Our parenting philosophy

Laziness wins

Evolution usually knows what it’s doing

Culture is different all over the place, and can often be ignored

Kids are resilient

Wow… that’s really it in a nutshell.  I guess I can expand on each of these points.

Laziness wins

Our rule has always been:  do whatever works.  Don’t do what’s hardest, do what’s easiest.  With a note that screaming babies are not easy to deal with.  We didn’t have a napping schedule because it was easiest to just let DC nap whenever DC was tired.  DC ate when hungry because that was easiest for us.  When DC wanted to start solids, we started solids and didn’t fret about forcing them before that.  We coslept when that was easiest and transitioned DC into hir own bed when that was easiest.  Our methods of discipline etc. changed with age and DC’s changing needs, and if something didn’t work we tried something else.  What’s easiest for DC2 will probably be different than with DC1 (although enciente, DC2 seems remarkably like DC1, perhaps even more so) and we’ll go with that.

Evolution is pretty cool

Evolution doesn’t solve everything, or else breast-feeding and natural childbirth would be a lot easier.  But… an infant’s cries force immediate reaction from most mothers (not so much for mothers who were themselves neglected as infants :( ).  It’s natural to want to pick up a crying baby and comfort it.  A toddler’s cries don’t set off that kind of reaction and are much easier to ignore.

Readiness for solids is linked to their gut flora, something called a tongue-thrust reflex, and their desire to put foods in their mouths.  If you put the food in and it comes straight back out, then that’s a sign the tummy isn’t ready for solid foods yet, and that’s ok.  And different tummies are ready at different times.

There are many other of these links that evolution built up.  These links help with the laziness theme… you’re not a bad mom if you pick up your crying baby no matter what your neighbors say about spoiling an infant.  It wouldn’t feel so bad not to pick up the baby if you weren’t meant to pick up the baby.  If your kid isn’t ready for solids yet, you’re not losing some sort of parenting war.  The kid just isn’t ready for solids yet.  By kindergarten that tongue thrust reflex will go away (actually, by age 1… if it’s later than that consult your pedi).

Culture is different depending on where you live

A lot of parents, especially on the internet, seem to want to make parenting harder for themselves.  Around here that means forcing your kid to a schedule even if the schedule doesn’t really work for your individual kid.  In other parts of the country, that can mean checking off some list that your Non-Violent Parenting instructor gave you at your weekly 8 hour Saturday class.

Extremes about what to do seem to ignore individual differences, and these individual differences can result in a lot more screaming and crying, and who wants to spend precious childcare time with that?  Once you’re confident that laziness is ok and evolution can mostly be trusted, then feel free to follow your own path.  Just try not to get into any heated arguments with other moms, or their mother-in-laws.

Kids are pretty resilient

Even kids whose parents brought them up with one extreme or the other will probably be fine by the time they hit college.  Obviously kids who are abused need help, but the majority of parenting philosophies don’t call for true abuse.  Time-outs will not cause kids to become convicts later in life, even if some philosophies call them violent.  Even if a kid is a holy terror as a toddler because hir parent is learning how to not discipline at child-centered parenting classes, once ze gets to school ze will straighten out.

More to the point, anything I do (within the reasonable universe of things I do) will probably not scar DC for life.  Ze will learn just as much from my “mistakes” as from my perfections.  When I snap at DC, ze learns that sometimes behavior is inappropriate or ill-timed and even when people snap, that doesn’t mean they love any less.  I try not to, and I generally apologize after (another good lesson by example), but when it happens I don’t beat myself up about it.  That’s as much a learning lesson as our (more mature) frank explanatory talks about appropriate behavior.

So… bottom line:  If something works, why change it?  If something isn’t working, why keep doing it?  Parenting should be fun.  Everything is a learning experience.  There’s no place for guilt in parenting.

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35 Responses to “Our parenting philosophy”

  1. First gen american Says:

    Good advice. The only part of the laziness philosophy I still feel guilty about is when my wee one wants candy, I say no ,then he sneaks it anyway and runs under the table. Some days I just don’t feel like battling it out of his iron grip and dealing with the tantrum that follows, so I let him just eat it. He is in his testing limits phase and sometimes I let him have his way instead of sending a consistent message about stuff.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I guess what we would do would be to move the candy where it couldn’t be reached so it couldn’t happen again. Or just inform him that there’s no more candy because he can’t be trusted with it. (This is easy for me since I can’t have it anyway!)

      Ours actually has hir own shelf of candy leftover from holidays that ze can access at will. So ze controls hir own candy consumption. Ze can also use hir allowance to buy candy. The important things are to eat something healthy first so ze doesn’t get a stomach ache and to brush hir teeth after so ze doesn’t get cavities.

      One Easter my parents let me eat all my Easter candy in one fell swoop. Man did I get sick. After that I ate any candy more slowly.

      I guess we’re not that concerned about consistent messages… just about natural consequences. We don’t have many rules, just reasoning. Why can’t you have candy? Because you need healthy food first to grow big and strong. Or because it isn’t polite to eat it all without sharing if it isn’t just yours. The latter is fixed by assigning property rights (and we always share our own yummy food), and the former quantity is limited and ze makes hir own decisions.

  2. Laura Vanderkam Says:

    This is roughly my parenting philosophy too. My kids are their own little people and after having passed on my genes, I am not going to be able to control much of the outcome. I like to point people toward the essay written in O magazine a few years ago by Dylan Klebold’s mother. By all accounts, the family was pretty normal and the parents certainly didn’t raise him to go shoot up his high school. Indeed, I would go as far to say she was a good mom by most people’s standards. It clearly didn’t matter much in the end. So it’s really funny that people think that somehow whether the kid is signed up for karate by age 4 or whether he watches 90 minutes of TV per day or 60 is going to make a huge difference in his adult life. We’re so invested in our kids that we want to believe what we do really matters. Beyond creating a happy home where we’re happy with our choices I’m not sure it does. It’s with that in mind that I write that if I read one more essay by someone who’s convinced that her backyard tomatoes turned her picky eater kid into a gourmand, I’m going to scream.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Backyard tomatoes are pretty tasty compared to store-bought…especially with backyard basil, local mozarella and a crusty french bread…all drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar. Ah, soon, soon…

      Though I didn’t like tomatoes until I was in high school, even with delish homegrown Midwestern options in the backyard. Every year I would try and every year I’d be all BLECH. DC seems fine with tomatoes in many formats but shares my sister’s early aversion to onions. So ze doesn’t have to eat them… my sister likes onions just fine now and perhaps ze will too some day.

      I do think there’s something to the link between childhood obesity and eating habits at home, particularly scheduled feeding for babies, that isn’t just correlation. It makes sense that if babies are brought up in a scarcity/abundance environment that they will adapt their eating habits to obtain as many calories as possible when those calories are available. But that isn’t necessarily permanent, it’s just more difficult for people like my DH to control his weight as an adult; he has to think about it.

  3. Well Heeled Blog Says:

    From everything I’ve read, it seems that parenting has less of an effect on children than we’d like to believe. That’s kind of reassuring and kind of scary at the same time. Some kids are just born with natural resiliency that means you can throw almost anything at them and they’d grow up to be productive & functional adults, and some kids you can do everything right and they turn out to hide body parts under the house. Most kids are somewhere in the middle, of course.

  4. becca Says:

    “A toddler’s cries don’t set off that kind of reaction and are much easier to ignore.”
    Do you happen to know if the researchers have looked at that enough to tell if it’s
    1) the cries are different
    or also 2) the hormones of the ‘4th trimester’ make you respond to crying in general more sensitively?
    Like, have you noticed it being harder to ignore DC now that you are pregnant (or perhaps even, easier to notice but more annoying so you ignore rather than react badly)? A friend who is pregnant with #2 seems like she might be dealing with this (but her #1 may just be acting up because of insecurity over new baby and/or other big scary health issues specific to their situation, so I don’t know)

    “I guess what we would do would be to move the candy where it couldn’t be reached so it couldn’t happen again. ”
    See, this assumes that the kid is not a crazy monkey climber. Evolution is TOO effective sometimes, methinks!

    I am looking forward to him being older and trying ‘healthy food first’ and ‘brush teeth after’ -that seems eminently sensible (actually, we might try that now. he does love to brush the chompers, so that might add to the appeal of candy, but I guess it wouldn’t be so bad).

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      If DC were an unsafe climber then you couldn’t have candy in the house because it’s not safe. Thus the second option of not having candy in the house. DH keeps his at work so I don’t take any (since I’m not supposed to have it and it was driving me crazy).

      We started with reasoning very young. The reasons expanded in complexity– originally it was just “dangerous!” “polite” (reminds me of an early Big Bang Theory where they explain to Sheldon why he needs to buy a birthday present) and “dirty/icky”, accompanied by the appropriate voice modulations.

      IIRC, and it has been several years since I read anything on this, it’s mother’s hormones re: the crying. Though she is upset by her own baby’s cries more than other babies. Babies also do have different cries for different levels of distress, but that’s just personal experience (a change my diaper cry is different than I’m hurt, for example).

      My DC is a kindergartener so we are well past the needy toddler stage.

  5. mom2boy Says:

    I found it insanely hard to not respond to Tate’s cries as a baby. Actually there was always an intense visceral response and it felt very much like I needed to be held down to not rush to him. I always picked him up at night. At six months-ish someone gave me a copy of baby wise. Trying to get him to nap, I would put him down, go out in the backyard so I couldn’t hear him crying, only to go inside 20 minutes later to find him still crying. It was a long week that didn’t do anything except make me feel worse. I don’t know at what point my body was supposed to stop feeling like a chain was jerked every time he cried but it took way more than the first three months. More like 15.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Ugh. Baby Wise is a horrible book. With no scientific basis, btw. The guy who wrote it’s claim to fame is that he’s a religious nut. (The woman is a nurse, IIRC, but there’s a wide variation in what nurses believe.)

      Early editions of it actually caused documented cases of Failure to Thrive in babies whose parents followed it to the letter. Later editions altered some of those things so as to be less dangerous and toned down the religious dogma so as to increase sales.

      When you stop feeling like picking the baby up immediately is different for different mother/child pairs, and it is usually between 4-6 months and a year (and may be connected with the child’s mobility etc.). [Note: those are the times when Ferber says it is safe to do his version of sleep training, which has been bastardized by people like baby-wise into something less safe. But I’m not sure Ferber’s 6 months is ok rule should be hard and fast as some kids may need more time… why do the hard thing? It’s easier when the kid is ready, and there’s probably a reason for that.] For us it was a gradual shift.

      • oilandgarlic Says:

        Is Baby Wise the same or similar to the Happiest Baby? I think i read both but forgot. I did try the sleep scheduling thing to some extent but we didn’t get upset if some days it worked and some days it didn’t. The only thing is we would try to not let the kids nap too late because then they wouldn’t sleep well later.

        I think it’s natural and part of evolution to pick up a crying baby. I think it’s survival of the fittest. Crying babies are usually being held by their mom or extended family (in case of other tribes or predators). A non-crying baby may be left alone and more vulnerable. At least that’s what i told myself in early babyhood days when it felt like i was holding my youngest 24/7!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I think the Happiest baby doesn’t give actually dangerous advice like early editions of babywise did.

        It’s still part of the making money of maternal guilt industry that we are against. (After reading Our Babies, Ourselves, a highly researched book on the anthropology of child rearing, I stopped reading books on parenting.)

  6. Cloud Says:

    Yeah, this is pretty much my philosophy, too.

    On the evolution/eating thing, I add- remember taste is controlled by taste buds which are coded for by genes, so it is no surprise that the way we taste things varies! Also no surprise that a mother who finds most green veggies taste unpleasantly bitter would have a child who won’t touch green veggies.

    I’m with @Laura- those essays about how some parenting trick “cured” picky eating make me cringe. More likely- the kid wasn’t really a picky eater, and was just in the normal toddler neophobia phase and grew out of it. So all the parents did was not screw things up. Which, really, is great- but doesn’t mean squat in terms of dealing with a child who is actually a picky eater.

    My kid may just be slow growing out of that neophobia phase, or may (like her mother) keep more neophobe tendencies than most all her life. Either way, so what? She’s doing fine. My goal is only to not mess her up about food- so not train her out of being able to recognize when she’s full and stop eating, and not discourage trying new things by turning it into a battle of wills.

    And I got to the point where I lied about how my baby was sleeping the first time around, because I was so sick of people recommending that god-awful Baby Wise book to me.

    Also, yes 100 times to the idea that kids are resilient. I don’t have to be a perfect parent, just a loving one.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      The hard part is the not caring when culture is trying to force you into X, Y, and Z. It’s much happier being relaxed about a picky eater than freaking out about it. (Our former picky eater– the normal kind, though his mommy is a supertaster– ate veggie kabobs last night! From hir kid’s fun and healthy cookbook. Ze left most of the red pepper and onion, but seemed to actually enjoy the zucchini. Sadly I realized there was wheat in the damned black bean sauce and could not partake, though happily realized it before partaking.)

      • arc Says:

        This is so true! Somehow I missed this post, so thanks for leaving me the link :)

        I do think the one thing that can screw up eating habits for a good long time is the “clean your plate” philosophy. We’re trying to be very hands off about food since I’m *still* dealing with bad eating habits. Ellyn Sattler’s book was overall quite helpful (though parts of it made me want to throw it across the room, too, just like most of those parenting books.)

  7. Laura Vanderkam Says:

    @Cloud- I cringe at sleep training testimonials in the same way I cringe at the homegrown tomato eating morality tales. Some sleep methods work for some kids, and then the parents become evangelical about them, as if your kid’s sleep issues would go away if you just follow X, Y or Z prophet of kiddie sleep. The whole “sleep begets sleep” thing is not and never has been true for my kids. On the days they take good naps, they sleep less at night. If I put them down early for some reason, they wake up early. This is just who they are. They find life too interesting to sleep for the amount of time that various books recommend.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I’ve always thought the “sleep begets sleep” thing was a classic case of correlation not being causation.

      My kid sleeps a lot when ze is sick, on a growth spurt, or learning a lot in a new environment. Ze doesn’t sleep much otherwise. It is easy for ze to go down for a nap when ze needs sleep, and ze will sleep longer at night too. Because ze needs sleep! Otherwise, no nap and less sleep at night because ze just doesn’t have a high sleep need!

      I really don’t understand the extreme focus on forcing kids to sleep in our geographic region. Soon I will be wanting to smack my coworkers again with their incessant, “Is ze sleeping through the night yet?” (No, but so long as our sleep/feed cycles match, I will be fine.)

      My BIL was complaining to DH yesterday about how his 3 year old keeps using delaying tactics when going to bed. So DH said we just gave DC a later bedtime and doesn’t have to sleep but does need to stay in hir room for quiet time, and has always pretty much decided when ze wants to go to sleep (conditional on our bedtime routine), dealing with the natural consequences that follow if ze needed more sleep. So BIL said, “Yeah, all kids are different”… but in this case, I don’t think it actually was a difference, just that we’re letting DC tell us ze needs less sleep which is easier for us than dealing with nighttime machinations and the in-laws are sticking with a routine that gives them cause to complain. But who knows.

      One thing I love about DC’s current school is that ze sleeps more at night (we think) because ze is learning stuff! That means mommy and daddy get some quiet alone time that we didn’t used to get.

    • arc Says:

      As someone who has a kid that has been a surprisingly easy sleeper, I mostly try to keep my mouth shut. I know there’s nothing we DID to make that happen – that’s just who she is, likely because I am a person who needs 9 hours of sleep (and prefers 10) to function optimally. Nonetheless, my friends are always trying to find the perfect solution to “fix” their kids, which I think often makes them more crazy than the sleep issue itself…

  8. bogart Says:

    It’s funny, I was thinking about (approximately) this just last night when I got home from work, DH left for his night out, and I crammed food (a scarcity in our home yesterday evening; I settled on cheeses, some smoked trout, some apple slices and some strawberries as the best available tasty and portable supper foods) into a little cooler and off we strolled to the nearby elementary school where we ate supper (OK, OK, *I* ate supper, DS consumed half an apple and went to see how tightly he could twist the chains on the swings and thus, how fast he could spin around as they unwound) and then horsed around on the playground/basketball courts until (shortly after) dark.

    I mean, I get that there are plenty of reasons people can’t necessarily do this every night … but we do this sort of thing repeatedly and are often the only ones there (if we go to a park, as opposed to the school, we might be one of 3 or 5 small family groups).

    All DS ate for supper was those apple slices + 2 more apples I sliced up for him *after* he was in bed. Oh, and one bite of trout and one of brie. But you know, he had (and has) access to plenty of other alternatives and presumably selected what his body needed then — he doesn’t (generally) subsist on apples. And we had relaxing fun time together and enjoyed a beautiful spring evening (now with more daylight!). And really, what more could we need?

    I will, however, defend my obsessive insistence on preserving naptime as a block of time — not exactly the same block, but a block of afternoon time — when DS napped when he was younger, not because *he* needed it per se but because I needed the break — and his consuming it when (e.g.) I was out driving around didn’t ruin the rest of *his* day but it sure threw a wrench in mine. Oh, I miss naptime!

  9. undinenotofgeneralinterest Says:

    Great parenting advice, especially about adapting and paying attention to what your child needs rather than to what competitive parents decide is right.

  10. Que Sera Says:

    Advice I fell into pretty easily since I have a strong female family base that shared all of the trust your gut and don’t force things early style of parenting. Since my grandmothers raised 19 children among themselves, it seemed silly to them to assume that all children need, want, or respond to the same things (or to make things harder on yourself…all phases end).

    Perhaps the drop in number of children and loss of multi-generational advice has led to more focus on a one philosophy fits all attitude? I don’t know. I never share advice unless explicitly asked and even then tell the multiple responses that my grandmother’s shared with me and not just what worked with mijo.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      It’s true– my mother’s generation is the first one that didn’t have 7-12 kids. (They started running out of names around kid 7, so there’s a lot of Octavians etc. And no deaths in childbirth! Women in my family divorced when it was unfashionable but didn’t die. No wonder I had such an easy labor last time…)

      I like the multiple choices– here’s what worked with our friends, here’s what worked with us, or even… here’s why this isn’t necessarily a problem.

  11. oilandgarlic Says:

    Oh, we’re super lazy. So much that we are hoping to move to Italy so that we’re surrounded by good food and our children naturally grow up to be better eaters (or the other option is China). Yes there is tons of fast food etc.. but I really don’t know any Italian or Chinese parent that had to worry too much about kids not eating veggies or choosing crappy boxed foods over real foods. There are exceptions of course.

    Definitely agree that personality is innate; you have some control but the best you can do is set good examples and hope for the best!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I’ve noticed that the kids we know who are being raised vegetarian really like green and leafy vegetables like spinach etc. My uneducated guess is that kids prefer to get those nutrients from meat, but if they don’t, then they get them from veggies. My thought has always been that maybe they don’t *need* those nutrients when they have meat and when they do need them, they will eat them.

      Of course, some processed food is created to trick us into thinking we’re eating what our bodies want. So we just don’t offer it. (Which is easy because I can’t even stand the *smell* of McDonald’s– yuck.) We figure so long as there are healthy options, DC can pick and choose what ze needs. And sometimes ze lives on fairy dust and sometimes ze eats more than an adult (and then grows an inch overnight!) That was another thing BIL was complaining about to DH yesterday, how they couldn’t force my nephew to clean off his plate every meal. (Again, DH said, DC eats when hungry, not when not, we offer and don’t sweat it. And BIL again said kids are different and we’re so lucky.)

  12. femmefrugality Says:

    Haha I love the reference to time out equaling violence. Sometimes i wonder what the world is coming to. Just because abuse isn’t good doesn’t mean discipline is bad. Quite the opposite.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Apparently withdrawing attention for even the number of minutes of a kid’s age is violent. Women on mommy boards get very worked up about it. And there is evidence that cortisol goes up in neglected children… but I’m not sure that you can draw the conclusion that a 3 minute time-out is dangerous from the fact that severe neglect is bad.

      In their defense, I believe the Non-Violent Parenting movement recently changed their name to something else.

  13. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Ha, I was talking with my mom today about how DC cried when ze was pushed at daycamp the other day. Her reaction was funny… why on earth would ze cry about that? Kids get pushed all the time. Mom, kids *don’t* get pushed all the time anymore, and ze isn’t used to it because hir friends at school and in Montessori were all super well-behaved because they use their words now to solve disputes. (But not all schools in town are as good at teaching how to do that.) My mom’s first reaction was that it was too bad that DC hadn’t been more exposed to the hard knocks of life, though her second reaction was that it’s probably just as well that children are being more civilized as children than they were in my day or her day. Still, in her day DC would just push the kid back and that would be that. And there’s something to be said for that, though I still prefer kids being taught conflict resolution skills that many adults need but do not have!

  14. Dr. Dad, PhD Says:

    My wife and I (c’mon, it’s not like you thought I’d make parenting decisions unilaterally, did you?) totally agree with this, but we adopted a slightly different approach now that our #1 is older and had “issues” with school. Not his fault, but it’s hard to not feel that we could have better prepared him for kindergarten (NOT intellectually – I mean socially). Even though he’d been in daycare for years he needed a bit of help with the concept of quiet time, etc. So we’ve introduced a bit more structure at home (not a ton, and not dictated by the clock except for bed times or when we are short on time).

    We’ve also noticed that reasoning does not work as well with our #2 – he’s a bit headstrong and we tend to have to be a bit more forceful to get the message across. For little stuff we/I don’t care, but if safety is an issue I’ll be a harda$$. No running in the parking lot. Stop climbing on the roof. Don’t eat that dog poo. OK, that last one isn’t really a safety concern, but it’s just darn gross.

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