Travelling in Europe and comparing parenting styles in Great Britain and Germany to Canada reminded me of how different parenting is from culture to culture.
We saw examples of British parenting as gentle reminders of manners, sometimes interlaced with humour. Yet, the children seem to know precisely that something said sarcastically or humorously still has to be taken seriously.
German parenting is more direct and humourless. German parents navigate an interesting balance between granting their children a lot of individuality and freedom—much more than we do in Canada—and yet being quite outright, outspoken and direct regarding enforcing rules.
German parents are reluctant to encourage kids to do something they are not in the mood for. Your five-year-old does not want to give grandma a hug and kiss? That’s okay. Your eight-year-old does not want to join in the games at the birthday party because he thinks it’s “blöd” (stupid)? That’s okay. Your twelve-year-old does not want to join the family for dinner even though relatives are over? That’s okay. Your sixteen-year-old does not want to come on vacation with his/her parents? That’s okay.
Hardly ever are children encouraged to put the needs of others or a group over their own needs and wants. I suspect that is a result of the Nazi time in which obedience and conformity were put above else. As so often in history, an entire nation has done a 180˚ turn. Yet, when children cross “the line,” whatever that line in each individual case and each individual parent is, the parent can get very direct and authoritative and will raise their voice.
Clearly, each country or culture has different values for parenting. What seems right in one culture might be frowned upon in another. I wondered if there are any common points independent of the culture that one might want to consider for parenting and/or step-parenting.
Children change the dynamics of every partnership considerably. When a new baby is born or when step-children enter into the picture, the self-contained unit of the two grown-ups loving each other or the previous family system breaks open to include one or more other people. Conflicts are inevitable if we are unaware of the changing dynamics and in touch with our feelings and fears. Instead of bringing more joy and growth, parenting becomes a burden for the relationship.
Here are some points to consider for parenting based on Hal and Sidra Stone’s work, which I believe might be applicable in many different parts of the world:
Acceptance of the Partnering Model for Parenting
Partnering is a non-hierarchical model of parenting. In partnering, both partners are equally involved in all areas. In partnering, everything is a joint venture. Instead of blaming the other parent, there is a no-fault kind of relationship. Both partners should share the authority, responsibility, and power.
The primary connection in the family system must be between the two people in charge, the couple. Children “smell” very quickly when the connection between the parents isn’t working and are naturally taking advantage of that fundamental flaw in the family system. Dynamics then begin to happen that don’t work well for the family.
For each partner, that means looking at the children and step-children from your partner’s eyes. You do not necessarily need to agree with your partner, but be curious. Strive to understand where he or she is coming from. You need to be able to see and feel their point of view. Learn to honour your partner’s viewpoint, no matter how different it is, because there is learning there for us. It is an opportunity to integrate our disowned selves, the traits we don’t like about ourselves and others.
Primary and Disowned Selves, Opposites & Polarization
The Primary Selves are the group of selves who make up our identity or who we are identified with. We have had to drop other traits, the so-called Disowned Selves because we learned they are not suitable. We usually treasure our primary selves and are attached to them (“That’s just how I am”), however, the disowned selves we don’t like. The stepchildren, new in-laws, and other people in our life will carry our disowned selves and show us what we tend to judge and dislike. Family members show us the opposites with which we are not comfortable, and we often even polarize into our respective opposites further as we live and interact together.
For example, if I am pretty neat and my child or stepchild is a bit sloppy, the child might polarize into being even messier while I become more paranoid about cleaning and tidying up. The child is taking on the messy energy that I—and possibly everybody in the house—have disowned. However, once they move out, we might find that living independently, they have a pretty neat household.
If I am identified with cleanliness, I might judge a messy person very strongly for living in a mess. Judgements give us the keys to our primary and our disowned selves. When you feel yourself judging other family members, remind yourself that the judgments give you feedback about yourself and the parts of yourself that you have disown.
Tune in to find out who is bonded into whom in the family. What I mean by that is notice who feels close to whom and how the bonding happens. Is genuine warmth and connection happening between you and your partner, or perhaps you and your favourite child? These bonding patterns are always going on underneath. Be aware of them and consciously ensure the primary bond between you and your partner. Enough time and opportunities to maintain the bond between the couple, who are the core unit of the family, are very important for the entire system and successful parenting.
Life is a Teacher
Trust that challenges are there to be worked through. You always have the choice to step back and ask, what is the teaching or meaning of what comes up? Life, illness, relationships and parenting are each a teacher for us to learn to become more whole. Our partner can always trust that we are willing to work something out when we honestly ask the question, what does this parenting situation have to teach me?
Conscious Parenting & Life Coaching
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