Mothering instincts

January 4, 2008 at 1:26 am 1 comment

I suprised a very dear friend of mine, best known as Growing Bump,  the other day  by saying how much I liked Diane Levy’s parenting books.

Diane Levy is a New Zealand family therapist who has a pretty practical, down to earth  approach that includes using ‘effective time out’ to get your kids to behave. Not a ‘naughty step’ style of time out, just putting your child in their room until they are ready to co-operate.  More about Diane Levy in another post!

I find Diane is a middle ground between my husband, who is probably a ‘brick-wall’ parent by nature, and my own ‘jellyfish’ tendencies. Given our family backgrounds, these tendencies are certainly not suprising. My in-laws  eat fish and chips with a knife and fork, at a beautifully set table with a crystal jug for the vinegar! My family don’t even set the table for Christmas Day ….

Growing Bump raised the point though that surely parenting by your instincts is a key part of attachment parenting. I have been giving this a lot of thought – after all when our babies are tiny we are encouraged to follow our instincts to hold them close, rock them, keep them close, bring them to the breast … all wonderful mothering instincts.

Yet as our children get older, how much of our tendencies are truly instinctual, and how much are in fact what we have learned from our own mothers? How much is driven by our personality type?

 In ‘MotherStyles” ( Janet Penley writes that the impact personality type has on our discipline style  is a ‘fuzzy area’, and that ‘discipline appears to be greatly influenced by how the mother was raised and current cultural biases’.

However she did note some differences, for example “J’s tended to have more rules than P’s. T’s gravitate to logical consequences and cause and effect to teach and correct behaviour. F’s gravitated toward co-operation, give and take and responsibility”.

It seems to me that to separate your ‘instincts’ from your preferences, and your  personal history would require a particularly high level of self-awareness and insight. I for one am still working on this … and I’m very cautious not to let the idea of acting on ‘instinct’  mean that I feel my Jellyfish tendencies are always right.

When my darling daughter spits out her water all over the table, my first reaction is to giggle with delight and clap my hands – it looks like so much fun. When my daughter bit me and was upset when I gasped in pain, I gave her a big kiss as I hated to see her upset. Certainly I was acting ‘instinctively’ both times, but I’m not sure I acted in a way that will teach her how to behave in the world she lives in. I don’t believe this type of permissiveness is actualy fair on her, nor do I think that William Sears would approve!

Finding my own “middle ground” as a mother will no doubt be an endless task. I want to bring my daughter up to feel loved, safe, appreciated, and that her home is a wonderful place to be. I want her to have the freedom to find her own way. I also want her to have the self-discipline, social skills, and the security that comes from knowing there are clear boundaries in the world.

As I look at her sleeping, looking like a wee angel, blissfully unaware of her mothers seious contemplation, I find myself laughing at just how much I angst about this stuff!  Maybe the best thing I can do right now is follow my instinct to curl up beside her and have a nap myself.


Entry filed under: Parenting.

Happy New Year Much ado about meals …

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Megan  |  January 5, 2008 at 9:43 pm

    It is so true…it is so hard to find a middle ground…a happy ground for all.
    I am so lucky that both Dave and I are very simlar in many ways. If anything I tend to be the harsh one and he’s the relaxed more easy going one.
    I think as long as we are aware of ourselves and how we are then we can give the best to our children.
    Hope you ejoyed your nap


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