Tag Archives: happiness

Maturity in children

Have you ever received a comment from a stranger that validates your parenting? Amid the daily ups and downs I have with my kids, I occasionally get such comments. I got one just last week.

Someone told me that William, my oldest, seems particularly mature for his age. Mature. We have our struggles, especially when his SPD (sensory processing disorder) rears its ugly head. If we get basic good behavior, I call it a good day. So why did this word strike me? I can think of a slew of other characteristics that I’d rather be complimented on:

  • Well mannered
  • Confident
  • Selfless
  • Respectful
  • Smart

But the word mature is especially flattering. Mature is how I would describe the children of the parents I most respect. When a child is mature, it means to me that they have all of these qualities and more. When a child is mature, it tells me the child has been taught how to confidently navigate his way through this world.

When a child has been taught how to navigate the world, he is given the foundation that allows him to develop confidence. With that foundation, the child is free to learn and grow.

What is that foundation built upon? Obedience. Yes, everything circles back to obedience.

“Freedom is not found in autonomy, it is found in obedience.” (Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Tedd Tripp, p. 27)

I’m reminded of a story my contact mom once told me. She said she and another mom were on a hike with their kids and reached a particularly treacherous area. The path was surrounded on one side by water and on the other side by a steep drop-off. It was a dangerous spot. The other mom held her children’s hands tightly to keep them from running away and to keep them safe. She couldn’t trust them.

Meanwhile, my contact mom had taught her children to obey her word. She was able to tell them to stay near her while still letting them walk freely. Because of their characteristic obedience, these children were given the freedom to appropriately explore their world. They could be trusted to keep themselves safe, and because of this obedience, they were allowed more freedom.

So do I want my children to be happy, respectful, confident and a host of other qualities? Of course. But will I strive most for obedience and maturity? No doubt.

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Say “yes” when you can

I heard a wonderful phrase recently that I thought I would share. If you keep this phrase in mind throughout the day, it will help you determine when you can choose your battles and when you must consider holiness over happiness. Here’s the phrase:

“Say ‘yes’ when you can. But say ‘no’ when you must.”

Say “yes” when you can

Many parents are too quick to say “no” to their kids, often for the wrong reasons. The wrong reasons to say “no” include:

  • You don’t want to be put out.
  • You are annoyed by the request.
  • You are in a bad mood.
  • You are holding a grudge over a previous misbehavior. (It’s up to you to wipe the slate clean if you have effectively dealt with your child’s misbehavior.)

If you say “yes” when you can, you and your child will be much happier. True, your child’s little requests might put you out a bit, but if you don’t have a good reason to deny the request, then say “yes.”

Say “no” when you must

On the other side of the parenting spectrum are parents who are reluctant to deny their children’s requests. The wrong reasons not to say “no” include:

  • You fear that the child will throw a tantrum.
  • You worry about hurting his self-esteem.
  • You fear that your child won’t like you.
  • You are afraid to assert any authority over your child

If you plan to teach your child anything of value, you must have the strength to say “no” to your child when the situation calls for it. There are many times when you must consider your child’s holiness over his happiness.

Carry this phrase with you

Even if you feel you do a good job of saying “yes” and “no” for the right reasons, keep this phrase in mind as your child gets older. Consider these circumstances:

  • Your toddler begins to show he is capable of feeding himself, so you allow him that freedom at every meal. (You say “yes.”)
  • Your preschooler gets out of bed every night one week, so you take away his freedom of reading books in bed. (You say “no.”)
  • Your school-aged child shows over a period of weeks that he can complete his homework on time, so you give him the freedom to watch 30 minutes of TV after school. (You say “yes.”)

So while this phrase will certainly help us on a day-to-day basis, it’s also an idea that we should to carry with us throughout our parenting years.

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Filed under miscellaneous, parenting, parenting philosophy

Child-centered parenting

Think back to the day your child was born. When the doctor or midwife placed your newborn on your chest, you immediately felt a love like you’d never felt before. In that same instant, your life changed forever. You now spend very little time alone. Spontaneous trips to the movie theater are a thing of the past. You enjoy going to the park, the zoo and even fast food play places. You see life through your child’s eyes. You may have even quit your job to stay home with your child. You do anything and everything for your child. Before you know it, you have built your life around your child.

Yes, this is completely natural and very common in our world. But is it best for your child? The Ezzos say no. This is what the Ezzos call child-centered parenting.

“Often parents leave their first love, each other, and focus extensively on their children. Although this may be done in the name of good parenting, it is the first step to the break-up of family relationships. This leads to the second threat to successful parenting: the belief that children are the center of the family universe, rather than welcome members of it…. Instead of integrating the child into the family where he learns the basic give and takes of life, they elevate the child above the family,” (Growing Kids God’s Way, 5th ed., p. 35).

The marriage is priority #1
So if your child isn’t your first priority, what is? Your marriage. See my posts on the marriage priority and couch time for more on this.

You may be thinking, what exactly is so wrong with putting my child at the center? He’s a toddler or young child and requires a significant amount of care. All of my time is spent caring for my child, so even if I didn’t want to put my child at the center, it’s somewhat unavoidable. Yes, this is true in your day-to-day life, but your belief system must be built on the foundation that the family, not the child, is your focus. If you’re not convinced, consider these (enormously important!) problems of child-centered parenting:

Husband and wife become dad and mom
Child-centered parenting redefines the husband-wife relationship. You and your spouse are no longer husband and wife. You are mom and dad. And as mom and dad, you are less accountable to each other and yourselves. You are solely accountable to your child.

“In marriage, neither man nor woman can lose themselves. Marriage forces revelation. We are revealed for what we are…. We are less revealed in parenting, thus less honest about who we are. Attempting to avoid the truth about ourselves, we conveniently find, in the name of fatherhood and motherhood, a more pleasing image, so some think. Whenever we pull away from marriage, no matter how noble the goal, we leave our accountability,” (Growing Kids God’s Way, 5th ed., p. 35).

Self-reliance precedes self-control
Child-centered parenting creates within the child a false sense of self-reliance. The child becomes wise in his own eyes. He believes he is ready for freedoms before he has developed self-control or a level of responsibility that indicates he is ready for those freedoms.

“Child centered parenting reverses the natural process of moral development… The child becomes, in his thinking, self-sufficient prior to the establishment of self-control. This happens because the [child-centered parenting] philosophy grants freedoms beyond the child’s ability to manage those freedoms. Self-reliance apart from self-discipline is a destructive influence on young children,” (Growing Kids God’s Way, 5th ed., p. 35).

Relationships become a means to an end
Child-centered parenting creates a child who develops relationships only for what they offer. This fosters independence of the family rather than interdependence.

“Where there is no relationship investment, there is no reason for family loyalty. Other people (parents, siblings and peers) matter only to the extent that advantages are gained by maintaining relationships. What the child can get out of relationships, rather than what he can give, forms the basis of his loyalty,” (Growing Kids God’s Way, 5th ed., p. 35).

Selfishness takes precedence over morality
Child-centered parenting fosters innate selfishness and other sins and reduces the significance of morality. The child often feels he is above morality.

“Child-centered parenting magnifies the natural conflict between the natural way of the child and his need for moral conformity. With child-centered parenting, the [moral] standard is perceived to be the problem rather than the faulty [child-centered parenting] philosophy,” (Growing Kids God’s Way, 5th ed., p. 35).

Worship is turned on its head
Child-centered parenting comes close to idolatry with children becoming little gods who their parents worship.

“Child-centered parenting, for some, comes perilously close to idolatry. When a child’s happiness is a greater goal than his holiness, when his psychological health is elevated above moral health, and when the child, not God, becomes the center of the family universe, a subtle form of idolatry is created. Children become little gods who have parents worshiping their creation and not their Creator,” (Growing Kids God’s Way, 5th ed., p. 35).

While it’s so easy to put our children at the center of our universe, this is one of the most important principles of good parenting. Keep these issues in mind when developing your parenting beliefs. If you want a child who values others more than himself, avoid child-centered parenting.

This is a very philosophical post. Look to my next post for practical ideas on how child-centered parenting can play out in day-to-day life.

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Filed under first-time obedience, moral training, parenting, parenting philosophy

Cultivate a loving relationship with your child

Yes, it’s a given that you love your child. But do you maintain a loving relationship on a daily basis? Is your relationship with your child characterized by love and fun or is it all discipline, frustration and loneliness? Do you take the time to have fun with your child or are you constantly trying to “fix” him?

I bring this up for a couple reasons. The first is that there is the perception among the anti-Ezzo community that we Ezzo parents don’t truly feel connected with our children. We let them cry. We make them play in their rooms. We don’t put them in the center of the family. We discipline them. We are not their peers. All of these things are true, but they don’t mean that we don’t love our children or have a loving relationship with them.

I do believe, however, that it can be too easy to fall into a parent-child relationship that lacks fun and affection. Here are some clues that you might need to reevaluate your relationship with your child:

  • On a daily basis, you worry that you aren’t doing things right or following the books as closely as you should.
  • You tend to be legalistic in your parenting.
  • You are on a constant mission to fix your child’s problems.
  • You don’t laugh at least once a day.
  • Your child seems stressed out and angry.
  • You don’t hug or snuggle with your child at least once a day.
  • You expect your child to misbehave.
  • You feel like all you do all day is discipline your child.
  • You feel like your child is trying to frustrate and anger you.

Not only is this unhealthy for you and your child, but a relationship like this can actually cause all the behavior problems you are trying to fix. Imagine it from your child’s perspective. He is the student and you are the teacher. He is constantly getting bad grades, never gets a pat on the back, and doesn’t even get to relax after a long day at school. Your child wants to please you, but if you require too much of him and don’t give him love and affection, he will stop wanting to please you. I know of a couple who completely changed their lives for this reason. They were living a fast-paced life in New York City and gave up everything to live in a small, rural town. They had one reason for doing so: their son had stopped trying to please them. You lose this and you lose everything.

On a more positive note, bringing more fun and affection into your relationship with your child can not only lower your blood pressure and improve your disposition, but it will improve your child’s behaviors. If you think that you tend to be legalistic in your parenting, try easing up for a few days and see if things change. Follow your child’s lead for a little while and see where it takes you. If his behaviors get worse, you can quickly go back to your old ways. But I highly suspect his behaviors will improve and you will be no worse off for experimenting with it.

Here are some ideas to bring some fun and love into your relationship with your child:

  • Go out for ice cream and order the same thing he orders. Who knows, maybe choco-peppermint bubblegum ice cream really is good.
  • Go for a walk and follow him. Allow him to stop at every twig and rock. Try to see the fascination that he sees. Allow him to stop and sit on the sidewalk just to watch the cars go by. (My son actually does this.)
  • Go out for a one-on-one “date” with your child.
  • Tickle, hug, wrestle or snuggle with your child every day.
  • Make chocolate chip, smiley face pancakes.
  • Trace patterns on your child’s bare back with your fingers and have him guess what it is.
  • Go to the park and play like a child. Swing on the swings. Go down the slide (head first!). Go on the teeter-totter with him. Play tag.
  • Sit and watch your child play. Don’t think about the million things you need to do. Just sit and watch.
  • Get messy with your child. Jump in puddles. Play in the mud. Dig in the dirt.
  • Play dress-up and act out funny characters. Play the “what animal am I?” game by making animal sounds and acting like your favorite animal.
  • Order happy meals for both of you.
  • Play hooky on a school day and eat donuts for breakfast.
  • Get creative with your activities. Go to the pet store just to look at all the animals. Go to the home improvement store to sit on the “tractors”. Fill a bucket with water and use paintbrushes to “paint” the house. Feed the pigeons.
  • Use your imagination. Make “soup” with a little water and leaves. Turn a stick into a magic wand. Throw out your arms and fly like an airplane.
  • Go camping in the backyard, marshmallows and all.
  • Dance in the living room.
  • Get silly!

These are the experiences that childhood memories are made of and that will make your child feel loved. So be sure to fill your lives with them!

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Intentional parenting

Intentional parenting is of the most important ideas behind the Ezzo parenting philosophies. It requires that we think about where we want to go with our children and what we want them to be like in two, 12 or even 20 years. We spend the time now to think about what moral values we want to instill in our children and how we might do so. We think about what behaviors or attitudes we don’t want to see in our children and be mindful of them in our daily parenting.

“Some parents simply exist. They have no direction, no goals, no plan other than what is pressing at the moment… Not only do they not know where they are going in their parenting, they’re usually not aware that they need to be headed someplace,” (On Becoming Toddlerwise, p. 89).

Set your goals
Start by sitting down with your spouse with a pen and paper in hand. Talk it over and write down your goals. They could be moral values like respecting adults or more mundane ideas like staying in bed in the morning until you allow him to get up. I have a big white board in our kitchen where I have listed our house rules and the moral lessons I want my kids to learn. (I also have a few reminder notes for myself, like “don’t repeat yourself”.) I can erase and rearrange these goals as I see fit.

Decide how you will achieve your goals
Once you have your goals in mind, you can figure out how to get there. Say for example that you want your child to sit quietly in restaurants when you go out to eat. That is your goal. Then you think through what it takes for a child to be able to do so. You practice good manners at home and when visiting friends. You decide that they will need to stay in the highchair the entire time. You teach them to speak quietly, not throw their food, not be crawling all over the restaurant, etc. Ultimately, in order to achieve your goals, your child will need to learn to obey you and submit to your authority. (See “Yes, mommy” and Eye contact.)

Be aware of any actions that lead you away from your important goals. Even taking the child out of the highchair just once could lead you down the wrong path, away from your goal. There is a quote from Secrets of the Baby Whisperer (a wonderful complement to Babywise) that says, “Start as you mean to go on.” If you decide that you want your child to sleep in his or her own bed, you wouldn’t start by co-sleeping. You may choose to have a bassinet near your bed for those early weeks, but you will still be mindful of your goal and move him to the crib as soon as you both are ready.

Teach submission
To achieve your goals, you must establish your parental authority and teach your child to submit and obey you.

“Let us assure you: Parental authority is not a bad thing. Quite the contrary. It is absolutely necessary in order to maintain the balance between personal freedom, responsibility and obligation. Parental authority represents the right of parents to insist upon conformity and compliance, especially in these three vital areas of life: morality, health and safety, and life skills,” (On Becoming Childwise, p. 48).

It is only by teaching submission that we can achieve our goals. If you want to teach your child to share and ask him to give a toy to his sibling, it is only if he is submissive to you that he will do this. Otherwise, his me-ism (selfishness) takes over and he has no reason to hand over the toy. Submission is needed everywhere we go in life.

Avoid the opposite viewpoint: reactive parenting
When you don’t set goals for your children or for yourself as a parent, you find yourself in reactive parenting mode. Your existence as a parent is reacting to what your child says and does rather than guiding and proactively directing his behavior. This idea is also discussed in Secrets of the Baby Whisperer with the term “accidental parenting”. By not starting as you mean to go on, you end up parenting from the hip and find yourself with kids who you cannot control and who you don’t enjoy.

“For some theorists, parenting is a matter of facilitating a child’s natural and impulsive way, rather than actively directing the child’s ability to make right decisions benefiting others. Reactive in nature, this nondirective approach seeks to manipulate a child’s environment in hopes of making parental supervision non-adversarial. Yet, leadership by nature requires that you make decisions based on what is best and right, not what is perceived as most pleasing in the moment,” (On Becoming Toddlerwise, p. 92).

Our parenting objective should be to teach our children our values and appropriate behaviors whether that makes them happy in the moment or not. (See holiness vs. happiness.) We should teach our children how to operate in this world as it exists rather than change the world to suit their needs. For example, we teach our children how to behave in the grocery store rather than avoiding taking them to the store. We teach our children how to behave with babysitters rather than not going on dates with our spouse. We teach our children to respond to the call of their name rather than allowing them to ignore us.

If you are an accidental or reactive parent, start with the simple step of thinking through your goals. Even a list of your top five goals is enough to start. Then be mindful of these goals in your daily parenting. If five goals is too much to focus on, start with just one. Write it down in a conspicuous place and consistently follow through on it for a week or until your child seems to get it. Then move on to your other goals.

Parenting with intent might require a big shift in your mindset, but again, with practice it will become easier. Do this work now, before your child has already established bad habits, and you will soon enjoy the benefits.

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Holiness vs. happiness in action

Last weekend, we had two scenarios with my kids that illustrate the holiness vs. happiness principle. My mom came to visit to help me out since my husband was working. I appreciate her help and grant the idea that grandparents have an innate, perhaps undeniable impulse to spoil their grandchildren. So I allow my mom to do this with my kids to an extent (especially when she is visiting to help me). However, the following scenarios will show you what happens when you think only of the child’s immediate happiness.

Scenario #1: William (4.5 years)
Saturday night, we went to the mall for some shopping and dinner. We were out late and got home about an hour past William’s bedtime. I put him to bed and expected him to go right to sleep since it was late. He struggled because Grandma was here and she was going to be sleeping in his room. He wanted her to come to bed right then. She agreed because she wanted to please him, but it was maybe 15 minutes before she was ready. Next thing I know, another 15-20 minutes had passed, and they came downstairs for a snack. It was almost 11:00pm by this point, way too late for a 4-year-old to be awake. My mom thought he might be hungry. (He NEVER eats after dinner.) I didn’t want to fight it. They got their snack, and it was probably close to 11:30 before he fell asleep. He probably had a little smile on his face as he dozed off.

You can predict what happened the next day. He still woke up at his normal time, which meant he got 8.5-9 hours of sleep instead of his usual 11-12. He was whiny and argumentative the entire day. And he had a MAJOR meltdown at the grocery store. Only once or twice in his life have I seen him act the way he did in the store. I didn’t know what to do with him it was that bad. It happened in the late afternoon, and the lack of sleep had just caught up to him.

So you can see that by feeding his happiness (quite literally) rather than his holiness (the fundamental need for a good night’s sleep), he was far worse off. If he had just gone to sleep when I put him down, the day would have been much more pleasant for all of us and he would have been much happier in the long run.

Scenario #2: Lucas (16 months)
The same Saturday night, we had dinner at a fairly nice restaurant. Our reservation was for 6:45, and Lucas’ internal dinner bell chimes at 6:30, so I gave him a small snack before we were seated. Apparently, the small snack wasn’t enough, and he started to fuss. My goal was to ask our server for a small bowl of rice that she could bring immediately so we could get some food in his belly.

My mom, the grandparent that she is, thought he might like to be held while we waited. My first issue is that being held wasn’t what he wanted. He wanted to eat and it wouldn’t make a difference if he were held. My second issue is that we eat out regularly and I did not want to start the habit of getting him out of the highchair at a restaurant. I teach him that the only place he can be while we are eating out is in the highchair.

Well, my mom’s attempts to hold him made things worse. It taught him that all he had to do was fuss and he could get out of the highchair. He did this the entire meal and his fussing escalated. I was embarrassed and finally had to take him away from the table to calm him down. (I hated that I even had to do this.) Once he was calm, I told him we were going to go back to the table, which made him fuss again. I immediately said “unh unh” to indicate that the fussing wasn’t acceptable. We did this two or three times, and then he initiated a game of peek-a-boo with me. It was a huge shift in his attitude. He clearly wanted someone to tell him that his fussing wasn’t okay.

The meal was a little touch and go after that (more getting out of the highchair), so we just had to finish and go home. I never really got a chance to enjoy my meal. It was a little cold by the time I sat down, and I was holding him for a good portion of it.

So again, by catering to his happiness (taking him out of the highchair) rather than his holiness (teaching him that he must stay in his highchair at a restaurant), Lucas was much more unhappy than if we had just left him there to begin with.

I still struggle with finding a balance between tending to my kids’ needs while allowing my mom to spoil her grandchildren. I want her to enjoy her grandchildren in the way that she wants to, but it’s difficult when I know that what she wants to do will lead to disaster.

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Holiness vs. happiness

One fundamental philosophy behind the Ezzos’ parenting principles is that of holiness vs. happiness. Many parents, especially in today’s society, put their child’s happiness above all else. They figure that if their child is happy, their job is done. The Ezzos believe that helping a child achieve holiness, or moral contentment, should be a parent’s true goal.

Growing Kids God’s Way teaches that a child’s holiness is more important than his or her happiness…. Get the holiness and you give your children something far greater than happiness; they learn a lifestyle of moral contentment.” (p. 90, Growing Kids God’s Way, 5th edition)

When we strive to make our children happy, we feed into their inherent selfishness. Their happiness is fleeting and momentary, yet we attend to their every desire and whim. We curb all actions that produce tears or other discontent. We build our world around our children rather than teaching them how to behave in the world as it truly is.

On the other hand, when we strive for holiness, we help our children build a moral sensibility. We teach them how to behave in this big world we live in so they are comfortable in it and not fearful of it. This moral holiness takes the form of “honesty, empathy, compassion, kindness, gentleness, respect, honor and self-control.” (p. 64, On Becoming Childwise) Read this sentence again slowly and take the time to consider each and every word.

While those of us who strive for holiness do want our children to be happy, we find a different route to get there. I believe that by teaching our children to treat others with honesty, empathy, compassion, kindness, gentleness, respect, honor and self-control, we give them much greater happiness over their lifetimes than if we were to not teach these character traits at all. If we focus on their happiness at the expense of their holiness, we do them a great disservice.

And while happiness is great, contentment is even better. Our culture perpetuates a romantic ideal of happiness that is difficult to truly achieve. I would prefer that my children strive for contentment. I certainly wouldn’t want them to settle for less than what they are capable of achieving, but I wouldn’t want them to be in constant pursuit of a romantic ideal of happiness that just doesn’t exist. By pursuing this romantic ideal of happiness, they may never be happy.

The pursuit of contentment–achieved through a holy moral foundation–will serve them well for decades to come.

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