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September 3, 2013 / Dale Melchin

How to Raise Children: a Non-Parent’s Perspective

There is a line from a Knights Tale starring Heath Ledger that is particularly noteworthy for the would be creative.  “All of life is with in the writer’s scope.”  This Paul Bettany’s character, Geoffery Chaucer said this.  I say this because this post is borne out of a Facebook that ensued a few weeks ago while I was at Wal-Mart getting some last minute things for a get together.  The Facebook discussion was about children’s behavior in public.  As I was heading down the aisles to get my things I was accosted by a screaming child and the parents who weren’t doing anything to control the child.  It was infuriating.  So I posted the following status.

“Screaming child, judgometer rising.”

Now, I was trying to be clever and vent in a fun way.  I had a few parents and defacto aunts get angry with me about this saying I was wrong for judging the parents.  Luckily some insights came out of it that I will share with you today.

In full disclosure, Erica and I are not parents.  We are going to start having children after we get our respective careers on track.  That is the goal.  It is very specific.  I’m going to have my counselors license, be practicing, and she’ll have her library science degree.  First child’s ETA is 2-4 years present speed.  I realize parenting is a difficult and emotionally draining task.  In fact out of this previous situation I’ve heard of parents who were near suicide or giving up because of all the pressures that are put on them as parents.  I think some of these feelings can be attributed back to two things.

The first is judging and unsafe emotional environment created by some modern churches.  I’ll be talking about this later in an upcoming post about sin as legalism vs. sin as existential problem.  Too often a culture of guilt is created in churches around sin.  Now, sin is something we should get upset about.  It goes too far when talking about sin creates an environment where people begin to question their own worth.  This culture of guilt leads people to hold themselves to an unreasonable standard of perfectionism that causes them to awfulize themselves and others.  This can also happen in the home, or even society in general.  Unfortunately the only way to get rid of the environment of judgmentalism is for their to be a massive paradigm shift in the Church about what sin really is.

The second is our own lack of being equipped to handle stress.  I’ll talk more about this below.

So, since the environment is our circle of concern and we can control it we have to do what we can to influence it.  The way to influence it is paradoxical.  You must journey within.

Stephen R. Covey (God rest him) in his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective people talks about a story of his son David who was behind in school.  The approach they tried originally was the positive thinking and adjusting attitudes and behaviors approach to get him to speed up.  It was only when they realized that their motives were flawed.  They wanted to get this child up to snuff with the rest of their good kids, and they were ashamed because of it.  So they changed their approach.  They started working on themselves and how they were approaching this child.  The backed off and affirmed his basic nature.  The kid eventually started to blossom!  If you want to read more of this story it is in 7 Habits pages 16-21.  It is one of the first stories after the write ins.

Our best defense against against external circumstances such as the stress of raising children, or the stress of dealing with societies hypocritical standards is to work within yourself.  You have to re-frame the problem and your response to it.  We have to dispute the awfulizing feeling or though and replace it with more reasonable responses.  We do this by capturing the stinking thinking in our minds.  Coming up with 5 or 6 more reasonable responses to it, ruminiating on it, removing the stinking thinking putting in the more rational thinking.  That combined with the art of meditation will be the best weapon and defense against the stress of parenting or even the stress of anything else in life.

Remove as much vice from your character as possible

To that end the first thing that you must do is remove all or as much vice from your character as possible (practice your spirituality consistently).  The way to do this is through meditation.  And yes, by meditation I am advocating the practice of sitting still and quieting your mind for 15-20 minutes a day at the beginning of the day.  Just to give you a sense of the science behind it.  Sean Webb of IAMspirituality.com quotes a study regarding meditation.

“The Institute for National Medicine and Prevention, they did a 10-year study and they split people into two groups. And the first group they told, “OK. We want you to eat right and exercise.” And the second group what told to meditate for 20 minutes twice a day. And 10 years later, this is a 10-year study, the people who meditated reduced their risk for heart attack and stroke by 66% over the people who were just dieting and exercising.”

Yes, that is 66%.  It is telling.  It means we need to meditate.  All of us.  Meditation, leads to the ability to manage our attachments.  Earlier in that post, Sean puts for a simple formula for how our emotions work.  It is this simple.  When expectations and reality match up or exceed, we get happiness.  When there is a deficit between reality an expectation we get a range of negative feelings depending on how strong the attachment is and how high expectation is.  If we expose ourselves to situations where there is a constant deficit between reality and expectation that leads to cumulative stress, and eventually those low feelings we experience that can put one step away from disaster, such as giving up or at worst suicide.

To bring the point home, stillness will help us raise our awareness of our emotions, and direct their course and manage those attachments.  That awareness and ability to manage our attachments helps us free up resources to continue pressing on.  This is applicable in any arena, but I will keep the focus narrowed to parenting.  It will give us the resources to parent with emotional, intelligence, logic, and with the ability to manage stress so we don’t get as low as we could.  We become shielded effectively against circumstance.  That is point number one practice stillness.

Teach your children the value of stillness.

This is going to be difficult, especially if you are just now starting to practice and you are in the thick of parent.  It however takes only 21 days to make a habit.  This can be done in simple ways.  Simply sitting with the child with the T.V. off and other distractions gone.  Quietly hushing them, and just enjoying the silence with them.  Yes, they will still babble a little bit.  As they get older you can teach them to have a daily quiet time.  You can even make a game of it by rewarding them with something after the time period is over.  It can be as small as 5 minutes.  Then give them a treat, or their favorite toy.  As they get a little older and can use their reasoning, they will eventually realize that stillness or meditation is the reward itself.

Detached discipline

Detachment is a result of extended meditation practice.  It is the ability to respond to circumstances while not being ruled by emotions.  You might still feel upset, but you are in control not your feelings.  As someone who was often on the business end of emotionally charged discipline, it is a skill parents must learn to cultivate.  If you’ve been practicing meditation for a while, this comes easier, but it isn’t always.

The first thing a parent should do is don’t personalize it when your child acts up.  It isn’t about you.  They are acting out of their own attachments.  They are unhappy because their expectations and reality aren’t matching up for whatever reason.  You are not directly responsible for how they are feeling or acting so don’t act like you are.  There are several actions you could take.  The best is enforce stillness or time out.  And time out shouldn’t be in their room.  That’s where the toys are.  If the child is still particularlly young you could hold them until they stop acting out.

The key is to take control of the situation.  If you are at home and they are acting up.  Use time out or whatever method deemed necessary short of yelling.  You want to get the point across that the behavior is bad, but they are still a valuable person.  Be firm in discipline.  Don’t be hateful.  Show love during the process.  This last one is the most important.  Regardless of the nature of the conflict, showing love is the most important thing.

Regardless of the discipline method, talk it over with them and coach them when it is over.  After you coach them, show them that you love them.  Forgive them, and start over.  As a parent keep in mind the undercurrents that led up to what happened so it can be prevented in the future.

To recap.  Parenting is difficult.  Learning stillness gives us the tools we need to do it effectively and insulate ourselves from emotional fall out.  Teach your children to be still.  Depersonalize in discipline, show love through out, coach them and forgive.

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