Saturday, February 18, 2012

Parenting Development: The Beautiful Complication

Personal Development is a phrase used to describe personal growth…or in other words to describes a person striving to improve themselves in some way. This growth can be anything from accomplishing a goal, overcoming an obstacle, moving past a fear or challenging their current beliefs to allow for advancement and growth. When it comes to parenting, we could say that striving to become better parents is parenting development.

Maya Angelou once said, “When we know better, we do better.” To me this means that yes, while we do our best at any particular moment and we should be kind and forgiving of ourselves if we make a mistake—true growth comes when we not only accept our mistakes—but when we can learn from them as well. And in order to learn from them we need to have an open mind, be willing to pursue knowledge and be open and welcoming of our personal growth. It also means that we should strive to know more. We should not get stagnant. We should not be content with taking things at face value, especially if these things are based on a belief (or beliefs) we have never questioned--we should continuously be asking questions about why we {and society expects us to} do things the way we do, we should be wondering how we can improve and how we can make our lives and our children's lives a little bit better.

It is also not a necessity to do things just because that is what our parents did. If we do decide to follow in their footsteps it is because we have made an informed decision, that is, we have really looked at the risks and benefits, at our options and we decided that this is the path that is right for us. It's OK to acknowledge that our parents made mistakes. I'm sure they would encourage us to not make the same ones. We owe it to our children to learn from our parents' mistakes. I love my parents so very much. I know they raised my brother and I the best way they knew how. And yes, they did make mistakes. We all do. But that does not mean I do not love them or respect them or appreciate them. But you can be sure I am doing my best to not make the same mistakes they did! I think this is natural--the new generation learns from the last. Or else, where would we be? If no one changed the way of doing things, nothing new {and better} would be discovered.

There are many professionals and many studies that have linked certain parenting practices with not-so-ideal outcomes: Crying-It-Out {aka Sleep Training or Ferberizing}, Spanking, Circumcision...just to name a few. When you really look at these practices, many of them are based on 1) Beliefs from many years ago that are no longer valid but have become so ingrained in our society and in our practices, 2) The erroneous belief that new parents have to follow these practices and 3) The perpetuation of these beliefs by people who continue to follow and defend these practices.

Many argue that there is no real way to know for sure that these negative outcomes are linked to these out-of-date practices that happen in infancy and childhood. While it is true that we cannot simply say x always leads to y, researchers, professionals and mothers involved in and who care about child development and well-being can say that there are certain things that need to happen in a child’s early development to ensure they have the best foundation for continued growth and well-being into their adult lives. And it's easy to see that these out-of-date practices certainly go against them. The things our kiddos need are: A healthy attachment to their caregivers; a nurturing, loving environment in which children know they have a say in what happens to them and know their voices are heard and they are respected; having healthy limits and boundaries but also being allowed to explore and take healthy risks and make and learn from their mistakes; having a sense of belonging...within the family and within the community; and being accepted for who they are. 

What is very important to realize is that this foundation is formed early in life, starting in infancy and continuing into a child’s early years, when the brain is doing the majority of its neural networking growth. Once that foundation is created, it is hard to change. Not impossible, but definitely difficult as patterns and habits have already been created. Additionally, many of our predispositions as adults are determined by this neural growth in early life. For example, our predisposition to stress and how we manage it is formed in those critical early years. That's why it’s so important to be mindful of how and what our children are exposed to in their early life.

There are of course naysayers and critics of these studies. But here's the difference between critics and pioneers: critics impede progress and continue to support {sometimes without really realizing} causes and beliefs that have been proven to be inaccurate or harmful, whereas pioneers advocate for progress and are usually the minority in the face of change--but they don't give up! Without pioneers we would not have many of the amazing discoveries and advancements we have today. If Martin Luther King had given up or given into fear of change--we would not have questioned and overcome racism and segregation. If women had not questioned the status-quo and advocated for their rights-I would not be able to sit here and write this. But there is definitely still more to be done.

I am not judging. All I really want is for parents to realize the importance of making truly informed decisions: knowing all the benefits, risks and alternatives when it comes to any given decision in parenting.
And for those of us that have perhaps done things and have later on realized maybe we shouldn't have...don't worry. Nothing is ever set in stone, measures can always be taken to improve our situations and they all involve love. Remember you can never go wrong in unconditionally loving your kiddos. The more you love, the happier you and they will be. Love never runs out. So give freely and without reservations or worry. You can never love too much.

Recently I was involved in a facebook discussion on spanking...among the many things I said, one of them was this:
"When it comes to many things in our society, we want everything to be "leading-edge"...the best health care options, the most effective up-to-date medication, the most advanced technology, etc. Why is it that when it comes to parenting many of us are still OK with practicing parenting methods that are out of date, even when there are other, just as effective, more respectful methods available? As parents I believe we owe it to our beautiful children to at least consider, if not try, to be leading-edge parents."
If the opportunity for questioning something we are doing as parents arises, we should at least consider it without getting defensive or feeling judged. No one is perfect. And I don't believe in striving for perfection--it's a lost cause! But I do believe in parenting development! The beautiful complication that research studies cannot really account for, is that parents can grow and can change...for the better. I have made mistakes along the way, but even though it's hard, I do try to admit to them...and I am open to change and I welcome growth. And I just have to say that I admire my parents that much more because they did the same. The parents they started out being are not the parents they came out to be. They let go of a lot of the parenting practices that they started out with--and welcomed change. They started out as pretty mainstream parents {the classic Authoritarian Parents}and eventually transformed into more attachment-supporting, natural-minded parents. I know they played an essential role in forming some of my current views on parenting and my love of learning and striving to challenge and move past unnecessary beliefs.

There is also no doubt that children push us to our limits...they push our buttons and many times we lose our patience. This is a topic for another post, but I just wanted to mention that many, if not all, of our children's behaviours can be understood with a respectful approach and resolved with gentle techniques. It's also important to remember that our children are mirrors of our own feelings, attitudes and behaviours. Thus, if we are seeing undesired behaviours in our children, we should take a good look within before taking any action: Are we feeling stressed, overwhelmed, unhappy? This allows us to gain perspective and can usually prevent us from doing or saying something we may later regret.

Being a parent is probably the hardest thing we do, it’s also the most rewarding and I think it’s our responsibility as parents to know better—to learn from our mistakes and successes so we can do better.

For more info check out these resources:
Hand in Hand: Nurturing the Parent-Child Connection
Enjoy Parenting with Scott Noelle
Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Cohen
Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves by Naomi Aldort

Do you believe in parenting development?


  1. My mother was a brilliant example of this philosophy. She would tell me all the time that she and I were "growing up together" and that she is always learning and trying to improve. I saw both of my parents read a ton, have daily in-depth discussions about all kinds of issues, try new hobbies, and just generally live a kind of renaissance lifestyle. Even to this day my Mom will tell me things she's working on, things she thinks she made a mistake with, etc.

    I am of the mind that, as soon as you think you're the perfect parent and you know everything, you're simply inviting your child to prove you wrong, by any means necessary.

    1. Absolutely! Love how you've said all this! Thanks for stopping by Elena :-)

  2. I have been amazingly surprised to find out how much there was to learn about being fully gloriously wholly human... My oldest is 8 1/2 and I have been doing a lot of parenting development over the years!! I am really grateful.

    We've accumulated a lot of labels along the way (unschooling, consensual living, respectful parenting) and I've read a TON of books (from "Mindsight" to "How to Talk..." to "Anger" to "The Tree in the Ancient Forest") but what I'm most grateful for is a bigger/brighter brain and fuller, kinder heart. And these two people I get to be with. And my husband, as we learn together, too.

    I came over from NPN -- loved your post there, too.


    1. Thanks for stopping y Stacy! I love this: "what I'm most grateful for is a bigger/brighter brain and fuller, kinder heart"! So beautifully said!


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