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Being your child's PARTNER, not his adversary

When Kirby Dodd was a baby, I went to a La Leche League meeting. Early in that first meeting, Carol Rice or Lori Odhner (the two leaders, one of them) told me and the eight or so other moms there to be our child's partner, not his adversary. My life changed in that moment, and that simple, profound idea suffused all I have done and thought since that dark evening in southeast Albuquerque. They were generously sharing their time and experience for no other reason than to make other mothers' lives easier and better, and their children's.

Since then I have done the same, and tried to help other families. I have been as solicitous of my children and their needs and feelings as I could be, and in turn they have grown into generous, kind adults.

Sandra Dodd

(Note... I have said in the past that Carol said it, and that Lori said it, and I honestly don't remember because I didn't know them apart at first, so I would love to know for sure, and I'm sorry. Lori or Carol said, and the other looked sincerely approving of the statement... "Be your child's partner, not his adversary.")


Schuyler Waynforth wrote in response to someone saying that as son as her son asked her for something, she responded quickly:
Being proactive will work better, more effectively and leave him less needy. Don't wait for him to come to you with a need, or to turn to you when you are near. Be nearer and more aware of his needs. In a blog post Pam Sorooshian wrote this about unschooling:
Unschooling is more like a dance between partners who are so perfectly in synch with each other that it is hard to tell who is leading. The partners are sensitive to each others' little indications, little movements, slight shifts and they respond. Sometimes one leads and sometimes the other.
She was writing about the term child-led, but as an idea, an image to hold in your mind's eye, being your son's dancing partner, feeling when he's going to move one way or another and being prepared to move with him, is apt when thinking about being proactive, being responsive to his needs before he knows he has them.

It takes time and a greater focus at the beginning. It takes letting go, a lot, of your needs for down time or personal time or time to sit and chat with other people. But the more you do work to partner with your son, to help him before he needs help, to be with him more, the easier it will get and the less needy the relationship will feel.



Sandra Dodd from Just Add Light and Stir, March 7, 2015
The wondrous now

There are WONDROUS things people can do with current technology, and it's likely to get better and better, isn't it?

Don't separate your children from the future, from progress, and from understanding and using things just because the parents don't understand them or use them as well as they might. Don't hobble your child out of fear or superstition or trying to impress people you don't even know who want to scare and shame you. Be your child's partner. Lift him up and let him see.

photo by Sandra Dodd, of sculpture and shadows in Albuquerque,
to share around the world, without printing, paper or postage

(and it linked to this page)

A key idea (not a rule) which has helped me as I've been deschooling and we've moved towards radical unschooling is Sandra's suggestion to be my child's partner, not their adversary. I think so far this has helped me avoid the worst pitfalls of blindly turning other ideas such as, find ways to say yes more, into hard and fast 'how to unschool' rules..." and more about seeing differently, by Zoe Thompson-Moore.


Su wrote:
When I was a kid and made a mistake, like spilling a glass of pop, it was proof that I was all sorts of bad things. And I was never taught to clean up my messes, so I felt helpless to fix a problem I'd created. I can remember sitting there, feeling small, not knowing what to do, being screamed at for not cleaning up when I had no idea what to do...ewww.

One day a few months ago, my 4yo son went to the bathroom. He pulled down his pants but forgot to pull down his underwear, and they got soaked, and he made a puddle on the floor to boot. He called out to me, "Mama, I made a little mistake. I'm going to need some clean underwear and some rags."

Bringing him the underwear and rags, and helping him clean up, I felt like I had made the game-winning touchdown in the last two seconds of the playoffs. Through my behavior to him his whole life, I have wanted him to learn that making a mistake is no big deal; that almost all mistakes can be corrected; that he has the know-how to correct them, and that we will help him as well; that he will not lose our affection or respect by making mistakes. Woo-hoo!

After we'd gotten everything cleaned up, he said, "Next time, I'll make sure to remember to take my underwear off, too," and ran off to play.

Sometimes now if I make a mistake, he will tell me, "It's OK, Mama. It's no big deal! I'll help you fix it." It brings tears to my eyes the way we're allies instead of adversaries.

Su
(pennsu, on the unschooling discussion list, 11/05)



When kids know their parents are on their sides, when parents help them find safe ways to do what they want to do, then kids do listen when we help them be safe.

When kids feel respected, when they've experienced a life time of their desires being respected and supported to find safe, respectful, doable ways to get what they want, kids won't push the envelope into craziness. That behavior just doesn't make sense to them. Kids who've been controlled focus on pushing against that control, sometimes focus on the hurt of not being accepted for who they are, and do things just because they're not supposed to.

Joyce
Unschooling Discussion at google groups, September 2010



One of my epiphanies as a parent actually came when I realized I was not being as good a friend to my own kids as I was to my adult friends. Changing that made a world of difference.—Lyla Wolfenstein

Here's something Pam Sorooshian wrote and Lyla saved on her blog (link below):

Something that has rattled around in my head for years is the line, "You're the parent, not their friend."

I was just reading a news article and someone was quoted as saying: "Your kids donít need a 40-year-old friend. They need a parent" What a tragic dichotomy that one little line sets up!

Every single time that line has ever entered my head, it was leading me in the wrong direction. Every time.

What is a friend? I'm not talking about the schoolmates teenagers go out partying and drinking with. Not talking about the 5 year old kid your child happens to play with at the park that day. I'm talking about real friendship.

1 a*:* one attached to another by affection or esteem

Knowing what I know now, with my kids grown, I strongly feel that that that one line, which permeates parental consciousnesses, should be quickly and actively contradicted and rooted out like a pernicious weed every single time it sprouts up.

Instead of "You're the parent, not their friend," substitute, "Be the very very best friend to them you can possibly be."

Do your kids need you to be their "40 year old friend?" YES! Children do need to feel attached to their parents "by affection or esteem." What better connection is there than by affection and esteem? AND, what's more, parents need their children's friendship, too. Some people seem to think there is something wrong with parents "needing" their children. They act like being mutually attached to each other means children have not become independent enough and parents are being a "burden to their children."

A 40 year old friend isn't going to have the same relationship with a 5 year old as his/her 5 year old friends or 10 year old friends. And parent-child friendships evolve over the years until they are, eventually, adult-with-adult friendships.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be your child's friend. Do what it takes to earn their friendship - be supportive and kind and honest and trustworthy and caring and generous and loyal and fun and interesting and interested in them and all the other things that good friends are to each other. Be the best 40 year old friend you can be (or whatever age you are). People use "I'm the parent, not a friend," as an excuse to be mean, selfish, and lazy. Instead, be the adult in the friendship. Be mature.

You've BEEN a five-year-old and your child has not been a forty-year-old, so you have an advantage in terms of long-term and widerperspective. Use that advantage to be an even better friend. You know how to be kinder and less self-centered and you know how beneficial it is to put forth the effort.

I can honestly say that my children and I are friends. I know they'd say the same. I'm not trying to act like I'm 18 or 21 or 24 -- I am 57 years old. They're having a "Halo" party at someone else's house tonight and will stay up all night playing video games and I'm not going to go and hang out with them all night and play Halo. I'm going to make a huge platter of deviled eggs for them to take over there, but I'm going to stay home and watch a movie with my husband and go to bed early enough that I'll feel good tomorrow. I'm not 18 and I don't recover as quickly as they do from a night with no sleep. I didn't go to the midnight showing of the Terminator movie the other night, for the same reason. But I was certainly invited and welcome.

My kids are not spoiled brats because I've tried to be their friend. They hold jobs, they manage money, they make good and responsible decisions. We are very strongly "attached by affection and esteem." I wish I could wipe that expression out of everybody's minds and replace it with "Be the best friend to your children that you can be."

http://lylawolf.blogspot.com/2010/07/youre-their-parent-not-their-friend.html




On the UnschoolingBasics list, Joyce Fetteroll responded to a mom who was comparing things she had learned in a parenting course with what was being discussed by unschoolers.
Please, give me your thoughts and I will keep reading more stuff on un-schooling and start slowing infusing these ideas and concepts.
All through what you wrote I kept thinking "control". Apparently the classes are just a different method of getting the child to do what the mom wants him to do!
So I took him to his room and shut the door and told him to take a nap.
And if your husband decided your upsetness was because you were tired and shut you in your room and told you to take a nap, would you?

He probably was tired and a nap would have helped, but what you did was change the problem of him being tired to a problem of getting him to nap. You turned *him* into the problem.

In which somewhere in there I think he could have came out on the couch but he didn't even want to be nice.
Would *you* want to be nice to people who decided what you needed and then made you do what they decided you needed to do?

What if your husband discovered a new religion and decided you needed it and dragged you to church every Sunday? Would his conviction that he was right and his making you do what he "knew" you needed make you see how right he was? Would it fill you with love for him that he was making you do what he knew was best for you?

When dealing with kids it's helpful to see the world how *they're* seeing it rather than how you're seeing it. From his point of view he's feeling irritable. The last thing he wants is people bossing him around!

Try to gain his trust that you're there to help him rather than there to impose the solution you've decide is best for him.

If he's irritable/tired try soothing music, rocking him, a snack, read or watch TV snuggled under the covers. Let him fall asleep on your shoulder. (That's just the tip of the iceberg of possibilities.)

Think about which memory you'd hope he'd keep of you when he's grown: being shut in his room and told to take a nap or snuggling under the covers and falling asleep against you. That's often a good test of whether a solution is one that's working towards a better relationship. "Is this a memory I'd like him to have of me?"

OH I forgot during his time in his room I gave him the choice to calm down and come out or take a nap, or he couldn't go swimming—then I took away going outside. (yikes I can just see all of you cringing—but I thought I was giving love and logic—choices.....)
Those weren't the only two choices available. You narrowed his world to two choices that you would let him have and made him pick.

Do you want liver or kidney for dinner? If you don't pick either, you can't go to the movie with the family.

Choices are good for kids who get overwhelmed by choice. We can help them by narrowing the possibilities down for them. We can say would you like the Spongebob shirt or the Dragonball Z shirt. But that doesn't mean they *have* to wear one of those two. That doesn't mean they can't have a cookie if they decide it's a no-shirt day ;-)

Anyway before we went to grandmas to eat I explained to him that I didn't want him to give me a hard time when it was time to come home
Which is about making life convenient for you rather than helping him navigate the world.

Kids *are* inconvenient! They do make life more difficult. But those inconveniences are part of the package that we chose to take on when we decided to have them. Adults look at kids' lives and think how great it is not to have responsibilities and think childhood is glorious and then they get irritable when kids get demanding. It feels like kids have the best of the world and they're asking for more. They have the whole pie and they're asking for ours too. But it isn't glorious. It really sucks being a kid because you're so powerless. You can't do many of the things you want because you're too small. You have to ask permission for or help with so many things and then wait to see if it's convenient for an adult to do it for you. From a kids' point of view it's not a lot different than being in prison. Everything they do is because their parents are allowing them to. They know the privilege of doing it can be taken away at any moment.

But we can make their life different. Because we have the power to do so.

Think about everything you do in the day and imagine having to ask your husband to help or give you permission. If you want a bowl of cereal or cup of coffee, how long would he make you wait until it was convenient for him to stop his "important things" to get it for you? If you wanted a new book to read from the library, would it be several days before he could find a spot in his schedule to stop by the library for you? What if you were full of feelings you didn't understand and he started yelling at you and ordering you around to make you do what he thought would fix you and stop you from being so irritating?

Yep you guessed it when it was time to come home Ian sat on his bike and refused to move so I told him that he had a choice to ride home nicely or I would go get the van an take him home in the van.
Which then turned into a power struggle. You've created a situation where you two are adversaries: either he does what you think is best for him out of two choices or you make him choose and then take privileges away.

Would you want your best friend to treat you like that?

Be his partner. You know he has problems with transitions. Give him a reminder as the time to leave is approaching. Don't say it in a warning tone! ;-) Give him information. "Ten minutes until we leave." And then *help* him leave by offering something to look forward to. Sympathize with his feelings. Accept them. They're real, honest feelings. Don't feel it's your job to fix his feelings but do feel it's your job to create a nest for him to recover in. Tell him about what he's going *to* rather than focusing on what he's leaving. Go get a cookie at home and watch TV. Get some hot chocolate. Play a game on the way home like "I Spy". You won't necessarily stop the tears—that isn't yours to control!—but you can control the atmosphere around him whether it's a pleasant one or one that feeds into his sadness.

Think of leaving as like losing a pet. Telling him he better not be upset when his dog dies isn't likely to make him not upset! Help him. Be his partner.

When I came back to get him in the van my mother was starting to walk him home which I informed her not to that he made his choice and he needed to ride home.
Your mom was right! ;-)

The goal was to get him home. You turned the goal into making him do one of the two choices you'd offered. I'd apologize to her! ;-)

Now I tried to even be nice about it to Ian and tell him that he could even 'drive' home.
You can put ketchup on your liver if you want.
I know they don't work but???
You're at the "but ..." stage because you see your goal as making him do what you've decided is right. When you let go of the control, there isn't a need to make him do something. The goal is to help him get what he needs. Look at *him* rather than where you're trying to get him. If he's upset, soothe him!

It also helps to react to situations before they happen. There probably wasn't much you could do about the nap in the van that he woke up cranky from. We all have bad moments! But when it's possible, it's better to tend to their needs before they start spiraling downhill. It takes some maturing for kids to understand the subtle feelings. They don't recognize or find it easy to not pay attention to hungry. But at some point it gets to starving and they can't ignore it and it's overwhelming. Feed them before they realize they're starving. Help them wind down before they get over tired. If you know a situation always ends badly, plan ahead -- with things *you* can do to help rather than demanding a different response.

I must say that even though I'm sure I was loud I wasn't really mad at Ian as much as I was made at my mother for not just helping me put in the car and telling hime that he needed to go home (not tell him that she just "couldn't do anything...)
And I think your mom was right! ;-) You'd switched goals from getting home to him obeying you. I think it was right of her not to help. From her point of view you'd turned into a tyrant!
(understand that I have tried holding him in the past but he just gets more mad -- but I'm not sure I was holding him in a loving way...)
Different kids need different responses. Some kids like being held, some just like mom nearby. But it's more useful to discuss—and people can tell you what has worked for their kids who've melted down —when their meltdowns are about the world not cooperating rather than when you've created the frustration.
Now in my eyes at the time I had taken some LOVE AND LOGIC classes and they had said to give the children choices but with consequences behind them.
Which is all about control. It's a technique for making the child do what the parent wants.

Mindful parenting is about listening to the child and helping him get what he wants.

From what I understand the LOVE AND LOGIC concept is to help prepare children for the future—for 'real' life.
Well to that I say :-P         ;-)

Unschoolers—and all kids who are under school age—are already living real life. Real life already presents us with choices that have consequences. Real choices. Real consequences. There's no need to practice. The only people who need to practice at real life are ones who are in school, locked away from real life growing up in an artificial reproduction of real life—that ultimately doesn't resemble real life at all.

Real choices are: "Would you like to go swimming now in the morning though it's a bit cool or wait for the afternoon though it might rain." And real choices have the option of "none of the above".

The "love and logic" feels like math word problems. "You have 70 cents and apples cost 25 cents. How many apples can you buy?" In real life we can buy a pack of gum instead. Or save up. Or ask mom for more money. Or pool our resources with our sister. Or ....

Real life is *way* more instructive than making up artificial choices and artificial consequences. Real life is chaotic and very satisfying *because* we're pulling something orderly from the chaos :-) not because we figured out the one and only right answer. We may not always come up with the best solution but coming up with something from chaos that works is satisfying and builds confidence.

The concept also wants you to deliver these positive choices with a smile.
Does it really help if I offer you the choice of liver or kidney with a smile or not? Yucky choices that you're being forced to take delivered with a smile ... Well, think of it this way, if you wanted to create a villain, you'd have him deliver his choices of death by drowning or death by fire with a smile.

...which I find hard when my child starts screaming in my face even when I am just explaining to him why we need to go inside or leave gramma's, or ....
And which hero would you cheer for? The one who cowed down and chose to be drowned or the one who fought for what he believed was right?

Funny how the aspects of personality we admire most in adults are the ones that we deride so much in children. Being independent and standing up for what you believe *is* inconvenient for others. But if we're their partner in helping them get what they're trying to get rather than their controller trying to make them do what we want life is a lot more pleasant :-)

Joyce Fetteroll
August 2006


More about Control and its antidotes
and Adversaries—who would want parents to be their kids' adversaries!? (Lots of people, apparently...)


Parenting Peacefully How to have a Respected Child Parenting Topics

Mindfulness Saying "Yes" Remember your Choices