Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Long-term parenting strategies

Janet forwarded a link of discussions from parents who were starting to lose faith in the more gentle approach to discipline forwarded by Dr. Sears in his many books. The arguments people put forward tend to run along this line of logic: "I used gentle discipline, but then I felt like I wasn't in control, so I went back to 'toeing the line' with my kids, and things got better."

My response follows:

There are, of course, a few unspoken assumptions that we tend to carry into our parenting, usually in direct proportion to how seriously we take it:

1) If I do the right thing, there will be no chronic conflict.
2) If there is chronic conflict, I must be doing something wrong.
3) If my child displays tendencies, characteristics, or behaviors that I dislike or disapprove of, it’s my fault.

In psychological terms, we make ourselves the “locus of control” – we tend to believe that we have complete or near-complete control of our child-rearing outcomes, or at least theoretical control, i.e. if I was a perfect parent then I would get a perfect outcome.

This is a recipe for neurosis. In fact, I believe neurosis is clinically defined as trying to control things that are outside of one’s control.

Don’t get me wrong; we have a lot of influence, and it’s still our job to address whatever is going on with our kids. But, as they say in Doctor Detroit: “I didn’t say it’s your fault – I said it’s your problem. You deal with this.” We have to cope with difficult behavior in our kids sometimes; that doesn’t mean we have to immediately take the blame for it. But I think the reason many parents jump ship from the AP/NVC philosophy is because of what is called an “agency fallacy” – they assume that the challenges they face are the result of what they did, when it could be a variety of other factors.

Human beings are forever giving themselves more credit for outcomes than they deserve. This is why successful investment managers believe they are brilliant when in fact, according to all available evidence, they are merely lucky. Long-term success depends on a consistent approach, diversification, etc., but sometimes it’s hard to tell the long-term winners from losers. And, as with everything in life . . . there are no guarantees. You can do everything right and still wind up broke. But you play the odds.

We are investing in the long-term potential of our kids. We can’t judge the approach by the results of this quarter. And we could do everything right, and still wind up raising the next Hitler. There is, inevitably, a certain amount of faith involved.


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