helping good parents become great parents
before they becomegrandparents
Why are you in this field, your kids are grown already?
I believe that a shift in the way children are raised is the only realistic way to create world peace.
The ages of my children remain irrelevant to that goal.
What is your core belief about children, and childrearing, as briefly as you can state it?
Children are born whole human beings, worthy of respect and kindness because they are alive.
What philosophy of parenting do you promote?
Children are people. If you wouldn’t do it to a person whose respect and kind regard you hope to retain, please don’t do it to a child.
I seem to live in a culture (or possibly world) where children are more often seen as ‘something else’ –not really people, not really real, not living their own lives, not worthy; maybe not worthy yet or maybe not ever worthy—but none of that is true.
Human babies are human, from conception to centenarian and beyond –there is no point at which they suddenly ‘turn into’ a human being, from whatever ur-human they were supposed to be prior to that.
Children are not preparing for life, they’re living it.
Very often I ask, ‘what would you think if someone tried to make you do that?’ or ‘would you do that to your best friend / spouse / parent / clergy / boss?’ Turning around some of the truly nasty parenting advice of authoritarian parenting (and even authoritative parenting) ‘experts’ makes it very clear what is wrong with much of that advice: it’s disrespectful, it isn’t kind, and it’s ineffective.
Parenting can be respectful, kind, and effective.
Which authors and experts do you refer to the most?
That depends on the context. Pretty consistently, it’s:
… with others who offer something in the line of ‘thinking well’ or perspectives on being human that parents have found valuable over the years.
Why do you talk so much about leading as a parent?
First, because it’s a far more satisfying life to live, however rarely it is adopted.
With so many influences and pressures, ask any parent: do you feel like you are a leader or that you must follow in your choices about ______ [pick any topic to fill in the blank: school, bedtime, snack foods, dress, discipline, extra-curricular activities, friends, curfews, dating]? and you will find that those who think of themselves as leaders are few and far between.
When we just follow what we think we are supposed to (or expected to) do, as if we have little choice and no autonomy, we replicate and amplify the mis-steps of previous generations and cave in to ‘how things are done’ at the same rate as nearly 100% of the people around us.
I like families to feel more powerful, and to be more successful than that, so I suggest taking the lead.
Shouldn’t parenting just come naturally?
Not in any real world I ’ve heard of.
Many other mammals have demonstrated examples of what goes awry when parents have few or poor examples of effective parenting around them. So much of the complexity and subtlety of human (and other social animals’) behaviour is learned from being fully immersed in it, with only scraps of half-remembered conversations illuminating parts of it with language.
Some of the most common parenting practices of today did not exist anywhere 50 years ago, and yet they are seen, now, as almost inevitable, and obviously natural and correct.
When we don’t shine the light of awareness of the impact historic, mainstream, traditional or changing parenting practices actually have on children, we are working with half the information.
Without awareness of how influential the parenting seen in media, from movies, to tv, to music and even documentaries can be, we have no way of handling the insidious pressure to conform.
What is attachment-style parenting?
From the work of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, attachment theory is basically that a child’s best chance at a life without chronic stress and trauma is met through a handful of relationships that are reliable, engaged, compassionate and patient.
Beyond simply meeting the emotional needs of children, it is a responsive system of leaning in to the child’s needs, being emotionally available for the child to bond naturally, while trusting that the natural drive to mature will pull the child toward adulthood as quickly as it is possible to get there.
Although much of the early work was with struggling parents (the work began as interventions into the isolation and stress of single motherhood, and for child abuse prevention), and primarily demonstrating what unreliable parents do to children’s sense of security. Later, the ideas seemed to become stuck in early childhood, without any sense that the need for relationship, compassion, patience, and reliable support remain for life, for humans. Dr. Sears seems to promote the idea that all of attachment parenting is breastfeeding, babywearing and being in close proximity during sleep for the early years, and he makes few comments beyond that phase.
Truly, attachment-style parenting is a lifelong focus on connecting –especially when a child is struggling—with the basic philosophy that when people feel better and know better they do better, not the other way around.
Truly, attachment-style parenting is a lifelong focus on connecting –especially when a child is struggling—with the basic philosophy that when people feel better and know better they do better, not the other way around.
I’m often called a ‘helicopter parent’ and I think I’m just careful, what’s your view?
My view is that our culture, unique apart from perhaps ancient Sparta, believes that helping kids succeed and giving them what they need is cissy and pantywaist and other namby-pamby frou-frou waffle that is dragging kids down and making them soft.
As if there aren’t enough hard people in the world.
It is obvious that ‘helicopter parents’ are helping their kids who need help, and often it is the parents who happen to have extremely sensitive children (who are real, born that way, and are by no means created by milquetoast parenting, just as some kids come out robust and daring, or chatty and trusting, or astonishingly musical –you don’t get to order these things in advance.) These are parents who can see just how hard the world really is for kids who can feel it all.
Imagine you have a superpower: you can hear everything between where you are now and 4km away, every sniffle and every yawn, every scream, every word, every snore, every bark, every car, every pot lid dropped… Now imagine someone telling you that you’re the wrong kind of person, it’s your fault, and you should just ignore it because it’s not overwhelming to those who can’t hear all that, so it shouldn’t be for you.
Yeah. Now, instead of hearing, imagine if you could feel everything that everyone around you is feeling… while you have extremely sensitive sense of smell, taste, hearing, touch, and sight. You can tell when the colour on the poster changes slightly because of a problem with the printer drum, and it’s up against a wall colour that clashes with it, and there are too many forks scraping plates and too many people talking, your left sock is slightly tighter than the right, and the music is being played slightly too fast by the CD drive that’s overpowered by 15mA. Imagine not being able to not notice any of that… and then go to Disneyland the first day of the school break.
Highly sensitive people are real. Often, they’re born to highly sensitive people who were told their whole lives they are wrong –everything about how they are is wrong, and they should just stop it, as if they’re willfully sensitive just to bother other people.
Yes, sometimes a highly sensitive parent who was not treated gently or sensitively might mis-calculate the calibration and overshoot the compensation for the sensitivity of their child –and at what cost? A child who grows up being allowed to be what he is, loved and cherished, who can blossom as acceptable and whole…
The world beats up too many people as it is. Let the helicopters nurture their children.
I read that Linda was a La Leche League Leader for a long time, does that mean she’ll tell me not to wean, or that weaning is bad? Is she opposed to formula, like they usually are?
Linda grew up in the real world, where kids in Romania lived in orphanages for years eating little or nothing other than coffee, oreo cookies, and white sugar, so she holds no illusions about the range of ‘it won’t kill you’ diets available that children can survive.
Human milk is, obviously, naturally the best food for human infants (and people with GI cancer, because it’s often the only thing they can tolerate at all, but that’s a sideline piece of information everyone should have) and when that’s not possible, there are a great many ‘much better than coffee, oreo cookies and white sugar’ options available, commercial formula among them.
The only opposition Linda has to formula itself are the sleazy marketing tactics, which she would oppose in any product’s sales, and the profit-margin driving the ingredient list, as the whole thing seems to be the cheapest possible ingredients at the highest price the market will bear –but, again, formula is far from being the only product in which either are true.
Breastfeeding, chestfeeding, and human milk feeding (expressing and feeding, or feeding donated milk) is hard enough without having people tell you when to stop, or why stopping will make your whole life easier.
Linda likes people to make decisions based on their own values, rather than other people’s rules, disgust, schedules, opinions or demands. If that means weaning by choice, there are sensitive and gentle means to do that, and Linda is happy to share that information.
All humans will wean to a full, adult diet, at exactly the right pace for their own bodies, if they’re left to it. Guaranteed.
The rules for attachment parenting are all about breastfeeding and babywearing and night waking, what’s that got to do with elementary schoolers, or tweens or teens?
There are no real rules for attachment parenting. Dr. Sears, who kind of coined the term a few decades ago, was talking about getting the parent-child bond off to the most natural (easy) start, with the fewest barriers to the responsiveness necessary to create that bond –both in the child and the parent. He didn’t really talk about anything after the babies were toddlers because he’s a pediatrician, and his clients are the under-5s. This has led to a pretty big gap in resources on the market –at least in the works labelled as ‘attachment parenting.’
The philosophy has been available for a lot longer than even John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth’s work, under a different set of words.
The ideas of watching a child for their developmental phases, and discovering how they see the world from a compassionate, attentive perspective predates language… and there are many voices over the past century who spoke of it: Jean Liedloff, in The Continuum Concept; Tine Thevenin in The Heart Has Its Own Reasons; Kangaroo Care by Susan Ludington-Hoe; Touching by Ashley Montagu; Haim Ginott’s work; Choice Theory by William Glasser; Hold Onto Your Kids, by Gabor Matè and Gordon Neufeld; And the Children Played, by Patricia Joudry; Grantly Dick-Reid’s work; Piaget’s stages of development; The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller; Michele Odent’s Birth Reborn; The Mother’s Almanac by Marguerite Kelly; Only Connect, edited by Sheila Egoff et al, Unconditional Parenting and The Myth of the Spoiled Child by Alfie Kohn; James McKenna’s research about sleep; Parent Effectiveness Training by Dr. Thomas Gordon… is just a very short list with an explosion in works following the 1990s…
Essentially, human beings have a deep need for connected, trusted relationships which was dismissed as irrelevant for a very long time by a lot of people who preferred their people to be less attached to people and more to ideas (like patriotism) or less securely attached and more likely to buy things (like consumerism.)
Our real needs are neither new, nor changeable.
This is who we are.
I have my last baby, and I don’t want to wean or parent the way I did my older kids, because I see now how it didn’t work –is it fair to parent this one differently?
There are so many pressures in our world: to keep being predictable for the comfort of others; to be ‘fair’ to everyone; to be like others in our social networks; to make the same decisions others made to stop them feeling guilty over things about which they were never really convinced…
The question of weaning is deeply personal, and while it may seem like it would be ‘fair’ to parent all the children identically, that is like it being ‘fair’ that everyone be blinded because some people have no eyesight.
Ethically, not doing better when we know better is hard to argue in any way that isn’t vicious to ourselves and our children: ‘No, honey, now that I know people need a strong sense of security and safety, you can’t have that because that would mean helping your older siblings have the same things, and that wouldn’t be fair.’ (???)
One of the greatest sources of stress is living in opposition to what we know to be best for our families.
It is even more stressful when we are actively choosing it.
Child rearing is too hard to figure out, there are too many experts in the field and they all disagree with each other –how can I quickly figure out who fits my style, or what my kids need?
Hard choices, easy life; easy choices, hard life.
Parenting is a long-term and complex experience that may be reduced to brief Mission Statements, if parents decide to do that, but there isn’t any quick way to figure out what fits your style.
There is an ocean of material by a great many people (who make claims about kids and parenting that are completely disconnected from reality) along with advice, hierarchy roles, and rules that are antagonistic to connected, peaceful relationships.
You can weed out the dross and find the quality material. Here are a few methods that expose the problems in some resources:
Why would so many parenting experts keep giving advice if it, as you say, simply doesn’t work?
I call it ‘farming’ –it “works,” briefly, sometimes (all the better if it’s some confident and scary stranger ‘demonstrating’ how well it works for the poor daft parents) … It looks like it works sort-of for long enough for experts to get paid (sell more books, whatever) but then it stops working. Often, parents blame themselves instead of the experts.
This guarantees parents will be coming back for more tricks, tips, and techniques to do it harder, more thoroughly, and consistently enough, rather than seeing that the advice is flawed. It’s hard to see through a scam, but here’s a simple way that might help: if it really worked, it would–you know—have worked.
Farming money from the same clients, over and over and over, for things that never really work: Whether it was parenting experts or the diet industry who discovered it, the other one of those adopted it with great (financial) success.
We can kindly suppose that it’s possible these ‘experts’ are equally convinced that the tactics they recommend should work, regardless of the mountains of evidence that they don’t.
Experts may also be trying to avoid a painful experience within their own minds: cognitive dissonance.
It is extremely uncomfortable to attempt to hold mutually-incompatible beliefs, so while their parents and grandparents and teachers and doctors and everyone else in their world have to be Right about why trying to control kids is right and necessary (going back to when they were 4-years-old themselves), they can’t also hold the idea that ‘it doesn’t work.’
They keep perpetuating My Nona Was Right!! in their advice, often without realizing what is causing it.
Why are you opposed to discipline?
Discipline is the process of teaching, helping others learn.
I oppose what people usually mean when they say discipline: punishment and rewards (carrot-and-stick, command-and-control) are tactics designed to control a child’s behaviour or thoughts or results.
The idea that a parent can control a child using either threats or punishment is not only visibly untrue (and on display in any amusement park, fast food place or grocery store anywhere on the planet every day of the week), but also goes against one fundamental principle of Raising Parents and ThriveParent coaching:
Do things that actually work.
As a former child myself, I remember knowing that the adults who were getting us kids in trouble –punishing or threatening or whatever—rarely had any true idea of what happened or what the kids were trying to do. They reacted only to what the results seemed to be, which was always unfair and frequently deeply unjust.
Too often, smart kids get away with tormenting others and destroying things, while making it look like it was someone else, who ends up punished for things they didn’t do.
Focusing on behaviour, and even calling it ‘good behaviour’ or ‘misbehaviour,’ stems from the faulty idea that adults naturally and automatically know all about the whole situation. It is impossible for that to be true when they were not there for all of it, didn’t listen to either side (or only one side) or only look at what happened.
While it is possible to break a lamp by throwing a ball in the house, it’s equally possible for an 8-year-old to break a lamp by tripping over a cat or stopping a toddler from putting a pair of metal scissors into a power outlet using their mouth –and when all you can see is a crying toddler, a ball, and a broken lamp, the opportunities to leap to the wrong conclusion are vast.
I suggest sidestepping that drama.
Why are you opposed to 1-2-3 Magic
1-2-3 Magic is all threats and punishment. I have already had the argument that it isn’t about threats at all, and it still is.
The countdown (at random speeds) is to an (often unspoken) threat of some dire punishment, otherwise, what would be bad about ‘getting to 3’?
Why would counting to three have any more effect on a child’s demeanor or actions than saying the alphabet to G or reciting a random poem?
What, specifically, is it that causes children to panic and obey, if it is truly not threats or punishment?
Why are you opposed to logical consequences?
It is obvious to any casual observer that this phrase is a euphemism for punishment, and I have yet to find anyone who could successfully argue otherwise. No one gets given ‘logical consequences’ for being nice to their little brother. No one gets given a gift as a ‘logical consequence.’
Since, as previously noted, punishments don’t “work,” using misleading names for them just tangles parents up.
Raising Parents and ThriveParent coaches prefer more direct approaches to childrearing that actually work.
My parents did what their parents did, and I turned out alright –why change anything?
Firstly, because the phrase ‘those who do not understand history are doomed to repeat it’ is accurate, the mostly because ‘what my parents did’ is as much half-remembered and half-retold-by-them-to-be-less-guilt-inducing (or funnier), and half-distorted by our memory of ourselves as children.
That adds up to three halves, I know: they overlap.
How many generations now have claimed, ‘sure, every generation is always considered so much worse than the last, but this generation is so disrespectful, something,
addicted, whatever that story is, so much more than any other generation of the past’? That has been said, in nearly identical words, since Socrates (who lived 470-399BCE)… I suspect it’s a generalization that develops with age, much like the two brain cells that touch at precisely the same number of seconds, days and years after conception that makes most young teens say, ‘Nobody understands me!’ in a lamentable wail.
As people in general, we lack perspective. What we remember about our childhoods is often flashes of images, half-remembered shame or pain from punishment or reproach, and what other people have said about it, along with some photograph or videos depicting fun times we mostly remember from the perspective of the camera, rather than our own.
How can we even know ‘what my parents did’ is accurate in our memories, when 1/3 of the brain we experienced it with was dismantled at around 12 to make way for a more fully-developed adult brain?
When you add in the very-often vowed ‘I will never do anything like this to my kids’ that most kids make somewhere between 7 and 11, it’s a matter of nostalgic reminiscence rather than what really happened and how it felt to us at the time.
You seem to think there is an awful lot of child abuse around, why are you so judgemental?
There is a long history of expert opinion (some of which has been extremely influential in various places, times, and social circles) that advocate genuine child abuse as a means to control how kids think and behave, often in the name of ‘the only real way to prove you care’ or ‘absolutely necessary not to create criminals.’ These have a very long, lurid, and appalling history of genuinely criminal results.
Nearly 200 years of ‘children must be beaten daily’ (and by ‘beaten’ the expert author whose authority was self-proclaimed and— looking at it now, clearly insane— meant ‘thrashed with serious physical damage’) resulted in many mild-mannered Germans coming unwound on the ‘acceptable targets’ laid before them by the Nazis, provoking all kinds of horrors and terrors rarely seen before even in the usually brutal Western European warfare. Similar atrocities committed by the ‘very mannerly’ Japanese stunned the world when they came to light following the same war.
When the results of ‘making kids mind’ is the institution of the gas chamber, and wrapping starving people in barbed wire before setting them alight, the question must be asked: at what cost?
Yes, this child may obey in this moment, now, while being oppressed by this adamant adult… but what kind of character is made of that kind of treatment? And what of the child who won’t? Who won’t obey regardless of the pain, who insists on standing up for their own autonomy, or who simply is fighting to be a self and not some puppet or robot? Do they get beaten to death? Institutionalized? Ejected from the family? Or just beaten with increasing severity and diligence until they snap and kill themselves, their parents, or someone who reminds them of their parents when they’re 31?
From late night talk show hosts encouraging parents to torment their children and film their suffering, to elementary schoolers in handcuffs (or zipties, or shut into closets for hours) for ‘acting up,’ we have a lot more examples of child abuse throughout the world than just ‘why did Jeffery Dahmer eat his dog as a child, and a bunch of people as an adult?’
I talk a lot about child abuse, because it’s baked into the culture, the education system (who can’t seem to figure out what to do about the bullies who work in it and who study in it, even after the ‘kids shut in closets for hours’ comes to light) and the vernacular of the random old geezer who comments on the upset two-year-old with, ‘needs a kick in the pants.’
Casual child abuse is practically enshrined in law. It is good to work against it.
You make many parents feel guilty, like bad parents, and like failures –why not just accept that not all parents have the same goals?
All parents do have the same goals: to successfully get their children to adulthood. All parents love their kids –all parents love their kids. Sometimes they just don’t know how to make that clear on a day-to-day basis to their kids. That’s where I can help.
It isn’t really possible to make people feel things they don’t feel… so it is possible (very likely) that some (or all) of what Raising Parents, ThriveParent coaching, or Linda Clement writes or talks about provokes strong feelings in parents who have been going along with the pressures and conventions of parenting in the modern, western world (and probably elsewhere; the west has a lot to answer for in the way of upsetting how things were going in other places before we stomped in with our big boots telling everyone how to live…)
Those feelings are already there.
Not feeling them doesn’t make them go away. The buried feelings may make someone drink a lot or gamble a lot or shop a lot or shout a lot, or something else that relieves the stress in the moment… probably a lot… but running up against things in the world that rip off the bandaid from those painful feelings didn’t put them there.
I am working relentlessly to eradicate those feelings at the source –rather than quietly stepping around the possibility of making it clear they exist.
Because those feelings exist. And, really, I really really wish they didn’t. And I really, really want to prevent them, whenever possible –you only have to have one person once react to having that bandaid ripped off to see why it would be so much better to never have those feelings in the first place, if they’re at all avoidable.
They are avoidable.
They’re just not avoidable in a comfortable (in the moment) going along with whatever seems to be the biggest pressure in the moment. Avoiding those feelings requires leadership in parenting, not following –and that is a hard and lonely road, often.
Hard choices, easy life; easy choices, hard life.
Information doesn’t make the feelings. Getting the bandaid ripped off isn’t putting the wound there.
What is so bad about authoritarian parenting? Kids need structure and strict parents provide that.
This is an article of faith that has no basis that I have ever discovered: ‘Kids need structure.’ Do they, really?
Children who live in hostile environments, where their needs are met capriciously or sporadically, are deeply unsettled by that experience, and anything predictable (structure) may help them cope.
Children whose needs are met have little to no need for structure, as the regular and swift satisfaction of their needs provides all the sense of security they require.
Strictness is usually a euphemism for viciousness, and I don’t feel the need to say anything more about that.
Is authoritative parenting the same as authoritarian parenting?
No, but the difference is shaded sometimes a little too subtly for children to catch.
Authoritarian parenting is ‘my way or the highway’ kind of parenting, that often revolves around ‘thou shalt need nothing after x’o’clock because I said so’ and other unreasonable demands, whereas authoritative parenting bends to meet basic needs responsively (food, shelter, education) while restricting access to much of the softer side of needs: a sense of safety and security, unwavering love and affection, personal power, freedom and having fun.
Authoritative parents are more likely to acknowledge emotional needs than authoritarian parents (who mostly seek to stop kids expressing them at all), while still refusing to bend on any of the parent-decided rules.
Both have high levels of control and coercion over children’s behaviour and lack a sense of cooperation and trust that is such an important part of feeling safe and loved that kids need.
Teenagers have to separate, emotionally, from their parents or they won’t grow up, right?
See this blog post for more about it, but essentially it is unreasonable for a novice adult to head out into the world with little or no support from the people with the most interest in her success, and the most resources to materially support that success.
When a novice adult has to rely on same-age peers, people in the same position as the new adult can hardly be expected to be any kind of real safety net when someone stumbles.
Why do you object to controlling parents, it’s their job to control their kids?
I object to controlling people, period. Primarily –harkening back to the argument against spanking, not because it is cruel (which it is) but—because it doesn’t work.
Parents have been sold swampland in Florida: controlling kids is simply not possible. You can want to, you can try, you can even completely convince yourself it can work. You still end up chest deep in murky water with scary ripples speeding toward you and no solid ground to escape to.
The crocodile in this metaphor is what happens when kids feel controlled. With very rare, very chilled out surfer dude children as the only exception, what kids do when they feel controlled is resist. It’s natural. It’s automatic. Linda proves it with ease, often during in-person parenting seminars and workshops… people push back, naturally, when they feel pushed. It takes a lot of training to stop it, and even then, it is hard to remember not to.
Children push back against control, first with resistance (self-loathing, internal stress and struggles resulting in forgetting, dawdling, losing things, asking the same questions again and again, getting distracted, crying to evade it) then with rebellion (skipping school, breaking curfew, smoking or whatever is banned, gangs, immodest clothing, drugs) and then with revolution (running away, beating up parents, beating up siblings, torturing animals, suicide, killing parents or others.)
I ’ve never yet encountered anyone caring for children who want to have a revolution in their home, and yet so many seem to unwittingly provoke one through nothing more than following the expert advice to control kids.
People have been raising children since before history, what makes you think your methods or advice is better than what our grandparents knew?
Partly because what our grandparents knew isn’t what has been passed down to us.
Remember, when you read much into history, you very quickly encounter stories and ideas that sound awfully familiar: kids these days are the worst ever; back in my day, we weren’t allowed to [fill in the blank]; my in-laws think they wrote the book on child rearing, but I live with their results and they’ve got nothing to brag about…
From a long time ago, when kids were mini-adults, kind of a pain and expensive, and not really considered real until they’d survived all the things likely to kill them and grasped concrete reality (around 7 or 8, in most places), back when kids could be used for anything and everything because they were also kind of expendable (there’s another coming along soon, we don’t really know how to stop that), we’ve learned a lot.
Kids have a different brain from adults… and that means there are things adults can do that kids can’t, and perhaps more importantly, things kids can do that adults can’t do.
Have you ever tried to really believe in a science fiction or fantasy story you just read or saw in a movie? No matter how compelling, or wonderful, or alluring or even plausible it may have seemed while immersed in it, you would still be shocked to your core to walk into a room in your home where it was happening. The idea is ludicrous, and you simply can’t, with any amount of willpower, believe it is possible.
Until they’re 7 or 8, they can genuinely believe all kinds of fantastic and impossible things –often to the point of terrorizing themselves with realistic-feeling nightmares that are absolutely impossible (or just unreal –one child was afraid of triangles because of a vivid dream.)
Our grandparents might have known how easy it was to fold up a child’s resistance by using fear, they certainly didn’t know why it stopped working at about 7. I know … which also means I know why kids at 7 can’t think of themselves as separate from losing a game (they’re losers, because they lost –no nuance at all) and they really cannot think of someone else’s perspective different from their own.
Given the propensity of adults to say ‘how would you feel if…’ to children under 12 or 13, that’s a big lack of understanding of children’s abilities.
That lack of understanding causes children tremendous, often chronic stress –and stress impairs growth and development; over time chronic stress creates trauma, not resilience.
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