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Monday, April 23, 2012

The "Positive" in Positive Parenting

Baby Jackson Portrait
"Give me other mothers and I will give you another world." - St. Augustine

Each baby is afforded one childhood. One. That's it. There is tremendous pressure on  parents to get it right. We don't get do-overs. As Jackie Kennedy said, "If you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do matters very much."

I know that if you are reading this right now, you understand the value of childhood. You understand the impact of your words on little hearts. You know that every interaction is shaping your child's brain, quite literally.

The responsibility of this can feel so huge as to weigh us down and make us feel as though we can never measure up, as though we are doomed to screw them up despite our best efforts.

Or, it can set us free.

Free to love them. Free to enjoy them. Free to fully cherish this fleeting time.

Positive parenting, on the surface, looks to be about gentle discipline, finding alternatives to spanking or punishment, and learning a more positive way to interact with our kids. In fact, I'd bet that more than 90% of those who Google "positive parenting" have discipline in mind, probably searching, just as I was, for a kinder way to control their kids. Their intentions are good, hearts are in the right place, but still, their minds are muddled with the current trends on "how to properly raise a child." It takes work and time to clear away the muddle, and many don't attempt to. They comfortably stay in that "first phase" of positive parenting. They've traded spanking for the time out chair, yelling for consistency and firmness, and they begin to notice and praise their kids for doing good, getting in that all-important "positive reinforcement" that so many positive parenting sites talk about. I'm not complaining about them. In fact, I salute them. That's a big step in the right direction, and it's not always easy to make.

But when they stop there, they're missing out on the freedom. They're still bound by the notion that they have to train them, control them, correct their every misbehavior, and on the flip side of the coin, bound by the notion that they must be perfect, never yell, never falter.

How can one feel positive and peaceful when there's so much pressure?

When you dig deeper down into positive parenting, you get to the "positive" part of the equation. This is the place where you can exhale and know that:
  • I don't have to perfect.
  • My child doesn't have to be perfect.
  • When we falter, we forgive.
  • We are free to love without conditions.
  • My child's behavior today doesn't define who he will be tomorrow. Neither does mine define who I will be tomorrow.
The coolest thing about giving up conventional parenting and just resting in the relationship you cultivate with your child is that, through this relationship comes real influence, through your example comes discipline, and suddenly you find that parenting is joyful again, without all the hard work. We've been conditioned to believe that parenting is so hard and that we are so self-sacrificing, but when we learn to put connection above all else, our hearts find peace.

Am I painting a flawless picture of forever harmony here? Not at all. There will be conflict, raised voices, bad days or maybe even weeks. There will be disconnects and high emotions and low emotions. There will be struggles and misbehaviors and loss of direction at times.

But that's okay. It's okay. Because we're human, and those things happen in the context of human relationships. Yes, our interactions are shaping their little brains, but this doesn't mean that every negative interaction will damage them for life. In fact, when we come back and reconnect, when we forgive and hug and say, "Do you know how much I love you?" we are creating pathways for healthy relationships, for learning how to come back to peace after a rift, and that's valuable real-world stuff they're learning.  

Have faith in yourself. Know that you are good enough. Believe in your ability to raise your child right. He or she was given to YOU for a reason. Set a positive example. Yes, guide them and teach them, and above all,  know that your relationship is what will make it all stick, not your "discipline." Not the time out chair. Not the taking away of privileges. Your relationship. 

Have faith in your child. Know that he is good enough. Believe in his desire and his ability to do right. Know that a single misbehavior, or even a string of them, does not define him. Know that unconditional love has the power to pull any child (and parent) back into the light.
"If you want your children to follow along a certain path, you must lead the way as the ocean leads a river home by remaining below it. If you manipulate, coerce and bully your children, you will have no power at all. If you lead with humility, gentleness, and by example, you will need no power at all." - William Martin

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1 comment:

  1. Great thoughts! Thanks!
    thealldaymom.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete