As a parent coach, I hear all sorts of thoughts and ideas that just don’t hold up to the current research on child-development and attachment, but some of these myths have been handed down from generation to generation for so long that we can forget to question them. Here are the 7 parenting myths that bother me the most:
1. Kids Can’t Be Trusted
In my work as a preschool teacher, I’ve worked with hundreds of children and I’ve never met a child who wasn’t trustworthy. Children will rise to our expectations of them and I’ve noticed that when I expect them to follow through on their commitments and do what they say they will, I get excellent results.
If you’ve been thinking that your child isn’t trustworthy, ask yourself how you can support the innate trustworthiness inside every child. You could try making it easier for your child to keep his commitments by setting up systems that remind and help, instead of blaming or shaming him when he makes a mistake. After all, everybody makes mistakes, it’s a huge part of learning!
2. Discipline Equals Punishment
I sure wish these two words weren’t as conflated as they are in our culture. Punishing children is both inappropriate and ineffective. Discipline on the other hand is absolutely essential. Self-control, self-discipline, and self-determination are the result of appropriate and compassionate discipline.
Discipline means setting clear boundaries, and being flexible within those boundaries. It does not need to include threatening, coercing or constantly forcing our will upon our kids. And it certainly doesn’t require overt or covert physical or emotional punishments.
Yes, time-out and counting to three can be used as punishment. The tone of your voice and the energy you’re projecting can make a huge impact on how your communication will be received. I’ve seen moms use innocuous phrases to threaten and just the other day I realized that something I said to my daughter could have been a threat if I’d used a different tone.
I think that mutual respect is the key to effective discipline. So this week, check in with yourself about the kind of energy your projecting and do your best to express your highest intentions, rather than getting stuck in the muck of using threats, coercion and punishment to get kids to do what you want.
3. Breastfeeding is Embarrassing
Breastfeeding is one of the most important and beautiful gifts we can give to our infants, if we’re able. It is not embarrassing or sexual in any way to nurse a baby or toddler. Breastfeeding is without a doubt the best nourishment for babies. It also provides the bonding and comfort that infants need in order to develop healthy relationships and emotion regulation skills. How is any of that offensive? Yes, breasts are involved. In fact, news flash: breastfeeding is the PRIMARY FUNCTION of breasts.
Sure you can try to use a cover, but my daughter would never accept a cover, she found it far too distracting. Yes you can try to nurse at home, but sometimes your baby will be hungry when you’re not at home. Yes, cars are more private, but less comfortable, and there were times when I nursed in a car that I felt like I was hiding. I think it’s time to normalize breastfeeding again. Surely an all natural food source should not be denied to our children because other people are uncomfortable with the sight of a breast.
4. Co-sleeping Means No More Sex
Without getting too graphic, let me just say that I have co-slept with my daughter for the past three years and my husband and I are having the best sex of our marriage. And no, we DO NOT have sex in the bed when our daughter is there.
Instead, I’ve co-slept with her in HER bed and we’ve reserved our bed for adult time, except for the occasional morning family snuggle. There are lots of ways to arrange co-sleeping. None of them need to involve sex in bed with a child present and all of them allow for lots of fun sexy adult time in places other than where your child is sleeping.
5. It’s Inappropriate to Show Emotion In Front of Kids
I feel really sad when I think about this one. It’s crucially important for children’s emotional development and wellbeing that the adults around them model emotion regulation and emotional vulnerability. This lets kids know that they’re not alone in their emotional experiences and it helps them learn how to cope with their own big feelings.
Unfortunately when we hide our emotions from our kids, they end up feeling invalidated and learn to suppress their emotions too. Since I had to re-learn how to feel my feelings after decades of repressed emotion, I’m really hoping my daughter doesn’t have to go through the same process.
I do think it’s important to be responsible with our emotions when we’re with our kids. And to me, that means showing and sharing my emotional experience without directing my feelings AT my child or blaming her for my experience. It also means reassuring my daughter that she’s not the cause of my upset and telling her about what’s going on for me in peaceful language that’s developmentally appropriate.
Studies have shown that children can handle exposure to intense emotion without long-term negative effects, as long as they also experience a de-escalation and resolution of the emotional outburst (Nurture Shock by Po Bronson).
6. Stay at Home Moms (or Dads) Don’t Work
Um, excuse me, but stay at home parentss are some of the hardest working people I know. In fact, often times I’m grateful for the diversion of working for cash because one, it’s painful how little our culture values homemakers’ work and two, being with young people all day every day is enough to make anyone lose their marbles. When I get to work with adults doing coaching I get paid for my time AND I get an adult social interaction out of the deal.
When I’m home alone with my daughter, I giver her attention and do the laundry and the dishes and clean the house and cook and clean up the kitchen after a meal and play with her and put her to sleep for her nap and rush around doing more cooking and cleaning and straightening and sorting until she wakes up and then I do an art project or create an activity or take her to the park or a museum but before we leave I pack a bag with extra clothes and snacks and water and alternate shoes depending on the activity and a sun hat and it. Just. Never. Stops.
And by the end of the day I’m completely exhausted and the house is a mess again and I didn’t earn a dollar. But I did get time with my daughter, some of which was fun and some of which was weirdly frustrating. And now I’m ruminating about the tone of voice I used that wasn’t kind and the thing that stranger said to my kid. Any of that sound familiar?
Let me just say it one more time in case I wasn’t clear, stay at home moms are the hardest working people I know. Your complete dedication to your children astounds me. I am in total awe that you can be with them from 6am to 8pm day in and day out without a break and without completely losing it 80% of the time. I commend you, appreciate you, and I want you to know, I see you. Even in the moments when you’re not with your kids, you’re thinking about them, planning things for them, and preparing to be your best for them. All I can say is WOW. And THANK YOU. Your children benefit immensely from your devotion and I’m so grateful for the work you do.
7. Taking Care of Ourselves Is Selfish and Hurts Kids
Quite the opposite actually, we ought to be the adults we hope our children will become. If we want our kids to take good care of themselves, guess what? We have to model the kind of self-care that will help us maintain a healthy and happy life. That means we MUST have friends. We need social interaction in order to be well and enjoy life as social beings. We also need time alone.
It is absolutely crucial that we do the things that make us happy and at ease so that our kids can experience that joy and ease too. Spending time in nature contributes to wellbeing by lowering your blood pressure.
I highly recommend that every woman participate in some type of women’s circle. Ideally you’d have a group of women that you feel comfortable sharing with and who you view as chosen sisters. The women’s circles I’ve participated in have been so incredibly supportive and life affirming. Every single time I participate in a women’s circle I’m glad I went.
Although I’m sure there are plenty more destructive parenting myths, these are the seven that I most want to dispel. On a more positive note, never forget that your connection with your kids is the most important part of parenting. As long as you’re reaching out for it, open to it, and working to repair any damage that’s been done, you’re doing a fantastic job as a parent and as a compassionate, caring, human being.
Have a fantastic week, Shelly