“Without habitual self-examination, you can be hypocritical, but not see it.”
[just a heads up, this is a bit longer Pause than usual]
A well-meaning friend confessed to me recently that he was somewhat concerned about my kids. He doesn’t know them, but after hearing what I do, he admitted: “Hal, sometimes I envision your house, and if we took the top off and looked inside, we’d see your kids as little mice in some parenting laboratory.”
I laughed and then explained he’s not the first person to share that concern. Jenny and I both were afraid from the beginning that promoting myself as a parenting expert would unintentionally, and unfortunately, put our kids under a spotlight. They had better be perfectly behaved, we feared, or else no one would believe in ScreamFree Parenting.
Thankfully, however, these fears have never been realized. The reason has little to do with my kids’ behavior, and everything to do with the nature of the ScreamFree message itself. Those of you well-versed in this philosophy know this already, but for the uninitiated, the biggest difference between ScreamFree Parenting and some other parenting programs is simply this: we don’t believe parenting is about kids; we believe it’s about parents. We’re not out to improve kids’ behavior around the world, we’re out to improve parents’. And that absolutely, positively has to begin with us. It has to begin with me.
Kids, largely, are going to behave like what? Kids. A two-year-old is going to act like…a two-year-old. A 16-year-old is going to act like…a two year-old. The real question is…how old am I going to act? When they act their age, and seemingly make life more difficult for me, am I going to act my adult age in response? Or, am I going to let the anxiety of the moment get the best of me, and reactively start behaving just as immaturely as they are, all in the name of getting them to act more mature? And then, am I going to wonder why they don’t respect me?
Jenny and I, upon creating ScreamFree Parenting, were bound and determined to never put our kids in a fishbowl, and we did so by making our material about how we behave, regardless of how they behave. This has always kept the focus off of them, and put it squarely on us. Thus, I have tried to never judge any encounter with them by whether my parenting “worked” on them. No, I’ve tried judge our encounters by how well I represented myself as a mature adult, capable of both love and guidance, firmness and flexibility, at the same time. How they responded to me after that was up to them.
Now, does that mean I haven’t cared about how my kids respond? Of course not. I not only care very deeply, I have also used their responses as feedback to help me see the effects of my own choices. But I’ve never solely judged my performance as a parent by how my kids behaved in response to my guidance. Their behavior has always informed my choices (such as consequences, for instance), but it has never determined those choices for me.
So, the more I think about it, my friend may have been onto something with the laboratory metaphor. There certainly has been an experiment going on in my home for the last two decades, but it’s always gone best when I’m the mouse under observation.