I travel the country almost constantly eight months a year, making presentations to various groups, – church, school, professional, conference.
I make myself very accessible, which means parents ask me lots of questions, usually of a “What should I do?” nature.
The issues run the gamut, but most of the questions involve behavior problems of one sort or another, from toddlers who refuse to use the potty to teens who refuse to clean their rooms.
What strikes me is that our grandparents – our great-grandparents, most certainly – would not have asked such questions. Either they either would never have experienced the sort of problems today’s parents find themselves dealing with (confrontational disrespect and disobedience, for example), or if they did, they would not have felt the need for “expert” advice. They knew what to do, and usually in most cases what they did worked, and in short order.
What would grandma do?
I often point this out to the person asking one of these questions, and say, “What you really need to do is figure out why you feel the need to ask my advice about a problem your grandparents would have known how to handle. What do you think was different about their approach to rearing children?”
I’m becoming am increasingly convinced that the “behavioral” solutions parents seek from people like me – people with capital letters after their names – are not really solutions at all. They’re usually the equivalent of using a Band-Aid to treat hemophilia.
One of my favorite Bob Dylan songs says: “I’m gonna change my way of thinking, get myself a different set of rules.”
He means that proper behavior stems from a function of proper thinking. That’s true, regardless of context. Today’s parents are having child-rearing problems with their kids of a sort and quantity that would amaze their grandparents.
Under the circumstances, clever behavior modification strategies will only work for short periods of time, if they work at all. To get a permanent handle on their kids, today’s parents need to change how they think about children and their responsibilities toward them.
Limiting the roles
A homeschooling mother recently asked how she could effectively separate the roles of teacher and mom. I asked why they needed to be separated. Both teacher and mom are authority figures, are they not?
Her confusion arose because she, like a troubling number of today’s mothers, thinks Mom really isn’t an authority figure. Mom is a “nurturer.” Her grandmother didn’t limit herself with a self-definition of that sort. And although her grandmother may not have home-schooled her kids, she thought of herself as an educator.
This mom’s self-doubts (and the parenting difficulties she is experiencing) are a function of faulty thinking about her responsibilities toward her children. She is attempting to play two different roles with her kids when those roles are simply two facets of one primary role: authority figure.
Her grandmother would have known that.