Living with Children: ‘Parenting’ vs. child-rearing

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“The goal of parenting is not to control, coerce or punish children into being ‘good.’ The goal of parenting is to grow children who can feel all of their feelings and become empathic problem-solvers, and to help children reach their fullest potential.”

No, I haven’t gone over to the other side. That’s a quote from a recent Washington Post column by parent coach Meghan Leahy. I checked the date because it’s the very sort of romantic blah-blah the experts were churning out in the early 1970s, which is when mere childrearing became parenting.

Leahy is well-intentioned, but she is sadly mistaken. Helping children feel rightly is not the goal of parenting. Well, in a sense it is, because parenting and mere childrearing are polar opposites in every way.

Parenting is about making sure children “feel all of their feelings and become empathic problem-solvers,” whatever that means and however it is measured. Mere childrearing, on the other hand, is about growing responsible citizens, which requires, in no particular order, that children learn to control their emotions and know the difference between right and wrong.

The goals of mere childrearing are clear. No one has to wonder what is meant by “know the difference between right and wrong.”

It’s not clear what Ms. Leahy recommends when a child is belligerently defiant, out of control, purposefully destructive, and otherwise pre-sociopathic, to which children, bless their hearts, are inclined.

Like all postmodern progressive parenting pundits (zero exceptions), she believes pre-1970s childrearing was bad. Never mind that pre-1970s children respected and obeyed adults (with a nod to the occasional exception) and were bunches happier than today’s kids, who seem more interested in creating drama on social media than preparing for adulthood.

The proper discipline of a child is a battle against the forces of chaos which every child brings into the world. That battle is conducted on the child’s behalf by the important adults in his life. Said adults must love the child unconditionally, lest they allow anger to drive their disciplinary behavior and accomplish nothing but what is counterproductive to all concerned.

I sorta-kinda understand Ms. Leahy’s antipathy toward punishment. When used as the centerpiece of discipline, it causes more problems than it solves. But its drawbacks are not inherent; they are a function of overuse.

Leahy gives the example of a toddler who defiantly refuses to stop jumping on the sofa when so instructed. She advises redirection and providing the child with other things to jump on. Lovely ideas, if only they worked. Just ask parents.

They will attest to the fact that all toddlers have oppositional defiant disorder. Worse, toddlers believe, all of them, that what they want is the way things ought to be. Heaven help us all if a toddler takes that sociopathic belief into his teen years, much less adulthood.

You bought your toddler an expensive trampoline to jump on? So? He’d rather jump on the sofa, if only because it drives you nuts, and driving you nuts, not jumping up and down, is his favorite sport.

Which means he requires a message that will overcome his determination to have everything go his way. In other words, punishment.

[Family psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com. Copyright 2022, John K. Rosemond]