The Parenting Thread

March 29, 2008 @ 9:02 am | Filed under:

I’m still juggling the various strands of discussion in the comments, on two posts now, and such thought-provoking remarks continuing to come in. I’m conscious of several questions that have been raised but not tackled yet, and while I’m pondering them (and seeking time to reply), I thought it might help if I teased apart the topic strands into separate threads. The unschooling thread is going strong in the knowledge post, and I’ve put together a number of your comments and questions about parenting below. Amy at Epiphany Springs and Elizabeth at Frabjous Days have posted on the respectful parenting topics at their blogs, too. (And other people as well, I’m sure; feel free to add your links to the comments.)

Also, Willa has written another very good post at In a Spacious Place addressing the shortcomings of the term “child-led” education.

Here, from the patience post, are some questions people had that others might want to try to answer, and some of the insights about respectful parenting. These are by no means all the good comments, nor even all the best parts of the comments they’re excerpted from. If you’re at all interested in the topic, I heartily encourage you to read through the whole comment thread.


Specifically, I found myself wondering, when you mentioned the difference between patience and exerting control — any examples of how this applies in those moments that ARE frustrating, and hard to enjoy? Like when you’ve asked your 4-year-old six times to clear her dishes from the table, or to brush her teeth, and she’s just lying on the floor??? I hate the overpowering nag that wants to, and often does, leap out of my mouth, but it’s hard to find a more connecting, genuinely patient (yet appropriately authoritative) way …


One thing that used to be said about me is that I knew how to be childish with children and get down on their level and endear them to me. It pains me so much that this is not true of me now for the most part. I want to recapture that and find balance. Someone does have to cook dinner, someone has to maintain some sense of order that I think children really crave as well, but does it have to be done in a scolding way? It’s all I know though. I’d really like to do things differently but feel a little helpless.

Amy C.

For example, yesterday was a lovely day full of connections and exploring and creating and reading in which I truly felt present to each of my children. However, not only did the dishes go unwashed and the laundry landfill grow and the grocery shopping go undone, but in being present to one child, I sometimes overstepped the limits of myself and the other children, delaying food or naptime or other requests so as not to “cut off” the curious child. Once I have a hungry or tired kid on my hands, I realize that I’ve created the negative situation by not guiding the gang into a transition. Lissa, your point about margins of time helped me think about this problem in a new way (I think my family may need to live in the margins!), but I’d love to hear more about how others find balance.


It is easy (for me) to fly off the handle and it is tempting because it generally produces a fast and desirable result. Or so it seems. But what it really does is put a crack (even if only a tiny invisible one) in the structure of my relationship with that child. They have certainly learned what not to do (if only not to get mommy to the breaking point!) but has it been effective discipline? No, not really and it’s not worth it. The short term obedience brings long term fracture.


I really think that examining the whole behavior modification approach to reward/punishment is what many of us have to go through to reach “the next level,” where we maintain relationship without losing our ability to lead/mentor our children.


It seems that my parenting journey is coming full circle. I have “tried” everything these past few years, every ridiculous suggestion out there in hopes of gaining cooperation, only to find that none of them work as well as simply being truly present, cheerful and respectful to my children. I chose to forgo the positive approach a few years back because I was just so physically tired and kept hearing from so many “experts” how I needed to lay down the law. As you mentioned, Lissa, it often does take more time and energy to parent mindfully but the rewards are far greater. Unfortunately, I formed the habit that I would yell or threaten punishment of some sort when I was angry and that has been a hard habit to break. However, I am determined to do so for the sake of my relationships with the children.


I wanted to throw out some real-life examples that are very pertinent to me right now because that’s the way I come to understand these concepts.

Example 1: 5 yr-old child does not want to leave a fun location (park, store, friends’ house, etc). It is bedtime, naptime, mealtime, etc and we need to leave. I can give kind minute-warnings until we leave, think of something fun to do at home, and ask politely, but child will not comply. I (usually) end up gently carrying kicking and screaming child to the car. Sometimes I’m laughing because of how funny it looks. What can I do differently here?

Example 2: Children don’t clean up after themselves. I’m probably guilty of not modeling this from the beginning. Toys and paper are strewn everywhere. I can bribe (”We’ll go to the park when it’s clean”), help, or threaten, and it’s still a huge ordeal. I try to get rid of toys and organize better. I have a hard time working in the learning/schoolroom because I can’t handle the mess. Do I just continue to ask nicely like a broken record and let them live with the mess? Clean it up myself?


And so I started deliberately setting us up to succeed. If it was time to go out, the shoes got all excited and her coat sang her songs. If I wanted her to do something, I spent about half a minute thinking of a really fun way she could go about it, and presented it to her cheerfully. I got her into bed by racing her there. I told her troll stories while she cleaned her teeth.

It sounds like I used a lot of energy, but actually I was using a fraction of the energy parenting had taken before – and now it was all positive energy. I began to feel better in myself, which made me more energised and enthusiastic about parenting. And I became happier with my dd, which meant that it became a matter of course to treat her in this cheerful playful way. Pretty soon I no longer needed to put thought or effort into it, as it became a natural way of life. Our expectations turned around and all our conflicts disappeared.


In raising my kids I don’t normally “take control” by trying to run my kids’ lives, but by simply withdrawing mentally into my own little world while keeping an outside appearance of involvement. That looks like patience but it isn’t, not really. It’s a bit more subtle than visible impatience and control maneuvers. So I’m glad you pointed out that side of it.


Anyway, I think it’s also an attitude of “we’re all in this together, let’s try to help each other out,” instead of “I’ve got this house/homeschool to run and you’d better be a well-oiled cog.”

One day, about a month ago now, I just stopped. Stopped scolding or nagging or lecturing. It’s humbling to realize how much of that I had been doing, before. Since that day, I’ve only gotten mad and lectured once, and I felt like a jerk for doing it. (The irony of its happening after a trip to Target the day after I posted about how much better our shopping trips were does not escape me, and indeed gives me quite a pain. Ha. So there you are, full disclosure.)

Aside from that one lapse, and may it be my last, I have to say it has been FANTASTIC. I’m shouting because it really is big. It’s huge. Before, I was a nice, sweet, merry mama when I wasn’t scolding/being stern/nagging/lecturing/ordering. Now, I get to be a nice, sweet, merry mama all the time. When a child is doing something that isn’t okay (and believe me, that happens), I am nicer and sweeter instead of stern and sad, and there has been less “not okay” stuff happening. More importantly, there isn’t that awful feeling of being on the other side of a conflict with a child, as if we’re adversaries.

What has surprised me most has been how I have felt like I got my old patient self back—the self who didn’t think of it as patience because she was focused on what a marvel it is to have a relationship with this amazing child. When we’ve hit bumps (conflicts between kids, mostly), I haven’t felt annoyed or frustrated. It’s almost like a game, a challenge I present myself: how can I steer us through this rocky place without losing my cool? I have found myself waking up every day eager for the challenge. I’m dead serious here. This really is big stuff.

I’m being frank here because I think this is such an important matter. The overwhelming response to the patience post speaks to that. This is a topic that hits close to home for a lot of parents. I don’t know any mothers who enjoy scolding or nagging, or feel better about themselves or their children after they’ve done it. I know a lot of mothers who speak with longing of how they wish they were more patient, wish every little thing weren’t such a struggle.

It’s the logistics that wear us down, I know it. The dozens of small daily challenges that arise in homes full of small people wanting different things. That, and the fear that if you don’t “raise them right,” they’ll turn out to be horrid, selfish, lazy people. Oh my goodness, it’s outcome-based parenting and I think it’s a model as problematic as outcome-based education.

Maybe it sounds counter-intuitive to say “don’t focus on outcomes, don’t think long-term—think now, this moment, this encounter, this relationship.” Of course we care (truly, madly, deeply) about the outcome. We want life—and eternity—to turn out well for our children. But the thing is, the future is being made right now, in each small moment. I think sometimes we look at the future like it’s the answer at the end of a long math problem, and our attention is focused on getting that all-important right answer beneath the bottom line. But in truth, each small step of the equation is a complete math “problem” by itself. We hardly even notice how automatically we borrow and carry, add and subtract. Each one of those operations affects the “final answer.” Each one is its own unique, discrete puzzle which can contribute confusion or clarity to the larger problem.

Oh, I know this analogy is full of flaws, but you see how I’m trying to get at the importance of taking it one step, one encounter, at a time.

Here, Pam Sarooshian says it better:

Stop thinking about changing “for good and not just for days or moments.” That is just another thing to overwhelm you and you don’t need that!

Just change the next interaction you have with the kids.

Stop reading email right now and do something “preventative” – something that helps build your relationship with them. Fix them a little tray of cheese and crackers and take it to them, wherever they are, unasked. Sit down on the floor and play with them. If nothing else, just go and give each of them a little hug and a kiss and say, “I was just thinking about how much I love you.”

Here’s the rest.

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13 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Tracy says:

    Of course, parenting issues are complex and I run the risk of sounding like I am over-simplifying things by commenting. But, I am a bit of a risk-taker so, here goes…

    In an (ongoing) effort to increase my patience with my children, one thing I am working on is to “seek first to understand.” (See what I mean, really simple, right? Yet, not so easy to pull off!) I am, at the core, a reactive person. I am not proud of that fact, mind you. In my effort to understand, I strive to consciously think, “What is he feeling right now?”

    When it comes to my interactions with my children, this focus gives me the time to quiet my own reactive nature and to model understanding (and really understand- that’s a key, too). It also gives me a chance to help my children understand their own emotive reactions by naming them (the apple, as they say, does not fall far from the tree). Emotions don’t seem so scary once we start to talk about them. It’s that built-up, “I feel out of control and I don’t know why” feeling that is so dangerous here.

    Once I focus on understanding them, things start to fall into place. We can then get to the “heart” of the issue while limiting our reactions to the manifestation of that issue.

    I have also noticed that I can use this shift in focus in a proactive, preventive way. Not only can I ask myself, “What will my screaming/demeaning/slamming doors may him feel like?” But also, “What is he going to feel when I ask him to stop reading that book and pick up his toys right now?” I can factor my understanding of the feelings my children are likely to have into the way I ask for something to be done or present a transition, etc. In fact, understanding them, plays into my “margins” and the definitions of my non-negotiables. Sometimes, I can avoid a negative reaction but sometimes I am simply better prepared to “deal with” the negative reaction when it comes.

    The time we have with our children (as littles) is so brief. I do not seek to control my children. I seek to understand them so that they will understand (and control) themselves. This has been a journey for me and I need to consistently remind myself. But, the pay-off in our relationships and in their confidence in themselves is well worth the effort.

  2. Rachel29 says:

    I read this post a few days ago and really loved it.
    I am sorry I sound like a broken record of admiration, but geesh, Lissa, you are on a role, and writing some fabulous stuff. So, AGAIN, I want to thank you for this post. I really loved the bit you posted by Pam S. I have been really trying my best to keep the present moment with my kids, instead of the long-term, in the forefront of my mind.

    Today, however, fell flat on my face. I have a Bipolar son who, no matter how nicely I phrase something, when he’s in a mood, will react negatively. There is NO getting through to him at these moments. Of course, the moment had to be when I was watching his big brother, Andrew, in an important Fencing bout (the Championships were today). So, after trying so hard to help him to see that today was about his brother, and not him, and him just not caring, I lost my cool. Not there, it took a couple of hours. But it came tumbling out all over everyone.

    So, I am picking myself off, hosing myself down …because I am beyond dusty :-)…and starting all over again.

    I’m sure you get this from alot of your readers, but I sure wish we were neighbors.


  3. Sarah N. says:

    Another great post! I’ve been doing soooo much thinking about patience and positive parenting over the last few days. I am soaking up all I can from the discussions here and suggested articles and books. Things seemed to have slipped into a more and more antagonistic mode with my 4.5 year old lately after a period of relative calm and I really want to improve our relationship.

    It’s hard for me to let go of all the ideas I’ve had about discipline and the importance of having children who are obedient. For me I have to store up a lot of courage to let go of the punishment and rewards systems and try something new but I’m working on myself and considering what will truly be best for my family not just what “parenting standards” I think are expected of me.

  4. Willa says:

    As Tracy said, it’s difficult to talk about parenting. I think one reason is that it’s essentially a relationship and relationships aren’t run by contract “if I do this then I have a right to expect that of you”. They are sort of unique to that particular mom and child, and the give and take is subtle.

    It helps me to remember that real love doesn’t expect returns. Like so many things though it does BRING returns when it is freely and generously and hopefully given. If I am trying to love and understand then usually it’s easier to connect and make myself understood. This goes for ALL my relationships not just those with my kids.

    I read a little while ago that the root word for “obedience” was from the Latin word for “listening.” The thing is, a child usually can’t listen when he or she is getting a negative barrage of emotion from his parent — disappointment, frustration, anger, impatience. Those messages outweigh the words. I especially noticed this with my children who were later in learning to talk and comprehend verbally. They would answer my tone and attitude, not my words. They couldn’t obey until they could first really hear and understand, and that meant I had to be able to line myself up behind my communication and try to successfully reach that child.

    I notice that when I am in tune with my children obedience becomes a moot point; I don’t have to demand obedience because the children respond and cooperate more(and in turn, I am more likely to attend to what they need proactively, and pay attention to what the situation is and not expect more than they are capable of). I am hoping it’s clear I’m talking about what I aspire to not what you’d see if you happened to see me at a crowded Target at midday.

    I think as you pointed out in a different post that this is very Christian and Catholic, Lissa. To me what you describe seems closer to the “children obey your parents” and “parents, do not exasperate your children” than the mechanical obedience sometimes proposed in parenting books. Listen to your children and try to nurture their natural desire to listen to you.

  5. Jennifer says:

    So much to think about. This has happened here as well. It’s a difference between thinking of the children as an interruption and remembering that they are my focus, and joyfully so. I’m going about our days with much more patience and love.
    I’m enjoying all your posts here, but I’m still mulling things over (and over) before speaking up.

  6. Tracy says:

    I have been thinking a lot about Amy’s question of balance. I agree with those who think that balance is a key to many aspects of our lives. I mention it to my children all the time- healthy eating, schooling, relationships, etc. They all require balance.

    Where I get tripped up and put too much pressure on myself to achieve balance is when the timeframe in which to achieve that balance is too short. For example, if I try to provide a balanced education to my children every 24 hours, I fail every time. But, if I give myself a week, a month, a lifetime even, it takes the pressure off (and helps me enjoy the moment instead of rushing to the “next thing”). The same is true for other aspects of my life.

    An immediate family member was very ill and we did not know if he would wake up. Without much thought, I spent a great deal of that time in the hospital (or driving back and forth). If I tried to find balance in those 10 days, I could not. I failed miserably to balance anything that week. But, I was there when he did wake up and I am grateful for all the moments we came together as a family in that difficult time. Sometimes, I need to step back and define balance over a greater period of time and then, and only then, do the scales start to balance again.

    Maybe I am cheating a little by defining balance in this way, but it brings me peace of mind to do so.

  7. Kathryn H says:

    The use of the word ‘preventive’ is interesting, as it is the word used to describe St. John Bosco’s system of education (I chose him as patron for my homeschool because he took wild boys off the street and transformed them :o). At the heart of his method, he said, was simply to love the boys, and to always be in touch with what was really in their hearts- if you started with this, he said, you ‘prevented’ 99% of the conflicts which ended up being dealt with by punishments. He absolutely forbade the use of corporal punishment in his schools- and really, his whole approach- which was essentially Christ’s!- was seen as so revolutionary at the time….but he proved that it worked!So much of his understanding of children can be applied to our own parenting and ‘homeschooling’ (why is that word coming to seem less and less appropriate?!)

  8. Ebeth says:

    For the past 5 years, we have been homeschooling our 2 daughters. Things were going very well, I have to admit, until about a year ago…yes that’s when I started blogging at the Pillars, but everytime I remind them of their chores, I get a look, the shrugged shoulders, the auuuugh! sound. I got tired of it, and then I yell. THings are not picked up, books are left on the floor, dishes are not done…..correctly and I blow up! My girls do NOt want to respond to me respectfully. I want them to answer me, “Yes/No, Mom.” THEN, add, “but may I say something?” I told them that I would be very understanding and listen, but that they had to answer me in my terms.

    How do you get them to pick up after themselves. They are great at getting their work done, but one never gives me her work to correct and the other one does half of the time……

  9. Sarah N. says:

    My mind is still racing with questions about repectful parenting and unschoolyness (can that be a word?). I’m starting a punishment free week at my house. Anyone who is interested in how it goes can see updates at my blog (

  10. 00352 says:

    Being a mommy-to-be (5 weeks or so) there are so many questions and doubts about being a parent. There’s such a large amount of online support is awesome! My favorite right now is because it is not only focused on moms but also on dads so you get two different perspectives. My husband loves this site as well!

  11. Wreritype says:

    Nothing seems to be easier than seeing someone whom you can help but not helping.
    I suggest we start giving it a try. Give love to the ones that need it.
    God will appreciate it.