The Five Ethics of Parenting – Part 5 (B)

So, how can we all practice giving our children and ourselves some independent play (or in our case work or rest) time?

1. DO the four other parenting principles I’ve written about:  Fill them up with your love, demonstrate your concern for their character with discipline, comfort and forgive them in intimacy, and have fun with them, engaging in play on their level.  When we are loving our children well, it is much easier to foster a successful environment of alone time.

2. Place yourself in a different room.  When they are old enough to be left unattended for a while, set them up with toys or a movie or a puzzle (whatever the heck you want!) and go get yourself into another room. The physical distance lets you focus on your task and lets them “focus” on playing. My 18-month-old will often play in his room or in the living room for over 30 minutes! I’ll be in the kitchen cooking or in my own room doing laundry, and I’ll look in on him stealthily every once in a while to see him happily playing with stuffed animals or pulling out all his pants in the bottom drawer.

3. No nap?  If you child skips their nap or if they don’t take naps anymore, setup room time in your daily schedule. If they are small, like my son, then put them in their crib. Give them toys or stuffed animals or books and let them be independent for 15 or 20 minutes (longer for older kiddos).

4. Share media time.  When Josiah watches his affectionately dubbed, “SZHOOW!”, I check Instagram and respond to emails with him in my lap. We both get to take a break from active engaging with one another, but we are relaxing together.

5. Force independence even when it hurts.  Homes aren’t always happy places.  We’re all whiners at the end of the day, dependent on food and sleep for our strong, mature virtues.

Between 4 and 6pm (the witching hour for moms), Josiah usually stomps in the kitchen, whining and pulling on my pants, and hitting my legs, screaming “Momma!” I’ve given him a snack, I’ve set him up with a TV show, I’ve just spent 30 minutes playing blocks with him – why can I never make dinner?

I think that even when it doesn’t look like it’s working, I still need to enforce the independent time.  I tell him, “Josiah, I love you but I have to cook these eggs right now. I’m sorry I cannot hold you.” And he almost always screams louder and doesn’t leave. Having a husband is something I am extremely grateful for in these times. When mine is home, he will take Josiah outside or upstairs. But when it’s just me and my demanding tot, sometimes we have an unpleasant 20 minutes of Josiah crying and me looking like a bad mom who is ignoring his “needs”.

The good news – the more I have done this, the more quickly Josiah is understanding that his needs aren’t always met immediately, and that he should entertain himself with something else for a while during those times. I help Josiah out a bit by giving him some spoons and a pot to “cook” with while I cook. Or I let him splash in the sink for a bit while I wash dishes.

I think the goal is to really try to have a balance of all of these five parenting ethics throughout each and every day you spend with your child: love, discipline, intimacy, play, and space. Most days, I’m great at one or two of these things because it comes naturally for me. But all people (kids are people too!) need a healthy, steady intake of all five relationship ideals.  What do I want for my kid?  I want him to have good character.  I want him to love God and love people well.  I want him to have joy.  If I strive for that kind of character in my son, he will be on the right road to joy and maturity in every other area of life.

“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”  Proverbs 22:6

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The Five Ethics of Parenting – Part 5 (A)

Kid Clingyness: To cling and whine is what it means to be a toddler. To grab legs, scream momma, pull faces, weasel their way into laps – this is the essence of toddlerhood. At some point, a toddler will graduate himself into being a “big kid”, and will desperately, persistently grab at your affirmation of their self-proclamation – for every single amazing thing they accomplish, for every new-thought-up game. They want you in on it.

We need to be realistic about our little ones. These are the kinds of creatures we are trying to love, and that it’s hard to do sometimes. It’s hard because they are terrible and adorable and exhausting! We devote our hearts to them in discipline, in intimacy, and in play – because of our hope for them to change and grow from winey little punks into mature, beautiful people.

The clingy nature of our toddlers is a good thing, for it means you are his or her go-to person. We all have go-to people. Mine is my husband. I tell him my stupid dreams about being a super hot super hero, about the random people I meet in the grocery store, and about how I am feeling when I wake up from too-short of a nap – because I know he cares enough about me to listen. Even if it’s boring.

But, even as adults, we have to fight being too clingy with our go-to people. Over-attachment isn’t a healthy thing. The solution for this human tendency, for a toddler and many of us adults, is “alone time”.

Alone Time for Them: The previous posts were about intimacy and play-time. This post is about independence. A loving family will work to teach children about this balance, this “interdependence”, that characterizes all good relationships. This will require expectations being placed on them. This will require that they come to the realization that the world doesn’t revolve around them.

Putting this guideline of “alone time” into practice won’t guarantee a consistently happier kiddo. In any case, that’s not really the goal. We know what the goal is because we know that life can be lived well or not well, that relationships can be good or bad. The goal is better character and better relationships.

Children are precious and loved. The best way you can love them is to occasionally demonstrate that life goes on without your constant attention. Their needs are important, and you are their caretaker and provider. They should feel secure in that, yet also know that you have a life outside of meeting their needs. It’s not that your lives are separate – mom, wife (or husband), work, etc. – it’s that they all co-exist and you cannot be all of them with all of your attention all the time. A healthy practice of the principles outlined in the four previous posts will ensure that your children understand this.

Overbearing, coddling tendencies in parents are subconscious compensations for neglect in other areas (discipline, intimacy, play). If so, it is not going to be enough and will likely be counterproductive. Giving your children the impression that each and every desire will be met instantly sets them up for failure later in life. In school they will have to raise their hand with patience. At work they may be the one that gets coffee for everybody else. And that has to be okay. Don’t give them false impressions of what the world is like or what their place is in it.

Our children need the opportunity for contentment before they can practice it. When I am alone at home, I may really want a Coke from the fridge. But I’m on the couch on my computer and I don’t especially want to get up. I’ll usually just forget about the Coke and keep on working. Sometimes I’m craving it so badly that i’ll stop my work, get up, and get the coke that’s just 7 feet away from me.  Now, if Jordan is home and already in the kitchen, i’ll just ask him to get me a coke. And maybe some pretzels from the panty. And how about a little bowl of spicy mustard? Oh, while you’re up, could you make my coke into a coke float?

See what I mean? With our constant presence, our children will constantly look to us to meet every “need-thought” that goes through their heads. What you need to do as a parent is…leave them alone (sometimes). Give them opportunities to learn how to be a person. They’re smart and resilient people; don’t sell your little ones short!

Another opportunity that arises when you’re alone is learning how to be secure in your identity. A baby’s first experience with this is learning how to “self-soothe” – how to cry at night and realize that her parents really aren’t going to come to the rescue for now, so she puts herself back to sleep.

Our kids need to be okay in and of themselves. Leaning on others is not always an option, or even the best option (e.g. in the case of bad company). I want for my boy to be able to get up after he trips without needing to nurse, to be held, or to be cried with for ten minutes. And when he doesn’t think I’m watching, he gets up, brushes off his hands, and keeps on running for the swings.

Alone Time for Us: Parents need alone time too.  I think we need this to be sane, full-time parents. Many working moms have told me, “I don’t know how you do it. I couldn’t do it all the time”.  Well, they’re right. Some parenting styles make it impossible to do it all the time. If you never discipline, there’s no way you could stay home with your child – too frustrating. Living in a house where the 2-year-old is boss of the family is intolerable. Likewise, if you never give your children the space they need (although they don’t know they need it), your end will be insanity.

There is a way to love what you do at home with your child: to enjoy times for play and times for affection; to take advantage of the alone times in order to get work done; and to experience with your child the pain of swift discipline and the restoration, peace, and joy that follows.

Parents often get into patterns of obsession with their children’s lives – to the point where they no longer have their own hobbies, friends, or passions. Eventually, upon rejection, graduating from high school and/or moving away, or sometimes only with great tragedy – this type of living through their children will come to an end. The consequences of this kind of life are damaging and ironic. For example, when a mother pushes the relationship she has with her husband, her previously vowed best friend for life, into a little corner of her brain at the expense of energy focused on her child or children. This destroys marital relationships. It destroys the life of a family, and will destroy the little one that you find most precious.

My next and final post on the five ethics of parenting will be the “how-to” or “guidelines/suggestions” on how to practice giving your children and yourself alone time.

“A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit. A fool despises his father’s instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is prudent…Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it…The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”

Proverbs 15:4, 5, 17, 16:9