Parenting Without Punishing

Chapter 8

Happier Parents Have Happier Children

One of the best things we can do for children is to find ways we can enhance our own self-appreciation. To do this, we need to acquire certain insights, then make a commitment to change. The first task has to be in taking charge of our own lives. Failing that, there lurks behind every tree, bush, and cactus some opportunist, or some organization--from political to religious to commercial--who will take charge of our lives for us. Children whose parents have defaulted on directing their own lives are already at sea without a rudder before they leave the house.

Parents who allow their lives to be controlled by others usually try to solve the problem by controlling someone else--and the most convenient and vulnerable ones to control are, of course, the children.

In the process of developing direction and purpose in one's life as an individual, satisfactions grow, personal needs are met, and the compulsion to live life vicariously--through the children--recedes to a realistic perspective. Then the burden is lightened, and the children can grow confidently, living their own lives for their own purposes.

In a word, freedom. In more words, respect for the rights of self and others to be who they are. If parents allow themselves to be jerked around by every demand made of them, if parents haven't a sense of personal freedom and independence, the pattern is set for the children to be exploited, taken advantage of, in the future.

Stress Rises as Our Grasp on Life Slips Away
The pressures of trying to make a living and raise children in these problem-ridden times often show up in anxieties that can drain away the joys of family life, if not sanity itself. Researchers at University of Indiana found that more than 33% of Americans have teetered on the edge of a nervous breakdown, and 7% of them had been diagnosed with serious mental health problems. (Highest in frequency were young white single mothers with low incomes.)

Examination of the accumulated stress leads to the source of it: the feeling of depression and anxiety due to lack of control of one's life. Frantically trying to meet demands from every direction--traffic laws, bills, school requirements, social obligations, job deadlines--can result in a negative, victim-minded mode. The next step may be self-pity, with lashing out at little things--and the little things are most often the children. Moral: So long as the parents' needs are not met, neither are the children's. Inasmuch as our lives are controlled by others, they are not our own. When others are in charge, life is very stressful.

Most parents want to be kinder, more understanding, more loving, but they are just too rushed, exhausted, and stressed out. Attempts to change the children into the model kids we have in mind for them can get very intense indeed, Punishment is resorted to at "wit's end", only to be followed by feelings of guilt for "losing patience".

No sane parent feels good about punishing, perhaps because they know inside that punishment works both ways: that it is, invariably, self-punishment as well. There has to be a better answer than forcing children into a mold, one that (we're told) will satisfy some institution, agency, organization or authority.

The reality is that no person can change another person without their cooperation. If there is to be any change, each parent and child has to affect the changes themselves. How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one--but the light bulb has to want to change.

It is not the children who need changing so much as we adults. Children are, after all, closer than we are to that original natural goodness, while we adults are further along the road of deterioration from our innocent beginnings. We need to ask ourselves just what "improvements" we want to make in a given child, and why we want to impose them. We need to examine to see where the "faults" might better be self--corrected, and where shortcomings are really reflections of our imperfections. We can all agree, surely, that creating a calmer, slower, more relaxed, accepting and tolerant lifestyle can benefit both parents and the children.

What about parents' self-esteem?
In the last chapter we talked about how important it is that a child's self-esteem is preserved and maintained. These are not, of course, mutually exclusive. In fact, there can hardly be self-esteem fostered in the child if the parents feel inadequate, little self-worth, feels a failure in life, and habitually thinks in negative patterns about themselves.

It is a truism that a great deal of the punishment meted out in US families originates with parents' need to feel competent in the job of childrearing. While the intentions are good, the parenting skills are deficient.

The place to start is with yourself. Each move toward meeting your own needs and accepting yourself is an investment in the welfare of your family.

Dorothy C. Briggs, PhD

Much of amateur parenting advice now flooding the marketplace urges mothers and fathers to commit esteem-destroying and even violent punishment against children, practices long proven to cause hideous damage to their progeny--all in the name of "doing a good job of raising the children." Child abusers of the Sally Jesse Rafael and Dr. Dobson stripe easily find ready audiences with their "get-tough-with-discipline" diatribes. The "tough-love" and "difficult child" crowd, child-haters all, contribute on a grand scale to the awful suffering of children, and their parents too.

Their boot camp, revenge-rooted advice is not the answer to intelligent, caring childrearing, despite their claims of "hitting with love" and their self-righteous claims of "it's for their own good." We must not put the child-resenters and haters in charge of our lives and our children's lives.

Gaining Control Over Our Lives
As A. S. Neill said, no happy parent ever punished a child. The key to successful parenting is found in becoming a happier parent. It is the dissatisfied, depressed, low-esteem parent who nags, threatens, humiliates, and swats a child. Such treatment most often is the consequence of the parents having suffered identical treatment long ago, when they had no voice in their own lives.

Sometime, somewhere the cycle of abuse must be broken. Now we are faced with the happy choice: we can either be part of the problem, or part of the solution.

Parents who have not taken the responsibility of meeting their own needs cannot expect to meet the needs of children. So the question becomes, Where can I begin to resolve my own problems--the deep internal conflicts as well as the daily, external challenges?

Following are three problem areas in which a beginning can be made--TODAY--in taking over control of one's life. Said Mark Twain: The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking the complex over-whelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.

Structure For Daily Life

Helen and Scott Nearing, authors of Living the Good Life, did only four hours' "bread labor" to meet their food and shelter needs; then four hours' writing and researching; and four hours teaching visitors how to live better and happier lives. Scott lived to age 100, Helen to near 90. Masters of organization and efficiency, they wrote and published dozens of books, hosted thousands of visitors, and inspired millions of people to have courage, take control, and "live the self-reliant good life."

In taking on too much and demanding perfection of oneself, life quickly becomes a frantic rat race. What works: Developing tolerance for oneself leads to more tolerance for the children's "falling" short of perfection, too. Conversely, more acceptance of the children's shortcomings brings increasing understanding of our own mistakes. Compassion begins with self-appreciation, and self-forgiveness.

1. Organizing Stuff

Clutter problems can be solved by the triage method. Sort all the stuff into three basic categories:

Trash--or give away to friends all that you haven't used in the past 12 months. Options: for items of value, hold a yard sale or get the tax advantage in giving it to charity
Store--items truly useful to you in coming year. Store keepsakes, objects of sentimental value separate from merely utilitarian stuff.
Keep--handy only that which you use daily, weekly or monthly. Better to list what you have stored and use rarely, and keep list handy instead.
Option with children: accept the mess, this is the time in life to enjoy the chaos--until they grow up and leave.

2. Organizing Time

List priorities: What is of most--and least--importance? Apply the 80/20 rule: Spending 80% of energy, time, and resources on lowest 20% of priority list calls for adjustment in time allocation.

Trust persistent efforts toward clear goal; 1/2 hour each day accumulates to over 180 hours a year. In this way, John Holt (Never Too Late) taught himself to play the cello at age 55.

Don't work faster; don't work longer. Work smarter. Delegate responsibilities: one secret of success is to find out what you don't do well and delegate it to someone who is good at it. One secret of failure is dodging criticism by trying to please everybody.

3. Money Management

1. Get rid of credit cards; hold one bank debit card. If you must have one credit card, pay the balance promptly every month.

2. Keep a record of expenses in a small notebook for 2 or 3 months; a study of expenditure patterns may bring surprises in where the money goes. Again: apply the 80/20 rule.

3. Calculate total annual net income, deduct all regular monthly bills for one year

4. List and schedule payment of major routine bills--taxes, car insurance, membership dues, gifts

5. Trace where the rest of the money goes each month (approximately)

6. Design the monthly budget (factor in emergencies, savings/investments, car repair, medical emergencies, etc.)

7. Get a disciplined hold on indulgence spending by planning every shopping trip, carrying a list, and sticking to it.

8. Heed the Nearings' motto: Pay no interest, and pay as you go.

9. Use direct deposit to money market account, consider DRIP investments (Dividend Re-Investment Programs). Rule: Pay yourself first--10% of income.

10. Idea: use two checkbooks: First to pay monthly bills, (utilities, food, mortgage), the second use as a savings account for non-routine expenses like gifts, travel, emergency car repair, etc. This helps to avoid luxury purchases by credit card.

4. Managing Family

Family management is much less problematic when the home operates on democratic principles. This way responsibilities are shared by delegation, lot, or choice, and all are working toward agreed-upon common goals. Find out how in chapter 6.

Physical Exercise Discipline

Galloway's Book on Running, by Jeff Galloway (Shelter Publications, Inc. Box 279, Bolinas, CA 94924 $8.95) tells how to start a running program:

1. Walk 1/2 hour daily "until it feels easy"

2. Move to brisk walking; check heart rate every five or so minutes

3. "When comfortable" with that, "insert a few jogs of about 100 yards"

4. As strength builds, gradually add running and lessen walking time, but not at the cost of discomfort

5. Adjust exercise time to 40 minutes, three times weekly

6. Increase to one hour, by one workout for three weeks.

See also: Body Bulletin, 33 Minor St., Emmaus, PA 18098. Monthly: $14

Nutrition Discipline
Conquer the three white poisons: sugar, salt, and bleached flour. consumption of these by the ton has given millions of Americans hypoglycemia and worse health problems. Sugar alone can drive children crazy, leaving school people to diagnose the problem as Attention Deficit Disorder, and parents to punish "hyperactivity" as offensive behavior.

Following junk and sugar control:

1. Go with natural, organic foods

2. Eat raw vegetables and fruit when possible, and lots of it

3. Eat several small meals instead of three large ones

4. Eat a good breakfast, include some fruit

5. Whatever your present consumption of meat, reduce it

6. Drink alcohol and caffeine beverages only in moderation if at all

7. Consult Dr. Andrew Saul, naturopath:

Our Daily Break

The Chinese Army learned they could march night and day indefinitely so long as they took a break every hour. Secret to survival: regular rest breaks. Similarly, college students' grades were higher among those who, during study periods, took 10 min every hour to stretch, walk outside for air, and look at the mountains.

For the householder, stress can be managed with the 30-minute centering break once or twice daily. That which is invested in renewal is gained in efficiency, health, and quietude.

Relaxation can save you
Nap-taking is becoming popular even in industry, where enlightened management discovered that work efficiency rises with the nap break. Workers lay pads on the floor, remove shoes, and nap for 30 minutes on company time. In countries with the tradition of siestas, there is far less heart disease.

Breathing break at home: lie on back on floor, arms outstretched, feet apart. Fix eyes on spot on ceiling, center mind on breath, rising, falling, rising, falling. Each time you notice the mind has wandered, simply and persistently lead thoughts back to air: rising, falling. This can help slow down the internal dialogue, the self-judgments and anxiety about past and future.

Persistence is the way, not struggling for success, fighting for control. It's practice, like piano scales. Just keep doing it and don't be concerned with thoughts of failure or mistakes. Or success. Just do it. And be sure radio, TV, stereo, and phone ringer are off.

Saunas, steam baths, hot tubs, and sweat lodges: all have traditionally provided relaxation to cultures from Finland to Siberia to Japan. Next best is to draw a hot bath at home and have a leisurely soak.

Back rubs: For a few minutes have your partner or professional gently work your neck and shoulder muscles, then the large back muscles parallel to the spinal column. Alone, you can work out the tension and pain around your neck, temples, face, chest, arms, legs. Be gentle with yourself; do not overdo.

Stress Control Discipline
1. Say no without guilt--you cannot, like St Paul, be all things to all people.

2. Leave 10 minutes early; that's all it takes to end the rushing, the fretting about being late. You can arrive quiet and composed and smiling.

3. Create routines: those tasks that must be done frequently and the same way every time can be done efficiently, when assigned a time and place to do them.

4. Do what you can as best you can, then stop. Don't worry about falling short of your goals. W. S. Maugham, nearing age 90, said, "The greatest thing I have learned from life is to regret nothing."

5. Things to avoid: talk radio, violent TV, "action" movies, aggressive people.

6. Take time in speaking, take time in listening. Surprisingly pleasant things happen.

7. Welcome change--might as well, it's the law. Every cat knows that if it relaxes and stays alert, change will bring opportunity.

8. Confront and stare down the "victim" thoughts in your mind, the "sacrifice" role.

9. To the strict teacher on your shoulder saying, "Don't make a mistake or I'll punish you!"--say "Shut up and get off my back--I'm in charge now."

10 Do something each day that you really enjoy, and its enjoyment depends only on no one but you. [See below]

Our Daily Pleasure
The habit of indulging in pleasures whenever a task is completed or when feeling self-pity can be destructive and debilitating. The way to break it is by scheduling a specific--but limited--time each day for enjoying your favorite pleasures. Here are some stressless suggestions:

Listen to Mozart, Bach and Beethoven take a walk in the woods
give more hugs and kisses
rent a comedy or musical video
indulge in star gazing
play guitar or piano--well or badly
play chess, checkers, pinochle...
Establishing Priorities

Are you spending most of your time on the things you consider least important? If so, apply the 80/20 rule: Concentrate energies on the top one or two priorities of importance in your life, leave the 20% of time, resources and effort to the least in importance in your hierarchy of values. [Where does your equanimity and parental effectiveness rank in importance? What is at risk when that is lost or impaired?]

Continuing Narrative:
Toys and Tools for Real

When the boys were small we did not make such a big deal of Christmas as other families did. The major celebrations took place on their birthdays. To avoid the commercializing holiday-festival-what-am-I-gonna-get craziness, we liked to give a few gifts at Christmastime's Winter Solstice, and Spring Equinox, Summer Solstice, and Fall Equinox. We made up 91-day calendars and had a "Springmas" party, etc., and thus had four "mas-es" a year. We found the mere changing of seasons sufficient reason to marvel and celebrate.

We preferred a few real gifts instead of many fake and frivolous ones. A real Polaroid camera with a supply of film got lots of use. With an inexpensive microscope we found excitement taking turns to examine bread crumbs, sugar grains, various woods, green leaves, topsoil, paper. Lots of art supplies were needed to replenish the ever-depleting stock. Tricycles and toy tractors, a swing set were must items, and later on, bicycles, sports equipment, and walkie-talkies. We never copped out with an "ungift" of socks or underwear, and no gift came burdened with the sneaky "educational" motive behind it.

When they clamored to use my electric typewriter, I said they could have their own. For $3 we found a used Royal mechanical typewriter, which they promptly dismantled. Their interest was not then in creative writing so much as finding out how the thing worked. They were content with dictating their stories to Daddy while he did the typing.

One of biggest hits was the chess set. We all learned the game together, studying the moves and rules from a book as we went. Henry and Russell are both fine chess players today, though, alas, their father cannot make the same claim.

Perhaps among the most important gifts were real tools. No child wants to live in a fake world, and nothing real could be done with plastic hammers and screwdrivers. As a result, they developed a respect for tools, took good care of them, and borrowed Daddy's tools only after asking permission.

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