So it’s been a while since I’ve written a book report. Maybe since elementary school. It’s still worth sharing some thoughts about my latest foray into being the best dad and husband that I can be.
Most first impressions of the title would imply that the book’s premised is based on:
1. Using duct tape to keep your children in line
2. Developing MacGyver-like solutions to parenting challenges with duct tape, a matchstick and whatever other random pocket lint you can find.
This book advocates neither. Instead, author Hoefle offers up tips for being mindful in your approach to child rearing and changing your way of thinking through the following techniques/metaphors.
- Weed control.
No, you shouldn’t smoke weed to cope with your child’s antics (tempting as it may be), and no, your kids are not the weeds either. Their unwanted behaviors are. The author starts off by identifying how we as parents are responsible for the behaviors our children exhibit. Any problem you can think of is equated to a weed. To get rid of weeds, you stop watering them with, you guessed it, your attention and focus. Easier said than done, right? Think about it. Any time Thing 1 whines and we tell her to “use your big girl voice,” or, “we can’t hear you when you whine,” we’re still giving her what she wants. The same with tantrums, acting out, etc. Kids don’t grow out of behaviors, they grow into them. The challenge is to leave your child no other option but to recognize that you no longer will respond in any way to undesirable behaviors and develop new positive ones in their place. This requires great time and patience (and duct tape!) on the part of parents, who instinctively want to placate and pacify our thespian children.
- Band aids and bullet wounds.
Time outs, sending them to their room, punishing, lecturing, talking through, reminding, rescuing, bribing, taking away, counting, the list goes on… these are “quick fixes” to problems that continually surface. Symptoms of one of two issues: either the relationship with your child is damaged, or your child has not been fully taught or trained to do something and thus issues arise that result in your need to intervene. The solution? Keep reading. Like any book would give you the answers in chapter two.
- Stop being “the maid.”
Hoefle spends some time shattering the myths we have come to believe:
1. Mother/Father Makes it Easy – “My kids shouldn’t have to work or encounter hardship; there’s plenty of time for that when they’re adults. Kids just want (and deserve) to have fun.”
2. Mother/Father Knows Best – “I’m faster, better, neater, (and a bit of a perfectionist); it’s just easier if I do everything.”
3. Mother/Father Looks Good – “If my kids and home don’t look good, behave politely, play fair, and do the right thing at all times, I’ll look like a slacker parent with loser kids.”
4. Mother/Father Need to be Needed – “I don’t want my child to grow up and not want/need me around, so I’ll make sure they need me enough.”
In each of these cases, Hoefle states, we have convinced ourselves that doing things for our children is better than letting them do it for themselves, but as it turns out we’re robbing them of independence and self discovery. Kids don’t want maids. They want to be self sufficient, capable, and have ownership of their experiences. This also means letting them fail and use the lessons from that process in personal growth, resilience, and independence.
- Negativity is counter productive (duh?) to building healthy relationships.
Learn to refocus your perception of your children in a positive light and strive to bring out the best aspects of those traits. I have been striving to do this with Thing 1 lately. It’s tempting to focus on her sensitivity and the negative behaviors that are linked to it. At the same time, those are amazingly wonderful traits that can serve her well as an adult in both her personal and professional life. Snuffing out all of that and focusing on it as a problem will only cause grief and heartache. Instead, as with the theme of the book, the author encourages parents to seek out ways to reinforce the positive aspects of the traits instead of focusing on negativity. Acknowledging rather than praising will reinforce the relationship and again, focuses kids on the process rather than the blanket outcome. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve absentmindedly blurted out “Good job” for whatever menial task. I am really trying now to focus instead on pointing out the effort she is putting into things, or calling out successful results based on hard work or difficulty, or patience. Basically the moral here is to constantly remind your child that you believe in them.
- Watch and listen more, speak less.
Let your children learn from their own mistakes. Allow them through the process from beginning to end without mucking it up with your parental presence. You’re also better able to assess what your child can do, can do but refuses to, and genuinely cannot do. A gap analysis of sorts. With that information you can go about setting a plan to address deficiencies and help your kids grow and take on new and more complex responsibilities.
- Make a plan and know where you’re doing.
We make such strides in academia and in our professional lives toward purposeful and strategic courses of action, but why aren’t we applying the same standards to family life? That’s not to say every aspect of our children’s lives need be mapped out, but anticipating what we need to focus on as parents can guide our actions and behaviors in a way that results in a mutually respectful relationship. Even in early childhood. So it all begins with watching and listening to your kids. Developing a parenting mission statement to guide your actions. Inventorying what your kids can and cannot do, what you think they should be able to do, and where you want them to be when they’re 18 and set foot out on their own into the wide and unforgiving world. Then you can actually focus on parenting and training them where they are deficient. The book offers a roadmap metaphor as a suggestion but it can take any form really, as long as you’re mindful in the approach.
Why do we keep repeating the same mistakes with the same outcomes if we’re not satisfied? Why is it so hard to break free of our trapped mindset? Is the status-quo really that much easier to tolerate? The author recommends some resources to make small steps toward considering new approaches, and also gives a nod to the fact that it requires some courage!
My only complaint about the book is that it doesn’t really quantify or identify when certain things can be started. Can I do all of this hands-off stuff with my three year old? Do I need to wait until she’s older? Will it be too late? What should or shouldn’t a three year old be expected to do? How long will it take? The list goes on…
Also, none of this stuff matters if your partner isn’t involved in the strategies you hope to employ. Implementing these ideas requires both parents to be on board so we’re in agreement about whether or not to starve weeds or try some other approach out. So I will continue to nudge le wife to read this book in full so we can have a meaningful conversation about how to be better parents now that we’ve got two and simply can’t allocate our parental resources the same way we did when we had only one munchkin.