Saturday, March 31, 2012

5 Parenting Practices I Despise

The longer I parent, the more I realize that every parenting choice I make will be criticized.

Adoption or biological children? Domestic or International? Natural, medicated, or c-section birth? Circumcise or intact? Breast or formula? Vaccinate or not vaccinate? Home, private, or public school? Helicopter or free-range? Infant baptism or believer's baptism?

It doesn't even have to be a permanent or irreversible parenting decision to warrant criticism. Cloth or disposable? Bikini, tankini, or one-piece?  Natural, loc'ed, or "permed" hair? Boxers or briefs?

The list goes on and on. And there's no escaping it. If your parenting choice is public knowledge, there will inevitably be people who feel the need to tell you that you are doing it right... or, more often, that you are doing it wrong.

I've had my fair share of moments where I have criticized (or at least thought negatively) about the parenting choices others make. Some of them have been on this very blog. Most of them expressed as a "you do what you want and screw up your kids if you decide to, but my way is better" attitude.

Sometimes I make myself sick. 

I've tried, recently, to be less critical of the parenting practices of others. You see, I mess up occasionally sometimes frequently. And I grow, change my opinions, and parent (hopefully) better because of my mistakes. And I realize that how you parent, even if it's totally opposite of what I would do, is really between you and your child.

But, there are still some parenting practices that I cannot get on board with. Some that I still criticize- publicly and loudly. Because I just despise them.

1. Fear-based Parenting

Terri Schuester and Quinn from Glee

There's this line from the first season of Glee that has really stuck with me. Terri Schuester tells secretly-pregnant teen, Quinn, that she needs to take prenatal vitamins... one pill, three times a day, "or your baby will be ugly." Ha ha ha, right?


When fear motivates parenting, it rarely ends up turning out well. Parents whose main reason for making choices is based in fear of the repercussions usually make choices that limit themselves and their children. They teach their children to be fearful, and as a result the kids grow up believing "I can't". Or, they stifle constructive conversations with their kids and end up with rebellion and the hurts that often accompany that. I mean, have you seen Footloose?

Now, I'm not suggesting that parents throw caution to the wind and live with reckless abandon. Far from it. As the adults, parents have the mental capacity to predict the consequences of actions and the life experience to make informed judgments about the choices they and their children are making. They should use this.

But caution and fear are not the same thing. Caution is based in a realization of the facts and likely potentials in a situation, both positive and negative; fear is a feeling that is often based on imagined or perceived threats.

Caution says "let's learn about how diseases are spread and make sure we don't engage in activities that spread them." Fear says "I don't want you to get AIDS so you can't play with that HIV+ child!" See the difference? And can you see why fear-based parenting isn't a good idea?

2. Boundary-Free Parenting

It doesn't take much reading... or much life experience... to realize that children need boundaries. Boundaries help kids feel and be safe. They help kids understand right and wrong. They teach children how to manage the world around them. In short, boundaries are part of loving your child.

I'm not going to pretend that I know the right boundaries for other parents to set with their children (although, I think we can all agree that rubbing boogers on another child is not acceptable, right? Believe me, I am working on that one with JohnAndrew!) But a child without boundaries is a child that will self-destruct... and likely take their entire family- and everyone else around- down with them.

Even worse than no boundaries may be those who don't enforce the limits they claim to have set. These parents are steering their children right into disaster, and frankly, their kids deserve better. Boundaries are not a means of controlling your child or even a method of punishment... they are a way of lovingly teaching your child what they need to do to safely engage in the world around them.

Think about it... why do we tell our child not to touch a hot stove? It's because they do not yet know that the hot stove will burn them, and we love them enough to seek their well-being. That's what boundaries are- a way for parents to guide their child towards well-being because we have the knowledge and experience to know what will burn them.

Boundaries. Kids need them. Parents need to enforce them.

3. "Researching" Parenting Choices

When it comes to making choices in parenting, every parent has a different method of deciding what they will do. Some go with their gut instinct. Others ask the opinion of their mothers or other parents they respect. Still others turn to the Interwebs or professionals to research different topics. I'm guessing most parents use a combination of these methods for making their choices. And that is great.

But this can go wrong when people do "research" that really isn't about discovering facts but rather about finding an opinion and passing it off as fact. Do you know what I mean? The people who go to (not an actual website;) and then go around quoting it as a source of "factual" information as to why formula is better than breastmilk. 

My mom recently posted a great quote on my FB wall- I'm sure many of you have seen it:

"Quotes found on the Internet are not always accurate"
- Abraham Lincoln
Word. Listen, just because someone- even a really qualified someone- posts something on the Internet does not make it a fact. Even if they say it is. Even if they use all sorts of statistics to say it is.

If you want to believe it and use it as a guiding point in making parenting decisions, that's A-OK by me. You make your decisions to the best of your ability. Believe what you want. Find others who support you. 

But please, don't go around telling people that it is the Truth when it isn't. 

4. Religion-izing Abuse

Do you remember the story of Hana Williams, the little Ethiopian girl who died after alleged extensive abuse from the hands of her adoptive parents?

As the CNN report implies, Hana's adoptive parents--- and the Pearls (authors of To Train Up a Child)--- seem to use Scripture to condone abusive behaviors.

This isn't unique to Bible-believers. We see this across a variety of belief systems. But I chose this story because these are "Christian" parents, and as such, we believe the same Bible.  But this is not okay, and never will be.

There is no justification for abusing a child. 

And I can never accept the practice of abusing your child in the name of God. No matter what God you believe in. Period.

5. "Pass the Hate" Parenting


Last summer, shortly after we moved to the Jackson, Mississippi area, this happened. Just miles from our home. A group of white teen boys set out on a journey to "mess" with a black person. And James Craig Anderson ended up dead. For standing in a parking lot while black. Sound familiar?

Let me be real clear on something: children are not born hating others based on skin color. Or religion. Or gender. Or sexual orientation. Or ethnicity. Or nationality.

Hate is taught.

Not always by parents, but more often than not, parents are part of the problem when a child learns to hate. Either by directly teaching it, or by allowing their child to spend time with people, groups, or media influences that teach hate. Parents are the gatekeepers.

Don't believe me? Guess what. Mississippi is home to 46 known hate groups. And my guess is that the easiest recruits to these groups are those who are recruited early.

No matter how convinced a parent is that their hate is valid, passing it on to the next generation is never warranted- never excusable.

Are there any parenting practices you despise?


Eryka said...

This is a really well written post. I really appreciate that you drew attention to the Hana Williams story, because abuse is abuse period. And Jesus never stood for abuse. Christian or not, those parents had a warped understanding of their Bible and their interpretation was demonic. That one hits a hot spot with me too.

Lauren said...

Yeah, I don't get that line about "I don't discipline my spouse and my child deserves the same respect" line either. Respecting the child means giving them the tools they need to function in society, not standing by and waiting until they miraculously become reasonable people on their own. Say I, at least.

SouthMainMuse said...

Hate is definitely caught. It's a horrible thing to prejudice a child against something or someone because of fear. I agree with your points. Parenting is tough but more than that it is not an exact science. What works for someone is not necessarily what will work for you -- or for each child.

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