My worldview on childcare has shifted quite dramatically over the last 5 years. In no small part due to my professional work with children.
Before I started working with children, I had a very conservative understanding of childcare, child development, what it means to be a parent.
I wanted 5 children. I couldn’t wait to get married so I could fulfill my life’s purpose and become a wife and a mother. I believed in raising children to train them to behave a certain way. I believed that spanking was an essential part of discipline (worse, I believed it was commanded by God), and I looked down on parents who refused to use corporal punishment on their children for spoiling their children.
Now I’m horrified by my old beliefs.
Now I am a strong advocate of children’s rights over parents’ rights. I believe in the power of positive discipline over authoritarianism. And how I view my role in my future children’s lives has completely changed.
Shame-based punishments are no longer things I can support.
I believe spanking, as an example, is inherently harmful to a child.
There are studies that can link the use of physical punishment to mental health disorders/illness. This is largely in keeping with what we know about stress effects on developing brains leading to mental illness and chronic pain disorders.
What I’ve found to be more helpful for both the child and the relationship is what is referred to as time-ins. This is when you take the child out of the environment where the unwelcome behaviour was triggered. You help them calm themselves – sit with them. Offer distractions. Sing to them. And when they are calm, you can discuss what happened. You can discuss what tools the child needs to avoid a repeat and you can discuss if consequences are necessary to help the child learn (perhaps too much screen time is triggering? Time to cut down or put the ipad out of reach for awhile, etc…).
The goal is never: how can I make the child feel bad for their behaviour? But rather: what is the cause behind this behaviour and how can we learn from this situation and help this child/parent/caregiver grow (sometimes parents/caregivers have to acknowledge their own roles in triggering an upsetting situation too).
I used to associate having children with my own personal fulfillment and happiness. And while I still believe that I would be happy if I do one day choose to become a mother (it likely won’t be to five kids!), what that happiness means to me has changed.
Just like any other relationship (romantic, friendship, professional, etc…) there is a boundary as to what constitutes a healthy attachment. If that person’s existence is linked to your happiness, there’s likely an unhealthy balance of some sort.
If that relationship is something that adds to your happiness and shares in it rather than being the direct cause of it, you’ve likely found a healthy dynamic.
This is where a study on attachment theory can come in handy (Google has all the good links if you search for them).
What I anticipated having with my children, unknowingly, was an anxious attachment with my emotional needs being met instead of the children’s. I wanted kids so that I could feel needed, happy, wanted, fulfilled, valued, etc…
I’ve noticed this is exceedingly common, especially for those of us raised in conservative backgrounds where gender roles are emphasized.
If you are told that your value comes from having and raising babies, you’re going to hold tightly on to that role. Your value is not found inherently in yourself, it’s found in your little people. That’s going to be a very unhealthy relationship where boundaries are likely to be lacking, and children will likely be taught they can’t and shouldn’t have agency. Because, after all, they exist for your happiness and your sense of value.
If a child is not allowed agency, that can lead to all sorts of problems that can range from relationship problems, to low self-esteem, to vulnerability to predators.
What I’ve since learned in my work with children is that, if I were to become a mother, my life will have to be about my kids, not the other way around.
My job will be to teach them how to grow into the best people they can be. To give them the tools they need to grow to become thriving and functioning adults. My job will be to teach them to be independent and assertive so they can care for themselves. My job will be to give them the tools that they need for emotional intelligence and regulation. My job will be to teach them to be caring and empathetic people so they can have healthy relationships. My job will be to meet their emotional needs first and to model the behaviour I want to see in them.
If I believe, as my conservative culture raised me to believe, that my job is to break my kids so they will learn to be submissive and to honour myself and their father and bring us happiness… that image is flipped. In that situation, the children exist to meet my needs and their father’s needs: ease of parenting, ego, affirmation of being a good parent, etc…
They become little more than things to be molded as I see fit. And not people whose autonomy is to be respected.
This is problematic.
I’m sure some may read this post and think “she just works with kids. She doesn’t have any of her own. She’ll be singing a different tune when she’s a mom.” And yeah, you may be right. I’m quite certain that my views on child-rearing will change and evolve with my work and if I should ever choose to become a mom. As they should. We should all be opened to being challenged and accepting that we may need to learn something new. Right now I follow where science and studies have led.
And I follow where my own experience has led which is: the gentle and empathetic approach that assumes the best of a person will always be what gets through to people – big and small – over the authoritarian approach which assumes a person is inherently bad and demands unquestioned obedience from her/him.