Following My Mothering Instincts


Some years ago I came across a talk on discipline by a well-known speaker, an experienced family man, an ‘expert’ perhaps. The talk went something like this:
 
The father must be the authority figure in the family. The mother should keep a misbehaviour chart for each of her children. When the father returns from work, he must deal with all the discipline issues that have occurred during the day. If a child has a ‘mark’ against his name he must call that child into the privacy of his study. The father should tell the child how disappointed he is in his behaviour. A child must be obedient. As he has broken the rules, he must be spanked. It is only fair. After the punishment has been inflicted, the father must take his crying child into his arms and reassure him of his and God’s love. The father has only been tough because he cares. Tough love. (It is just as hard for the father as the child.) The child will dry his eyes and resolve to do better.
 
I felt there was something wrong here. How can a father inflict pain and shame on a child one moment and then say, “I love you” a moment later, and expect a child to believe that? I couldn’t get my head around that at all.
 
At a time when wooden spoons were commonly used to paddle little bottoms (and chopsticks were used to deter misbehaviour in babies), I just couldn’t follow this advice by an ‘expert’. It went totally against my mothering instincts. When others talked about discipline, I kept quiet. I did things my own way, which didn’t involve corporal punishment.
 
I believe discipline must come from within. A child must want to do what is right, not from fear of punishment, but from an interior sense of what is right and what is wrong. Otherwise, how will a child learn to be disciplined when parents and punishment are not around? And where does that interior sense of right come from? I don’t think I have worked out all the answers to this question. My second son Callum and I discussed this once. We mulled over a few possibilities. We both agreed that the essential ingredient is unconditional love. You can read our conversation in my post Influencing a Child to Do What is Right and Necessary if you are interested. 
 
So how did my children turn out? Are they wild and spoilt and undisciplined? No. They are not perfect, but nobody is. They are however well balanced, considerate, pleasant and very loving people. I am glad I followed my mothering instincts and took no notice of that particular talk on discipline presented by an expert. I’m glad I chose the way of love.
 
It wasn’t easy to go my own way. I wondered if I was just being a soft mother. Sometimes a good parent must do things that are very difficult and unpopular. She must be tough now so her children will thank her later. At least that’s what some experts say. 
 
Of course, I am not an expert. There is no reason why you should read this post and take any notice of my opinions. You must, of course, do what you feel is right for your family.
 
Follow your own mothering instincts. And when in doubt… love.


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    • Hwee
    • December 2, 2013
    Reply

    These days, there are "experts" out there for everything, ready to prey on people's insecurities about themselves or their approaches to life, family, and much else. I am increasingly skeptical about these so-called experts who are ever ready to tell other people what to do; and am more inclined to seek out the truly great ones who often go about their business quietly and show by example through what they do rather than what they say they do, and the real results of those acts rather than a fantasied best-case scenario. I'll be interested to hear from the children of the disciplinary expert whether they've benefited from his style of discipline before taking his advice!

    I'm glad you've chosen to listen to your own mothering instincts. If a mother doesn't protect her own children, who else will? 🙂

    1. Reply

      Hwee,

      I wonder why some people are so eager to be considered experts. No doubt some people just want to help others and pass on their experience. But yes, there are others who force their ideas on parents for their own reasons.

      The children of the disciplinary expert? I wonder if that 'expert' actually changed his mind about his methods. That's the problem with airing opinions in a public way. Most of us are constantly growing and changing and modifying our ideas. Maybe this particular expert's children were spared this approach after a while. If not, they would probably be too afraid to say anything negative about their parents and their upbringing.

      "If a mother doesn't protect her own children, who else will?" Oh that is so true! Children need a place in the world where they are totally loved and accepted and can remain safe. Yes, we must provide that for them.

  1. Reply

    It's the hardest thing to trust your own instincts when your own culture tells you you will ruin your child eternally. I think the only way to do that is to have a deep relationship with God so that you can be confident that you are following what He is really telling you. It's a leap of Faith, really! I have heard similar messages, usually backed up by a particular Biblical interpretation. I do wish more people could understand that, even if God is calling them a certain way, He may not be calling everyone on the same path. God bless you for listening to what He was asking of you!

    1. Reply

      Wendy,

      Oh yes! We have to listen to the Holy Spirit. I think that's how our mothering instinct is formed.

      The sad thing about this situation is that the talk wasn't given by a someone we would consider fanatical. He was a well respected orthodox Catholic author and speaker, someone who would easily influence Catholics trying to live a good life in obedience to the Church. Of course, he wasn't speaking on behalf of the Church. These were his own opinions. But nevertheless…

      Yes, maybe God calls us in different ways, I agree! However we parent, perhaps the bottom line must be love. Love our children like God loves us. God is always forgiving and patient and unconditionally loving. I like those words from one of the psalms: "The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love." I try to remember them when dealing with my children.

      Lovely to chat!

    • amy
    • December 2, 2013
    Reply

    so good sue! i completely agree with you!

    1. Reply

      Amy,

      Thank you! Always good to share with you.

      God bless!

    • Gina
    • December 3, 2013
    Reply

    Thanks, Sue, for your very sweet post! Do you think God parents us the same way you try to parent your children? That is something on my mind. Also, here is a practical parenting question for you: how do you get kids to go along with the program? For instance, how do you get your kids to get ready for bed without a lot of hassle? I guess that is the issue I struggle with right now. I tell my kids it is time to get ready for bed and they do not seem to get their bed clothes on, eat their snack, etc. without me reminding them several times. Do I just need to guide them through each step until it becomes a better habit? It seems hard to do with several children.

    1. Reply

      Gina,

      "Do you think God parents us the same way you try to parent your children?" I was just thinking about this! In my comment to Wendy I was pondering these words: "The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love." I really do think we have to parent in the same way.

      I'm not very good at answering parenting questions because I only know my own children and situation but a few thoughts…

      I can't remember a time when getting my kids to bed was a hassle, but maybe that's because I never expected them to go to bed at a certain time. My babies and toddlers went to bed at the same time as me. Often they would fall asleep on my lap and I'd transfer them into my bed and then get in and snuggle up next to them. They eventually got to the point where they were quite happy to follow the example of their siblings and go to bed at a 'reasonable' hour. They still needed me (or a sibling) to help them clean teeth, read stories, get into bed etc. They were also happier sleeping with a sibling, if not me. They didn't want to go to bed alone or sleep alone, which I can understand. I don't have to do that! If I was too tired to help get my young ones ready for bed, Andy or one of my older ones would help.

      I wonder if your children are ready for sleep when it's their bedtime? Is it a case of you needing them to get into bed regardless of whether they are tired or not? We can get overtired ourselves and long for some quiet time. This usually only happens when we've got everyone into bed. So I can understand if this is the situation.

      I guess I just gave up the privilege of having quiet child free time until my kids were old enough to be able to look after themselves at bedtime. My quiet time occurred with little ones on my lap. I read with one hand and accepted cups of tea with the other!

      What happens these days? Sophie and Gemma-Rose will take themselves off to bed about 7.30 pm. They like to read or draw or write in their diaries while they are in bed. I usually pop my head around the door about 8 pm and say good night. They either choose to turn off their own light or I turn it off for them if they're ready to go to sleep.

      The older kids, as you can imagine, just go to bed on their own. Usually I'm in bed before them. As long as they are considerate and don't make a noise, I don't mind what time they go to bed. They know what their commitments are for the next day, and what time they need to be up again.

      When I was a new mother I wanted to get my children into a routine as soon as possible. Oh I was such an efficient and in control kind of person! I have since found out that children have different needs at different times and it's important to listen and respect these. Maybe it's not possible to form habits children are not ready for? I don't know. Parenting is very complicated sometimes, isn't it?

      These are just some disjointed thoughts. Probably I haven't even come close to addressing your situation. It would be much better if we lived close to each other and knew each other's families properly… we'd sit round a table, sipping coffee and chatting over our respective worries!

    2. Reply

      "I don't remember a time when getting my kids to bed was a hassle…" ha ha convenient memory loss? Well I have been a parent for a long time and my memory isn't as good as it was… I am sure I had plenty of frustrating times with my first children. They taught me a lot. Sorry to sound so annoyingly perfect. Sometimes I conveniently forget those early days when I made a mess of things.

    3. Reply

      Patricia,

      You made me smile telling me about how you bleached your hair. I can just imagine your mother's face when she saw you. I wonder what it looked like. I once permed my hair into a frizz and my mother wasn't impressed either. I had to pretend I really liked it although I think my mum was right: It looked terrible!

      My parents were also strict about curfew time but I guess most parents are. They worry until all their children are safely home at night. That's understandable.

      I love hearing about your parents. It sounds like they were very caring and yes, sweet people. I am thinking of you and praying as you remember your parents' anniversaries.

      Thank you for always encouraging me with your kind words. I love you too! xx

    4. Reply

      Sue, your approach makes so much sense. You show such respect for your children. The "expert" had terrible advice, IMHO. My own parents did not make a fuss about bedtime. We were a family of night owls 🙂 But, my sisters and I eventually turned off the light because we knew we had to get up for school in the morning. On weekends, we loved sleeping in. My parents were pretty relaxed about most things….except curfew time. Oh, and also the time I bleached my hair platinum blonde. My mother was definitely not pleased 🙂 I do miss my sweet parents! Sue, you are much wiser than that expert! Love you….xoxo

  2. Reply

    I'm another mum who read some of those books, prayed and decided they weren't for our family, and chose a different way. My children weren't perfect either but we never struggled with deep discipline and relationship problems. My adult children are conscientious and caring. I agree it's best to love, pray and follow God-given intuition. I think God gave us legitimately unique parenting styles!

    1. Reply

      Willa,

      I have come to the conclusion that it's very unlikely anyone's children are perfect, even those who are strictly brought up. We spend our whole lives trying to become more Christ-like. Years ago, I imagined sending my kids off out into the world, having been perfectly brought up and prepared. A bit unrealistic!

      Oh yes, unique parenting styles! I've been pondering this. We share and encourage each other but there's no one way to do things.

      God bless!

  3. Reply

    Thanks for your encouragement! It is so important sometimes to listen to your self, as a mum. I have been experiencing similar things too. But I can't say I've done it all right. I'm still in the middle of learning…

    1. Reply

      Bernice,

      We are all still learning! We know peer pressure can be a problem with children, and especially teenagers. I think mothers suffer from it too. It's hard sometimes to listen to our instincts and do things differently to the crowd.

      Bernice, did you see my Bush Boys winners post on my other blog? You won a book! If you email your address to me, I'll pop it in the post.

      I hope you're having a blessed Advent.

    2. Reply

      Thanks, Bernice!

    3. Reply

      Dear Sue, I've just sent a mail….:)))

  4. Sue, I so appreciate the gentle and wise way you have of putting things. I've been meaning to stop and comment on this post for a while but it's worked out well because now I've been able to read all the interesting comments too!
    When my children were babies I read all the "expert" parenting books I could find. (After all, I'd always learned things from books!) Then I found my own faith and began to use that as the touchstone for my parenting choices instead.
    Going it alone in the face of cultural (and sometimes extended-family) disagreement hasn't always been easy, but it's infinitely better than the feeling I can still remember of listening to my first baby's "controlled crying" (shudder).
    Having a child with special needs takes things to another level. Only a few weeks ago I was explaining my son's Sensory Processing issues and his related difficulties with emotional-regulation to the adult leader of an activity he wanted to try. The man replied cheerfully, "It was so much easier back when we could just call them obnoxious and give them a good slap!" I appreciated his honesty – his response was much kinder than many we've experienced!
    Despite the challenges, I feel so blessed to have been given this extra opportunity to tune into my own inner wisdom (guided by God) and practise unconditional love.
    Thank you for sharing from your heart and touching mine, Sue.

    1. Reply

      Lucinda,

      I'm sure all mothers had a shelf full of expert parenting books when we started out on this parenting adventure. Shifting through all the advice and deciding what is applicable to our own family can be difficult at first. I remember trying things out and then finally having the courage to reject certain ideas… like controlled crying! Oh it all sounds so simple and logical in books. Reality is a different matter. Yes, the books don't mention how distressing it is to listen to a baby's distraught crying. That just doesn't feel right at all.

      I am so sorry to hear you have encountered unkindness and insensitivity over your children's needs. Maybe people just don't understand. We tend to judge others by our own situation. We think we know the answers to other people's problems, without ever having experienced them.

      "I feel so blessed to have been given this extra opportunity to tune into my own inner wisdom (guided by God) and practise unconditional love." Oh I like how you put that. The opportunities to practice unconditional love… What would we be like if we didn't have these opportunities? You have given me so much to think about here. Thank you!

      I do enjoy chatting. I am sure the discussions in the com-box are far more interesting than the original posts. Lucinda, thank you so much for adding to the conversation.

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