Archives for October 2009

Maintain your roles in marriage

In my next few posts, I will discuss in greater detail the problems I first described in my post on child-centered parenting. Here I will describe the first problem with child-centered parenting: your roles as husband and wife change to mom and dad. In my previous post, I said:

“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.”

Perfect in your child’s eyes
As parents, we are perfect in our child’s eyes. We maintain this perfection for many years. This parental perfection is so important to a child that you can probably remember the exact day you realized your parents weren’t perfect. Believing you are perfect in your child’s eyes makes your roles as mother and father more appealing than your roles as husband and wife. When you are accountable only to your child, you are perfect. When you are accountable to your spouse and yourself, you cannot deny your own imperfections.

Children make us feel needed
Unlike any other role in our lives, our roles as mom and dad allow us to feel needed. Our children give us purpose. Even at the height of our careers, we might not have felt as needed as we feel with our children. Your child depends on you for his health and safety. And when you allow it, as many attachment-parenting types do, your child depends on you for his own comfort. When you don’t teach your child to be independent, you feel more needed than ever. In fact, some moms encourage their children to need them even when they show signs of independence. Many moms thrive on this need to be needed which makes it easier to adopt the role of mom in favor of that of wife.

Cultural perceptions of motherhood and fatherhood
These days, it’s often more acceptable to prioritize our parenting roles over our husband and wife roles. Our culture says that we can do anything as long as it’s what we deem best for the child. Our culture says that our spouses are fully formed adults who can take care of themselves. Our children need us most, so we will take on that motherhood or fatherhood role with gusto, no matter the effects on our other relationships.

Allowing the child to come between you
Put yourself in the shoes of attachment parent types who spend all day literally attached to their children. When dad comes home and wants a hug and a kiss, he is rejected since mom has nothing left to give. She has given all of her attention and energy to the child and wants nothing more than to be left alone once the child is asleep. Also consider the “family bed”. When dad has a busy day of work ahead and cannot sleep with a child’s foot in his ribs, he often finds a new place to sleep. The “family bed” then becomes the “mom and child bed”. These are just two examples of many that separate husband and wife in the name of parenting.

The beginning of the end
If you consider that it’s more pleasing to be mom and dad rather than husband and wife—and that our culture promotes this ideal—then you must consider that this can be the beginning of the end for the marriage. If you devote all of your attention and energy to your children, you have little left for your spouse.

All relationships, especially marriages, must be maintained. Like a garden, they must be tended and cared for or else they will die. By prioritizing mom and dad roles over husband and wife roles, child-centered parenting can be the beginning of the end for the marriage.

The child rules
If you consider that the child replaces the husband as the mother’s primary focus, you realize how the child then becomes the head of the household. As redundant as this sounds, by putting the child at the center of the family, you continue to put the child at the center of the family. Child-centered parenting builds upon itself.

All of the problems of child-centered parenting, which I will continue to discuss in future posts, are interconnected. These problems not only harm the child but they allow child-centered parenting to build upon itself to the detriment of the marriage. It becomes a vicious cycle—with very high stakes.

If you do nothing else in your parenting, make your marriage a priority. Allow your child to be a welcome member of the family rather than putting him at the center of it.

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.

Couch time

In my last post, I discussed the marriage priority and how the Ezzos implore us to put our marriages first—for the sake of our children. By maintaining a loving, healthy marriage, we create a sense of security and stability for our children. Here I will discuss one practical method for building a happy marriage: couch time.

Couch time is a very simple idea. You and your spouse take 10-15 minutes at the end of your day (or whenever really) to sit down and just talk. Don’t watch TV. Don’t answer the phone. Don’t think about the day ahead. Just sit and talk to your spouse.

The rules
There is only one rule when it comes to couch time. It can take place at any time of day. It can be on the couch, at the dinner table after everyone is done, or even standing in the kitchen. The only rule about couch time is that you must do it while your child is awake and in the same room. The whole point of couch time is to show your child that you and your spouse make time for yourselves and that your marriage takes priority. Explain to your child that this is a special time for you two and that he must not interrupt you. Find an activity to keep your child occupied so you’re not constantly turning away from your spouse to tend to your child. (This is where having a blanket-trained toddler can really help.) Keep a special basket of toys just for couch time. Start small (just a few minutes a day) and work up from there. Throughout your day, make a mental list of things you might want to discuss with your spouse during couch time. Make a mental note of cute things your child did or how you were able to get through to him on an important moral lesson.

Must we really do couch time?
Yes! You may be thinking that you spend plenty of time talking to your spouse and that maybe your child is so young (or old) that he won’t really get any benefit from seeing the two of you talk. But really, if you are going to have any success with your parenting, you must put first things first. Couch time is so important that it’s discussed early on in Childwise (page 40). And putting your marriage first is principle #1 in a long list of principles.

“Does your child exhibit behavior problems, moral disruptions, impulsive behavior, talking back, sleep problems or just outright defiance? Before you do anything else, before you pick up another book, listen to another tape, attend another parenting conference, call your therapist or get on the Internet—simply practice ‘couch time’ for a week…. You will be amazed at how this one little exercise can bring peace to a home and emotional confidence to children,” (On Becoming Childwise, page 40).

In the Mom’s Notes presentations, Carla Link will often take questions from the audience about particular behavior problems parents might be experiencing. One of her first questions of them is whether they are doing couch time. The answer is typically no. She then goes on to say that the simple act of adding couch time to your day will greatly improve your child’s behaviors. Having someone tell you to sit on the couch with your spouse may not seem like it will help you teach your preschooler to share his toys. But it is step #1 in getting our children to behave. It’s so simple yet so effective!

And on top of the benefits your child receives, couch time will improve your marriage! “One other thing about couch time: it’s not only for your children’s benefit…. For some couples, this time together might be as new for them as it is for their children. You never know, you might just rediscover your best friend,” (On Becoming Childwise, page 40).

The next time you hug your spouse, take a peek at your child’s face. He will be staring at you with a glimmer of happiness in his eye. Once you see that, you will be motivated to do couch time every day.

Testimonials for couch time
In the sidebars of Growing Kids God’s Way, there are several testimonials from children whose parents practiced couch time:

“There is something wonderful about growing up in a home where your parents are truly in love with each other. They laugh together, play together, pray together and parent together. As siblings, we have a ‘best friend’ relationship with each other. We learned that from watching Mom and Dad.” –Aimee, age 14

“When my parents had couch time consistently, my siblings and I were more obedient and there was harmony in the family. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, sitting on the couch talking to each other every night, but makes a big difference in the home.” –Justin, age 17

“When my sister Emily and I were young, we loved it when Mom and Dad had couch time. I couldn’t have explained why back then. There was just something right about it, comforting and secure. We contrived all sorts of things to make them comfortable like getting them tea when they sat down. Now we realize that ‘couch time’ was for us as much as it was for them.” –Aubrey, age 16

“Out of all the wonderful things my parents implemented into our family life, couch time is the one I most want to have in my own family when I get married. Growing up, I felt more secure knowing that my parents were taking the time to communicate and verify that they were a united team. This is how I know that my parents love our family and they loved each other.” –Sarah, age 22

“My parents have shown me how very important having dates and couch time on a regular basis is for a good marriage relationship. When they spend time with each other, it shows us that they love each other.” –Rebecca, age 14