I’ve been thinking lately, about the difference between short term and long term parenting. Or really, short term and long term anything. I think once you become a parent you tend to start thinking about the long term. Now that there’s someone else to consider we often find that we’re thinking more about the bigger picture, the longer game.
I read a fabulous book called ToddlerCalm, which is one of very few parenting books whose ideas really resonate with me and how I want to raise my child.
Author of the book Sarah Ockwell-Smith, has children of her own. She gives sound advice that’s backed up with references to studies. Early on in the book, she makes a point about long term and short term parenting, which I found really resonated with me.
Here is an example: you are trying to cook tea/have a conversation with a friend/watch a TV show and your child keeps whining, pulling at your arm and trying to get your attention. You’ve told them several times, In a minute, mummy’s busy but they keep on whining and it’s driving you around the bend. We’ve all been there.
The short term parenting response to this deals with the current situaiton and looks no further: I need this child to stop whining before I go crazy! You might snap and tell them to shut up; you might even shout. You might put them in front of the TV or give them a toy or a sugary treat to keep them quiet.
The long term parenting response involves thinking about how you want your child to feel, how you want them to treat other people as they grow up, what you want them to be like when they grow up. So you would probably still think you want your child to stop whining – but you would also think, I don’t want you to grow up thinking it’s okay to snap or shout or call names and instead you would find a more calm way to get your point across so that your child can learn from your example.
Sometimes juggling between being a parent and doing other things is hard and we all find ourselves making short term decisions to resolve immediate situations. I think the idea is that over time, you aim for more of the long term approach than the short term.
This brings me on to my parenting pet hate: parenting “experts.” I am a strong believer that there is no such thing as a parenting expert; every parent and every child is different and everyone is just doing the best they can. One thing that really stuck with me from ToddlerCalm though was the idea that the parenting “techniques” a lot of these parenting experts suggest fall into the category of short term parenting.
A good example of this is Supernanny who has gained her “expert” status from being a nanny. When people hire a nanny to help them discipline their children, and when a TV show is only 46 minutes long, it’s the quick fix that wins the points. Yes, sitting the child on the naughty step will stop the undesired behaviourbut the response you get is Pavlovian, behaviourist response – similar to what you get when you tap a puppy’s nose to stop it from biting.
Supernanny does not need to be concerned about the long term parenting of your child; by the time your child has grown into an adolescent or adults who is perhaps not as caring or compassionate as you would hope, Supernanny (or any other parenting expert) will be paid and long gone.
Similarly, it doesn’t make great quick-fix TV to film the nanny getting down on the floor and trying to diffuse the situation by playing with the child, or by having a long drawn out conversation is, and do they want a cuddle and are they having a hardtime coping with mummy going back to work and how can we help them to feel more secure.
Shows like Supernanny are famed for getting quick results, but I don’t think quick results are necessarily the best.
I’m the first to admit that I often fall back on the short term parenting a little too often. Being a single parent, there is nobody else to take care of S when I’m feeling a little frayed around the edges. I just have to crack on as best I can, and try to take lots of deep breaths. Sometimes I do just let her have an ice pop when she’s not had her tea yet. Sometimes I do let her go to bed late because I can’t be bothered to wrestle her up the stairs before she’s finished her puzzle. Sometimes she kicks me hard in the chest or face when I’m trying to put her pyjamas on, and she doesn’t get a bedtime story that night.
I am working on my parenting. I am working on taking the deep breaths, and on showing mychild an example of how to behave. Long term, I want her to know that I love her unconditionally, whatever she does. I want her to know that if she’s having trouble behaving in a socially acceptable way, or having a hard time generally, I will sit down and try to help her – even if that just means sitting next to her while she cries until she’s calmed down enough for a cuddle. It’s important to me that she knows I will always be there forher, even if she doesn’t want a cuddle right now.
To me, my child sometimes does the “wrong” thing but not because she’s deliberately trying to be naughty or difficult. She’s pushing her boundaries and establishing rules in her head. Short term, I could sit her on the naughty step alone until she calms down and is more subdued, but long term I would rather help her through her problems and have her know 100% that I will always be there – because there is nobody else for her to rely upon.