Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Who's In Charge?

Forgive me for being controversial (is this becoming a habit?) but I have noticed a new trend which I am altogether not sure about. Unlike the latest Blackberry or newest colour of Birkenstocks, this trend, as far I can see, can have extremely damaging and lifelong consequences.

I am aware that this blog post will cause ripples, and for that I am prepared.

Seeping in from who knows where, I have begun to notice a trend in parenting that removes the parent's authority. Mothers of newborn babies are now told to 'let the baby lead'. The baby can decide when they will sleep (regardless of any sleep deprivation for the mother or the child) and when they will feed. The baby, in it's experienced wisdom, decides when they are ready for solid food, and which solid food in particular they are ready for. The baby decides how they will eat said food. Toddlers, naturally exploratative, are rightly encouraged to investigate their surroundings but are not reined in when necessary. The toddler, who still might not have decided that they are going to sleep at night, can make a choice about their food and drink. They can be in charge of their lives. Parents can just shrug their shoulders and smile at their little angel's cute antic.

Since when were children capable of making those decisions? How does a newborn know how to sleep unless it is trained? Of course, some perfect babies sleep from the beginning and it all seems to come naturally for them. For those that do not (and I include my 3 babies unfortunately in this category), they need to be trained. How does a toddler know which food will be good for him or her? How does a child learn to sit still and listen? How can we stop a toddler in the face of danger if they have not been taught to listen and obey their parents? (I understand this last one is a longer term process....)

I have noticed this bias weedling it's way into modern parenting, even since I have had my boys. I have noticed parents, unable or unwilling to control their toddler and pre-school children. I have met mothers with grey faces and exhausted eyes, having been told that when their baby is ready to sleep, he or she will. I have seen overweight children, because they only eat chips and 'chicken' nuggets. I have seen pre-school children unable to sit still and concentrate because they have never been taught to. I have seen older children bewildered at the choices presented to them and unable to make decisions. I have noticed a rise of conditions such as ADHD and ADD which, I know, are often genuine.

Of course, I am not advocating 'controlling' our children in a negative sense. I do not think parenting is a dictatorship. If you read any of my previous posts you will know how I love to see children set free to be themselves. However, 'letting the child lead' creates a relationship in which the parents do not have their God given authority any longer. Our job as parents is surely to teach and train our children. We are there to give them boundaries, which surely include the basic needs of sleep and food. When children have boundaries, they feel safe. Within those boundaries, they can then begin to be trained to make choices for themselves but ultimately, the parents are in charge.

I know we all make mistakes - I make them every day (today's was to give in to Jonah's request for more television...). I also know that no child fits the textbooks. Each child is different, but I sincerely believe that we were given our unique children so that we can train them in the way that is unique to them. Mums and Dads really do know best for their children, despite what the children like to think sometimes ("Yes, really, that broccolli is better for you than the sweeties"). Parents must be in charge, otherwise we are breeding a scarily powerful generation that does not recognise authority. The consequences of this? I shudder at the thought.


Bernardeena said...

What a controversial post for me to stumble across as my first.

While I agree that children need discipline and boundries, being babyled does not remove a parents authority. Being babyled means putting a childs needs first rather then your own, but it doesn't mean letting them have whatever they want whenever they want.

And sometimes babies do know best. How are we as adults to know when a newborn needs milk unless they tell us? Newborns aren't designed to fit a schedule, they are all unique so cry for milk when they need it.

Some parents feed their children solids at 3 months old, which has been scientically proven to increase allergies and risks them becoming overweight and developing heart problems when they grow older. They mistake feeding frenzys as signs of needing solids, when actually it is normally just a growth spurt that will pass after a week or two. If left to it a baby will start to eat food when they are ready.

A baby wants a cuddle to sleep, but the parent leaves the child to cry it out so they learn to sleep. What actually can happen is that babies get so distressed by being left that they release stress hormones that change the neural connections in a baby's brain. cortisol is released when children are left alone to cry for long periods, and cortisol increases the risk of mental health disorders.

Just 3 small instances where a baby often knows better then the parent.

As a cosleeping, babywearing, breastfeeding, babyled weaning mum I am probably always going to disagree on some points, however I think the thing is we are all doing what we think is best with love for our children. The real problem comes not with being baby and child led, but when people let them have whatever they want just to keep them quiet, which is not the same thing.

Yes children with boundries feel safe, but also a baby who knows his cry will be answered learns trust, and research shows as they get older they actually cry less and are happier then children left to cry.

I best stop now before I write an essay!

Clair said...

very simple training in our house... ask any of our 3 (ok the 2 that can speak) 'who's in charge' and they answer 'not me'! Mosts useful during the dreaded twos (where children who've learnt that their cries will be answered can turn horribly manipulative, whereas children who know their needs will be met are generally more submisive) but still valueable now they're bit older! (answer by the way to the original question is: God, Daddy, Mummy - in that order!)

Heather Williams said...

Hi Helen
I think the parent's role needs to respond to the child in some ways.
I was largely a baby-led parent (breastfeeding, babywearing, a bit of co-sleeping), as a baby doesn't know which way is up and the most comforting thing a parent can do is to consistently meet their needs until they can understand the world and begin to comprehend how to operate within it.
I think the move to a more authoritative position as a parent comes when they child starts testing their boundaries, around 18 months for my two boys. At this point, laying basic ground rules for acceptable behaviour is actually an expression of love to protect them from harm. Parents who fail to set these boundaries are storing up trouble for themselves later on, as it's much harder to bring in discipline where it has previously been lacking. I often get comments about how well behaved my boys are in public; they are no angels, but I have laid down the law enough for them to know what is acceptable and what isn't from a young age, and I am so glad I did as my life would be much harder now if I hadn't.

slave2boys said...

Bernardeena, I think we will have to agree to disagree. All my 3 boys were left to cry and none of them have mental health problems. All of them were weaned at 3 months and none of them have allergies, or are overweight. In fact, they are extremely fit, healthy and have eat wide range of foods. I think the main issue I have with all of this is that new parents are being told to 'let their baby lead' instead of being given all the options. I'm sorry if you have found it offensive, but I have to say that I totally disagree with you and know that for me and my 3 boys, I was in charge (sort of!) from day 1 and they are now happy, healthy boys.

Bernardeena said...

Oh not offended at all, we all do what we think is best for our children. The world would be a boring place if everyone agreed, and it is interesting to read other peoples view points.

And I'm not saying that all non baby led children will have ibs, obesity, trust issues and borderline personality disorders! Just that research shows an increased likelyhood. However I do know that what I do is right for me and my boys, even if not for everyone, and I have two happy and healthy little boys who aren't manipulative and do know my authority. It might not be the way everyone chooses to parent but it works for us.

slave2boys said...


Beth said...

Interesting topic. Who remembers the channel 4 series a few yrs back with the 3 extremes? I agree with Heather you can be babyled but still be authotitative from 18 months-ish and start establishing boundaries... and enforcing them. My 3 sons are so different I needed to care for them in different ways - & I changed a lot in confidence & following my instincts along the way.
Perhaps there has been a time of both parents "needing" to work and over-compensating time lost with their children/teens with materialism & lack of discipline, maybe that is as much a problem.
Children -all but we need to start with those in Christian homes should always know, as Clair wrote, God then Daddy then Mummy are in charge so our sons know how to become effective fathers one day. My non- Chn husband rarely steps up to the mark but I'm learning to be patient !! I guess this brings us full circle to the role of men in a post feminist world and the importance of teaching todays boys about Godly masculinity.