Whole Living Daily

The New Wave: Non-Parenting Parenting

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I’ve been thinking about this trend (is it one?) and wonder just how new is it. Has it begun with Gen X or has it always been around and I’ve only noticed because I’m a parent with kids beyond a very young age?

Last weekend, while at a small gathering and speaking with a very dear friend of mine, her 3-year-old child proceeded to climb upon her and bounce on her lap as if she were a jungle gym. The kid moved from leg to leg, traversed over my friend’s shoulder, jumped down, then climbed back up—all while my friend diligently listened to me speak and accommodated each and every move as if it were the most natural and normal thing to have a conversation with another adult while one’s child is behaving like a monkey on crack.

It was a little surreal as I continued speaking, but I couldn’t help wondering if there was something wrong with me. Have I lost my tolerance of young children to the point of expecting them to behave like grown-ups, or at the very least with some semblance of adhering to the manners of a civilized culture? Have I completely forsaken the live-and-let-live mantra I try to stand by? Unfortunately, I was unable to continue pondering my own shortcomings for longer than a few minutes, as this distraction was not something I was willing to endure. I was also way too preoccupied and perplexed as to why no disciplinary measures were taken. At all. I very nicely asked the child to sit still and let her mommy and me talk. The child’s father, who was standing nearby and not involving himself in the least, very matter-of-factly turned to me and said, “Oh, I guess you forgot what parenting a 3-year-old is like. It’s changed a lot since your kids were that age.” Um, really?

Our society has lost the certainty that I had while growing up that there is a clear distinction between right and wrong. Somewhere, and I do fear it happened within my generation, it has morphed into “Meh, let the kids embrace their individuality”—even if that means creating no boundaries while they are young. Later on when they’re older, carefree Mommy and Daddy will wonder why their teens don’t understand (or care about) the repercussions of their dubious actions (smoking, drinking, swearing, coming home late, etc.) and why they’re indifferent to authority figures. Truth is, since they didn’t have anyone at home early on to play that role or enforce those rules, the ship that would have carried the valuable lessons (like when the appropriate time is and isn’t to climb on Mommy’s lap) will have long ago sailed.

When my kids were young, I used to get a lot of criticism from friends, and even from my own family, about being so “strict” and enforcing too many “rules” for them to live by. But I see the difference. There are certain lines they would never dream of crossing now because they fully comprehend that there will be a price to pay based on experiences from before. And while there will always be situations when the way I reprimand my kids will be contrary to the way someone else may reprimand their own, I do believe that it’s still up to us as parents to say no—even if it runs the risk of impeding on their individuality.

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Comments (7)

  • Are you really suggesting that allowing a child to play on his mothers lap while she is speaking somehow blurrs the distinction between right and wrong?

  • No, but you have to start setting limits at a young age. Three is not to young to learn to amuse oneself while mommy is talking. The fact that the dad didn't take the child and let his wife enjoy an adult conversation speaks volumes to me.

    There's a great book called "The Three-Martini Playdate" that I loved when my son was little. Parents should get to enjoy the priveleges of adulthood.

  • I couldn't agree with you more! We are living in a selfish society where we only care about ourselves. I think that boundaries and rules are so important for our children. If we don't teach them appropriate behavior when they are young they will never learn it for their future interactions with others

  • Yes, I've witnessed LOTS of examples of parents of young kids who are, in essence, training their children to be inconsiderate of others and to put their own selfish desires first. For example, a group of women with their kids (of various ages) went to the cinema together and all were made late to the movie because one mom allowed her 3 year old daughter spend an hour on the toilet, mostly just playing around and pulling her clothes on & off. I understand the need for tolerance of young kids' behaviours, but it's teaching young kids to be self- centered when they never pay attention to the needs or rights of others.

  • A child should be able to sit on his mothers lap while she has an adult conversation if they are quiet and respectful: I have a 3 year old boy and would never allow him to behave like that. Don't get me wrong sometimes it is VERY challenging to have a 3 year old but they have to learn somewhere right? Teaching boundaries is part of being a parent. Where do they learn them otherwise? I have one friend who is constantly interrupting our conversations to answer questions from her children...It makes me feel like I am not being valued as a friend, i am not being listened too and it is not a nice feeling. I don't want her to ignore her children but while we are talking she could teach them the polite way to interupt a conversation and sometimes just say "mum is talking right now, please wait..." How hard is that? I personally think 'Non Parenting Parenting' is a complete cop out!!! What is that? you might as well be a 'friend' and let your kids eat lollipops for breakfast! I don't like being around kids or parents who behave like that....what does that tell you?

  • My husband and I had the privilege of being the parents of three children. Our daughters were two and a half when their brother came along, so we were busy with that special job called parenting. It takes a lot of time to pay attention to what a child is doing, no matter how old they are. When our kids asked us a question, we took the time to answer it. We told them what plant this is, or what tree that is, and asked them what kind of sound a tree frog makes, and took them on walks to see the fall colors and jumped into piles of leaves. We didn't have cell phones in our hands back them to interfere with a nice quiet walk where we could teach our kids how to enjoy God's wonderful world that He created for us. A friend of ours said to us a few years back "We really enjoy spending time with the adults that our children have become." My husband and I wholeheartedlly agree! Children need to be taught how to grow into likeable adults. It starts by talking to them and listening to them when they are very small, and teaching them that life has boundaries!

  • I agree that kids need limits. God created limits for His creation. In fact, without boundaries, what we see as powerful waterfalls would be not-so-impressive, very-large mudpits. There is beauty in order. There is praise in limitations. Just as God said to the waves at creation, "This far, and no farther" (Book of Job; Psalm 104) so that we would have a place to live, we have to make limits for those we are responsible for if we expect their lives to have purpose and productivity.

    On the flipside, however, there are times that young moms just ignore their kids because they are so desperate for adult conversation or because they really don't know how to deal with it. I firmly believe children can be taught to be quiet and entertain themselves... for a time. But, they cannot be ignored for our own (if we're honest) selfish desires (e.g., to have an adult conversation). Now, I wasn't there for this particular situation, so I'm not saying for certain the motivations of continuing to listen instead of taking care of her child. But perhaps she thought that she didn't have a chance to, if you were continuing to talk....

    Why not encourage a young mom to see if her child needs her attention, pausing what you have to say. Later, kindly suggest a helpful solution for dealing with the distracting child: I know our kids are not allowed to interrupt, but they are given an appropriate means (their hand on my elbow) if they need something while I am having another conversation. I greatly appreciate other adults who pause what they're saying so that I can pause listening and answer my child's question.

    But my request is please, help young moms, rather than jump in and tell their child what to do. "Do you need something to occupy her? I have some coloring books, etc." If she still thinks that what her child is doing is no big deal and it's annoying you, you can say something to her later, once the child is appropriately occupied. It's important not to undermine a parent in front of a child, but it's also important that you help this next generation of moms along.

    And if you know your guest is bringing young children again and you really need to talk completely uninterrupted, why not (out of love) hire a sitter to entertain the child while you have your adult conversation.

    Whatever you do, don't give up on this family. Looks like they could use your mentoring, if you're willing to gently lead them along, in love.

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