It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Reasonable Parenting

My clients are reasonable people. For fifteen years, with one or two notable exceptions, I’ve seen lots and lots of reasonable people. And these reasonable people also aspire to be reasonable parents.

“Reasonable” in the colloquial sense, in that they want to be sensible, balanced, measured, common-sense. But also “reasonable” in a more specific sense. They want to raise their child rationally. They want to be the kind of parent who has reasons for what they do, who doesn’t respond in a knee-jerk, reflexive, irrational way to childish flaws and misbehaviours. They will never be the kind of parent who says, “Because I said so, that’s why!” They want to parent with their hearts and their minds.

This is all very laudable. It is how I have always endeavored to raise my own children, how I deal with the daycare children.

This approach, however, has its weaknesses, which most of the parents I’ve seen through the years have not considered beforehand. When they run into them, they are blind-sided. How does a Reasonable Parent deal with this?

One main weakness exists entirely in the minds of the parents. It is not, in fact, a weakness in the approach at all, but rather unhelpful, unexamined — often unconscious — assumptions about Reasonable Parenting.

This weakness arises from their desire to be principled parents. Let me be clear, here: I am ALL FOR principled parenting!! Principled parenting saves you from a world of on-the-fly decisions, rules made up on the spur of the moment when there is no guiding directive to show you the way. Principled parenting provides you with that blessed clue of thread which guides you through the maze of events which are NOT IN THE RULEBOOK, DAMMIT!

Where parents can go off the rails with principled parenting, though, is in the over-application of the idea “I will never be the kind of parent who says ‘because I’m your mother, that’s why!'” In trying to avoid authoritarian parenting — inflexible, uncompassionate, rule- and ego-driven parenting — many of my clients are squeamish about any parenting ‘because I say so’s’.

You know what? Once in a while, it’s totally fine to say “Because I said so. Now do it.” Though you should always have a reason, you do not have to give it every time. It is enough that you are the parent, you treat your child respectfully, and you can expect them to acknowledge this by responding respectfully to an instruction, request, direct order. You don’t do that every time. That would be rude. But to expect, every so often, your child to ‘just do it’, based on 1) your proven track record of reasonable, respectful parenting, and 2) the fact that you are the parent… that’s reasonable.

My clients have a tendency to blur the line between Authoritarian parenting and Authoritative Parenting. There is a world of difference between the two. Authoritarian parenting is hard-line, intolerant, disrespectful of the child. “Because I said so!” is the response to any questioning, no matter how reasonable the question might be. Authoritarian parents may or may not work on principles, but when they do, they are principles which favour the parent’s will, and are unlikely to be shared with the child. Authoritative parenting, while confident, is flexible, compassionate, and respectful. An authoritative parent’s principles focus on the long-term character development of their child. An authoritative parent has rules and expectations, but can be flexible in them. A child is allowed input into parental decisions. The parent is still the authority, but it is a more co-operative, compassionate authority.

Okay, so that’s the flaw in the pre-assumptions which cause Reasonable Parents a world of difficulty. It’s okay — it’s REQUIRED — to make rules and expect the child to obey them. It’s REQUIRED to say a firm and unyielding “no” sometimes. You are not being an unkind, unloving parent when you do these things, so long as you are doing them out of parenting principles rather than a fit of pique. (Which is not to say you can’t lay down the law in accordance with your principles while you are EXASPERATED OUT OF YOUR MIND. Of course you can! You can, you will, and you must.)

The first weakness in Reasonable Parenting, then, is the assumption that it is disrespectful to the child to exert any form of parental authority. Most of my parents would immediately grasp the weakness in that assumption… but many of them stumble over it in practice anyway.

The second weakness of Reasonable Parenting does not exist solely in the parents’ unexamined assumptions. This one is a genuine problem.

Here you are, all prepped and ready to be Reasonable in your dealings with your child. You are going to be rational, measured, sensible. Your emotions will enrich your dealings with your child, but you won’t react in ill-considered emotion. (Yes, I’m kind of smiling now, too. No parent alive will achieve such a paragon of virtuous behaviour at every moment of their life. I know that, and I hope you all know that, too. No beating yourselves up for the times you fall short of pure parental perfection, okay?)

And there you go, being Reasonable with your child… and he is NOT REASONABLE BACK! In fact, she’s positively savage! Shouting, screaming, flailing. No amount of reasonable conversation is bringing him around. Your expectations are reasonable, your demeanor is reasonable, your words are reasonable, and what do you get back?


In fact, the little cretin may even be taking swings at you while s/he creates this uproar! The Reasonable Parent confronts the Anti-Rational Toddler.

Now what?

That, my friends, will be the subject of tomorrow’s post.


February 14, 2011 Posted by | manners, parenting, parents, power struggle | , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Honesty? Honestly…

“You talk funny, Mary.” Tyler grins at my over-the-top rendition of a possibly Eastern-European accent.

“Thanks, sunshine. I love you, too.”

I love my mummy and daddy.”

I bust out laughing. “Well, now. Guess that puts me in my place!”

“And Emily and my family. But I just like you.”

I’m choosing to be impressed by his sophisticated comprehension of nuance.


February 10, 2011 Posted by | the things they say!, Tyler | , | Leave a comment


Bibs? For shoes? Why?

But really, if people are honestly willing to spend money on something as randomly pointless as these things, I need to polish up my marketing skills. I’m sure there’s a public just panting for … um … elbow hats. Or ice-cream lickers. Or downspout wipers, soother stretchers, carpet polishers… The list is endless.


[via: Unclutterer]

February 9, 2011 Posted by | random and odd | 10 Comments

Germs? Pah!

Rory likes to feed the dogs. He’ll feed them until he has no food left in his bowl. Then he cries. “Hey! Someone took all my food! Where did my food go? I’M HUNGRY AND I HAVE NO FOOD!!!”

Originally, I decided to let natural consequences play out. Of course, I warned him of the consequences first. But then I just stood back and let nature take its course. If he feeds the dogs and then has no food, well, he’ll be hungry, won’t he? And hunger will be the negative consequence of his poor decision that will teach him NOT to feed his lunch to the dogs, right?

Um, not so far. I would expect a lessons like this to take three to five days, max. Food-related lessons don’t take long! Certainly not for a kid who loves his food as much as Rory. But this one? Well, Rory LOOOOOVES feeding the dogs. Loves it. It brings him great, great pleasure. Pleasure that far, far outweighs any niggling concerns re: feeding his own self.

So these days the dogs are crated during lunch. It’s just simpler that way. I don’t want the dogs learning to beg at the table any more than I want Rory going hungry every day.

Today, however, I forgot. I was sitting across the table from Rory. The table hid Indie, who was sitting hopefully (and very politely) beside his tray. I didn’t see her, that is, until Rory held a piece of pasta over the side of his tray. Suddenly there was a nose there. The nose did not snatch the food out of Rory’s hand, but only licked, gently and thoroughly cleaning all traces of sauce off the pasta.

I rose quickly from my chair. “Indie! House!” Indie, radiating ‘oh, I’m a bad doggie’, slunk to her crate. I approach Rory, intending to dispense with the squeaky-clean pasta. “And Rory, you monkey. Do not feed the dog!” I’m rounding the corner of the table, my hand moving to take the pasta from him, and


into the mouth it goes. I stop dead. “Oh, Rory. YUK.”

He looks at me.

And swallows.

I’ve seen this sort of thing before. I know it’s not life-threatening. It probably doesn’t need to skeeve me out the way it does. But… if you own a dog, you know the sorts of places that tongue gets, and…


Just, eewww…

February 1, 2011 Posted by | eeewww, food, health and safety, Rory, the dog | , , , | 4 Comments