Needles and Haystacks (#1)

First off, I apologise for the lazy, cliche title of this blog post. It is my way of saying that any attempt to draw something sensible and coherent out of the last few weeks is about as challenging as locating that illusive shiny spindlette from a very wiry, very messy haystack. So there’s no chance of an original metaphor here, I’m afraid. (Although I did just make up the word ‘spindlette’. Did you notice?!)

Anyway. That said, I appreciate that the last you heard from me I was screaming at old ladies in supermarkets, so, you know… I thought it was time for another update.

Shortly after that delightful episode, we went on holiday! We turned off our phones, topped up on salt water, cherished a few sunny days by the sea and did very little, quite frankly. My parents and sister and her family visited in the second week, and so, given that we hadn’t seen one another since Christmas, there was much hugging and crying and baby-holding and so forth. All in all, it was just what the doctor ordered. (Unless he ordered fish and chips, actually. For a harbour town built on fishing, Amble-BY-THE-SEA is seriously lacking in that department! The entire place has two fish shops, both of which are closed three days a week. The SAME three days, I might add. Serious business opportunity there for anyone able…)

Anyway, where were we?

Oh yes. So, serotonin is high. The kids are happy enjoying the beach, building castles and surfing with Daddy… so, Mummy reads a book. Yes, a whole actual book! Now… just what kind of book do you reckon a holidaying mother who just lost her shizz in a public display of parental-anxiety might choose to read with her spare attention on the beach?!

Yes. A parenting book.

An over-ambitious American Christian parenting book, come to that!

Now. This book was jaw-dropping. It was both revolutionary and ridiculous in equal measure, but it has added quite a few straws to the old haystack, so please bear with me.

Firstly, at the heart of it, it is all about heart, which I like. Making connections, feelings over failures, that kind of thing. We do that. We like that. That ball is in my court. I like this guy.

Then he starts talking about fear and this is where it gets both revolutionary and ridiculous. So the theory (now I like his theories, in theory), is that when we parent our children, we are modelling God’s relationship with us, His children. Not the Old Testament relationship, with the old covenant of fear and punishment and laws and sacrifices; but the New Testament covenant– where we are free from condemnation and choose to follow Christ because He has set us free. These days, we don’t obey God because we are scared not to, we obey God because we want to. We do it out of love and honour and respect and gratitude. He has given us freedom – and we choose Him and His ways over the world’s. We should, says Silk, be striving to build that kind of relationship with our kids. We should give them as much freedom and choice as is safe, in order to prepare them for the enormous freedom they are given by God when they, hopefully, choose (and really do choose for themselves, not us) to follow Him too.

Still with me? OK. So what does this look like in practice, I hear you ask? Well, this is where it gets a bit ridiculous. I mean, the theory is still good. I love the theory in this book. But the practise? Well, that is something else.

Silk’s parenting strategies are based on 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

Thus, he deduces that love is the direct opposite of fear, and visa versa; asserting that parents need to eradicate ALL ELEMENTS of fear from our parenting: not just obvious things like violence and intimidation, but also punishments, shouting and the threat of all of the above by words, warnings and even The Look. (Anyone else been perfecting The Look all these years?! Gutted!) His beautiful, shiny theory is that we need to teach our kids- and ourselves- above all, that “only you can control you.” For, when we use raised voices and punishments and threats of punishment, all we are really trying to do is control our kids; to bend them to our will. In doing so, he says, all we are teaching them is that they can be controlled. Which both leaves them open to abuse, and allows them to develop a blame mindset: I only acted that way because they made me do it!

Huuuuuuuh… mind blowing, right?! I mean, I was born in the eighties so, you know… this is an alien concept. Besides that, as far as I can tell in my six short years of parenting, the biggest insult out there is “you can’t control your kids!”

But… the theory has merit right? So… what is his solution?

Ha… this is where it gets funny.

His solution is to always be in control of yourself, (by praying for the fruits of the spirit every single minute of every single day, obviously), and to always offer choices. Everything should be a choice so that the child learns to choose obedience. Now… I confess I’ve seen this done before and, though I really try to be a non-judgmental presence on the side of good parents everywhere… I involuntarily laughed out loud and had to attempt to cover it up afterwards! I know. I’m not proud. But the parent, in trying to keep schedule and coax an unwilling child into the car, asked them to CHOOSE to get into the car of their own accord, or CHOOSE to not have snacks on the way home. I mean… come on… That’s not really a choice is it?!

Fast forward to the week I’m reading Mr Silk’s book, however, and I’m trying it. He says always offer a choice between two options, where one of the options is not a punishment. As above, much easier said than done! Now, the first few attempts, bearing in mind we are on holiday with both parents and I am all kinds of serene, actually go quite well. My kids are making good choices all over the shop and I’m clocking up bonus points with the grandparents. This is the new me.

A week later, however, we have met a friend for lunch in a pub on the way home. After roughly forty-five minutes of good choices, the Boy is bored and is sat under the table, screaming random noises and kicking the table legs. People are looking. It is mortifying.

“Now,” I tell him calmly. “You know how to behave and this is not it, is it?”

“LAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”

Oh, I know… “Would you like to sit next to me and colour this sheet or this sheet?”

“NO-O-O-OOOOOO!”

“Come out from under the table please.”

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

People are really looking. I mean, “she can’t control her kids” kind of looking…

“Now, young man.” Time to pull out the big guns. “You have two choices. You can either come out from under that table and stop screaming, or… or… “

“RAAAAAAALAAAALLAAAAAAAA!”

Bazooka.

“CHOOSE TO COME OUT FROM UNDER THAT TABLE NOW OR SO HELP ME I SHALL DRAG YOU OUT BY YOUR LEGS AND TIE YOU TO THE ROOF ALL THE WAY HOME!!!”

So yeah. That’s a work in progress…

Anyway. The choices thing is a nice theory, isn’t it? What are his other strategies, I hear you wonder? How are his kids exercising their freedoms in the world?

Bills.

Unfortunately, the majority of his other examples wind down to money. They can choose to play peacefully and not fight each other… or he will charge them $10 to referee the fight. They can choose to tidy their rooms, or he will charge them $50 to do it for them. No money? No problem. He will take hard labour or sell the X Box. I mean… it just seems like a very convoluted way of saying “tidy your room or there’s no X Box,” right?!

I guess it’s all in the language. But as I said, the theories in this book dropped my jaw for the right reasons. The solutions, mainly for the wrong ones. But it was an interesting read, all the same. And it did challenge my own faith. After all, if she who fears has not been made perfect in love… then what’s going on with all of this anxiety? If fear is the opposite of love; if we are training our children to access and live with the complete freedom that comes from faith in Christ… then why aren’t I, after twenty years of knowing Him?

I haven’t always been like this.

Somewhere, something has gone wrong. Something about the way I understand and relate to God; our relationship; my grasp on Salvation; has been lost in translation. And so I set back home with a list full of resolutions made to help me recover whatever that is from wherever I lost it. (You know, the kind of realistic resolutions you make when you’re completely free of stress and distraction and are high on good vibes!)

And it’s all good. Or at least it is until I realise I’ve left my handbag, with purse, licence, medication and all things important in a kitchen cupboard on the other side of the country!

Now, Mr Silk has a story about the time his 9 year old daughter forgot her school lunch and her mother refused to take it in for her; choosing instead to teach her about responsibility and problem-solving. But, obviously, my parents didn’t do things like that when I was growing up, so at thirty-five I ask them to go and fetch it for me. Because, let’s face it, somewhere down the line it must have been their fault, right?!

Winky. Smiley.

Peace Be With You- and especially to you, fellow parents! We’ve got this… honest…

(To be continued…)

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