Saturday, June 9, 2012

Deliberate Parenting

In general I skew towards being impulsive. When I go shopping, I just buy the first thing I see (I rarely comparison shop, never clip coupons, etc); when I have a decision to make, I usually just go with my gut instinct, whatever that is. At a restaurant, it rarely takes me more than a minute or two to decide what I want; if someone suggested going to Laos tomorrow (how about it, B?), I wouldn't hesitate.

Maybe for this reason I really dislike long-range planning. Some people have their whole future planned out, or at least the next ten years; I have no idea what I will be doing in two years (or even where I will be living, really), and this doesn't bother me, because I don't spend time thinking about it. Sometimes this is good (because then I am flexible and not very anxious), sometimes it's not so good (like when I make short-sighted choices, because they're more pleasant at the time; see: my inability to exercise, go to bed on time, or not lose my temper).

The only exception to this rule has proven to be little R. Almost all of my actions/parenting decisions so far are based on the long term. Of course I'm not perfect (for instance, I fed her brownies for breakfast yesterday because that's what I felt like eating) but usually whenever I do something, I am holding the image of a grown-up (or school-aged) little R in my mind.

Trying to encourage self direction at 3 months old by offering a variety of toys to choose from
For example, I want R to be self-directed (meaning she does things based on her own personal interests, passions or judgments, rather than to please others). So I try to never direct her play (or even suggest which toy to play with): I let her make that decision, and only interfere if she tries something dangerous/destructive. Usually I try to offer several options (but not too many! to prevent her from feeling overwhelmed), so that she can get practice making informed decisions.

Everything has a purpose: how I discipline her, how she eats, what sort of activities she participates in, what kind of sleep schedule I've put her on. And this purpose isn't for how it will shape the current R, but for the future school-aged or adult R. It's strange because it's all so strategic (and so unlike my usual mode of doing things). Even the apparently spontaneous stuff (like playing together, or having her naptimes vary somewhat) is deliberate.

I'm not sure if all parents think in this way (so that before they feed their child anything they consider how that will affect their adult eating habits, or every time they speak to the baby they consider what effect their words/tone/emotional context will have when the baby is a teenager). But for me every parenting decision is made not based on the current situation, but on how it will shape little R years from now.


  1. I'm very much a life-planner, but I feel like I don't think about things quite as long term as you do when it comes to Nora at this age. I find your posts interesting though because it gives me some insight into things that I maybe should be thinking about. In some ways, I agree with you that it's important to encourage certain skills and ways of thinking now- on the other hand, I'm not totally convinced that every single decision you make will affect your child down the road- I think babies are more forgiving than that. It's a little stressful to think that if I use the wrong tone now to talk to her, when I'm only just learning how to discipline her, that that could affect her when she's a teenager. And honestly I think there should be room for making mistakes on the parents' part, especially if they are able to realize and acknowledge mistakes to the child. I also think every baby is different, and what encourages creativity and independence in one child might not work for another.

    1. Oh I agree that single decisions don't really matter. If you scream at the baby a few times, or feed them brownies for breakfast, or ignore them for 15 minutes because you want to watch TV, it's hardly going to make or break their chances of college admission.

      I think what matters is the overall tone of things. In numeric terms, if I want little R to be independent, then my actions need to encourage that goal 80% of the time (or whatever, I'm not sure of the exact number).

      It comes down to asking myself things like, "What response to her throwing food on the floor will best further my goals for her?" whenever there's a decision to be made. If I make the wrong choice, it's OK, because the opportunity to make another will present itself in just a few minutes.

      And I also agree with you that a lot of experimentation is involved, because it all depends on how R reacts to my decision. That's why I think it's so important to constantly consider all my choices carefully, since her feelings or preferences might change over time.

  2. I actually really buy into this but I am not always able to do it - sometimes life just calls for a little spontaneity. Which I guess is important in the long run too. So maybe that's deliberate as well - yeah lets call it that.

  3. I wish you would write a book. There are so many dumb dumbs spouting off about things they haven't researched at all (if it works for me it must be because it's the best way to do things!). I admire the way that you put so much time and thought and effort into the parenting decisions you make. What I like most is that you choose to write about them so I can think them over too and come to my own conclusions!