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Respect Without Rules

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Posted on : 9:39 AM | By : Nic | In :

One of the very tricky balancing acts of following the Continuum Concept model of parenting is that really shouldn't be any household rules, and the the kids should be expected to behave in a manner that suggests that they know exactly what the household rules would be if they were there.

Part of the struggle is that as parents, we have only experienced what we knew growing up, which was, of course, "You break a rule, you get punished." I unintentionally and habitually fall into this behavior. Continuum parenting requires that the parent not punish, but rather just expect children to behave in an acceptable manner, and if they do not, simply correct the behavior. It takes a great deal of patience sometimes. As a family that discovered the book after we already had two, we are fortunate that at least we did all the attachment parenting things, but I find that I became child-centered because of it. Child-centeredness is kind of the enemy of Continuum parenting... what it means is that in an effort to give your child all the emotional comfort and closeness they need, you go a bit overboard and become sort of slaves to your children. It's all kind of difficult concepts that are hard to explain, and easiest shown by example. Here's the typical way:

"Ok sweetheart we're at the park now. Please stay near mommy..."
No sooner did you say this than the little cutie has started to run off...
"Darling, you really please need to behave!"
A walk in the park becomes a constant power struggle of who is leading, who is stronger, and who gets the last word. Why? Because the child is pushing you to put your foot down. They want you to lead, but saying 'Please!' for good behavior isn't showing very much leadership.

Ideally, the same scenario would go something like this:
"We're going to the park!"
The child skips along next to you, without holding your hand. Suddenly, she makes a dash for the bushes and disappears.
Calmly, you remind her, "I can't see you!" She pops back out, remembering that she can't see you either. When you decide that you're done waiting for her, you begin walking slowly and she naturally follows after.

One thing we struggle with in our family between the 6 and 3 year old is some sibling rivalry. Things tend to turn into a competition, or they just know each other's buttons and sometimes like to push them. This got way better after we had the girls sleeping together and/or sleeping with us, because most of these issues seem to revolve around personal space. I remember growing up with my sister fighting over armrests, the sink when we brushed our teeth, leg room in the car, whose clothes were lying on whose side of the room, etc. My natural instinct when my own kids do this is to say, "Ok give each other space..." but why? Why can't they touch each other and be close? Despite the cosleeping efforts, it has never entirely fixed the issues, and at this point I have stepped back from getting involved in these disputes unless they need tools to help communicate with each other. For example:

"She's putting her leg on my chair!"
The other one looks innocently up from her own chair.
I ask, "Why can't she put her leg on your chair?"
If she says, "I just don't want her near me!" then I just step back and let her handle it unless it falls to hitting.
If she says, "Its pushing my chair around..." then I would say, "You need to tell her nicely that she's pushing your chair, and to please stop."

The real goal is to not have rules in the house, but rather to simply respect each other, which is easier said than done. I found a great interview with Jean Liedloff (who wrote The Continuum Concept) which helps clarify some of the things the book doesn't cover, which focuses mostly on infants.

Why am I writing this today? Because I need to remind myself. I found a great post on Hobo Mama about idle parenting, which sums up the idea that kids should be left alone to learn and grow, drawn from a very humorous article in the Telegraph. I really enjoyed this article, particularly this part:

"One morning, not so long ago, V and I refused to get up. I imagine we were hung over. At about nine o'clock, the bedroom door swung open and in walked Arthur, then six, with two cups of tea. A lot can be achieved by lying in bed. Simply by doing nothing, you can train children to do useful things. During the last holiday, we found we were lying in bed till 10 or 11. By abandoning our kids, they had taught themselves how to get up, make themselves breakfast and play."

This is precisely what has happened to us many times. On the weekend, I have been simply too pregnant and too tired to wake up at their 7:30 timeframe and have stayed in bed until 9, during which they have made themselves breakfasts of bread and fruit or cereal, found movies or games to play, and gone on with their lives. At 6 and 3, this is the time that they have been most happy, and any argument and sibling rivalry has disappeared in their search for food and activity.

I am going to reprint Tom Hodgkinson's Idle Parenting manifesto here, but please read the article. He's the editor of The Idler, and author of a book on idle parenting as well.

Manifesto of the idle parent
We reject the idea that parenting requires hard work
We pledge to leave our children alone
That should mean that they leave us alone, too
We reject the rampant consumerism that invades children from the moment they are born
We read them poetry and fantastic stories without morals
We drink alcohol without guilt
We reject the inner Puritan
We fill the house with music and laughter
We don't waste money on family days out and holidays
We lie in bed for as long as possible
We try not to interfere
We push them into the garden and shut the door so that we can clean the house
We both work as little as possible, particularly when the kids are small
Time is more important than money
Happy mess is better than miserable tidiness
Down with school
We fill the house with music and merriment

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