Thursday, August 10, 2006

Is there a right way to parent?

Danielle Bean had an interesting discussion of discipline styles on her website. One comment in particular caught my eye:

Like Dr. Ray says, "If you can't control them when they are
2, how do you think you will be able to control them when they are 15?"
I will state right up front that I am not a fan of Dr. Ray Guarendi. There seem to be two main parenting philosophies popular in Catholic America at the moment, one led by Dr. Guarendi and the other by Gregory Popcak. I am most decidedly in the Popcak camp, and the quote above perfectly sums up why I feel that way. I do not understand these people who want to break their child's will and completely control them.

At first glance, it sounds very appealing, I'm sure. Lots of little robot-children who follow your every command! Who wouldn't want that? But what happens when Robot-Boy or Robot-Girl grows up, and encounters peer pressure, advertising pressure, bad influences from TV, movies, video games, and music? Their will to resist has been destroyed, and no wonder that the youth of today are in the state they are in.

I am not advocating raising a disobedient brat. What I am advocating is raising a child in such a way that respects the will God gave them and helps them to make right choices. If it is their choice, and not something you force upon them, they will be so much stronger when it's time for them to make the choice without your help.

For the best parenting advice, please check out the following:

Parenting with Grace, by Gregory Popcak

Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline, by Becky Bailey

I prefer Popcak for overall parenting philosophy and especially parenting in accord with the Catholic faith, and Bailey for a discipline how-to. Bailey is not Catholic (as far as I know) but her principles fit right in with the faith.

So, is there a right way to parent? There are lots of right ways, and each should be tailored to your child. However, that doesn't mean that anything goes. I do not think that parents who spank are necessarily bad parents. The Church has not made any declaration on this subject, and pious Catholics are free to disagree. However, that doesn't mean that there is no right and wrong. Just because theology is still developing and we haven't discovered the truth yet doesn't mean the truth isn't there. Either it is okay to spank some children in some circumstances or it is not. The Church hasn't said one way or the other yet, but I think there is sufficient reason to believe that spanking is not in accordance with Catholic belief. See this list from Popcak for more information.

Of course, the issue is much deeper than spanking. One can quite successfully break the will of the child without laying a finger on them. From another parenting site that was recommended in the aforementioned discussion (as part of a so-called "Bill of Rights for Children")

Because it is the most character-building, two-letter word in the English language, children have the right to hear their parents say "No" at least three times a day.

Now, there are plenty of days when I say, "No," at least 3 times. Sometimes it's more like 300. However, I don't do it just for the heck of it. In fact, I am really working on saying it less. Before I say, "No," I try to ask myself, why not? Sometimes there is a very good reason. But often there is no reason other than my own apathy or laziness. Why should that get in the way of my son's activities? Why stifle your child's play just because you can? Which leads to the next quote...

Because it is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, children have the right to hear their parents say "Because I said so" on a regular and frequent basis.

If you don't have a reason, see above. If you do have a reason, why would you not share it with your child? Yes, there are times when you need immediate obedience (child is about to get hurt). However, your child will be more likely to respond in those times if he trusts that you have a good reason for telling him to move. Whenever possible, I give my son the reason for what I ask him to do. Sometimes I ask him to do it first and I will explain later. This is enough for him, he knows the reason is coming. And, when it is truly an emergency, he knows from my voice that it is urgent and he trusts that my reasons are good based on past experience.

There is so much more I could write. This type of gentle discipline really fits in with the parenting style I talked about before. It may be a little more effort initially, but is so much easier and enjoyable in the long term. The only other thing I will say is that we haven't done this from the beginning, and I still slip up. A lot. But when I do things the Popcak/Bailey way, it works, better than anything else we've tried. I think I will go and reread both of those books. I can always use a refresher!


Elena said...


Just popped in to welcome you to St. Blogs and read your post here.

I have met Ray Guerendi and his wife and some of his kids. He's really a nice guy - the kind you wouldn't mind having at a family picnic or get together. He does a wonderful talk on the Eucharist too. I like Gregory Popack too and my own parenting style is in between.

From experience I'd say it's best to have a short reign on the kids and then gradually let it out as they get older. It's terribly hard to do it the other way.

Anyway, I enjoyed your blog and hope to dig into your archives when I have a chance. Thanks

Rebecca said...

I have never wanted robot children either. (OK, maybe once or twice) Seriously though, isn't it better to teach them to use free will wisely by being compassionate and respectful (of the dignity of the child) than to annihilate their will by using fear producing tactics and threats?

Elena said...

Honestly? It depends on the kid. I have six of them. #2, #3 and #5 are easily moldable, easy-going children. #4 would be devastated by anything but the softest of touches. #1 though needed a short leash and an iron hand throughout his childhood and a lot of his adolescence. and baby sister? I dunno yet. She's certainly strong willed so we'll see.

My grandmother helped to raise my sister and me. She did use a lot of the fear tactics and threats. We WERE afraid of her. And we loved her with all of our hearts. I still miss her even 25+ years after her death. It was the mixture of her love and discipline and i think that is what Dr. Guerendi is getting at.