New parent? Planning to have a baby and questioning the standard parenting ideas? Don’t miss this critical discussion!

C and K were planning to have a baby. But they thought it best to discuss some things first before taking that final step.

“What is your first priority when it comes to raising a child?” asked C.

“The happiness of the child,” said K. “Obviously.”

“That’s good,” said C. “I guess that’s a good place to start from.”

K looked curiously at C.

“Do you think some parents actually want something else for their kids other than for them to be happy?” he asked.

“Well, not directly. But they think that the child will be happy only if they do the things that the parents want them to do because they think they know better.”

“We do know better than kids though don’t we?”

“Maybe about some things. Like we know some facts that they don’t. We know the Earth revolves around the sun. We know that nothing can exceed the speed of light. We know very few things and even these things we think we ‘know’ contain errors. And none of these things have any bearing on the happiness of a child.”

“I don’t agree. I think there are some things we should make children do that they maybe don’t want to do, but which will make them happy.”

“Like what?”

“Eat well? Not watch too many cartoons? Not jump off a cliff?”

“Ah,” said C. “The last one is true. Because the last one will literally kill them. But neither of the other ones are true.”

“Shouldn’t a child eat well?”

“Sure, but the only person who can decide what constitutes ‘well’ is the child. Just like the only person who can decide for you what constitutes ‘well’ is you.”

“False,” said K. “I follow a health influencer on Instagram who says that you have to eat certain things to be healthy.”

“What is healthy?”

“Be free of disease.”

“And you think only people who eat like that person are free of disease?”

“Hmmm. Ok but I think you are more likely to be disease free if you follow that diet.”

“Fine, I’ll grant you that. It’s not true, but for the sake of argument, let’s assume it is. How would you feel if that person came to your home, decided the quantity of food you should eat, decided where you had to eat it, decided when you had to eat it, confined you to a chair in a specific place and didn’t let you go till you finished it? And on top of that scolded you for not liking the situation?”

“But I am not a child!” said K.

“So because a child is weaker, less knowledgeable and in your protection it is ok to do things that it is not ok to do to an adult?”

“You’re putting it in a negative way,” said K. “This is how I look at it: The child doesn’t know how to take care of herself so I have to take care of her.”

“And where is the line you draw between you ‘doing things’ for the child and ‘forcing’ the child to do things she doesn’t want to do? How loud does a scream have to be, or how many tears have to be shed? Is there a specific amount or is it just at the point where you throw your hands up in the air and shout ‘I can’t do this anymore!’?”

“Are you implying that most of the difficulties of parenting are self-inflicted?”

“Exactly! Not only that – if you’re shouting ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ imagine what the child is going through! And not only that, all popular parenting wisdom is about the convenience of the parents. Especially all Western popular parenting.”

“So what in your opinion is good parenting?”

“Letting the child be.”

“And if the child starves to death?”

“The child will let you know when he or she wants to eat. You really think a child will starve to death?”

“But the child has needs!”

“Yes. Letting a child be doesn’t mean not paying attention to the child. You have to pay very close attention in fact. You have to be there when the child needs you. You need to support the child doing things the child wants to do.”

“But how can I let the child do something when I know full well that it’s bad for the child?”

“Just like you let me do things that you ‘know’ are bad for me.”

“Like what?”

C thought for a moment. “Have sugar with my coffee, not exercise, smoke occasionally, be anti-social, not brush twice a day…”

“Ok, ok I get it,” said K. “But still I think you are different from a child.”

“Why? Because I know what I’m doing is wrong and I’m doing it anyway?”

“Yes! You are knowingly doing something wrong.”

“So if I was unknowingly doing something wrong it would be ok to force me to stop doing it? Or would be better to try to explain it to me?”

“Ok I guess parenting is a bit authoritarian, but kids need boundaries!”

“What do you think will happen to a child who doesn’t have boundaries imposed on him or her?”

“Who knows! They’ll light matches in the baby’s room and won’t listen if you tell them to stop!”

“It’s the opposite. If you don’t impose arbitrary boundaries (and every rule that is unexplained is arbitrary) then when you tell them not to do something, they will trust that you have a good reason.”

“I don’t know if it works like that.”

“Ok, think of all the people you know. Do you think the ones who are happiest, most satisfied with life are the ones whose parents imposed the most ‘boundaries’? Or are the happiest people the ones who were free to explore and follow their curiosities?”

“Hmmm, that’s interesting, let me think about that. You should too!”

“I will!”

“This is all very nice and all but how does one solve any problem without forcing the child one way or another? For example, if the child wants to eat only donuts for three days. How do I get her to eat something healthier?”

“Just like how you changed something in your life for the better. Maybe you read something or you met someone. Some explanation of what you were doing and why it’s not good for you, appealed to you at some level. You have to be creative and solve problems not smash them into oblivion with coercion.”

“One last problem for you – screens. How do we prevent a child from watching too many cartoons?”

“Why what’s your problem with screens?”

‘They’re not natural. They rot our brains. They’re addictive. Should I go on?”

“Yes, because I’m still waiting to hear something true.”

“What, so you think a child should keep watching cartoons all day?”

“First, yes if that’s what a child wants to do. But let me tell you, the only reason a child will watch cartoons the whole day is if the child is not given control over when and how much children’s television to watch. If you set time limits, take away the screen, hide the screen, and tell them how bad it is, they will use every opportunity they get to watch it. And the days you tell them not to, they will keep doing it. A healthy relationship with screens begins with giving the child control. And this holds true for everything else because the way children make decisions and learn is the same as the way we do, and they no more appreciate being controlled against their will than we do.”

“I think that makes sense. I certainly wouldn’t want someone else to control how much Netflix I watch. But ok, say a child really does only watch cartoons all day and is not interested in playing with toys, what then? How will they grow up in a wholesome way?”

“Maybe screens are inherently more useful and interesting than the physical world? And this rings truer for children who are physically unable to go or do what they want. Maybe screens are the future and the children who spend more time with them will have great careers doing something screen related? Who knows? And ask yourself this: What if your parents thought screens were the best things ever and never let you go out and play in the garden? Wouldn’t you be upset with them that they didn’t let you experience the great outdoors? Now flip that around: wouldn’t a child who is not allowed to use a screen be upset with their parents when they grow up that they couldn’t watch what they wanted and be exposed to a world much larger and more interesting than the one they happen to be confined to?”

“Ooh I like that,” said K. “Screens are windows into infinity!”

“Yes! And humans are infinite creatures. Parents are literally limiting infinity by putting all these stupid constraints on their children!”

“But wouldn’t you want our child to be exposed to a wide variety of things and not just screens?”

“Yes I would, and it is our job to expose gently, not force. Suggest, convince, explain, gently, creatively.”

“That sounds really impractical.”

“Probably will be at times, and at other times it’ll be easier than conventional parenting. We don’t know what problems will come up. All we know is problems are inevitable. And we also know that we can solve them as we have done all our lives. And problems are best solved with creativity and keeping an open mind, not by listening to ‘experts’ and using coercion. But most of all it’s about having fun with your child because a good childhood is a fun childhood!”

“That I can agree with.”

“Well good. We started by agreeing about something and now we can end it by agreeing with something too. Now let’s go have a baby!”

Roshan Ali, 2022, ‘New parent? Planning to have a baby and questioning the standard parenting ideas? Don’t miss this critical discussion!’, https://www.takingchildrenseriously.com/new-parent-planning-to-have-a-baby-and-questioning-the-standard-parenting-ideas-dont-miss-this-critical-discussion/

1 thought on “New parent? Planning to have a baby and questioning the standard parenting ideas? Don’t miss this critical discussion!”

  1. Great piece. We have friends who are about to have a baby and this is the first article about taking kids seriously that we’d seen that we could show them and know they would get a kick out of it. It is provoking alot of convos too.

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