Tuesday, December 27, 2011
The scars of your love remind me of us
We received the book Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood as a gift when T was born. I started flipping through it, but it was clearly more for toddlers than babies. Their basic premise for babies was to reinforce trust by responding to their needs. I figured I had read enough about that in tons of other places so I put the book back on the shelf to read when T was older. Already annoyed by "experts" at that point, I was a little irritated by the patronizing tone in the book, but didn't think much more about it.
Around that time I posted my irritation on Facebook about why parenting books always claim that theirs is the One True Way (like hmm, what else, religion?), and seem to neglect the fact that kids are actually people with a high level of variability in the population. So instead of saying something like "here are some things you could try", they come out sounding like "I'm the expert, so this works and if you don't do it, your kid will be irrevocably damaged. Also I have a PhD/MD/cryptic certification no one cares about so clearly I'm smarter than you." As you might imagine, this doesn't sit well with me.
About six months ago, my fabulous employer announced a free Love and Logic parenting series - the full meal deal, with 12+ monthly seminars taught by a certified instructor. They were on Tuesdays during lunchtime, so it sounded perfect to me and I hurried to sign up before it filled up (and it did, in a matter of minutes).
But when I read the overview blurbs for each of the seminars, my mama-alarm started beeping, albeit quietly. It sounded to me like it was teaching a "technique" to get compliance and good behavior, using some standard phrases that were variations of a script they provided. You use "natural consequences" to make your point rather than punishment. You stem arguments by saying stuff like "I love you too much to argue".
If you want the whole overview, check out the link to their site above, which is what I read to get more info about the class. I also did a bit of Googling, and found both good and bad reviews on Amazon. In the sea of "OMG this stuff is magic and works great" blog posts, I found a nicely written dis-recommendation by a mama in New York who put words to my vague unease about what I was reading. Go read it - it's really good stuff. (Thank you Nancy!)
I went home and pulled out the Love and Logic book we received and started flipping through it to the toddler sections, since T was nearly 2 and the advice was now more relevant. And honestly, I just don't like it.
Yes, some of it is good and universal parenting advice that is in line with my beliefs - give kids as much choice as you can so that they feel like they have some control over their day. No spanking or putdowns. Teach them to make decisions for themselves rather than controlling them and telling them what to do. Empathize when they are upset. Use enforceable statements instead of warnings and threats. Staying calm. All goodness, right?
It's the "technique" part of this that bugs the heck out of me. The scripted phrases you're supposed to use, like the aforementioned "I love you too much to argue." and the instruction to "go brain dead" when your kids are riled up. The not-so-natural consequences presented in the examples in the book, like making kids do chores to earn back toys that weren't put away, or to replace the "energy drain" they caused by exhibiting "bad behavior" like making rude noises or calling someone a name.
According to one of the Amazon reviews, a previous version of the book had an example where a kid forgot to feed the dog, and his mother decides since he can't handle the responsibility, they drop the dog off at a shelter. The revised version of this "natural consequence" is that Mom says she can only feed two mouths at dinner, and now that the dog needs to eat, the kid doesn't get to. Uh, WTH?
Other examples advocate for making other people part of your disciplinary strategy, like when Grandma is briefed in advance about bad behavior in the car on the way to her house. When the kid gets there and looks for the treats Grandma always has for her, Grandma says she only gives treats to the nice kids. When the preschool kid pitches a fit, Grandma says something sarcastic like "Nice tantrum, but I think you can do better." and then tells her to come and join the family when she can be calm.
The book says things like "you can use this technique when your kid is hassling you" and advocates making kids stay in their room until they're done with their tantrum/behaving appropriately, even if you need to remove the door handle, lock the door or keep sending them back in.
I could go on about the examples in the book, but don't want to violate copyright. The whole thing struck me as incredibly manipulative, the "empathy" disingenuous and just reinforces the whole authoritarian philosophy. I don't doubt that it "works" if that means getting kids to be obedient and compliant.
I'm not saying that Love and Logic is bad, but articulating why it's not for us. It doesn't foster the kind of relationship I want to have with my daughter, where I really, truly, empathize with her about how hard it is to be 2 (or 6 or 16!). Where we work *together* to find solutions, and where she understands *why* we have certain ways of doing things. (As a result, I wonder myself sometimes why I am enforcing x rule, and then decide it's not that important. Feedback loop and all that.)
A couple of books I've been meaning to re-read are Faber and Mazlish's How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk and Kohn's Unconditional Parenting, which are more in line with the kind of parent I want to be.
We have been blessed with an easygoing little girl, so we don't need "hardcore discipline techniques" just yet. As long as we make sure she isn't tired or hungry, we get age-appropriate behavior. We do not expect her to sit quietly through a 2.5 hour dinner at Canlis, or be quiet and still during a 75 minute church service. Instead of disciplining her for these things, we either don't put her in the situation in the first place (dinner plans starting at her bedtime) or we remove ourselves from the situation (church service running past the expected hour).
Sometimes we'll be trapped during a meltdown (airplanes come to mind) but we prepare as well as we can and hope for the best. We teach her how to use her words to describe what she's feeling, and we take a lot of deep breaths to keep our frustration in check (but of course sometimes we fail there, too.)
I don't want to be an "impartial observer" like the Love and Logic folks advise, and let the "natural consequences" enforce the rules. I want to understand my daughter better, have her know from an early age that I'm on her side (for real), and help her figure out how to live in this complicated world. It'll likely be frustrating for both of us, but that's part of the deal, I think.
So I declined all the Love and Logic seminars. And I feel good about it.