Unintended messages

Sometimes in parenting, there are things we do (or don't do) that scream messages to our children that we never intended to send.  It is parenting's blind spot, because if we were aware what was actually being communicated, we wouldn't do it.  One reason I like to be around other experienced parents and to read other mother's blogs is that sometimes I will suddenly recognize a blind spot I had been missing.  It is often a painful process because when it happens, it is as if a glaring light is suddenly showing me and area of sin, or hypocrisy, or just plain laziness in my own life that I was hitherto unaware of.  But it's hard to fix something I don't know about, so ultimately it is a positive thing.

One of the biggest examples I had of this was several years ago when it was pointed out to me that the whole 1-2-3 counting-thing was not doing what I thought it was.  (Bear with me here.  I know I hold a minority opinion on this, and I also know I've discussed this with some of my readers in person.  I'm happy to agree to disagree with you.)  What I thought it was doing was creating a vehicle through which I was helping my children to be obedient.  But what was actually happening was the opposite.  I was training my children to ignore me until they heard the magic number "2" (or 2 1/2 or 2 3/4 or 2 9/10 on a bad day).  It was the same as if I had allowed my children to ignore me until my voice had reached a certain pitch of annoyance.  Ultimately, they were obeying me on their time and not mine.  Now I will be the first to admit that it is far easier to count or repeat myself than it is to enforce the first time obedience rule.  We are all human and for our children, obeying the first time is not their preferred course of action.  It's why we have to train our children; they didn't come hooked-up that way.  Sometimes (on good parenting days) this training takes a positive approach.  Practicing having children come when called (or whatever it is I am asking the child to do) is more effective and pleasant when I am able to give them a hug or kiss or read them a story or give them some kind of treat.  But this takes forethought, something I am, sadly, not always able to do.  Other days, the training has a definite corrective spin, which is far less pleasant for everyone, but also important.  Child training is just a lot of work. 

The trouble with these blind spots, is that often the only way to discover them is to find them out for yourself, either because of sudden revelation or because you're living with the consequences.  Often someone else pointing them out to another person is neither welcome nor effective.  We don't live in a society that manages criticism well.  Even the word "criticism" has a decidedly negative connotation and the phrase "constructive criticism" is said with a wink because everyone knows it's still just someone telling you what you are doing wrong. 

It's why we all need mentors.  People to whom we've given permission to lovingly point-out our blind spots and to also rejoice with us over our successes.  The corrective part is just a piece of a much larger relationship.  But it doesn't stop there, mentors can also offer suggestions as to how to do things differently.  For instance, a mentor could show how to use a worship notebook with a child during the sermon... how to draw pictures to illustrate what the pastor is saying or how to engage an older child with questions about what they are hearing.  And about how not to use them, such as using them to play games with the child and inadvertently sending the messages that 1) you, the child, can get nothing out of the sermon and that 2) I, as an adult have nothing to get out of it either. 

Parenting can be tough and sometimes it takes another set of eyes to see the whole picture.  Find yourself a mentor or two... or if you are enjoying the fruits of your parenting labor in the form of grown children, be available to younger parents.  Invite a new mom over for coffee and just chat.  You'll both be glad you did.


mom2super6 said…
I totally agree with you on the counting thing and on the mentoring. The mentoring relationship is hard and has to be intentional in this hurried society. We must be countercultural and we must be humble and ready to learn.
Lucy said…
I used the counting a bit differently. I used it like a timer, for example I might tell the child to go get a shirt from his room by the time I counted to 10 (or whatever number would be a reasonable time length for a quick response to my request). If he didn't make it by 10, then there were consequences. Usually they respond quickly, and might even make a game of seeing how quickly they can get done (and beat mommy's counting ;-)).
thecurryseven said…

I think this is a great way to make use of counting. Your version encourages obedience because it makes being obediant enticing and puts you and your child on the same team.

I need to remember this technique... some of mine respond very well to speed challenges. Sometimes one of our children will ask us to use a clock to time them to see how quickly they have done something.


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