I have some conflicting feelings about the article below. I love it, I don’t like it, I agree, and I disagree with the author. What are your thoughts on parenting in the 21st Century?
Click here to read the article and the comments, or just read the article below:
Deborah Hill Cone: I am a bad mother
Too hard or too soft on the children? It’s a juggling act.
I am a bad mother.
No, really, I am. I’ve just read something that made me feel deeply uncomfortable about my “style of parenting”. Icky phrase, sorry, and until now I didn’t even think I had one. But apparently I do. And it’s bad.
I wonder if it is too late to change? Are the kids ruined for good? As I write this they are in the next room playing Undertale on their computers. Shall I march in there and say: “Um, guys. Listen up. Forget everything I have told you these last seven to 11 years. All of that. Can you just wipe it from your minds? Erased? Great. Because things are going to be different from now on.”
Actually, come to think of it, maybe I will just wait until I have finished writing this column before I install our new tough-but-fair regime. So in the meantime, let me explain.
When I say I am a bad parent, I don’t mean I don’t try to be good. But when it comes to getting the balance right between being authoritative and being permissive, I am starting to worry I have erred too far on the loose side.
I have good intentions. It’s just that I don’t want my children to grow up in what’s called an “invalidating environment”. That is, where their emotional reactions are not responded to in an affirming way.
It can be very damaging for children, especially very sensitive children, to be told not to feel what they are feeling. This can lead to the child developing a “false self” because they soon learn that expressing their feelings, especially overwhelming negative feelings, is not acceptable.
They feel shame. So I have tried to let my children be themselves. But maybe I have gone too far in this endeavour. Child development specialist Leonard Sax would say so.
In his upcoming book, The Collapse of Parenting, he says parents have lost authority and we are not doing our children a favour by bringing them up to be our friends. As he sees it, we’re guilty of giving the kids far too many choices. The example he gives is asking children “What would you like for dinner?” rather than “Which vegetable – broccoli or peas?” This example does not work for me as the chances of my children choosing voluntarily to eat broccoli are somewhere between zero and nil. But I take his point and I know I am guilty of all the things he says bad parents do.
Just this morning I asked my son, who is 7, what he wanted for breakfast. He said he wanted fish fingers. I made them (bad mother) and then he said: “Are fish endangered?” and wouldn’t eat them. Even when I pleaded.
Pleading with our children is another sign of being a BFF parent and is very, very bad. “When you expect your child to do something, most of your sentences should end in a full stop,” Dr Sax instructs, crisply.
It’s obvious we are reacting against our strict 1970s upbringing and trying to cultivate independence and critical thinking, rather than raising obedient automatons. But maybe, as Dr Sax claims, we are creating a culture of disrespect towards adults.
“In relationships between parents and children, there has to be hierarchy.”
I have been nodding along in general agreement until I read the following sentence:
“It’s the job of parents to teach their child the rules of the culture they live in.” Whoa, pull up there buddy. You’ve lost me now. I grew up in apartheid-era South Africa and I am grateful that my parents did not teach us the destructive racist, sexist, authoritarian culture of the time. In fact, there are still a lot of rules in this culture which I don’t want our children to adopt. I don’t necessarily want them to be parochial sports-mad property-obsessed conformist heteronormative bourgeois clones. Unless they want to be that, of course.
Rather than learning the rules of our culture, I would prefer that they learn to have courage. E.E. Cummings: “To be nobody but yourself – in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you like everybody else – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight – and never stop fighting.”
So I’m sorry Dr Sax, maybe I will just carry on with my ramshackle parenting for a bit longer. The kids seem pretty happy. “Mum, can I open the marshmallows?” “Oh go on then.” Full stop.
I have observed the behaviour of a number of children in my time. Children at my son’s first school in South Africa, and then children at his schools here in New Zealand. The children at my son’s first school in South Africa appeared to have really good manners
– if you happened to be walking within the school grounds, the young boys would tip their caps and say, “Good morning ma’am”, or even just “Good morning”. So it was a bit of a shock to my system when we arrived in NZ and children would push past you, ignoring you, not even saying, “Excuse me” if they wanted to get past you. My first impressions were: “Holy flaming arseholes, these kids have NO manners!” – Now, I’m not sure if this even would have made a difference, but my son’s first school was a private, Catholic school in Durban, and the ones he attends in New Zealand are State schools. Would that have made a difference? I’m not suggesting that I expect youngsters to tip their caps and greet me in such a formal manner, but I do kinda expect an “Excuse me”, or a “Sorry” if they bulldozed past me and almost knocked me off my feet.
It appears to me, that children these days:
- Have little to no manners
- Believe that respect is “earned” – uuuuhhhhh, sorry? You think I, an adult who treats EVERYONE with respect, do not deserve automatic respect, but that I must EARN your respect? All THAT attitude does is make me instantly think you’re a complete little snot!
Now I don’t know about you, but I believe that if you treat people with respect, you will be respected. And the only time someone has to “earn” your respect, is if they have done something to lose said respect from you. Am I right? I think I’m right. But that appears to be the mentality – even the Principal at my son’s high school said that respect is earned and he will do all he can to earn the respect of the children… Yes, I get it. I do. But honestly, if you just treat THEM with respect, talk to them using good manners, you know, MODEL good behaviour, they will respect you. Yes? No? I don’t know. I’m a terrible mother.
I’m a terrible mother because sometimes I have no control over my mouth and the shit that comes out of it…. HOWEVER, when I’m stable, I model good manners and respect for my children and others. When my children give me something, I say, “Ahhhh! Thank you my baby” – If I ask them to bring me something, I say, “Honey, please can you bring me mommy’s
vodka coffee”, swiftly followed up with, “Ahhhh! Thank you my baby”. In fact, despite being a terrible mother (sometimes), I KNOW that I’ve done a good job teaching my children manners because when they hear that Lily Allen song, “Fuck you”, playing in my car, they merrily sing along, “Thank you! Thank you very, very, mu-u-uuu-uch”, because that’s what they actually believe the words are.
Is it so hard to treat your own children with respect? How are these youngsters today that I’ve witnessed, not learning to BE respectful, and have good manners? I don’t get it. Because their adults are telling them that “respect is earned”.
Now don’t get me wrong… I’m not passing judgement. I’ve already admitted that I’m a terrible mother. I KNOW that an authoritative (as opposed to an authoritarian or permissive) style is best, and I try my hardest to achieve this style. But my ridiculous quirk of LAUGHING uncontrollably when I’m actually out-of-control-ANGRY, kinda sends mixed signals to my kids…
And then screaming at them when I’m depressed and experiencing extreme irritability
– I never wanted to be “that” mom, you know? But its not all bad. I do have some good qualities. The most important of which is that I absolutely ADORE my children, and when I’m stable, and even when I’m not stable, I tell them I love them every single day, several hundred times a day. We are a huggy-huggy kind of family, so there are lots of hugs and “stolen” kisses going on around here.
And now for the WHOPPER. Brace yourselves, for this may shock you. I believe that in certain circumstances, a single, open hand smack on the bottom is a perfectly acceptable form of “discipline”. Now before anyone gets up in arms, I know that this is a very controversial subject, and if you don’t believe in spanking as a form of discipline, I totally accept and respect that. This is most certainly not a “go to” method for me. This is the exception to the rule. For example, if I am taking my girls out for a walk around the neighbourhood, and before we leave I say, “Right, girls, we need to hold hands when we’re walking down the road, and ESPECIALLY when we are crossing the road.”, and then the smallest one walks ahead and I call out, “Baby Girl, STOP. Wait for mommy to walk with you across the road”, and BG IGNORES mommy and begins to pick up speed. In that circumstance, I believe it is not only acceptable, but imperative that a swift swat to the bottom be administered. The danger of her running into the road far outweighs the teeny-tiny possibility she may develop a fear of me because I was trying to protect her from danger. There is no amount of reasoning with a three year old that is going to teach her that running off alone across a road is dangerous, and the only other alternative is to never leave the house.
I do not spank because they won’t eat their veggies. I do not spank because they’re a little bit sassy. I absolutely do not spank when I am angry. And I do not deliver more than one spank. I do not spank anywhere else on the body – only the bottom. I do not pull ears. I do not use
weapons devices to spank (wooden spoons, belts, slops, hose pipes etc). And it is an absolute LAST RESORT.
I do fear I may be a “marshmallow mum” though… One word from me, and my kids do exactly as they please!
Click here to read the abstract of a recent-ish article on the effects of spanking (unfortunately, you can only read the abstract, unless you REALLY want to purchase the article!)