From an Online Conversation . . .

OK, first, you’re way down the road, the path of what I call “normal” parenting, it is way too late for you to change and do it my way. Your kids are living in the normal system and simply removing all the normal controls now would probably be disastrous.

(We were discussing someone’s teenager)

Second, you yourself are far down that road too. I have long since given up on expecting any agreement with my idea about child-rearing from someone who has already raised their kids in the normal way, or even done it for a few years. A massive load of guilt is the only prize for any person who has already raised their kids and then has my epiphany and starts to see things my way. I mean, I don’t blame you, or any normal parent, I feel it’s just the system, and as much as anyone is doing what I think is wrong now, I think that parent was first and foremost a victim of the system in their own childhood.

But having said that, we like to think we know what we’re doing, and when we learn anything we did was wrong, guilt ensues.

Generalization? Yes, but the number of people who think of discipline and punishment the way you do is huge. Of all our individual differences and all the variety there is with people, the one most common thing is the belief and practice of punishment in child-rearing. There may be differences in method, and in the rules, but the basic idea is the most common thing that most of humanity shares.

I do think that generally, punishments are a betrayal of love and the caring and protection we owe our kids, and I do think that generally, our kids are resentful about it, and that our kids and especially our teenagers are a whole lot angrier at us and “respect” us a whole lot less than we wish and we pretend. What is normal, what everyone expects, angry, resentful teenagers, is not built in, not automatic. We had none of it with our two girls, now 16 and 19.

We didn’t escape some normal patterns, though. Our first was outnumbered and overpowered by us, so she seemed to be the more compliant one, while the second one seemed to be wild and rebellious – that’s a normal pattern, right?

But we didn’t beat the younger one down, didn’t punish her, and I swear to you, the behaviour problems stopped in our house as soon as they were at an age when they could talk and reason (somewhere around six) – which is never the end of behaviour issues in punishing households.

“Expert parenting” isn’t applicable at all. We didn’t know what to do half the time. All we knew was what NOT to do – punish – and that just made everything easier and better, again, after the age of five or six. Toddlerhood was a lot of work, a lot of legwork, a lot of chasing, holding, talking . . . but punishing actually seems to CAUSE the bad behaviour. We learned that if you never punish them when they’re small, you never have to. You may be right, we may have had it easy with just girls, although the second one was pretty hyper and had her own mind.

Because we never punished, never committed that betrayal, our girls have always still been communicative with us, the lines of communication have never closed. They don’t have to hide, they don’t have to keep their own counsel.

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