Get-tough parenting gurus are wrong
AMID yesterday’s haul of homemade cards, knitted pot-holders, painted jam-jars and squished packets of violet creams - the spoils of Mother’s Day - did you, perchance, find one of the new range of muscular childcare manuals? Thought not. Titles such as We Were Here First, Kid; Cheap Psychological Tricks for Parents and Confessions Of A Slacker Mom may have been published in the UK with the Mother’s Day market in mind, but they are the last thing your children want you to read.
The new wave of American childcare gurus, who are taking Britain by storm and whose ideas have been universally lauded by the British press, represent a backlash against the touchy-feely, Nineties style of parenting in which the child’s needs and wishes were deemed paramount. (Want that strawberry-flavoured Bugs Bunny toothpaste warmed before it goes on the brush? No problem!) New mothers, we are told by these prophets of womb, "manipulate, threaten, deprive, ignore, spank, get cross and scream at their children". Forget booties and cutting teeth; think boot camp and cutting edge.
Far from being a reason for the neighbours to phone social services, these stroppy mothers throwing hissy fits are the new role models. This is very convenient, of course, because this is the sort of parenting we are all capable of sustaining and these are the kind of techniques most of us have resorted to at one time or another. To have them validated by not just one but a trio of best-selling authors is as reassuring as a dummy dipped in honey, and just as damaging.
Perry Buffington, author of Cheap Psychological Tricks, advises us that we need to become "the general of the household" and that his techniques will help us to "marshal the troops", the subtext being that this is war. Buffington, who sounds like a character from a PG Wodehouse novel but is, in fact, a 54-year-old, unmarried, childless psychologist from Florida, believes there is nothing wrong with taking children to school in their pyjamas if they are dithering over getting dressed of a morning. How to deal with the child’s subsequent recurrent nightmares will no doubt feature in the sequel to Cheap Psychological Tricks and will almost certainly involve expensive therapy.
Christie Mellor, author of We Were Here First (published in the US as The Three-Martini Playdate), has written a tongue-in-cheek guide to prising your child from the centre of your universe and replacing him or her with a large slug of vodka and an olive. "Sadly the use of child-sized muzzles never quite caught on," she writes. Her chapter headings include: "Bedtime: is Five-Thirty Too Early?" and "Child Labour: Not Just For The Third World". She advocates putting a small child who is having a tantrum in "a dark, cramped cupboard". Mellor’s thesis - that parents need to put their own needs first - is the antithesis of every parental instinct. Her justification for her approach is: "We’re losing sight of who we are and our children are growing into petulant beasts."
There is nothing like taking the contra-cyclical approach to start a successful trend and as well as being amusing, there is a kernel of common sense in these new gurus’ beliefs. Buffington is a strong advocate of bedtime and mealtime routines. But the premise at the heart of their philosophy is completely misguided.
The new gurus believe children are out of control because their parents pay them too much attention and put them first too often. But the reality is that most badly-behaved children receive very little attention from their parents, who invariably put their own desires before their children’s needs. Children do not behave badly because they are over-indulged materially - in the West we are all over-indulged materially - but because they are deprived of parental interest, although material excess and emotional deprivation are often linked. Attention-seeking behaviour does not happen because a child gets too much attention, but because it gets too little.
This is not about working mothers versus stay-at-home mothers. (Although, as a working mother, I have to say that many of the best-behaved children I know had stay-at-home mothers until at least the age of three.) Nor is it about "quality time", whatever that is. It is simply about being generous with the hours you do have. After all, if your children are getting a decent amount of sleep, there should still be plenty of time for adult pursuits.
I have no doubt that the methods of Buffington, Mellor and Muffy Mead-Ferro, author of Slacker Mom, work on one level. It is perfectly possible to raise a troupe of little angels if you are prepared to beat and bawl them into submission. As Mead-Ferro points out, and as most of us know from experience, getting mad at the kids can be extremely effective. It is, however, not a tool on which to base an entire parenting philosophy.
THESE new books presuppose a level of cynicism in our relationship with our children which is depressing, but they have been leapt upon by the "me" generation because their message is the one we want to hear.
The suggestion that our children will behave better if we put our own needs first is patent nonsense, but it is so much more appealing than hearing that raising well-adjusted children takes a lifetime of parental effort, commitment and repetition. It is easier to deride "pushy parents" who ferry their children hundreds of miles each year to activities, as Mellor does, than it is to get out of bed at 7am on a Saturday to cheer on a child from the sidelines of a rugby or hockey pitch.
If you do not instinctively know that selfish parenting leads to badly-behaved children, drop in to your local Children’s Hearing. Last year, a record number of Scottish children - 33,379, to be exact - came before the panel because of parental neglect. If Mellor is right, and our children are growing into "petulant beasts", it is because we have lost sight of who they are, not because we have lost sight of who we are.
Twenty-first-century children ostensibly have more rights than ever before, but they have lost much of the security and stability which previous generations took for granted. Today’s children increasingly find themselves at the mercy of a society intent on ghetto-ising young people and promoting adults’ interests at their expense.
There is no right way to raise children, but there is a wrong way - and this is it. Buffington may have a point when he castigates parents who want to be their children’s "best friend" - inevitably a sentiment voiced by needy, over-bearing mothers who crave a level of affection from their offspring that they are unable to bestow themselves - but this does not mean we have to be our children’s enemies. It isn’t a war and we don’t have to act like generals. The only people who should be marshalling troops in a domestic setting are small boys with toy soldiers.
Putting children’s needs first is not the same as caving in to their demands. Putting children in cupboards is child abuse. Taking them to school in their pyjamas is a cruel humiliation. There are worse things you can do to a child than drive them to piano lessons.
We don’t need books to tell us how to behave selfishly; there is, sadly, a generation of children who can testify to our expertise in that area. When it comes to attention-deficit disorder, it’s the parents whose attention levels are deficient.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 23 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 25 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 3 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 20 mph
Wind direction: North east