Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves - The Bad and the Ugly

Although Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves had some good points, overall I found it frustrating. Here's why.

The Bad

Don't tell children what they should do. Naomi Aldort frequently reminds parents to respect their children's choices and allow them to be authentic. Don't tell children they should share, say hello, or help with household chores. This is moralizing and is bad. (Anyone else see the irony of labeling moralizing as bad?) According to Aldort, if parents model what they want to see (being polite, friendly, or helpful), children will respond in kind as they mature. She specifically warns, "Sometimes we think we are following the child's lead, yet we try to sneak in a little teaching or guidance" (p. 59).

Moralizing is defined as "to explain or interpret morally; to give a moral quality or direction to, to improve the morals of." Far from being a parenting no-no, I consider this to be a significant parent responsibility! I want my son to share my values. I want him to understand social conventions, morality, and how the two intersect. Yes, part of teaching is through example, but I think it is reasonable to use words when necessary and require appropriate behavior even if a complete understanding of morality is not yet present.

TEV Bible Catholic Cover
Man, talk about moralizing...


Anything goes, as long as your child is emoting. Aldort does not advocate for a home devoid of rules. She acknowledges that even strict parents can still display unconditional love. However, throughout the book she indicates it is acceptable, even good, to allow children to scream for hours, throw hard objects, and insult people when upset. These children feel safe to express their emotions. Parents shouldn't try to curb this behavior or children will learn that their emotions are scary/bad/too intense for their parents.

During grad school, an instructor once told us that we should never ask someone not to swear during counseling. If we respect them, we need to offer a safe place where they can feel free to do anything. I disagree. Yes, I respected the emotionally disabled, inner city teens with whom I worked. And I expected respect in return. I received it. The kids understood what was tolerated and what was not and they liked me. I hope my children learn that, while it is OK to be angry, it is not OK to take out your anger by being aggressive toward others. That's called abuse.

Treat your children as you would treat an adult friend. The idea here is that the real world does not function with authority figures telling us what to do and handing out rewards and punishments. We should ask our children for cooperation, but respect their decisions either way. We should not, in any way, try to control our children.

The problem is, the real world DOES work that way. If we have an employer, we have an authority figure assigning tasks and rewarding us with a paycheck. Even for the self-employed, there are customers making demands and controlling whether or not to pay. There are rules to follow, called laws. If we decide not to cooperate with others, others will not respect us and try again tomorrow, they will leave us alone. If parents want to raise their children counter-culturally, that is their right, but they should know that they are doing so.

dollar done
What's a paycheck if not a reward?


The Ugly

"The Bad" are all judgment calls. They are parenting theories with which I strongly disagree. But I respect that this is Aldort's book and she is certainly free to advocate for whatever she believes. There are two points, though, that I think are reprehensible. Both are underlying themes throughout the book and are clearly stated on page 75:
Other manifestations of doubting parental love are: unhappiness, disinterest in doing things, problems in speech or learning, bed-wetting, tics, sleep disorders, aggression, eating disorders, general tension, and irritability. When a child feels completely secure in parental love, he has no need for such expressions, he feels self-confident and spends his time pursuing his passions.
Got it? If your child is suffering from any of these conditions, it's because he doubts your love for him. WHAT?! Now wait, don't get all excited. It's not your fault. The next paragraphs starts:
If you had to please an impress your parents to earn their love, you may now feel reluctant to give love unconditionally.
OK folks, there are your take-away points. If your child has problems, it's because you're not expressing your love as you should. Don't feel bad, though, it's your parents' fault.

These themes, while not so explicit elsewhere, are present throughout the entirety of the book. Now, I understand that there is value in self-knowledge. You should be aware of your own baggage so you don't pass it along to your children. Also, there is more than one way to parent. But a book that makes parents feel guilty because Jr. has a speech impediment and then suggesting, "If you disagree with my theory of unconditional love, blame your parents," will not make my list of good parenting books.

10 comments:

  1. Oh, there is so much to say in response here, and I'm not trying to change your mind about anything because you are already a totally devoted mommy who doesn't need changing.

    I just want to say that how we raise our children depends on our own view of the world. If you see the 'real world' as a place of rulse where you have to follow the societal norms and standards then you will raise your child within those parameters. In contrast, I choose to see the world without rules, where we are each our own highest authority and we create our own experiences based on our deepest beliefs. I trust my children to be their own authority. So if, for example, they don't want to respond to a neighbour on the street who has greeted them, that is not a problem to me. They have listened to their inner voice that did not want to respond. No problem. If the neighbour is hung up on 'manners', I will use MY manners to greet her and respond.

    Also, in as much as my children do live in joy and freedom, occasionally one of them has a huge emotional outburst that can last for an extended period of time. I recognize this as a need to express and release her stress or fear or anxiety or sadness and I don't try to stop her. I stay present and loving and the child stops when she is ready. I take the opportunity to examine where this build up of stress and emotion has come from and then I do better to create an environment of freedom and joy. Emotion must be processed to be released--and this is true of people of any age. Just look at all the adults who have depression or anxiety who have never learned how to safely process or release their emotions and thereby move through them to a place of peace and joy. Would we have so many people addicted to alcohol and narcotics if they knew how to process their emotions safely and effectively? I don't know, I'm just asking...

    I'm not a big Aldort fan, but I believe her parenting principles to be transformative. You can see my piece on why her work is not for everyone here:
    http://angelbabyjazzymama.blogspot.com/2011/07/naomi-aldorts-parenting-philosophy.html

    Joy to you!

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    1. Thanks so much for such a thoughtful comment! I definitely agree that (within reason) the right parenting techniques are those that help your children to function well within your family. I wouldn't say we *have* to follow norms and rules, but that it helps to know what rules we're breaking! If you don't want to say hello, that's fine, but be aware that other people might take offense.

      I also agree that emotions need to be processed - but should be processed safely for all involved, not by lashing out at those around us. Maybe this is all just semantics...

      Anyway, glad to know we agree on much and can thoughtfully and respectfully disagree on the rest!

      peace.

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  2. I think the thinking behind the "Ugly" point is kind of dangerous, really. All parents want to shield their children from sorrow and sadness, and this seems to be saying (I haven't read the book, so am just going by the excerpt here) that if we just love our children enough and in the right way, then they will never have problems. Which basically means that if your child does end up with any of these issues, it is your fault as a parent? There is a whole world, not to mention genetic factors, outside the parents' influence, that can add up to causing any one of these things. I will obviously do all I can to help my children grow up safe and secure, but I know that I can't completely prevent any of the above issues. And if one of my children were to struggle with these, I think it is much more constructive to do what I can to support them, rather than wasting energy with guilt and trying to find the "causes".

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    1. I would hope Aldort would agree that there are other causes for children's struggles, but if so, her book didn't indicate that. I concur that it is dangerous thinking. See the anonymous post below for a good example of what this message can lead to...

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  3. I posted a comment here yesterday and it disappeared. Do you have a comment policy I can review?

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    1. That's weird... I didn't delete it; I thought you had. Anyway, I have the original in my inbox. I'll repost it. Thanks for checking back!

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    2. Great :) Thank you.

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  4. O..K... This post has disappeared twice, once when the original writer posted it anonymously, and once when I posted it as Anonymous. I'll try again, this time posting as myself.

    "There are two points, though, that I think are reprehensible."

    If you recognize that this book was published and marketed as the work of a psychologist, Ph.D., and family therapist, when Aldort has never been documented as possessing those credentials, I would venture to say that even more than reprehensible, Aldort's claims about the cause and solutions to children's problems as you cited constitute reckless endangerment for the vulnerable parents who have trusted Aldort as an authority and expert on children's psychological development.

    Perhaps like other parents drawn to Aldort's work, I grew up among layers of abuse and neglect that I never wanted to pass on to my child. As I read the book, the confusing understanding I began to develop was that I should "accept" the abuse and neglect I experienced from my caregivers, "accept" that my child is right in throwing screaming tantrums at the age of 2 that lasted sometimes for hours, but discard my own reactions about either situation as "inauthentic" if it meant that I thought something should change. Talk about stuck between a rock and hard place!

    In her book Aldort cites Byron Katie's The Work, so I looked there for a way to end my confusion, and became dangerously destabilized as I began turning around my distress about my child toward myself, triggering a desperate spiral of toxic self-criticism. So I went back toward Aldort, the family therapist, who wrote this book and even offered phone sessions, to help you apply the advice. Well, that's when I discovered that Aldort had previously been a registered counselor, but NEVER a psychologist and that both Katie and Aldort have no documented professional training or associations in psychology.

    There was quite a bit of discussion on this topic at mothering.com, but now it has been deleted. There is some discussion at amazon.com for the book Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, but many people have deleted their contributions there as well.

    I have since learned that the abuse and neglect I experienced was Attachment Trauma with a capital T, and I think that there are other parents out there like me who have grown up with trauma so pervasive that they breathe it as the air. They don't realize their "old tapes" might really be more akin to the intrusive memories of PTSD. They try the Aldort/Katie pop-psychology turnaround cure and feel at fault if it doesn't work or they get worse. And they have nowhere to turn because almost everyone else in the attachment parenting community seems to "get" Aldort's philosophies like they are mana from heaven.

    Except that after Aldort went public regarding the Ph.D. issue, venues like Mothering and Natural Life magazine spontaneously went quiet on their long-lauded expert; not printing a single apology or correction regarding Aldort's credentials.

    Thank you for publishing your honest, favorable and critical analysis of this book and the potential negative impact that you think it might have for some parents.

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    1. Thanks again for posting this. Maybe there is a limit somewhere in the blog settings on the size of an Anonymous comment?

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    2. Anonymous,
      Thank you for taking the time to share your story. It is enlightening to hear from someone who has been there. I admire your courage in continuing to seek truth and healing when it seemed like everyone was telling you it was your own fault. May God bless you on your journey.

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