Thursday, 8 September 2011

Are you a yo-yo parent?

Do you find it hard sometimes to decide what kind of a parent to be?

I make a rule, which seems utterly reasonable and sane and has everyones best interests at heart. And in no time, the kids adopt a chinese water torture technique -


grinding me down till I start to question myself. The kids try this way and that, looking for a weak spot, waiting for me to crack. Through sheer exhaustion perhaps, I decide the rule was just me being control freaky anyway and I give in so we can leave peacefully. But the peace doesn't last and so I go back to thinking rules weren't such a bad idea after all, and so we go round and round.

I am probably the worst kind of parent in that I cannot make up my mind entirely whether to be a liberal parent or a lean towards sometimes being a bit more disciplinarian. I swing a little and cannot decide which is the kinder way to be. I feel tugged this way and that. I ask myself what it really means to be a kind parent. Which way is the most loving, sane and wise.

Some days it feels absolutely right and sensible and sane to be permissive and liberal. To not co-erce, or force anything, to let the children go with the flow. But if that flow is persistently acting out aggressive, fighting energy? Or playing computer games all day long for the third day running because that is what the children want to do? Or not brushing hair for a week? Or eating third and fourth helpings every day whilst getting a quite tubby? At which point do I step in and say "enough is enough?"

Total liberalism tips over sometimes in our household dynamic from being happy free activity to somewhat chaotic, even destructive energy. I am absolutely torn between the wisdom of letting go of being such a control freak with your kids, of letting them be, of not trying to boss them around and make them do pointless stuff for the sake of being in control, and on the other hand this really is very hard to swallow when say, I feel like they're talking rudely, lacking respect, or playing computer games before they've even had breakfast, gotten dressed or brushed their teeth. I don't want to be a dragon, breathing down their neck every five minutes over petty things. I want to be friends with my kids, because it feels nicer to build trust this way, to be natural with them. When I read some home ed literature about the pointlessness of having boundaries I so want to believe it. But I just cant bring myself to think that this is healthy and good, really.

I was involved in a heated discussion recently on a home-educating forum for parents who are engaged in trying to absolutely bend over backwards so their children get to do what they want all day and try not to co-erce at all. Or say 'no' more than 20 times a year to a child. That kind of thing. And this may be easy to follow with one or two children. But four? How in the heck do you manage a gig like that?

I certainly do not want to be a shouty stressy kind of mama. I want to be a hippy skippy happy Mary Poppins type all day every day, full of energy, good humour and endless patience. I want my children to be happy and full of purposeful - not destructive - activity every day. But some days it feels like we lose our way a bit. Having a stroppy toddler in the home ed mix is much harder than anything I've ever done. And I'm sure it would help if I could just stick to being either liberal or strict. But neither feels entirely right. Some days it feels right to be uber liberal and others it feels absolutely right to be a little more exact about boundaries, limits and rules.

Is this yoyo-parenting a phenomena common to our generation because we have so many more choices now about how to raise our children? Are you a mama or papa who finds it hard to stick to one style of parenting and be consistent with this every single day?

Perhaps I am simply embracing the yin and yang of life in my parenting style...

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

What kind of a parent are you?


  1. Hey Paula, I am as you describe. I am giving up trying to articulate my thoughts either on paper or in my head. I will simply read your blog and thank you for getting me down so well! I think dynamics of the children in question are key as well as how many children there are to parent and at what stage we are at with them all. It's a new day tomorrow x

  2. Hi Paula. I struggle with the balance between freedom and boundaries almost daily. I so don't want to stifle the children but hate it when they are rude, ungrateful or aggressive etc. I personally belief that it is necessary to take on both roles and the challenge it to know which is most appropriate at any given time. When i factor it my mood, their mood and all the other external things,it becomes even harder. .... what can we do? I guess we can only do our best and the fact that you ( we) even ask ourselves this question says something about the kind of parent we are. Maybe Yo Yo-ing isn't so bad??!! xxx

  3. I think it's our generation remembering what it felt like to be parented by parents who'd been raised in total disciplinarian-mode (from their parents' generation) we kind of rebel against that...but then our kids get wild and we remember how well WE minded our parents. You totally described our house. I declare school nights NO MOVIE nights. I last one day, then come home from work exhausted with three cranky kids and say, "What the hell?" hubby and I are always having to evaluate why exactly we put a rule in place when it causes more grief than it's worth. The book "Parenting from the Inside Out" is helping me make sense of the nonsensical things I do as a parent (by exploring what I've learned from my own experiences as a child)...I think what kids want most is consistency with some flexibility thrown in. Easier said than done! Great post...thought-provoking!

  4. awesome post miss funker. i personally think it's your best yet. when i saw the title, i thought to myself, oh no, is she going to get preachy? but no, quite the opposite. introspective, honest, real. beautiful.
    have you ever read Freedom Not License by AS Neil? i read it long, long ago (HE can get preachy, shit!) but some very good stuff on this issue.
    i hope to get another comment in, but wanted to say good on ya before i forgot.

  5. Ah thank you wonderful mamas for keeping it real with me here in this space. I appreciate you sharing a bit of yourselves here too - feel less of a freak when we all share! Apronstringz, I am mighty touched by your comment about this being my best post - thank you. I am definitely inspired by A.S Neill - his ideas are hard to translate faithfully beyond a space like summerhill though.... May have to do a wee post about this space! xxx

  6. i think that yo-yoing in our parenting is possibly the most normal and sane thing to do!

    it's called being flexible, being open to life's twists and turns, understanding that nothing is ever the same all the time.

    perhaps some parents have worked out one very specific way of being, and that's great, but for me, i'm happy to play it by ear. and to play it by what works for US, on a day to day basis.

  7. Ah we are kindred spirits methinks! Thanks for your comment here Miss Twighlight x

  8. Nothing to add really but to say 'me too!'.
    I have one foot in Waldorf land and one in radical unschooling. lol. Or as i said to a friend once, Steiner sat on one shoulder and Sandra Dodd on the other. ;)
    I am calling my style instinctive parenting, mainly because it makes me sound like I know what i'm doing. lol.
    On saturday I went to a workshop with Christina Fletcher, author of a book about 'spiritually aware parenting' and i loved her philosophy. Its relevant whether you believe in anything spiritual or not - we had a total die hard atheist present who went away feeling inspired. Its all about listening to your inner voice and noticing what feels 'off' for you and bringing it back to connection. :) Thought provoking and worth a look on her site. xx

  9. Both very noble influences Laura. I love Sandra Dodd. I'm a big fan of winging it most of all! Hehe. X