getting buckled up. She didn’t want to go. She had zero control over the situation. So we offered love, and the opportunity to take control of everything else possible. It was appropriate for ability and desire. When we arrived at our destination both girls climbed out and put their coats on without a question, neither tried to go barefoot. All we had to contend with were the stares of other parents when they saw the chosen clothing.

    They don’t need to wear their coats, they can learn it’s cold and choose to put them on for themselves. However, if they choose to wear shoes instead of boots, or no coat or whatever, then we carry along all the items we believe they should have and often they put them on in less than a minute. In our experience, we get our desired outcome faster than if we argued and forced.

    I do have an issue with teeth brushing, but even with that (or hair brushing which bothers me more) I try to step back. I want the girls to brush, but allowing them to say yay or nay actually results in them brushing more. Agatha brushes roughly 4 times a day, Ella 2-3 depending on her mood. .

    But as you’ve said, this is a thumbnail version of our life. We might not have rules the way others do, but our guidelines are strict. Everyone in our home must feel safe. So if one is hitting the other that’s a big No-no, but it goes farther than that. Both girls like to roar, like to chase, but both girls are very sensitive. So if they don’t ask the other’s permission first it usually results in tears and cries of being afraid. Another big No-no. It’s not okay to take something from someone else without permission. We spend a lot of time helping them communicate with each other. We spend a lot of time helping them communicate with us. Screaming gets our attention, but only words can produce a result. I don’t know which is cause, which effect, but both our girls have large vocabularies and aren’t afraid to use them.

    Today we’ve been out, everyone returned home tired, and grumpy. However both girls were so excited about their new toys and such that they wanted to stay up playing. We didn’t think it was a good idea. We suggested that they appeared tired and might have more fun if they waited until tomorrow. They wanted to play. Things quickly went down-hill. They still wanted to play, but it was obvious no one was having fun. So we gently guided them into bed. No fight, no fuss, no orders. Even though it wasn’t the choice they wanted, they were able to let us make the decision for them. They were asleep within roughly thirty minutes of their usual time. But if we’d pushed for them to go to bed in the first place they’d have fought and likely been awake even longer. It was a decision they had no desire to make. Though their ability let them know it was the right decision and they followed along.

    As I said, I don’t think our style would work for everyone. I don’t think it’s right for everyone, but it works for us. It works well for us. But it does take a lot of effort to allow ourselves to be uncomfortable with the decisions being made. We don’t want our children out without coats, so we’re prepared. WE won’t let them get frostbite, but then I doubt they’d push the issue long enough to become more than slightly uncomfortable. We never say anything along the lines of ‘I told you so’, so they never have a negative association with changing their mind and taking our suggestion.

    • Well put Sarah. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment so thoroughly. And my I say, you also do so eloquently. I agree “age” is relative for sure. Development is not a constant, and all kids are born individuals with their own idiosyncrasies and “isms”.

      Karyn, I’d like to hear back from you about Sarah’s latest addition. What do you think?

      I feel like the more we have discussed it, the more we have arrived at ever slighter differentiations between our three families. Although it sounds like Sarah and I may spend a few more minutes carrying coats.

      I am becoming more and more interested in the specificity of every family’s parenting plan. I have been thinking for years, “If only other parents would…”. And though it has occurred dimly to me before, I know see clearly that even when we agree about attachment and bonding, and letting kids be kids, and using empathy, and guiding our children toward being self-aware and confident in their identities, every version of that is/will be utterly unique. So much so, that we even find ourselves disagreeing in places about what is the best way to do what we all agree must be done.

      Thank goodness for diversity! Our kids should get together someday and compare notes…

      Be well.

  7. kloppenmum says:

    Nathan, I think that you hit the nail on the head yesterday (time zones?) when you said it’s so hard to get a picture when we can only write in snap-shots. For me, the thought of a child going without warm clothing in winter is horrifying, but we don’t have any dramas when we tell our children that they must wear a coat and boots (fashion is irrelevant for us too). Perhaps, it’s all in the delivery? I utterly respect that each family must find their own way to parent, and I understand that while we get to choose, we don’t get to choose the outcomes: biology does that for us. All three of us are probably more aware of our own programming and parenting choices than most, we all seem to have well attached children, we all respect the need for play, we all agree sometimes adults need to make decisions for the children. Perhaps what we are discussing is nuances on basically the same parenting style, in which case biology will celebrate with us!
    Just a follow up to the sugar discussion: we let our children self-regulate when they were small too, but had to change that decision when it became apparent that they began to mimic the behaviours of other children at birthday parties and such.

  8. Amber Crabtree says:

    This is amazing! It is how I aspire to approach parenting my four children. They are all under the age of 5, but it is never too early to start granting them freedoms within safety and allowing them to be themselves, truly. Respecting and honoring who they are. Valuing their ideas and actually ENJOYING their ideas! Kids are brilliant and are so often treated like pets. “Sit, stay, good boy”. I think we can easily forget they have brains that are cognitive and alive. Thank you for writing this! I’m sharing it will all my friends!

    • Thanks Amber, both for the encouragement and for the sharing. And welcome to the virtual neighborhood!

      I like what you say about “ENJOYING their ideas” — I think it’s important to remember that we do have that option. It’s fun, too!

      Thanks again Amber.

      Be well.

  9. Rick Ackerly says:

    Boy are we ever on the same page!!! How we exercise authority makes all the difference. (I think it is a better focus than “freedom.”)

    • So well put, Rick. Focussing on “freedom” is exactly backward isn’t it?

      Thanks for the added perspective.

      (Everyone else, may I to invite you to go check out Rick’s website. It’s great!)

      Be well, Rick.

  10. tacklingerma says:

    I like and I struggle with liking this philosophy. I guess it boils down to I feel a lot of us over think this stuff. I don’t want to raise the next group of millenials; they are way too coddled. I don’t want to raise a Tyler durden; guidance is good and self realization is good. I listen to him AND I expect him to respect “mah authoritay!” 🙂

    • Hey “TacklingErma” (I generally like to address people here by their names here, but I can’t find yours anywhere, so I’ll just use your blog name…),

      Thanks so much for commenting. I have to admit, I really love this post — I hadn’t read it for a year, and was glad to have the opportunity to do so again — I think it hits on something that few parents or parenting consultants ever get around to addressing. And yes, I think there is some “tension” between expressing our authority (the leadership kind) over our children, and allowing them to be the authorities (the expert kind) on themselves, but the two certainly aren’t categorically opposed, or mutually exclusive by any means. I recognize that it is indeed the (sort of) knee-jerk reaction to say, “I’m the parent, I know what’s best for my kid — and if I let him, he’ll run amuck…”. But again, I think all that is needed in this line of thinking is to remember that there are two distinct definitions of “authority”.

      It’s absolutely vital that we be the leaders in our families. As parents, I’d say that leadership is the second most important role we should be inhabiting — the first is nurturer, of course. I originally wrote this post during a period when I was thinking that way more parents are too controlling than too permissive. I still believe the ratio is slanted toward too much control, but I have since come to realize that there are also plenty of parents who struggle with the leadership component. For me, the ideal scenario is one in which the parents are confident enough in the nature of the parenting apparatus itself, to rely on the relationship between them and their offspring for guidance. So, for instance, before birth, these parents begin bonding with their baby, and continuing intense nurturing through birth and “the 4th trimester”. In this manner, the neural network of the infant is fully empowered, and fully connected to the parents (mom first…), and then the child is naturally tuned to taking his cues from “the nurturing provider-gods”. If the parents continue to rely on this natural set-up, without undermining it with common authority-thwarters like praise (“catching the kids being good”), punishment, threats, inflexibility, or other parental expressions of distrust in their own leadership (i.e. working too hard to seem in control), then the kids continue to follow the leader. They are neurally hard-wired to copy us, and the bonding allows them to feel safe enough to fulfill their programming. Then parents can lead, give direction, and still allow their children to express their own preferences, and still be flexible enough to let their children do some age-appropriate self-determining.

      In terms of “over-coddling”, or creating an authority-fighter like Tyler Durden, I think of these fears as ghosts of the current parenting mythology. Without specific examples from you, I may not be able to speak to precisely the kind of parenting or the outcomes of such that bother you most — but purely guessing, I’d say the children who seem “over coddled” to you are more likely “over-educated” too soon, and too isolated from their parents and from real living, and too inundated with TV, than they are too much nurtured or honoured. And Tyler Durden, remember, is a figment or Jack’s over-managed mind — he exists only to try to extricate Jack from a system of far too much control and far too little self-confidence and personal authority. Tyler Durden is what Jack created to deal with the fact that he has spent his whole life being told what to do and feeling forced to go along with it. Jack is what happens to people who learn too well to not be their own authorities. And frankly, I’d rather my three daughters lean more toward being hard to control than being too easy (especially when they are out on their own…).

      As I write this, my partner, Natalie, is negotiating with our 5 year-old. Natalie is working on a precise painting project at the table and Echo is wanting to be able to play under (and occasionally bonk) the table where Natalie is working. Natalie asked her not to bonk the table, and Echo complied. Another time or two happened like this (accidental bonk, request to not bonk) the first day. Today, they were back at it (Echo painted some as well, then was back under the table), and Natalie said she didn’t want Echo to bonk the table. Then Echo said, “I’m not liking all this ‘don’t do that’ stuff. I want to play under here and do this.” And Natalie, like she was talking to a human, rather than underaged chattel, empathized with Echo’s situation, and gave her more information about what was happening for her (Natalie), and they worked together to find a mutually satisfactory solution. Now they are happily continuing their respective activities — no threats, no power moves, no adversarial posturing, and no lingering disconnect in the relationship. We find this style of interacting and parenting ideal for us, especially when we imagine our kids grown and out in the world working with others.

      Thanks again for writing in — I love discussing this stuff!

      Be well.


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