I travel the country almost constantly eight months a year, making presentations to various groups — church, school, professional, conference. I make myself very accessible, which means parents ask me lots of questions, usually of a “What should I do?” nature.
The issues run the gamut, but most of the questions involve behavior problems of one sort or another, from toddlers who refuse to use the potty to teens who are refusing to clean their rooms.
What strikes me is that our grandparents — our great-grandparents, most certainly — would not have asked such questions. They either would not have ever experienced the sort of problems today’s parents find themselves dealing with (confrontational disrespect and disobedience, for example), or if they did, they would not have felt the need for “expert” advice. They knew what to do, and in most cases what they did worked, and in short order.
I often point that out to the person asking one of these questions, and I say, “What you really need to do is figure out why you feel the need to ask my advice about a problem your grandparents would have known how to handle.
What do you think was different about your grandparents’ approach to rearing children?”
I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the “behavioral” solutions parents are seeking from people like me — people with capital letters after their names — are not really solutions at all. More often than not, they’re the equivalent of using a band-aid to treat hemophilia.
In one of my favorite songs of his, Bob Dylan sings, “I’m gonna change my way of thinkin’, get myself a different set of rules.”
He’s referencing the fact that proper behavior is a function of proper thinking. That’s true regardless of context. Today’s parents are having problems with their kids of a sort and quantity that would amaze their grandparents because they are thinking very differently from the way their grandparents thought.
Under the circumstances, clever behavior modification strategies are only going to work for short periods of time, if they work at all. In order to get a permanent handle on their kids, today’s parents need to change how they think about children and their responsibilities toward them.
Take a homeschooling mother who recently asked me how she could effectively separate the roles of teacher and mom. I asked why they needed to be separated. Both teacher and mom are authority figures, are they not? Her confusion arose because she believes, as do a troubling number of today’s mothers, that Mom really isn’t an authority figure. Mom is a “nurturer.” Her grandmother didn’t limit herself with a self-definition of that sort.
Furthermore, although her grandmother may not have home-schooled her kids, she thought of herself as an educator.
This mom’s self-doubts (and the parenting difficulties she is experiencing) are a function of faulty thinking concerning her responsibilities toward her children. She is attempting to play two different roles with her kids when the two roles in question are simply two facets of one primary role: authority figure.
Her grandmother would have known that.
John Rosemond, a family psychologist, can be reached via his website: www.rosemond.com.