Let me just start out by saying that I’m a new mom who doesn’t know what the heck she’s doing. So, when Dr. Leonard Sax’ The Collapse of Parenting came out, I immediately downloaded it onto my Kindle. Dr. Sax is an MD and PhD and I’ve read two of his previous books entitled, Why Gender Matters, and Boys Adrift. Conversational in tone, he uses both his decades of experience seeing patients and decades of medical research to show parents how to effectively raise good kids.
The Collapse of Parenting primarily focuses on how, over the past couple decades, parents have relegated their authority to their kids. We are living in what Dr. Sax calls a “culture of disrespect”, in which disrespect from kids to adults is not only accepted by the culture, it’s encouraged. The way to combat this, he argues, is to establish authority over your children and to foster a different culture within your home.
What does it mean to assert your authority as a parent? It doesn’t necessarily mean being a tough disciplinarian. Among other things, it means ensuring that the parent-child relationship takes priority over the relationships between the child and her or his same-age peers…When parents lose their authority- when same age peers matter more than parents- then kids are no longer interested in learning the culture of their parents. They want to learn the kiddie culture, the teen culture… The benefits of parental authority are substantial. When parents matter more than peers, they can teach right and wrong in a meaningful way. (location 382-90)
And so, Dr. Sax gives this recommendation:
Command. Don’t ask. Don’t negotiate. Modern parents are forever rationalizing their decisions to their children. There are many problems with that approach. The mere fact that the parent feels compelled to negotiate already undermines the authority of the parent. When you lay down a rule and your children ask why, answer, “Because Mommy (or Daddy) says so, that’s why”. American parents two generations ago did this routinely and comfortably. (location 1055)
If you’re anything like me, asking is a tough habit to break. A few weeks after I finished the book, I still catch myself asking my two and a half year old questions like, Do you want some lunch? Do you want a bath? The fact is, things like lunch or baths aren’t optional, so why am I asking?! Eating and bathing have to happen when Mommy and Daddy say they’re going to happen. Enforcing little things like that consistently, it seems to me, is the basis of what Dr. Sax would call a culture of respect.
When I (mostly) stopped asking, I gained newfound respect for myself as a parent. I stopped feeling guilty for telling our two year old what to do. Our lives gained, at least, the semblance of order, since I no longer let a two year old dictate the pace of our day. Do you want to get dressed? turned into, It’s time to get dressed. And suddenly, it didn’t take us three hours to get ready for the day. I started to accept that his tantrums were not a reflection on my parenting. They’re a reflection of a developmental stage where he’s trying to figure out who’s in charge. Furthermore, my job as a parent isn’t to get him to like me. My job isn’t to please him, it’s to parent him. If I give him everything he wants, I’m failing him in a very real way.
Since I’ve started to be more purposeful in my parenting, I feel really confident in how I’m raising my kids. I now don’t even debate with myself when my kid throws a tantrum. I know I can’t give in. To do so just wouldn’t be loving towards him in the grand scheme of things. I try to lovingly respond or redirect and if he’s still upset, I give him a few minutes to cool off. Most significantly, I’ve realized that if I want to instill things like self control (eating vegetables before dessert, etc. etc.), I need to be practicing self control in my own life. For example, I can’t limit his screen time and then pretend it’s fine for me to be on my phone all day.
A lot of how I’ve experienced motherhood is merely falling head over heels in love with my babies. It’s important to remember, though, that these sweet babes are relying on us to be good parents, not friends. Stay strong, mamas!