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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Confessions of a Free-Spirited Mom

I threw out my "biblical parenting" books a long time ago. When my first baby was born a high-needs child, I threw in the towel, at least in practice. I didn't care if that meant that my baby was manipulating me, going to be spoiled, or in control of our family. As long I got some sleep and was able to take a shower, and my baby was happy, that was all that mattered. Unfortunately, I didn't get rid of all the roots of such teachings, or the inner guilt that I was doing something wrong by not following them, until my second baby was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, when she was 2. The regret that I lived with knowing I had punished my precious daughter for behaviors she couldn't control, all in the name of "biblical parenting" was too much to bear. I now break all the rules that were ever laid down in those stupid books.

There's nothing wrong with child-centered parenting. Why did we ever believe there was? Parenting isn't about the parents, it's about the child. No parent should ever try to force their child to fit into a mold that someone else has designated for them. Children are just little people, and people are all so wildly, amazingly unique. God designed us that way. I think He likes diversity. And I think it took having 3 kids who are out-of-the-box kids to finally put the nail in the coffin of "biblical parenting" ideals. (Personally, I think that all kids would be "out-of-the-box" kids if their parents would just let them. But that's another topic. ;))

I've been "accused" of attachment parenting. (Really? What kind of an "accusation" is that? Is that all ya got?) The more experience I gain at this mothering thing, the more my style of parenting is becoming more natural, more AP-like, if you want to put a label on it. It just fits me and my children. We are more at peace with each other and I'm not trying so hard to fit a style of parenting that causes strife and unhappiness in my family. Contrary to popular conservative belief, co-sleeping didn't ruin my kids' sleep patterns for life, breastfeeding on demand and child-led weaning didn't lessen my "authority" (whatever that means), and baby-wearing didn't make my kids turn into demanding brats. Responding to my child's cries, every time, didn't make them "in control" of me. Instead, it made my kids secure in the knowledge that I loved them, was FOR them, and would take care of their needs. Pretty much every terrible thing that those parenting books said would happen if I didn't follow them, never happened. My babies weren't taught to unnaturally sit still on a blanket so I could get stuff done. Instead, I wore them, or let them get in my way, under my feet, often having to stop what I was doing to chase them around. So what? Having kids is inconvenient. You get used to it.

You should see my home now. It's a mess. Always. Even after I work all day to clean it, it never stays that way. I let my girls draw hop-scotch numbers in the squares on the kitchen floor. I talk to and reason with my 4-yr-old when she doesn't want to do what I ask. When she asks me "why", I tell her why. I have never said "because I say so". That's a stupid cop-out and insulting to the intellegence of a child. I have said, "obey me now, and I will explain it to you afterwards". Sometimes I don't even punish them for disobedience, but instead let natural consequences take their course (as long as it won't kill them) and have a good lesson/talk afterwards. I try to teach them that choices have consequences, so make good choices. I don't punish them for telling me what they think or how they feel. Instead, I try to show them the polite and appropriate way to express those things. (Ex: screaming "No, I don't want to!!" when told to do something isn't appropriate. Quietly telling me afterwards that you didn't want to or didn't like it is fine. I don't expect you to like everything I tell you to do.) I don't feel guilty in the least for not spanking or punishing my kids when others think I should. Or letting them get away with things that others think I shouldn't. I am my children's mother, not anyone else. I will choose which battles to fight and which ones aren't worth it. I feel no need to constantly prove to my kids that I am their "authority" and they are mere children.

I wrote this before, and I think it bears repeating:

Guess what? The Bible never prescribes a parenting method. It just doesn't. So anyone that claims to know "The Biblical Parenting Method"(TM) is full of it. Parenting is a very personal, very individual thing that the Bible really doesn't talk much about. It is multi-faceted and complex and even changes from child to child within the same family. The only principles of parenting that the apostles ever addressed was summed up in two sentences: "Do not discourage and provoke your children to wrath" and "raise them up in the nurture and instruction of the Lord". That's it, folks. He didn't lay out 10 steps of how to do those two things....I think he left that up to us, to use discernment and wisdom and love and knowledge of our children to figure out the best way to "raise them up" and nurture them.

I also think that everything we need to know about parenting, we can get from looking at how God "parents" us. And from following the "one-another" scriptures in regards to our kids. They are people too, after all, and I fail to see how "be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other" doesn't also apply to how we interact with our children. There are no Bible laws that say your kid must obey immediately every single time with a smile on their face. Do you obey God that way every time He asks you to? And isn't God still good and merciful when we complain and stomp our feet? How many times has God extended mercy to you when you didn't obey Him instantly and cheerfully? I'd venture to say more times then most people extend mercy to their own children. So why in the world do we think we should expect more of an immature child then we are able to do ourselves??? If God is loving and gentle and merciful and abounding in loving kindness and patience toward us, how can we not extend that to our children? Don't judge another parent because they are doing things differently than you. Until you have to raise their unique children, you don't know their story and you have no right to tell them they're doing it wrong. And do not feel guilty if others seem to condemn you for your parenting choices. If you are confident that you're doing the best you can to love and raise your kids in the way that THEY need you to, forget others' condemnation. They are not the score-card on your parenting.

This parenting thing is messy.....messy, beautiful, fun, exhasting, nerve-wracking, unpredictable, exciting, fulfilling, wonderful, scary, and so blessed. Don't try to make it something it's not (i.e., perfect and convenient). Don't force yourself to live up to others' standards. This isn't about them. It's about you and your precious children.

I laugh about the whole thing now....now that I feel like I finally know what I'm doing (most of the time...except when I don't), now that I'm not at odds with my kids all the time, now that I'm true to myself and in tune with my kids, now that grace is my default setting, now that I'm not out to prove I'm the boss to my children, now that I'm not out to impress people with perfectly behaved kids, now that I don't care what people think about me or my parenting. It's so freeing.

A funny thing happened when I let go of unrealistic expectations for my kids: I let go of unrealistic expectations for myself. And that has made all the difference in the world.

My out-of-the-box kiddos


  1. That is SO GOOD to hear that from a parent! :-) I love what you said about grace being your "default setting".

  2. What you said, pretty much all the way through. I certainly knew a lot more about parenting before I had children.

    -- SJ

  3. What's this? I thought parenting was easy! I'd just snap my fingers and everything would fall into place. Those disobedient, loud, rambunctious kids in McDonalds? Not happening in my family! (BTW, there was a time I seriously thought that kids should be banned from McDonalds because they tended to drive me nuts on my lunchbreak. Can't believe my wife kept a straight face over that one!). Yessiree Bob, I had this parenting thing in the bag. I had it all figured out.

    That is, until I actually had children. Then parenting got to be a little less of an exact science. :)


    Jim K.

  4. A woman after my own heart....

  5. Darcy,
    Brianna and I aren't as far on our parenting journey as you and Sky are, but we are vocal APers. We personally think that relationships with our kids is the most important part of parenting, and find it very sad that a lot families where the parents are homeschool grads treat their children like they are subhuman, putting so-called "Biblical" authority structures above loving their own children.
    Brianna just wrote an article on treating babies like humans with real emotional needs; it kind of goes right along with this topic: http://fountainlove.blogspot.com/2011/03/heart-thoughts-in-which-babies-have.html
    Blessings to you!

  6. Ben,
    That was a beautiful poem and post! I love what you said about children not being slates for us to write on. Thank you so much for sharing that. :)

  7. Amen Darcy, very well said and very true. I wish more Christian parents would through out the "how to" books and parent with common sense and grace.
    Thank you from a Grandma to 9 little ones

  8. This is THE BEST article I've seen on parenting in a very long time!! Thank you!

  9. You have made this dad a happy dad. I could not agree more.

  10. I LOVE your third paragraph! Preach on sista!

  11. Your fourth paragraph is very convicting to me in a "I know that, but haven't gotten there" sense, in respect to a clean house. I need to lighten up. Thank you.

  12. "I also think that everything we need to know about parenting, we can get from looking at how God "parents" us. And from following the "one-another" scriptures in regards to our kids."

    Your thoughts here are my sentiments exactly.

  13. I don't mean to be a wet blanket, but I just feel compelled to point out one thing: Be aware that sometimes, grace-based parenting advocates get just as militant as biblical parenting advocates, or even more so. I see this with some of the mothers I know, and it troubles me a little. The levels of competitiveness and guilt get absolutely unreal. If you don't co-sleep/baby-wear/cloth-diaper/attachment parent/whatever this group has decided is the best technique at the present moment, you are evil, I tell you, EVIL!!!!!

    I'm not kidding. I wish I were.

  14. I don't doubt it, Gina. That's why I'm not really promoting any one "camp" to stake your tent in. Just the freedom to do what is best for your own children. I'm even not AP enough for some....I use disposable diapers *gasp* and my kids watch too much TV and I don't breastfeed past 2 and start un-co-sleeping at 1. :P I'm just trying to encourage people to have freedom in this area and not be stuck in any one way. Regardless of which way that is.

  15. Understood. I'm glad you're that way. :-) Just wanted to warn you not to let certain people in this movement try to lure you into a trap just as bad as the one you left! I watched a good friend get guilted into doing the cloth diaper thing, and it was disturbing. Not because I care what kind of diapers anyone uses, but because of the guilt.

  16. I LOVE this! Especially the last line. That has been so true in my life. :)

  17. (Here I go again, commenting on a blog about parenting when I'm not a parent- forgive me!)

    "There's nothing wrong with child-centered parenting. Why did we ever believe there was? Parenting isn't about the parents, it's about the child."

    While I actually basically agree with your main point of this post (and many of the specific points you make as well,) I wondered about this statement. From what I have learned, good parenting should be about raising your child to become a kind, respectful, well-rounded adult. Parenting that is solely child-centered will not accomplish this, because the kids will grow up thinking the world revolves around them and they can do whatever they want to when they want to no matter who it affects. It really does not sound like you are raising your kids like that, so I'm not sure what definition you are using when you talk about "child-centered parenting." Would you mind clarifying that?

  18. I was raised on the pearls, and now I follow Attachment Parenting. Like you, it cracks me up that people see AP as something bad, lol! And thanks for pointing out that the Bible does not "proscribe" a child training method - because that's so true, but so misunderstood!

  19. Good post. :) I was all for the "cry-it-out" method...until my little one was born! It just felt wrong. He wasn't crying to manipulate me. He was crying because he was hungry or felt bad. If he's hungry, I feed him. If he feels bad, I comfort him. Now, he's only five months old, so I don't have a lot of experience overall, but it has been a rough five months. He has bad reflux, and we're starting to figure out he's also reacting to foods I'm eating. I would have felt terrible to let him cry it out early on, only to later find out he was crying because he was in so much pain! I do let him whine and fuss sometimes while going to sleep, but not all out cry. He's going to fuss wherever he's going to sleep. He just doesn't like to sleep, lol.

    Also, he was only going to sleep in our room for the first couple of weeks, while we all adjusted. Yeah. He's still there. And he wasn't going to sleep in our bed, either. He did that sometimes...that mostly stopped when I woke up one morning to him projectile vomiting all over me. Not fun. :P

    But some of my opinions definitely changed after he was born and my mothering instinct kicked in. It's different for each child, too. I'm sure there's stuff we'll do differently with the next. Because as you pointed out, it's about the child, and there's no "Biblical Parenting Method". There are basic guidelines, about how to treat people in general. 1 Corinthians 13 applies to children just as much as anyone else. But no one method.

    Lindsay (from HSA)

  20. The one thing I have learned through my years of parenting is that there is no "right way". Each child needs parenting tailored to their needs and personality. And parents are different too. I have use both the cry it out and AP. I have found what works for me.
    Thank you for saying so many things on my heart. I think the light is JUST starting to dawn for my man and me. We have a long road ahead of us. A lonely road at least until we make new friends.
    I look forward to reading more
    Anonymous for now:)

  21. Thank you SO much for this post it is exactly what I needed to hear tonight! I am a new mom, my daughter is 4 months old, and I've been struggling so much with the big parenting issue. I feel so guilty for not "disciplining" her yet and have already been accused of spoiling her because I hold her too much. I'm taking a more AP approach as well, I didn't plan on it but it just happened. We are co-sleeping and lately I have been feeling pushed that I need to move her to a crib now but I just don't think we are ready. Thank you for the boost of confidence, it's so different being a mom, it has a lot of insecure moments and having others judge your style doesn't help. You are officially my new favorite blogger. I'm so happy I found this place!! Sorry for leaving a massive amount of comments, I'm just enjoying it too much!

  22. Marie, thank you for all your comments! :) I have tons of resources and links for AP parenting. Things that have helped me in my journey toward grace-based parenting. Maybe I'll do a post on that....just my favorite links and resources on parenting. :)