Our grandchildren are being raised differently. Does this mean we were bad parents?
Do you know who your adult children’s favorite parenting expert is? While many grandparents would like to think that they are the one their kids rely on for advice on childrearing, more and more often that isn’t true. When we were raising our kids, we tended to parent either as we had been raised—or as far from that as possible! We had very few experts to choose from: T. Berry Brazelton, Dr. Spock and Penelope Leach are the only ones I can think of! (If you have any more, drop them in the comments!)
Thanks to the wonders of modern communication, parents today have a wide range of experts and parent influencers to lean on for advice about the best way to raise healthy, well-adjusted children. This means that there’s a good chance that the way your grandchildren are being raised is different from the way you raised your kids.
The reason these methods are growing in popularity is that they are based on more recent research, not because what we did was “wrong”. As grandparents, understanding the “new ways” allows us to better support our children’s parenting journey, and helps us appreciate that our own parenting is not being judged.
The New Ways of Parenting
What are those new ways? There are several, but labels include gentle parenting, peaceful parenting, conscious parenting and unconditional parenting. This post isn’t going to go into details about each method’s gurus and differences, but instead focus on what they have in common.
All of these are evidence-based philosophies for fostering the qualities you want in your child by being compassionate and enforcing consistent boundaries. Instead of focusing on children’s behavior, parents focus on their emotions and helping children to learn to regulate themselves. The idea is that by being gentle when a child is angry, frustrated, or acting out, parents are modeling tolerance and flexibility and teaching them how to be well-adjusted humans.
This doesn’t mean that bad behavior is ignored. One of the common tenets is that while all feelings are acceptable, not all behaviors are. For example, if a toddler grabs a toy from their baby brother, instead of sternly telling them they can’t play with that right now, a gentle approach would be to say, “I know it’s hard when someone else is playing with something you want. You’ll be able to play with the car when Robbie’s done with it. Would you like to draw a picture while you wait?” You’d still enforce the rule of “No Grabbing”, but your response shows you understand your child’s feelings and you are modeling how to handle difficult situations, which will give them the emotional resilience they’ll need as they grow.
In another example, say a child wants candy, but the parent says no and then the child has a meltdown. The parent would recognize that the child’s response is an age-appropriate reaction to disappointment that their wish wasn't granted and would offer comfort and emotional labeling just as in other situations. The child would not get the candy (because the parent said no), but the parent also would not yell at the child for crying, or use any other rewards or punishments to try to end the crying.
These philosophies also eliminate the extrinsic motivation of rewards and punishments. Though they have many forms, a common example of a punishment is a 'time out' and a common example of a reward is a verbal reward, like 'good job'. The reasoning is that extrinsic motivation builds resentment into the parent/child relationship and makes it adversarial.
Parent as coach, not controller
Instead of control of one person over another, you have two people working together: think of parents as coaches, rather than dictators. The coach still runs the team and sets the guidelines, but he or she doesn’t expect to dictate every action of the players.
This approach demands a lot of parents. Perhaps most important and most difficult, the parent must modulate his or her emotions so that they react calmly to child behavior and don't fan the flames with their own behavior. Parents are encouraged to practice meditation and breathing exercises, undergo self-reflection, explore triggers, and label emotions. Parenting from a place of calmness, for many parents, demands that they work first on their own emotional resilience.
Second, parents help the child reduce tension before the explosion of bad behavior with specific techniques like rough housing, special time, joint problem-solving sessions, starting with empathy, and accepting and labeling feelings. With all of these tools, parents find that there is simply less bad behavior to deal with. When kids feel that they are good, they act good.
It’s hard work, but it is worth it. One parent, who has been practicing unconditional parenting, reports:
I've been doing unconditional parenting for two years (my oldest is six) and it has been life-changing for me and the kids. My kids are happier and more cooperative, and I'm happier and calmer as well. When I used to do extrinsic motivation, I felt as though I was always on the lookout for the worst in my kids so that I could correct it through rewards and punishments. I could hardly even see their good qualities because I was so focused on the bad. It was stressful and put up a barrier in our relationship. Now, I feel like a good mom every day (even if an exhausted one). I love feeling like I can help my kids with one of the hardest things in the world: accepting themselves and their emotions.
When Grandparents Don’t Understand
She goes on to say:
I’m aware that unconditional parenting looks odd from the outside, especially the ‘accepting all emotions’ part. I’ve had several people of older generations give me (to put it nicely) worried looks when I respond to a tantrum with comfort. In traditional parenting techniques, the tantrum is punished as negative behavior, but in unconditional parenting, a tantrum is seen as an expression of overwhelming emotion. What people inexperienced with labeling emotions don’t understand is that intense emotions pass swiftly if they’re accepted and labeled. Yes, the child has an intense tantrum, but – if they’re used to their feelings being accepted - they might be up and playing happily just a few minutes later.
Grandparents can help by not reacting strongly to child emotion. Either let the parent deal with child emotion without any judgement from you, or - if you are the child's solo caregiver sometimes - learning yourself how to accept and help the child process emotions.
Whether you are ever your grandchild’s solo caregiver or not, it’s worth learning about how they are being raised. Have a conversation with their parents to find out where they are getting their parenting advice. Ask if you can read books or blogs they recommend so you can understand more about whatever the method they are using is—they are likely to be grateful you are interested.
There is no perfect way to parent, and it's up to each family to follow the methods that make sense to them based on their unique circumstances. As grandparents, learning about the choices they are making is one more way we can support our children as they raise our grandchildren.
Want to learn more about popular parenting methods?
Do you know what parenting experts your kids are following? Please share in the comments!