How to End a Clutter War
Yesterday Daniel and I had a tiff about who was going to find a home for all of Katie’s new toys. Her grandparents got her tons of educational stuff and I am SO EXCITED to really begin working on shapes and the alphabet with her, but I have NO IDEA where to put this stuff. My mom, who has been our guest in this home for far longer than we expected to be here, offered to give her room to Katie and start sleeping in the van.
We are getting a new house this spring. Period.
Anyway, back to the tiff. You know how he resolved it? He handed me our camcorder, which was playing a home movie of Katie jiggling around our house in nothing but the fat little rolls on her legs. She must have been about 14 months old . . . not quite steady on her feet but definitely becoming her own person.
I wish I could go back there and squeeze those little rolls until she laughed out loud. But not just for that.
I would like to have a nice, long chat with myself.
It Takes More Than Discipline. MUCH More.
When Katie was born, I had zero experience with babies. In my fourth month of pregnancy I made the mistake of admitting to a book club that I couldn’t remember holding a newborn, like, ever. One of the club members just happened to have her newborn son with her, so they put him in my arms.
He screamed. Not quite the confidence boost I think they had in mind.
To make up for my ignorance I read everything on parenting I could get my hands on: nutrition, games for developmental stages, baby sign language, sleep tips, discipline advice.
About that last one . . . all the books I read seemed to give the same advice. Get ‘em while they’re young. Gain their respect now or you’re going to end up with an out-of-control teen. Oh, and of course for Christians there’s always “spare the rod spoil the child.”
I’ve attended funerals for friends who never put on a cap and gown for high school graduation. I’ve seen the desperate looks on their parents faces . . . the look that told me all they want is to turn back the clock and try again.
But that doesn’t happen. We get one shot at raising our kids, so with a heart full of anxiety I clamped down, became strict, gave no quarter.
It was horrible.
My easygoing girl with the smiling eyes became anxious and frustrated. I felt her heart pulling away from me, and I knew I was missing the opportunity of a lifetime.
If you’ve ever watched a father cooing to his baby and you’ve noticed the baby responding with a wide open smile, you are witnessing the co-creation of a mutually attuned state of joyfulness. When this act is repeated many times the infant brain grows and organizes itself to develop the individual’s capacity to experience joy throughout her or his lifetime.
As with all other emotions, the capacity for joy is acquired in the early relationship between parent and child. In infancy the primary caregiver’s nervous system acts as a template for the infant’s nervous system to develop.
When an infant is born her undeveloped nervous system has the capacity for basically two states: ‘on’, or hyperarousal (excitement) and ‘off’, or dorsal vagal. In the first 2-3 years, when 90% of the nervous system develops, the neuropathways that make joyous states possible are imprinted. That is, joy states are actually learned.
This happens through interactions between the infant and its primary caretakers. The parent’s nervous system provides a template for the developing nervous system of the infant to follow in its development.
Because of the “use-dependent” nature of brain development, the child who receives fewer opportunities for positive emotional attunement with a primary caregiver can expect to develop less capacity for joyfulness. For example, if the mother is anxious or depressed her lessened facility for attunement may result in the child’s diminished capacity for joy later in life.
Two Trees and a Robot
Did you ever see the movie I Robot? You know, the one where Del Spooner (Will Smith) suspects a robot of murder. Which, of course, is impossible because of the Three Laws of Robotics . . . except that it’s not.
As the main computer that controls the robots continues to analyze the three laws, she decides that in order to protect humanity “some freedoms must be surrendered” because “you charge us with your safekeeping, yet despite our best efforts, your countries wage wars, you toxify your earth, and pursue ever more imaginative means of self-destruction.” People are locked in their homes after curfew, unable to drive their cars, etc. Their lives are decided by the robots they designed to serve them, and the fate of humanity rests in the potential of one robot to learn to the power of choice.
Okay, I’m a little off track here, so it’s time to get to the point. Like I said earlier, “spare the rod spoil the child” seems like THE definitive scripture on parenting. But is it, really? Because I think it might be this one:
In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
God gives us choices, but what if one day he came to the same conclusions that VICKI in I Robot did? Rather than allow us to make bad choices, what if he took them all away and chose who we loved, what we wore, where we vacationed (head tilts left toward photo.) Sounds fun, huh?
I don’t really get the whole “God as a father” thing, but I’m trying to figure it out and this is what I’ve got so far: God chooses to parent us by allowing us to make choices. The variety of choices he provides communicates the level of freedom he intends for us to have.
For example, if I allow Katie to choose between seaweed and kale as a snack, I am limiting her freedom to two options that are both good for her. If I gave her the option to have seaweed or jelly beans I am placing much more trust in her ability to responsibly manage her freedom.
From the look of things, it appears God is not the control freak I used to think he was. It seems more like he is a more easygoing parent, gently guiding us toward maturity while making room for our bad judgment calls . . . some of them doozies. If he gives us this kind of leverage to manage our own lives, shouldn’t we be doing the same for our children?
That’s the conclusion I have come to. It’s not all peachy and sometimes I hate watching Katie make an unwise choice that costs her, but hopefully giving her age-appropriate freedom now while the consequences are relatively small will help her develop her judgment for the big stuff later on.
I read somewhere that punishing kids is a lot like being a traffic cop. I don’t know about you, but when I see a cop I check my speed and hope I get through unnnoticed, but as soon as he is gone I totally forget that he exists. A cop makes me think about how I’m driving, but only for a second and only with quit a bit of resentment.:) Cops provide external behavior modification, but they can’t add an ounce of wisdom to a child’s inner reasoning capability.
A drivers ed teacher, on the other hand, gets to go through life with a child instead of critiquing from outside the car. That inside perspective is probably more terrifying. It’s hard to be there while your child puts their heart (and yours) in danger, but the hands on role of a teacher comes with a benefit the cop doesn’t have . . . a chicken brake.
It’s not like choosing to be a teacher instead of a cop in my children’s lives means they’ll never experience consequences. Life provides plenty of opportunities for a child to experience the natural results of their actions.
Oh, and that “spare the rod” thing? It could be that advice has been misunderstood. We could ask ourselves whether it’s a popular shepherding style to use rods on sheep like we do with children. They probably poke and prod and nudge much more often. But that’s another discussion entirely . . .
What do you think?
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