The way I aim to parent isn’t mainstream. I say ‘aim to’ as of course no one is perfect. I don’t always handle situations exactly as I’d like to or planned to. I like to define my parenting style as respectful. I think of my child as what she is, a fellow human being. Not inferior just because she is a child. I often think about how I would feel in certain situations she is in when deciding how to handle something. Unfortunately it seems people often lose track of their child’s feelings, thinking of them as someone they need to control and train. Respectful parenting does not mean you’re soft and let your child walk all over you. It just means you consider their feelings.
One thing this means for me is not following strict routines. I don’t eat at the same time every day, I don’t go to sleep at the same time every day. Why should my daughter? How hungry or tired I am all depends on what I’ve been doing that day, it changes day to day. I go to bed when I’m tired and so does she. At 21 months she is able to communicate to me very well when she wants to go to bed. We bedshare. I sometimes like a comforting cuddle in the night, so does she. I keep a cup of water by my bed every night as I often wake up thirsty (through the night and in the morning). She’s got me there if she wants milk in the night. I don’t see the difference. I am confident that one day she will tell me she would like to sleep in her own bed in her own room. I don’t know when that will be and I don’t mind. My husband and I are here for her as long as she needs us.
I often hear parents say a situation with their child is always a “battle” or a “nightmare”. It doesn’t need to be this way. Your child doesn’t want to put their coat on when it’s cold outside? Let them go out without a coat on and decide for themselves. Take their coat with you, they’ll tell you when they’re cold. Why should they blindly take your word for everything? Challenging others is a healthy part of life. Yes there are certain things that are non negotiable and certain things where boundaries need to be set. But pick your “battles”, what is actually necessary? If there is no option, explain to your child why there is no option, or make an option. If your child doesn’t want to brush their teeth, obviously this is not something they can just decide not to do. Explain why they need to brush their teeth, give an option such as “would you like to brush your teeth or would you like me to brush your teeth?” This is how I try to parent.
Another thing that is very important to me is no forced sharing, no forced apologies and no forced pleases and thank yous. Imagine if I came round your house and you were using your laptop and I took it from you and started using it without asking. You’d probably feel a bit upset (even though you probably wouldn’t react in the same way a child would, you might want to on the inside). Do you need to learn to share? No, it’s yours AND you’re using it. Say I did the polite thing and I did ask to use it, should you hand it over straight away? No, it’s yours AND you’re using it. You’d probably let me use it when you’re finished though. This is the exact same situation with children and toys! Why should children be treated differently just because they are children?
Same goes for apologising and saying please and thank you. My husband doesn’t prompt me to say sorry if I’ve upset someone, to say please when I ask for something, or to say thank you when I’m given something. And we don’t do this to our daughter either. I’m not saying we don’t want her to be polite and courteous. But I believe prompting to say these things doesn’t teach the meaning. I say sorry on behalf of my daughter if she hurts someone. I say sorry if I accidentally bump into someone. I say please when I ask someone for something. I say thank you when someone gives me something. I also say these things on behalf of my daughter. I whole heartedly believe that she will pick up on this and say sorry and please and thank you at the appropriate times and really mean it. After all, I don’t prompt her to say any other words either, she picks them up from listening to me and others. Children learn well by example.
I don’t expect her to hug or kiss anyone if she doesn’t want to, including myself. I may sometimes ask her if I can have a hug or a kiss. But if she says no then I don’t force the matter. This is the first important lesson for a child in consent. Her body is her own, anything that happens to it is her decision. No means no.
Now that Tulip is getting older (nearly 2!) I do find certain things are getting harder in terms of knowing how to handle a situation. I feel I need to get the balance between setting boundaries and letting her make her own decisions. We’re getting there though. And I always try to come back to “how would that make me feel?” and respecting her as a human being.