by Raelee Peirce
This morning my 5 year old’s eyes opened when I was standing by his bed. He smiled and crawled out of the covers, took my hand and said, “Mama,” in his little croaky morning voice, “I love you.” His arms wrapped around my neck; he wants nothing more than to please me, to receive my approval, my limits, my comfort, and my love. And in return, I receive his joy, his tears, his adoration, his cooperation.
There’s no doubt about it. The gift of parenting is about being able to give and receive love to and from your child.
Unfortunately, modern living is damaging this sacred relationship.
Today, employers, schools, medical practitioners, and most urban areas give the message that little ones can and should be separated from their parents as early as 6 weeks old, that nursing can be difficult and not worth pursuing, especially if a mom is already spending 6-10 hours away from her baby, that day care providers and nannies know more than mothers about a child’s development and discipline and thus, they are better off in centers where they can be “socialized” during the day while their parents become more validated, fulfilled, happier, financial providers.
Families are surrounded by pop culture images at restaurants, pediatrician and dental offices, clothing stores where Hollywood stars are reveled as role models and heroes. Parents are easily sucked into rushing their preschoolers through childhood by money hungry marketers who spend millions of dollars to target children so parents will be begged to plan spa parties for their 5 year old so she can get her tiny nails done and an up-do for her head of curls. There’s a popular belief parents hold today that a bored child is a behavior problem and thus the creation of more camps, classes, and lessons fill toddler mornings before nap and after-school play hours.
Peers and socializing are more important than ever, trumping unscheduled time at home. Home time more often means screen time. Peers, activities, social networking, and screens reflect a child connected to the “real world.” To deny a child any one of these is to deny them a “normal” experience of life or an enrichment experience or the child’s ability to pursue their passion (because, of course, a 3 year olds’ love of ballet must not be ignored).
Deep down parents know and want childhood to be about play, innocence, family dinners, summer boredom, afterschool play clothes, and Saturday chores. Yet, because they have begun down the slippery slope of “more”, which is essentially defining everyday life, it is overwhelming, almost impossible to know how to step back, reflect, plan, and move forward onto a safer, more solid path of less.
Kim John Payne, author of Simplicity Parenting, says connection is created during downtime, when there’s nothing on the schedule. For downtime to exist a parent must be willing to accept the spiritual, inner work that comes with spending time with their kids without the tips and tricks of control and entertaining distractions.
Schedules have become so packed with activities and obligations for work or friend events that parents and children have stepped into roles of the controller and the controlled. Without the bond of relationship and time for connection, small children have become over-stimulated, privy to too much adult conversation, anxious, and defiant. They have been pushed from their heart into their head too soon. As a result, parents disconnect from their kids and find the distractions of school, screens, peers, and activities to be exactly what allows them to survive the daily grind of what has become modern, normal family life.
As a parent educator for the past 15 years I strive to stay at the cutting edge of helping and supporting families. Just a decade ago I was helping families understand the detriments of spanking and helping them prevent their child’s temper tantrums. Although those issues are still popular, my work today is focused on helping families find a way to live calmer, more predictable, less plugged-in lives. Parents want to want to enjoy parenting. They love their kids but they don’t like them.
What I have been able to witness, as a parent educator and Simplicity Parenting course facilitator, is a great shift occur for a family when a parent recognizes the parent-child relationship as primary and sacred a relationship that must never be damaged and thus, deserves attention and protection.
I help families learn to live counter-culture.
To live counter-culture doesn’t have to mean to live off the grid, without television, never going to the movies, giving up careers to stay home, and building a cabin in an isolated, rural community. Although these radical choices would give a family more peace and less chaos, this isn’t the practical guidance parents can implement in these modern times and it isn’t necessarily what they want.
Change is not easy despite a mother’s deepest desire to find a new normal. Parents have created a distorted vision of happiness and joy and it interferes too often with their hopes and dreams for their family. Payne refers to the distortion as “harmony addiction.” Life wouldn’t be life without some amount of discomfort, pain, suffering, and struggle. The ebb and flow is what allows us to mature, grow, and become better people. Children are learning every day about how to be in the world, what is acceptable and what is not. Parents have the exhausting work of companioning their children through the daily struggles. They can’t be afraid of their child’s upset. Anger, disappointment, and frustration naturally arise when a limit is set. Limit setting is about creating security and bringing out a child’s virtues of gentleness, kindness, cooperation, and honesty.
Once a family begins to re-align their lifestyle with their core values a real contentment begins to grow. Priorities reflect what we value. Dr. Gordon Neufeld, child development psychologist, explains that nature’s plan, when allowed to unfold, provides us with a path toward connection that helps develop cooperative children. Neufeld states, “Our connected relationship with our child provides us the authority to parent.”
From the moment a child is brought into the world they want to be near their mother, then they want to be like their parents, they want to belong with their parents, they form deep emotional feelings about their parents, and ultimately, want to be known by their parents. Each of these yearnings is only to be fulfilled by a parent.
Without connection and authority, parents are more stressed, overwhelmed, angry, and out-of-control. Gentle, intentional parents are resorting to yelling, isolating their kids with time-out, taking away privileges, and looking for the next consequence, desperate to make their home a safe, loving respite. They resort to parenting tips, tricks, and techniques due to living a lifestyle that is not supporting their core values.
Families interested in beginning their own journey toward living counter-culture can begin with these steps:
- Commit to realigning your lifestyle with your core values.
- Intentionally carve out more time in your daily schedule that is unscheduled. Play a game, draw, listen to music, lie in the grass, go for a walk, read together – make it about being fully present and listening to your child.
- Turn off electronics during meal times and unscheduled time. Make a rule not to take phone calls during meals. Check your e-mail, text, and chat on the phone when your children are napping, sleeping, or at school as much as possible.
- Stop yelling at and isolating your young child. If your child defies you, unemotionally enforce the limit and comfort and companion your child in their room until they are calm. Talk less, give fewer choices, and provide more rhythm tot establish predictability. Recognize your parental power as a privilege and an honor by being respectful and courteous to your partner and children. Survive tough moments rather than try to be brilliant, “we’ll get through this dinner together, kids”; control the situation, not the child – “okay, let’s all go outside and sing a loud version of Doe a Deer.”
- Make soul care a top priority. What feeds your spirit? Music, art, sewing, knitting, reading, meditating, yoga, nature, gardening, cooking, baking? A starved spirit = a stressed brain = over-controlling, angry parent.
It’s time to heal from the damage of a rushed, over-stimulated daily life and discipline tricks that have pushed children further from their parents. It’s never too late to give and receive a child’s love.
Raelee Peirce is wife to Glenn, mother to Isabel, 8.5, and Keaton 5. Their children attend the Emerson Waldorf School in Chapel Hill, NC. She’s a parent educator and coach and blogs at Noble Mother and Simplicity Parenting. She provides personal coaching to mothers of children ages 0-9 year through a six-month program that incorporates the work of Kim John Payne and Dr. Gordon Neufeld.