Saturday, June 2, 2012

Parenting Assumption....

Oh Facebook, how I love thee... I really do as it keeps me in touch with all my friends I moved away from and family too. The odd thing about Facebook is that while it is a removal in many ways from face to face genuine contact, it has allowed others to get to know a lot more information about my ideals and passions than they probably would have otherwise not known and probably at times more info than they would like to know. :)

Most recently there was yet another breastfeeding photo that was criticized and again compared to photos of sex or defecation. I wish I had not seen the criticisms, but I did and I vented on Facebook. Well, my cousin disagreed that breastfeeding should ever go past a certain point and my friends (mostly breastfeeding advocates) chimed in as well and the discussion became heated. I have a lot of views about breastfeeding, but as I commented and others did including my cousin, I started to recognize a trend that I see on almost all discussions related to children, a popular and familiar parenting assumption. An assumption that I believe if more parents could fully understand the child development truths surrounding said assumption, relationships between parent and child, parent and teenager could be significantly changed in our world.

It goes something like this: "If you don't force a child to stop breastfeeding (sucking the thumb or pacifier, sleeping in your bed, using diapers, or any other behavior typically associated with being a baby), then they never will."

The underlying assumption here is that these behaviors only belong in the realm of babyhood, that children after a certain age do not need them anymore, that children do not want to grow up, and sadly the most disturbing is that children are trying to manipulate the adult with these behaviors. There are volumes upon volumes of research that disprove the first two related assumptions, but for the purpose of this post, I simply want to address the last two.

1. Children do not want to grow up: Nothing could be further from the truth. From the time they are born, the baby strives to learn and grow. We do not have to get on the ground and force them to learn how to roll over, sit up, walk, talk, etc.... They want to learn these things, they want to climb the tallest ladder at the park way before they can physically master it. That desire is innate. Yet, so often, we assume that we need to intervene in this process and teach them. I promise that this premise of wanting to grow up also relates to the behaviors we so often are uncomfortable with at certain ages. How often have we heard, "If you don't get him out of your bed now, you never will?" or "She is not a baby anymore, she doesn't need that pacifier (blanket, thumb)". The problem is that we do not understand the normal developmental timelines that come with weaning from a breast, pacifier, thumb, bottle, etc... (and by the way, I find it so odd that people will refuse to breastfeed their child any longer, but will instead give them a bottle because if breastfeeding is comparable to sex, then bottles are comparable to dildos). The problem is we try to force these milestones of growing up and giving up too soon. It happens even in our school systems, we force reading and younger and younger ages (ie...My baby can read), yet we are ranked 52nd in literacy. Countries that let children play and simply be children without thinking about things like teaching them to read until they see signs of developmental readiness (like asking to learn), are ranked first and second in literacy.
So ultimately, we just need to stop rushing children.

"Every stage of development is complete in itself. The three year old is not an incomplete five year old. The child is not an incomplete adult. Never are we simply on our way! Always we have arrived! Enjoy now!! -J. C. Pearce

 2. Children are trying to manipulate adults: I feel like this is something so many people grow up thinking, maybe because of the constant extrinsic motivation, punishment, and general regard we ourselves were given as children. That as adults and especially as parents, we need to lay down the law. If our children throws a tantrum in the store, it is our fault for not being a better parent in some way. That it is our job to train them whether it be toileting or kindness or baseball and if we don't teach them our values, they will have none of their own and will end up in prison. In fact, there is a great section of society that still believes we need to beat the evil right out of children literally. Children definitely have strong emotions at times and their behavior can seem overwhelming and even manipulative. If an adult threw a tantrum in a store, manipulation would probably be somewhere in the motivation (that or mental illness). But children are not adults and the skills they possess in order to handle their emotions are limited, things that seem to us to be no big deal are monumental to them, and lastly, many many times we simply do not listen to them, we do not acknowledge their feelings. If your spouse refused to listen to you over and over again, told you to stop whining, etc... you would likely throw a tantrum as well. When children express a desire to continue nursing, to keep their beloved blanket, or even something as simple as to not leave the park, it is extremely important to them and here is the clincher... are you listening?
There is a NEED behind that desire, those emotions.
So you are probably saying, "what, they NEED to be at the park?" Yes. There bodies are forming at an extremely fast rate and their is a great NEED to run, climb, jump, release energy. Can they verbalize this to their parents, of course not. That is where we come in. We need to figure out the NEED behind those strong feelings and at the very least acknowledge it and if at all possible PROVIDE FOR THAT NEED. I am not suggesting that every time your child is upset about leaving the park, you stay. And I am not suggesting that every woman of a two year old drop what she is doing every minute to breastfeed her child who is demanding it (although I do think that should happen with an infant). I am not even suggesting that all woman need to continue breastfeeding their two year olds in general. There are two people in this relationship and the breasts do belong to the woman. I just simply think if we understood the NEEDS of children better, if we took their feelings into consideration and acknowledged them more, our relationships would be monumentally more healthy.

 So please stop the thinking that children are out to get us adults, it simply is not true.

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