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Friday, May 6, 2011

Parenting Style: Discipline or Compassion

by Bitner (bio)

For those dads and moms out there trying to find their parenting groove (I can't be the only one, right?):

In the last couple months the following two parenting articles have "crossed my desk." The first to arrive was "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior?" written by a (surprise!) Chinese mother. The second: "Godly Parenting: Compassion for Humanness," written by a Mormon man whose last name starts with God-. And by the way, by contrasting the two parenting styles, I'm not stating that one style is more "godly" than the other. Although that may be the case - you decide. I actually found both articles to be incredibly useful as I try to become a better parent. You might too.

Consider the following excerpt from Chinese Mom:
What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it's math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.
On the surface, a term like 'override their preferences' smacks of compulsion, force, and agency violation, no? We Mormons revere the principle of agency. But, in the context of parenting, is this act of overriding preferences truly a violation of agency? Perhaps parents are "allowed" (meaning God approves) to override a child's preferences?

It's probably not as black and white as I'd like it to be. I think there are some "approved" instances of overriding preferences in the daily life of a parent. Otherwise, home life would equal anarchy. But where does the overriding stop? If your kid doesn't like to go to church, do you let him skip? If your kid doesn't like volleyball, do you let her quit?

The results of the overriding disciplinarian appear to be good, at least according to the data that the Chinese Mom tosses out there in her column. She spells out the virtuous cycle: tenacious practice x 1000 is the repetition required for excellence which produces praise and admiration which breeds confidence and makes the activity fun, which becomes the catalyst for more practice. Shoot, I know I want excellent kids -- sign me up!

From the Compassion article:
Far more often than we realize, our children are injured by painful encounters with life. They come home bruised, skinned, and bleeding from hurtful run-ins with mortality. We adults almost surely do not realize how often they feel frightened and wounded. If we try to understand their pains and challenges, we are likely to look upon them with compassion rather than judgment and impatience. God calls us to offer emotional first aid. That is compassion’s mandate.
Whoa, that is an arresting statement. And humbling. The author is certain that our job as a parent is predicated on compassion. Reading this article brought to mind countless (and, sadly, recent) instances where I failed to show compassion to my children when I could/should have.

So, in light of the aforementioned approach, can the two styles coexist in the same person? in the same home? In terms of a "godly approach," if that's what we're aspiring for as a parent, maybe it's a matter of discipline and compassion, as opposed to discipline or compassion as I stated in the subject line.

Would love to hear some thoughts on these two styles and what you consider 'godly parenting.'

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