Myth Busting 1: ‘A rod for your own back’

A couple of months ago, my aunt was visiting me and the subject of our 2-year-old co-sleeping came up. My aunt said she couldn’t have coped with that, “but then I’ve always been the sort of person who needs to have everything where it belongs, even when I was a little girl.” It didn’t seem worthwhile to attempt to question the paradigm that assumes a baby doesn’t ‘belong’ in her parents’ bed, let alone apparently views a child much like a pair of socks (‘a place for everything and everything in its place’ ;)).

Then she dropped the line that every parent who makes a choice slightly different from the norm will hear at some point: “Sometimes we can be making a rod for our own backs, too.

  • Feed babies ‘on demand’ and they’ll grow up to be demanding children.
  • Sleep with your baby and you’ll never get him out of your bed.
  • Feeding your baby to sleep and through the night means they’re not learning to sleep on their own.
  • If you don’t punish your children, they won’t learn right from wrong.

I passed some bean dip to my aunt, but I’m going to address her comment here.

Firstly, I’ve never really understood the logic of the ‘rod for your own back’ comment. It almost seems as if some people want to make parents’ lives as stressful as possible in the early months/years (as if new parents didn’t already have enough to cope with!), on the pretext of making their lives easier later on. It’s not necessarily even true – some children will decide of their own accord that it’s time to move into their own beds, or stop feeding to sleep, before their parents are no longer happy with the arrangement.

Even if it is true in a given instance – if, for instane, I will be working hard in a year or two to get my daughter out of my bed – why does my aunt think it’s intrinsically better to do that work sooner? Cosleeping works for us now – can’t I cross that bridge when I come to it?

But I’ve been thinking lately that it’s often more a question of ‘picking your rod.’

For example, a friend once smugly told us she’d taught her baby to play after feeding, instead of feeding to sleep. I was pregnant at the time, and had been researching breastfeeding. I knew there were hormones in breastmilk designed to help mum and baby sleep, so I was stunned that she would have deliberately interfered with what looked to me like God’s excellent design. When I asked why, she said there are a lot of toddlers having inconvenient naps after meals because they are used to sleeping after a feed.

A year or so later, knowing that our babies shared the problem of excessive wind at night, I excitedly told my friend how I’d discovered ‘dream-feeding’: I didn’t have to wait until my baby was fully awake at night to feed him, and when I fed him in a drowsy state he settled much more easily. I was now getting 1.5 hours more sleep each night than I had before, even though he was feeding a little more often! She said mournfully, “I was never able to dream-feed B.” I felt like saying, “What do you expect? You deliberately dissociated sleep and feeding!” In trying to avoid one potential rod, she had created another. (Well, to be honest, I never observed her to have fewer toddler sleep/nap problems than other mums I know, either).

Here are a few ‘rods’ I’m choosing, partly in the hope they’ll prevent worse ones in future:

  • There are nights we’d like our bed to ourselves – but we hope that as we make ourselves available to our children at night for the first years of their lives, they will associate sleep with feelings of security and comfort – rather than isolation or panic at being left alone – and that this will prevent sleep problems like recurring nightmares as they get older.
  • When I fed my babies through the night, I was passing on the hormones that were in my own body. There is some evidence that this might help the baby’s system to learn a normal hormone pattern for sleep in its culture (sleep patterns are quite different around the world). So cue-feeding through the night is really ‘sleep training’ 😉
  • Feeding my children beyond their second year promotes normal healthy bone and jaw development and supports their immune systems. Sometimes I feel like I’d love to have my body back, but for me, the hope that I’ll spend a lot less time in doctor’s waiting rooms and emergency rooms in the future – not to mention the thought that I’m setting their bodies up for health throughout their lives – is worth a little inconvenience now. Breastfeeding is also good for my health, so it means less doctor visits for me, too.
  • We want our children’s moral sense to grow out of a trusting relationship with us and ultimately God, not fear of punishment. Teaching their hearts is harder than moulding their behaviour, but God has promised, ‘Peacemakers who sow in peace will raise a harvest of righteousness’ (James 3:18). We don’t always live up to it, but our goal for our whole family to live in shalom (peace, wholeness) and grow in righteousness.

This isn’t the whole story, either. Most of these ‘rods’ have great short-term benefits, too. In fact, calling them rods is really not all that fair. Feeding to sleep, for example, makes my life easier most of the time.

In no way do I intend this post to judge the choices others have made that have been different from mine. I am not saying that my parenting journey has been or will be painless. On the contrary, what I’m saying is there are no guarantees. No single ‘parenting style’ or ‘discipline method’ will produce a life of ease and convenience for the parents, or a perfect child.

I would encourage you, though, to think about what is really important to you in the short- and long-term: On the one hand, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – don’t trade the possibility of future convenience for the certainty of present stress (for yourself or your child). On the other hand, if the long-term goal has true value to you, it’s worth some occasional inconvenience or short-term work or pain to get it.

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About Claire

I'm part-time stay-at-home mum to 3 children under 10. We're trying to raise them with the gentleness and creativity God uses with us. I'm also a part-time nurse and a volunteer breastfeeding advocate. We live not far from the beach or the bush in NW Tasmania.
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9 Responses to Myth Busting 1: ‘A rod for your own back’

  1. Michelle says:

    Oh I just LOVE your verse from James!! I just changed my whole family blog to reflect it. My major goal (since before I was married) is to have a peaceful home. I now know about how to peacefully parent my children. This verse just totally captures my desires.

    I really enjoy your blog, especially your posts on discipline. (If you glance at my blog you’ll see I’ve linked to you four times on my side bars). Your faith is encouraging to me as I feel I’ve been floundering of late. Which is not how I wanted to be starting out parenthood.

    But then there are little “candies” the Lord hands me, like this gem of a verse, that draws my heart and mind back to Him! 🙂 Thank you!

    • Claire says:

      I’m so glad you found my first post helpful 🙂 I love that verse, too. It and ‘let your gentleness be evident to all’ are my two ‘parenting verses’ that I try to remind myself of when I feel frustration or rage trying to overcome me. Sometimes, by God’s grace, I succeed in remembering to be a peaceful mummy, sometimes I fail :(. But we can trust God’s grace to be sufficient when we are not.
      Thanks for your comment.
      -Claire
      PS I took a look at your blog – your family is gorgeous 🙂

  2. Michelle says:

    Ha! “Gem”! Was totally not being intentional, but how lovely!!

    • greenegem says:

      🙂 I am so glad we can be an encouragement. It’s hard in the moment sometimes for Mommas to know what Grace ‘looks like’ in a certain situation, since many of us were not parented with any grace given. ❤

  3. Pingback: Myth Busting | Why Not Train A Child?

  4. Rosie says:

    I just finished reading A Pressure Cooker Saved My Life by Juanita Phillips, mum of 2, and was very taken by the idea she mentions in there that “you can have it all, just not all at once”. I think that when a couple has kids, they then become a family. They are still a couple, too, but to expect uninterrupted pre-kid life while also having kids is unrealistic. It disturbs me that a lot of the books and “methods” for “training” your children to not interrupt your life or make it messy often make quite a big deal about how the husband-wife relationship is ultimately more important than the parent-child relationship. Isn’t this a bit reductionist? Why not have both, and for now, yes, make a compromise? Kids are only kids for a short time and soon enough even the parent with the most obedient children will experience empty-nest pangs when the kids move out. Why compete one type of relationship against the other? In our current existence within linear time, to be with one person at any one moment necessarily means compromising on being with another person. But I feel that to say that “the husband-wife relationship means more than the parent-child relationship” is absurd as saying that “God loves God’s other Persons within the Trinity more than he loves us”. Anyone with a sliver of natural creativity should be able to see that God is not limited like that. He can love with endless intensity and attention, in as many directions as he wishes. If we’re made in God’s image, then why shouldn’t we be able to do the same? Of course, we’re limited by time and space unlike God, but it doesn’t mean we need to lower our self-respect and self-belief as creatures we know were made in God’s image.

    …By the way, you must have more patience than me. I would not have passed the beans. LOL

    • Claire says:

      I was planning for my next myth buster to be ‘The parent’s relationship is more important than the kids’ but you seem to have covered all my points neatly. Thanks Rosie! 😛

      And bean-dipping my aunt had nothing to do with patience. There are some people that there is no point in trying to convince, and whose approval is unnecessary.

  5. Rosie says:

    Re: bean-dip, I just know personally that I hate being grilled for parenting choices and I probably would have chosen to end the conversation and move on otherwise I might have erupted with something less than seemly… I know inside that some people can’t be convinced and there’s no point trying, but my personality gets irritated to no end by these people, and to prevent myself erupting I remove myself from the situation… not too different from the way I deal with a conflict with my child, if they are being stubborn and I am getting annoyed… rather than letting myself blow my top, I distract *myself* and the whole thing diffuses before my eyes… 😀

    Why don’t you cover the next myth buster anyway, I’d love to hear it from your words/side/opinion too? 🙂

    • Claire says:

      You may have a different understanding of the term ‘bean-dip’ from me… ‘ending the conversation and moving on’ is essentially what I meant… I’m not sure if I’ve ever thought of it in terms of my children, though, you should add that suggestion to the comments on the anger post 🙂

      I probably will get around to that myth buster at some point, won’t be able to help myself 😀 Stay tuned!

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