“It’s called parenting!”
“It’s called being a parent. Do your job!”
What does this job ‘parenting’ entail? Well according to the people demanding you do it, probably:
- Being in control of your child.
- ‘Disciplining’ your child.
- Having rules for you child.
- Setting limits.
- Moulding your child into a ‘good’ and ‘successful’ human.
Yes, mainstream parenting is very focused on all the things a parent must do to a child.
But is this helpful? Is it helpful to view parenting as something you must actively impose on children?
According to Alison Gopnik, in her book ‘The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children‘, the concept of ‘parenting’ is a relatively new invention. She explains…
“As long as there have been animals, there have been mothers and fathers and their young. And as long as they have been Homo sapiens, human mothers and human fathers, and others as well, have taken special care of children. “Mother” and “father” are as old as English itself, and “parent” has been around since at least the fourteenth century. But the word “parenting,” now so ubiquitous, first emerged in America in 1958, and became common only in the 1970s.”
We don’t explain any other personal relationships in the context of doing something to another person.
“To be a wife is not to engage in “wifing,” to be a friend is not to “friend,” even on Facebook, and we don’t “child” our mothers and fathers.” -Alison Gopnik
The word ‘parent’ describes a relationship between people, that is all, though we have instead turned it into an action. But parenting is not something to inflict on a child. We need to change our perspective.
Describing your role as a parent as if it was a job that you needed to complete in a specific way in order to get a positive outcome, is setting yourself up for failure and stress. Children are people, not pets to be trained. Their worth or success is not measurable and it is not our place to even try to do that. How they ‘turn out’ should be their choice.
We justify so much control and interference in the name of raising ‘good’ kids, instead of recognising and supporting their right to be who they want to be. It’s incredibly disrespectful to base our relationship with children on us trying to change, shape, and mould them, instead of accepting them for who they are.
Our job is not ‘parenting’ as an action, but being a ‘parent’ and part of a relationship.
We need to move away from thinking we need to be doing something to children, and instead focus on working with them. We need to stop ‘parenting’ them, as if it were something to inflict on a child until they turn into what you want.
“What do my children most need from me? The answer is humbling: They need me to let them be.” –Ben Hewitt
Of course, we need to provide for our children’s basic needs and safety, we need to support and guide them as they grow, but there is no list of ‘good parenting’ techniques that you can apply to children uniformly to achieve ‘success’. Parenting is big business and many have tried to sell us this lie. There are endless books, tips, and tricks you can try to get children to do what you want, ‘for their own good’. We suppose that we have control over who they become and the right to decide that for them. But that shouldn’t be our goal!
Being a parent means you have a child. It doesn’t mean you’re obliged to do anything TO them. You are not trying to create an adult, but connect with them and live together today. To provide them with the freedom, trust, and support to grow into their own person. Our task is to love them unconditionally and foster a connected and respectful relationship between us, not tell them who they should be and work to shape them into our vision no matter how hard they resist. It is totally possible to respectfully guide children and help them learn about the ways of the world without resorting to controlling parenting tactics.
“But, in fact, parenting is a terrible invention. It hasn’t improved the lives of children and parents, and in some ways it’s arguably made them worse. For middle-class parents, trying to shape their children into worthy adults becomes the source of endless anxiety and guilt coupled with frustration. And for their children, parenting leads to an oppressive cloud of hovering expectations.” -Alison Gopnik
Sure, a relationship with children is unique in that we are in charge of their care. We interact differently with them, depending on their age. That might mean we need to think of different ways to do things, but it doesn’t mean we need techniques to use on them. And it definitely does not mean we have the right to wield power over them. They are not another species.
Instead of trying to ‘parent’ them we should turn our focus inward. We can concentrate on our own behaviour, our own boundaries, our own communication. We can model our values and show them how we like to be treated. We can hold our limits with respect and compassion. We can keep them safe and guide them towards healthy behaviours. That’s a very different perspective than one of doing your ‘job’ and ‘parenting’.
The word ‘parenting’ can be useful to describe certain beliefs about how children should be treated, i.e. respectful parenting, attachment parenting, conscious parenting. But as a command to do something to your children it’s entirely unhelpful and disrespectful.
Those people who tell me “It’s called parenting! Do your job!” used to frustrate me. They accuse us of ‘unparenting’. I would think they obviously didn’t understand respectful parenting at all, because it didn’t mean NOT parenting. But I’ve changed my mind. You’re right. I’ll admit it.
Respectful parents are not ‘parenting’ their children in the mainstream sense. We do not seek to control them and mold them into who we think they should be. We are not trying to impose rules and techniques on them. We are not invested in their achievements as a measure of our success. Respectful parents are being just that, respectful parents. We are in an equal relationship with our children. We respect them. We work together. We accept them and support them to grow into whoever they want to be. We’re about relationships, not techniques.
I wish more people would concentrate on just being a parent, instead of the job of ‘parenting’.
Want to learn more about respectful parenting, moving towards connected relationships, and working with children? Further reading: