Book review/notes: Parenting for a Peaceful World by Robin Grille

Title: Parenting for a Peaceful World
Author: Robin Grille
Edition: The Children’s Project, 2008

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This ‘parenting’ book is one of its kind, given its title. It does not teach ‘parenting’, but rather highlights the role of parenting in society and in the long course of history. I am of the view that psychohistory and social psychology from the perspective of parenting ought to be a topic discussed academically, as early as in high school, for it is a topic of universal and future relevance! Mindful and optimal parenting does not come from thin air; parenting practices and prejudices are often generational and societal. Violence is proven transgenerational, and often is poverty too. Such change has to begin with mindset.

This book begins with a few weary chapters on the brutal Western history of parenting. Though not closely examined, the way which people treat children is quite intuitively highly correlated with economic resources, production mode, and societal norms.

The 5 parenting modes:

  1. Infanticidal – killed at birth
  2. Abandonment – given to someone remote and irresponsible (wet nurses)
  3. Intrusive – schedule-based and punitive rearing (industrial revolution)
  4. Socialising – more protection against abuse, taming, discipline, authoritarian (rise of psychology)
  5. Helping – naturalistic approach and trust in inner drives

Although we can say the developed world is moving onto a ‘helping mode’ of parenting, the author does not mention that all of these five modes are still relevant today, present in each society. There are still plenty of erroneous practices reminiscent of intrusive and socialising/authoritarian modes. The dark stories of infanticide and abandonment are often concealed, and happen among the marginalised poor, but with societal safety nets and improving support for mothers, children are given a better chance.

Bottomline:

1. The scripture says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Yet parenting is mostly — doing unto others what have been done unto you! Parents need to learn the ‘shoulds’, and also closely examine what has been done on them. A deep reflection of circumstances, feelings, expectations and history is necessary.

2. Secure attachment is top priority. When the child feels his needs has been responded to in his early years, he is emotionally secure, which shall allow higher emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the prerequisite to understanding another person, particularly the speechless infant. (emotional attunement p.251)

– – –

The second half of the book is on development psychology. It includes brief arguments on some very common malpractices, and illustrates the emotional needs of children (Section VI: the five stages of early childhood emotional development). However, the text ends without revealing the flip side of the coin — the encouraging options that parents can pursue.

For example, when children are in a period where they fight for their “right to freedom” (think ‘troublesome-twos’ and ‘threenagers’), the encouraging option is, in my experience, to empower the child. How do I empower? I ask for their help with chores, as simple as preparing their own snack. I give them responsibilities, such as to walk the dog, to mix and match their outfits, to decide what’s for dinner. I have never had a difficult toddler.

Maybe the author deliberately refrains from pointing ahead, for structural reasons. But amidst lengthy theory and criticisms, it is calming to be reminded of the blissful ways of naturalistic parenting.

– – –

I have heard from other parents that they feel psychologically burdened while reading this book, not only by the scary history of child-rearing, but also because it reminds us of our childhood scars and refute many of the practices that most people have done unto children.

One example is reward – essentially manipulating – and its polarity – shaming. Manipulators are bred this way, and their targets are insecure dependents. Although narcissistic manipulators fare well in the corporate world, close relationships often fall awry due to manipulative, exploitative behaviour. In my opinion, if today’s game of power (political game) does not change in its ways, manipulators will continue to multiply and people will aspire to join their ranks, much like how brutality was once the dominant culture.

Parents are often thrown off when we Montessori teachers avoid rewarding and punishing. The grandparents too. Many adults do not know how else to channel children to good, accepted behaviour.

Throughout the book, the author emphasises on ‘empathy’, ‘contact instead of control’, ‘emotional security’. I would summarise them as ‘responsiveness’.

For example, instead of holding a newborn for the whole day, please hold him at his own terms, according to his expressions (p.283). But it was not until I read this book that I realise few people actually have emotional attunement to decipher a baby’s cries (p.251)! Now it all makes sense! I always thought deciphering cries was a maternal instinct, but my own mother tells me she could never attend to mine (luckily I had a very responsive caregiver). The author argues that only one with high emotional intelligence can speak the emotion-dialect. I agree from experience.

Another example is cue feeding (p.309), which all hospitals in Hong Kong do not support. (As a result I ‘escaped’ asap, within 24 hours; my babies all slept 6-8 hours continuously the first evening they’re home! They do not need to be waken up for breastfeeding. Please don’t wake a sleeping baby.)

“What most helps a baby to flourish is her parents’ ‘relaxed responsiveness’. Whereas parents needn’t jump anxiously at every sound the baby makes, it is equally undesirable to systematically delay responding to her vocalised needs.” (p.304)

‘Empathy’ is a big word that I myself tend to avoid. I would classify it as jargon; too many people confused empathy and sympathy anyway. My own interpretation of empathy is to respond to another’s needs – sometimes these needs are hidden deep. It is easy to get distracted by a hot situation or the extravagant expression of feelings. Instead of getting angry over sibling conflicts, what is it that the children need? Do they need a safe space each for them to work? Do they need guidance on how to wait? Do they need inspirations to find other constructive activities? I always try to respond to the need in a matter-of-fact manner; they are also entitled to voicing dissent guilt-free. (p.339) Relationships encompass conflict; love encompasses opposition (p.341). The needs of all parties involved need to be balanced (p.215).

Many of these needs can be understood from section VI on the 5 stages of early childhood emotional development. I’ve added a short description to each:

  1. The right to exist (at birth)
    Accepted and welcomed
  2. The right to need (<18mo)
    Responded to and understood, even without language
  3. The right to have support (toddling)
    Movement, participation
  4. The right to freedom (2+ yo)
    Autonomy, independent work
  5. The right to love (~6 yo)
    Explore physical sensations, curiosity towards love

All in all, there is a lot to take away from this book. The answers are few, but they will be sought by ones who take this wonderful opportunity to reflect, understand societal dynamics, and celebrate the inner tendencies of man. Those of us who come from a different culture (I’m Chinese) will have to research our own psychohistory, but the similarities are adequate for meaningful discovery.

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