It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Why, why, why

Nope, not Noah. Though he is in the fullest of full throes of the Why Stage. (Tyler, thank heavens, appears to be skipping it.)

What got me thinking of this is Liz’s comment on my previous post, about the grandmother who thinks that it’s beyond a three-year-old child’s capabilities to say ‘please’… because he doesn’t understand it, you see.

Now, I think we can all agree that grandma is a few bricks short of a load here, but that’s not what really caught my attention. What really struck me was that notion of understanding why.

We waste a lot of time, cause ourselves no end of angst, and respond in some very ineffectual ways to parenting challenges, all because of that need to know why.

Why is she refusing to eat her beans?
Why won’t he say please?
Why is he hitting the other children?
Why is she throwing so many tantrums this week?
Why won’t she sleep through the night?

Let me be clear here: Sometimes knowing why is useful. Sometimes it’s essential. But you know what? Most of the time, it’s just not. For most of the every-day, run-of-the-mill, here-we-go-again parenting challenges?

The “why” doesn’t matter.

Because most of the time, knowing why is not going to change the expectation. You think the sudden aggression is caused by the new baby at home? The aggression still has to stop. His refusal to wear boots in the snow is because he doesn’t like his feet to be constrained? You’re not going to let him go barefoot in the snow.

And a lot of the time, not only does the ‘why’ not matter, it doesn’t even help. Her frequent night wakings are caused by the new developmental skill she’s learning? Um, so? (This is one I’m quite dubious about, btw. They’re always learning something, so it’s an easy catch-all for any mysterious sleep disruption. And in the end… um, so?)

We expend so much time, we waste so much parental energy agonizing over and hunting for the ‘why’ of our child’s quirks and misbehaviours. It would be nice to tie up loose ends with a full and complete understanding… but most of the time, it just isn’t necessary. If you could give up your need to know why, and just respond to the behaviours at face value, you’d save yourself no end of anxiety.

And to take it the next step, and apply our adult need to know to our child, and conclude that until a child understands WHY something must happen, they can’t be expected to DO it?

That’s just stupid.

April 22, 2010 Posted by | parenting | 13 Comments