Carole and Nadim Saad have three children together and have faced the same challenges and fallen into the same traps as any other parent. But not content with the ‘make do’ approach to parenting, or the stress it was causing, they resolved to investigate the art of parenting properly. Their discoveries were life changing, too good not to share!
My first parenting lightbulb moment occurred when I attended a conference on innovation and creativity and heard Alfie Kohn, the author of ‘Punished by Rewards’ speak. Kohn explained how many modern kids are becoming dependent on praise and rewards for a sense of worth, and therefore finding it difficult to evaluate themselves and their own achievements. Yet the evidence, he claimed, shows that children feel happiest and most fulfilled when they are brought up to believe both in themselves and in their own abilities. I found this idea fascinating, wouldn’t it be better to learn to do things simply for the pleasure of succeeding or completing a task for the ‘intrinsic motivation’? It made me realise that I too had grown up believing that my parents’ love (including the rewards they gave me) was conditional on my being good, obedient and doing well at school. For, like most couples who embrace traditional parenting styles, my parents believed that experiencing punishment and rewards were essential to a child’s development.
Inspired by what I’d learned I turned to the groundbreaking child development theories of Maria Montessori, who believed in the importance of treating children with respect. And one of the best ways of showing this respect was to encourage children to want to do things for themselves, for the intrinsic motivation as opposed to any reward they would receive from anyone else. I was so inspired by this liberating approach to child care that I ended up training as a Montessori educator, teaching children from age 3 to 6 for a few years at a school in Switzerland and finally running my own Montessori nursery for pre-school children in London.
As my knowledge grew so did my awareness of how children naturally want to copy and emulate their parents, and how our ‘role’ and actions as parents therefore shape how they grow up. The more I taught, the clearer it became that with a little information parents could adjust their parenting methods and make instant positive changes . Yet I also saw how often parents lacked the knowledge and the tools for encouraging their children to develop to their fullest, potential. Instead, inadvertently and often unknowingly, they were clipping their children’s wings, encouraging them to be dependent and unsure of their own abilities.
Yet despite my experience of looking after other people’s children, and all my knowledge on child development, nothing could have prepared me for the shock of having my own children. Long before I had children a friend had said to me “You have no idea what kind of mother you are going to be”, and boy was she right! The fact is that nothing is so life altering as having a child. From the moment we give birth, emotional ‘stuff’ starts surfacing from our own childhood, feelings that we experienced ourselves in infancy but have long since buried or forgotten begin to emerge and affect our behaviour. So, far from being the chilled out, knowledgeable mum I’d expected to be, I found myself struggling with a raft of emotions and anxieties. I became overprotective, I couldn’t bear hearing my child cry or leaving her with anyone else and took her everywhere with me regardless of the circumstances. But when my daughter turned eighteen months old and was able to assert herself, she started refusing to listen or do as she was asked. Faced with a defiant child, I found that I couldn’t cope and to my horror started resorting to either pleading with her or shouting at her for not listening. I had once thought that I had all the knowledge of child development that I needed in order not to have to resort to nagging or pleading with my own child, yet here I was shouting at her, the very last thing that I wanted was to do. I felt confused and unhappy and sometimes even a failure.
Nadim, my husband, was really devoted to the children, so much more hands-on and fun to be with than many of the other fathers I knew. But if one of his children became defiant towards him, he’d get very angry and reveal his authoritarian and strict parenting style or reflex. He thought that shouting at children was a good way to get them to listen to what he had to say, and that by punishing them he would ensure that they remembered a lesson and change their behaviour. His strict behaviour upset me, particularly when I saw how it caused my daughter to go into ‘shut down’ mode in order to protect herself. And so I began trying to compensate for his harshness by becoming even more protective of my first child and the two daughters who then followed. The differences that my husband and I had once loved in each other now became the source of animosity, and our family life began to suffer. To me, Nadim seemed too harsh a parent, wheareas to Nadim, I was too soft, in danger of spoiling our girls. He was certainly right that I didn’t know how to admonish my girls without feeling guilty. I had no idea how to set limits and boundaries without feeling remorseful nor did I know how to acquire the art of being firmer while remaining kind or reestablishing harmony with my husband. The fact was I seemed unable to be the mum I’d wanted to be, unable to create the family atmosphere I longed to have. My husband wouldn’t accept my way of parenting, and my children didn’t respect what I said to them. Yes, I had all the theories, but lacking the tools to deliver them I was unable to put them into practice.
I turned to parenting books for advice and although I found several that seemed to make perfect sense, such as Alfie Kohn’s “Unconditional Parenting”, very few offered practical advice as to how to implement the theories they espoused. And none of the guides seemed to want to offer me help in reconciling my parenting differences with Nadim. There was however one particular series entitled ‘Love and Logic’ that stood out as it offered easy to use and effective tools for parenting with empathy and reason, rather than through reprimand and punishment.
Some of their practical tools taught me how to talk to my children in a way that would make them listen to me, and respect what I was saying. Through Love and Logic I learned the art of being kind and firm at the same time…. and suddenly I felt more at peace with being a parent. It was the missing link between what I had been practicing as a Montessori teacher and my own desires to be the mother I’d always wanted to be. I decided to study to become a Love and Logic facilitator myself and when I came back to London I started running parenting courses, which turned out to be very successful.
However, something was still missing. The theories I was putting into practice and teaching weren’t covering the full spectrum of tools that I needed to change both my children’s behaviour and my own for the better. They were also lacking some psychological research background. My husband Nadim, who is much more cerebral and needed to have reasons for why he was supposed to do things a particular way, was asking me for the ‘evidence’ that would prove the theories I was recommending. We both agreed that we needed more scientific evidence as to why children behave the way they do and how best to deal with it. The fact was that until we really understood the psychology behind these parenting theories, we would never truly be able to get to grips with our own children’s misbehavior, or our reflex reactions. And none of the theories seem to address the secrets to achieving greater harmony as a couple wanting to parent together, in agreement.
So began our quest to find the world’s most successful parenting methods and convert them to practical tools. Our objectives were clear, to find the scientific evidence, rather than just the theories, which would offer proof as to why a particular parenting strategy would benefit children and parents in the short and the longer term.
The evidence we uncovered proved so life-changing for our family, as well as the families who came to us for coaching, that we decided to bring our tools to a wider audience in the form of an app, a website and now this ebook.
We want to show the world that yes, being a parent is hard work, but it doesn’t have to be stressful. It just takes a bit of knowledge plus a little effort and practice to bring the joy back into family life, making it easier to raise and empower a new generation of kids who are ready for the world.
One of the things that really attracted me to Carole, was her nurturing, caring side, I was convinced that she would be a wonderfully positive mother. With all her knowledge of child rearing, Carole was always being asked for advice on parenting matters. so I was sure that she’d know exactly what to do when our own children came along . I was so looking forward to having kids with her!
We had been together for five years before we had our first child, and when she arrived everything changed! Like Nora Ephron said ‘Having a baby is like throwing a hand grenade into a marriage’! What had once been sparks of passion between us now became flames of conflict. Our baby was not an ‘easy’ child for she didn’t want to be left alone for a moment. This meant that Carole would hardly take any time off, either for herself or for us . “Come on,” I’d say to Carole, “We have to teach her to cry on her own” but Carole disagreed, believing that our daughter needed her.
Now instead of having just a few disagreements a week, we were having arguments every day. In Carole’s eyes, I would be hurting the children just by raising my voice, which in turn would make her irritated and aggressive with me. This created a lot of tension between us. But unlike Carole, although I felt a sneaking self doubt at the advisability of shouting at my kids, I couldn’t envisage another way of being. I still thought the way to get children to remember that they were doing something wrong was by raising my voice at them. In common with many fathers, I believed my authoritarian side was just a typical male logical, ‘no nonsense’ approach. Something along the lines of ‘Don’t allow children to whine because they will get used to getting their own way’. I thought that Carole was a softy and that she was letting the children get away with so many things that they’d end up as ‘spoilt’ and unable to learn the important values in life, including self discipline. But when I confided in friends, I realised that our disagreements over parenting styles were pretty common among couples! However the question remained, how could we learn to stop arguing and parent our children together in harmony? The stakes after all, couldn’t have been higher.
Yet I rejected Carole’s requests to read any of the parenting ‘manuals’ she recommended, as I was sure that she’d chosen them precisely because they backed up her argument that one needed to be “gentle” , rather than, authoritarian with the kids. My view was that most parenting books are based on opinions rather than facts (which is why there are so many conflicting beliefs out there) so why would I trust one person’s advice over another? And if none of the experts could agree then why should I question my own authoritarian parenting style which, after all seemed to be bringing me the respect and obedience I expected from my children?
And then I noticed that Carole was beginning to modify her own parenting style and that it was having an almost magical effect on our children. The logical, positive parenting techniques, that she’d been exploring to supplement her knowledge of child development, were actually making our kids sit up, take notice and behave properly. And all without the need for Carole to raise her voice or nag . I couldn’t argue with the evidence, her techniques were really working! I was impressed and intrigued.
Now that I had an incentive to learn more I finally started reading the books that Carole had recommended and then widening my research to cover other child development theories.
Meanwhile Carole was running her courses and time and again I heard parents describe the knowledge she was sharing with them as ‘life changing’. And every time I shared our findings with another father, he would identify with them and become really enthused.
One of my biggest “aha” moments in looking at the research was to discover that my angry outbursts (which unfortunately still happen from time to time!) could never achieve a positive outcome because of the “fight or flight” response they caused in my children. What a lot of time and energy I had wasted over the years delivering all those lessons and lectures at the top of my voice when they’d been too shaken up by the shouting to hear me!
I began to realise that the way I had been parented had a lot more influence on my parenting “instincts” than I ever realized. Having had an authoritarian and moralising father and an overprotective and very controlling mum, I was now clearly mirroring these traits in my own parenting style.
I also recognised that over the years I had been building up a degree of resentment towards my parents for the stern way they treated me, yet I had never been conscious of my feelings before. Indeed, I used to think that their authoritarian and their overprotective styles hadn’t affected me as “I turned out all right”. However, the research showed otherwise and I realised that my losing my patience easily with my parents and my tendency to be argumentative over minor details, was due to the frustration of this built up anger. And yet even when I was able to recognizes my own resentment, I knew that I couldn’t really ‘blame’ my parents, for like most parents (me included!), they had had no idea that their behaviour could be harming their children. They were simply following the advice they had received from their parents and those around them.
The fact is that even the most loving parents, with the very best of intentions, can end up damaging their children through unconsciously parenting them negatively. Some people may feel frustrated at ‘having to’ scream and shout at their children but they tend to justify it to themselves and their family (as I used to!) with; “Well my parents behaved like that and I turned out to be just fine”.
With all my new found awareness, I now find amazing that so many people automatically go on anti-natal courses to learn about giving birth, whereas parenting courses are relatively rare. What could be more important than having guidance as to how to best help our little ‘beings’ grow up, especially from the age of about 18 months, when their personality first begins to assert itself and leads them to start “acting up”?
My most important discovery in life is that if people could just take a few hours to learn that there is a common sense and practical approach to parenting based on basic child psychology, they could make family life and beyond a far happier and more fulfilled place. Everything we do at Best of Parenting is designed to empower parents to make these changes with confidence and we very much hope that you will agree. We would love to hear your experiences of using our tools on your family and how they have worked for you.
Interviewed by Katie Sampson