Isabelle’s Parenting Philosophy
Isabelle, my hostess for the yoga weekend, is a lovely woman. She was older than I, and has a lot of yoga experience, having been an Iyengar instructor for years. When she met TriYoga, however, it captured her – thus our meeting. She ended up hosting me for a weekend training.
She also has some lovely adult children. We talked a lot about parenting over the weekend. She had me fascinated, laughing, and cringing with her parenting philosophy. I’m writing it down because I want to remember. I am sharing it, because I think some of it is fantastic.
Her first language is French. Wanting her children to also speak French, she spoke only French in her house and to her children. This, she credits with getting them to be bilingual. Usually, the first generation that is bilingual, raise children who speak that language as second language only, or not at all.
I think it has to do with allowing the children to have an option to use a different language to find the right word. If there’s no option they’re forced to find the right word in the parent’s naïve tongue, and therefore they keep that language as their first language. The language in the world around them becomes their second language. As they move into grade school and beyond, however, the second language, becomes their first language. This sounds confusing but that’s how it seems to work.
I think this is it great idea, though it caused the children some anxiety; wondering why their mother could speak English, but wouldn’t speak to them! I can see the outrage on their faces as they dealt with discovering this parenting ploy. However, to make their household work, they would have to capitulate. Thus, they held onto their mother’s language.
Her advice on teen-agers, given to her by an older friend, was as follows. First – Find out what’s not negotiable – and stick to that. Secondly, “Pick Three Rules.” She said it didn’t matter what you chose, but picking and reducing your battles was primary. This is brilliant, as it reduces fighting. It’s streamlines parenting to what’s really important. It’s flexible, as what’s really important will vary from household to household and family to family. Isabelle, herself, had two things that were not negotiable. Getting good grades, and being polite to family and society.
A third brilliant tactic; within the above framework, she discussed short-term consequences and long-term consequences with her children. This is how she described it to me:
Short-term consequences meant things that she could do something about – or choose to not, but would eventually pass. Did you get in trouble with the principal and get kicked out of school for a day? Too bad that your consequence. Did you get stuck with a flat tire, or run out of gas? That’s short term consequence. She could pick you up – or not.
Long-term consequence was for something that were going to change your life – for the rest of your lif,e and that a parent could do nothing about. Long-term consequences were something that she could not fix. This would include somebody being pregnant, somebody being dead, criminal records, and such. There’s no fix for these kind of life changing events.
Her questions for her kids, when they asked her to save them, were: Was somebody pregnant? Was somebody dead? Was there any other long-term consequence from the nights action or anything they wanted to tell her now?
That’s where Isabelle’s last rule comes in. (I love this one!) Parents should hear about things, especially problems, directly from the child. If they are heard directly from the child, the child is 50% forgiven. If they find out from someone else, say the principle, the police, the neighbors – No Forgiveness. She didn’t tell her children with the consequence would be, and often times there wasn’t any consequence, when they told her, but this was her choice. (they never knew that part.) The key was, they did tell her, thus she knew a lot more than she would otherwise.
I love this because it doesn’t forgive them for their mistakes, but it keeps the parents informed. It is also a way for them to bring into the light the things that they know that they did that was wrong, to feel guilty about it, and the flexibility to make new choices next time.
So, Isabelle said, the story goes; if I borrow my son’s car, have a flat, and find a bong near the tire jack that is a short-term issue. There could be a long-term consequence for me, as I have to drive home, and the residue in the bong could land me in jail, and with a criminal record. So, I may choose to do a number of things, but the son will likely never see the bong again. Isabelle’s response: save the bong, to give it to that child’s son or daughter, when they reach young adulthood.
I think that’s hilarious! I don’t know if she would actually do it. But it’s still funny. Isabelle’s mind works like mine. It’s important for children to be able to break rules and to feel very guilty about it. It’s important for them to know that they’ve done something wrong, without it always having a long-term consequence, or reflecting negatively on their personality. Everyone makes mistakes. In her view, if you, as a parent, don’t think consuming a glass of wine is the worst thing in the world, then having your children steal beer and drink it in the backyard without you knowing, is probably not the worst thing that could happen. Is it worth punishing. I don’t know – you will have to decide on your own.
However, parents need to actually become more conservative, otherwise things tend to get out of hand. The parent who doesn’t mind a glass of wine, may says it’s okay for the children to have a glass of wine. However, they then have opened a door that will cause problems, as the children are likely to have 16 glasses of wine. That’s not OK. So she advises becoming less permissive. In Isabelle’s rules – yes, it is definitely worth punishing the stolen beer in the backyard.
Later, my husband, child and I went to see the teen action movie. Maybe you’ve seen it too, maybe not. The movie starts with a teenage boy making some decisions that are not going to bode well for his future. He steals a cow to put in the team’s locker room – a stupid prank. However, the cow escapes. The police come, the boy steals a car, has a high speed chase, flips the car, wrecking it and 3-6 other cars. As the scene unfolds my heart is in my mouth, fearful that he will kill somebody, which could happen as easily as not. These are those long-term consequences.
Pranks like stealing a cow and getting it into the schools locker room, that’s going to earn some short-term consequences, if things go well. Stealing a car – well, we don’t know about how that is going to go, not likely well. Wrecking a stolen car, flipping it and doing hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage…Now we are talking significant long-term consequences. The next set of bad choices the movie offers us involve racing at train to cross the tracks, with a load full of friends. They don’t make it.
However – it’s a movie. The character was saved by becoming a superhero. Though after this movie, they may not understand it, but for most teens, this isn’t going to be an option.
The balance between conservative and permissiveness is thin. There needs to be a place for children know what’s right and wrong, that there are consequences, and yet also a space for them to make mistakes, recognize those as mistakes, and make new choices.
I honestly love the three rules Isabelle has given me for parenting teens. It fits well in my parenting philosophy. I’ll be using these immediately.
by Tama Cathers
Credits: Photo – Brigitte Tohm 351791 Unsplash