Thursday, February 19, 2009

What's my parenting philosophy?

I've been thinking on this issue a bit lately. Of course, because Adam and I have been parents for 19 years, we've thought about this many times. One begins a parenting philosophy with the newborns and toddlers, adjusts it as children grow, and fine-tunes the philosophy as one ages and the results of one's philosophy bear fruit.

When Philip was born, the Ezzos and their parenting ideas were very faddish with Christian couples. Many tried their feeding schedules, and ruminated on their basic tenets that the center of the home was the marriage (not the child), children needed to conform to parents (and not the other way around), and that children were fallen creatures.

The feeding schedule worked okay with Philip, but did not work with Anna. I decided I would modify it, making it less severe. I still did not want to practice demand feeding (as we called it then). If I didn't want a 3 year old to be able to holler and have me jump, why would I begin to train him for that kind of behavior when he was 3 weeks old? At that time, much of what helped me decide about these everyday child-rearing issues was that crucial question: am I training into my child the traits I want him to have 5 or 10 years from now? Am I preparing him for life?

So, because I wanted a child who would be independent of me, I thoughtfully trained children who could be so. And because I wanted children who would not think the world revolved around them, I raised them to understand that our home did not revolve around them.

I had friends who nursed their babies every hour. They were exhausted and sleepy. So were their children. I saw these children over the years. They continued with the assumption that it was their mom's job to adjust to them, and not the other way around. Now, Adam and I see kids like this every day at school. They struggle with serving others because they have always been served. They are angry when their needs are not met immediately because that's what they're used to: their parents have trained them in it.

We had friends whose children slept with them. We knew one couple who could tell the doctor exactly when their second child was conceived. They knew this because their first child slept in bed with them, and it was the ONLY night in that whole month that their 2nd child could possibly have been conceived. Even their sex life revolved around their toddler.

Adam and I didn't want a marriage like that, nor a home like that. We decided early on that the BEST thing for our children, and the most spiritually healthy thing for our children, was for our marriage to be solidly the center of our home. We feel still that God designs families that way.

And we wanted above all for our parenting philosophy to be grounded in our theology, with no inconsistencies.

Now, the parenting trend has swung full-circle, even among many Christians. The Ezzos are out, baby and bath water. Dr. Sears is in. If you don't know him, he is the proponent of Attachment Parenting. From what I've read and heard, this philosophy advocates constant contact with the child. The child's requests are met immediately. The child eats when he wants, is worn by his mother on her body and sleeps with his mother. The product of this attention is supposed to be a child who is firmly attached to his mother (or father) and therefore feels extremely confident of their attention. He knows that they will listen to him and respond, and that his needs will be met, and his voice will be heard, and they will respond immediately. This is supposed to produce a confident child.

We used to call this spoiling, frankly. AP advocates balk at this; they say you can't spoil a baby (boy, have we all heard that!! usually from grandmas :)) Do you handle a 3 week old differently than a 3 year old? Yes. But do you consider with your 3 week old that you are forming a 3 year old? I hope so. I find the AP ideology to be rather heavy with the demands of the child. AP advocates repeatedly say that their giving to their children is a sign of love, that parents are called to sacrifice for their children. This sounds good. What can be wrong with love and sacrifice?

AP advocates often tell American parents that theirs is the "natural" way to raise children, that women in most other countries (one lady even said ALL!!), wear, sleep with, and demand-feed their children. Women in 3rd world countries. I won't even go into the weaknesses of this argument - why is this considered 'natural'? Why is this definition of 'natural' superior? Why should I pattern my parenting techniques to agree with women who probably do this from necessity, have other 'natural' habits I would never adopt, and who may have no understanding of Scripture?

(If you're still reading, you're a better person than I!)

Which approach is more biblical? Honestly, that's what's important to me - because I know that God's directions are what's best for my child. Not necessarily a doctor's, and certainly not a secular doctor with books to sell. As with all things in life, I must sort my parenting philosophy according to God's word, and be willing to jettison anything that doesn't conform to His truth.

I read a blog called "Mommy Life." The Christian lady there, with decades of mommying experience, is a strong AP advocate. She makes the point that when God parents us, he responds to our needs. He sacrifices for us. He keeps us near His heart. He hears our cries.

But he hears our cries because he lets us cry. And the very neediness he responds to, he has also given to us. He puts us into dire trials, so that he can rescue us. Do we ever do that to our children? I'm trying to imagine an AP parent trying that technique!!

God's parenting is complicated. He punishes us. He tells us that punishment is something given to children, and it's a sign that we are his children. He commands us to use the rod on our children - that not to do so will spoil them.

Does God ever seem far away? Oh yes. Do we cry out to him and wonder where he is in the darkness? Yes. Is he listening? Yes. How many times have I stood in the hallway, listening to my child's crying in the crib, deciding whether it is a cry I need to answer or to leave alone. I believe God does the same. Parenting takes discernment.

Does God ever delay in responding to us? Oh yes. Does he ever tell us no, when we ask. Oh yes. Do we make unreasonable requests? Yes - as do our children, even the young ones. I sometimes wonder if AP advocates think that babies are wiser than parents; they imply that. (That's not a Biblical concept, but it is familiar to those who've studied the old Romantics like Wordsworth or Whitman. Hm.)

Most of all, God is the parent and I am the child. I am his subordinate. I submit to him. He has a standard I am to comply to, not the other way around. I don't define God; he defines me. When I don't conform to him, he reproves and corrects me until I do. Is he merciful? Kind? Patient? Yes, all those things. But is he persistent and determined that I will conform to him? Yes also.

We've raised four kids. They're not perfect, but they possess the traits we wanted them to have: independence, confidence, self-assurance and service. They are very close to us. I don't want children who cling to me; I want children who cling to God. Apparently, it has worked. They know I love them (just as I know God loves me) because I'm willing to correct them. I consider indulgence to be the easy parenting road; discipline, even in the early stages, is the hard one.

Parenting philosophies often seem to work. We must discern whether the success is because of, or in spite of, the methods they espouse. But methods that produce whiny, selfish, insecure, angry children over and over again, clearly are flawed. Those over-indulgent techniques are used by parents of many of our students these days, with the above results. The intent may well be love. But the result is disastrous.

If you have opinions and want to state them, please do respond. If you disagree, that's fine. I won't delete your comments, and I welcome debate. I just ask that you comment kindly and thoughtfully.


  1. Well, I do think you misrepresent the AP philosophy.

    First there's the whole baby practicalities. I breastfeed on demand (or cue) because that's when the baby is hungry. It the way the American Academy of Pediatricians and La Leche League International say is the most healthy. Ezzoing parents have a history with failure to thrive infants and mothers losing their supply.
    I wear my baby because it's so freakin' convenient, not to mention more sanitary in public. It's also more educational, the baby has a front row seat on life. And they are generally more content. Many a dinner hour has been saved by simply tossing the baby on my back while I cook. I share sleep with my babies, because that have such difficult sleep personalities that this is the way we all get the most sleep.

    Actually one of the BENEFITS of AP is that it promotes independence. Your image of kids hanging on to mother for the rest of their life simply isn't least for the typical AP family. On Dr. Sears's website he says: "When going from oneness to separateness (a process called "individuation") , the securely attached toddler establishes a balance between his desire to explore and encounter new situations and his continued need for the safety and contentment provided by mother. During an unfamiliar play situation, the mother gives a sort of "go ahead" message, providing the toddler with confidence to explore and handle the strange situation. The next time the toddler encounters a similar situation, he has confidence to handle it by himself without enlisting his mother. The consistent emotional availability of the mother provides trust, culminating in the child's developing a very important quality of independence: the capacity to be alone." I've seen this to be true already with my kids. AP kids tend to be more empathetic, compassionate, and caring from early on (not that non-AP kids aren't, this is just a fairly typical characterization). And they possess certain confidence from early on.

    Research has shown that when kids did not have good connection when they were young, they tended toward behaviours of distant, angry, clingy, anxious, impulsive, rebellious, manipulative, and frustrated. Now obviously I'm not saying that you HAVE to be AP or your kids will turn out that way, because you have four great kids! I'm just saying that research has shown that how well a child is connected as a baby has broader implications for their future. We've all heard stories of Romanian orphans who weren't held enough as babies and then had so much trouble later in life? That's an EXTREME example. But you can see why I value connection so much.

    Being AP isn't being permissive. It's not some kind of circus dancing around the baby's every whim. It's not baby-centered or parent-centered. It's the whole family working together to build relationships, trust, establish boundaries, and generally become well-adjusted people. I think it's a testimony to Dr. Sears that he has great relationships with his now adult children.

    Sorry for the novel. :-D Obviously, you've chosen your path, and it worked well for your family. AP isn't for everybody, and it's still very much a minority. I love being AP, but I'm not going to clamor for it's Rightness for everybody or the declare its universalities applicable to all parenting, because that's not my place. I'm also not going to comment on other parenting styles, because I'm just in a place to do that either. I don't want AP to be misrepresented either. :) So that's my two cents.

  2. actually one more thing. I doubt those students you're talkng about in your post are really from AP families. Being AP is a thoroghly thought-out mindset. I know very, very few AP families, and many of them I've sought out. Just because someone doesn't let their baby cry-it-out, doesn't make them AP. It's a lifestyle choice. So don't want others to misrepresent AP to you either.

    Actually, I think your post would've been stronger if you just described your philosophy positively, what it is, rather than making the negative comparison, as well. :)

  3. The Ezzo philosophy is on one extreme - force the child to conform to the parents. The Sears theory is on the opposite extreme - force the parent to conform to the child. Dressing it up in theological/academic language doesn't change the fundamental errors. If you confortable in extremes, enjoy.

    As parents we must strike the balance between seeing our children created in the image of God and being selfish sinners who sin first, foremost, and always - a sin marred image of God.

    This middle way of parenting, applying Proverbs and Biblical answers is much more difficult than blindly following a human theory of child rearing.

    The Lord in his kindness and love some times allows His children to cry out, unanswered for quite awhile. The poor blind man of John is a wonderful example. Scripture and the psalms or full of examples that do not conform to the AP model.

  4. On the idea of "philosophies" of parenting. . . One of my favorite mommy-encouragement quotes is from a dear woman with three grown sons (well, one is still at the almost-grown stage!) :

    "And lastly, and I say this gently, as the parent of grown kids, knowing *insert parenting guru* is also the parent of grown kids: we have wonderful children – he does, I’m sure – and so do I. But without even knowing his children I can know this about them: they are not perfect. They hurt. They make mistakes. They struggle. They are prideful and overly simplistic at times; and crippled by shame and hesitancy at others. Yes – they are beautiful examples of human beings, his children (I assume), and mine (I know.) But they are not perfect. If they were, they would not be human. If it were possible to raise children to perfection, then God would have sent a parenting method, not Jesus. Our marching orders are not to raise our children by a method to be like *insert parenting guru* children. Our marching orders are to be Christians to and with our children."


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