A Mother Far from Home

on becoming supermom

Parenting by Instinct vs. Parenting by Strategy


What is it about a screaming baby that makes you lose your mind to where you’d do just about anything to stop it? Or the frown and disappointed whimper of a toddler that makes you take back the very thing you just said? Do your momentary or fleeting emotions / thoughts / ideas determine the parenting decisions you make the majority of the time? If so, this is what I call parenting by instinct.

Now, I am not referring to the god-given feelings of fear that warn us of impending danger for ourselves or our children. Nor am I referring to a mother’s intuition that her child is unwell or sick. My own experience tells me that it’s possible I may know better than the doctor when my children are involved. No, when I refer to instinct parenting I mean the type of parenting where the parents “fly by the seat of their pants” or “wing it” on the daily ins and outs of life.

Kids are smart. Because they are smart they know how to get what they want and while they are not thinking “hhmm how can I pull one over on mom?” they will emotionally manipulate you. Learning how to train and discipline your child in both proactive and reactive situations requires some forethought and strategy. What will you do if they ignore your instructions? How will they be punished if they scratch their brother, sister or the neighbour’s prized show dog? The time to decide how to handle a situation is not right after they have emptied your purse in the deodorant aisle at Target. Knowing how and when you’ll train your child is more methodical than a knee-jerk reaction to their bad behaviour or ignorance.

Without a strategy to fall back on we will often punish or discipline in anger and live to regret it. The 55th time the child lost your car keys (because you didn’t enforce the “no playing with keys” rule from the get go) you say “that’s it, no TV for a week!” Well, upon cooling down you realise perhaps that’s a bit harsh. Now you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. You either (a) go back on your word which – if done regularly – teaches them that you don’t really mean what you say, or (b) carry out a harsh punishment that does not fit the crime. You feel guilty that you reacted in haste and they are confused at the severity of the punishment. Without a strategy it will happen to the best of us.

Following your gut instinct is not always a wise idea. If many of our natural instincts must be tempered with self-control and wisdom, parenting will be no different. Our instincts can tell us to hate, hold grudges, have sex with lots of people, lie to protect ourselves, sleep all day, play video games all night, and eat only brownies (or in my case only cheese). Most would agree these impulses should be tempered with good judgment. If we must temper our own instincts with good judgment, why shouldn’t we do the same our children?

There are a few areas of parenting that need purposeful strategies if you hope to get good results. Parenting is much like investing. You input, input, input, only it’s your children that reap the rewards. We do our children a disservice if we raise them thinking they will always be “happy.” By the time they reach young adulthood they’ll realise you were clearly big.fat.wrong. Then they will have a hard time accepting the truth that everyone else isn’t to blame for their unhappiness. Also, it isn’t everyone else’s duty to appease and pacify them, as their mother has always done. Children who are not thouroughly  trained certain principles will not wake up on their 18th birthday knowing how to do them. Teaching and training must be part of our parental strategy. Much like a math lesson. The teacher explains the concept, does an example problem, assigns homework, and then assesses how well you retained the concept. As parents we should do similar.

Here are some areas you will encounter that will benefit from a strategy:

1) Obedience

2) Discipline after disobedience

3) Temper tantrums, screaming, hitting, etc.

4) Tidying, cleaning and hygiene

5) Financial responsibility

The list goes on and on. Parenting is a full-time job even if you already have a full-time job. If you do then guess what? Now you have two and one doesn’t pay. What a goldmine. Knowing what you will do and how you will approach training and discipline will help you to keep calm in the moment, prevent too harsh or too lax punishment, and will help ensure that you consistently and appropriately prepare your children for adulthood – the whole point of parenting.

Flying by the seat of your pants will give you haphazard results at best and both you and your children will feel insecure because of it. You will feel insecure because you don’t know what you’re doing or why and your children will feel insecure because they won’t know what to expect. Children knowing what to expect is one of the most basic and substantial ways they feel secure. All it takes is a little forethought.

A Mother Far from Home

PS – Click here for more articles with parenting tips, thoughts and things I’ve learned!


Author: A Mother Far From Home

Around here we look at practical child-rearing and child-bearing issues. Look around and find down-to-earth parenting talk, tips, reviews, and some interesting lessons I've learned while navigating the waters of motherhood.

2 thoughts on “Parenting by Instinct vs. Parenting by Strategy

  1. Hi Rachel, nice article. I agree that it is important to implement certain rules and teach that disobedience has negative consequences. Children need to learn to be obedient since it could save their lives, e.g. the moment they run towards a dangerous situation – a child that has been taught to be obedient will immediately stop when told.

    My question though is: at what age do you start to discipline your child and how? I’m talking about a very young child, less than 1 year old…

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