I was a young mom with a toddler and a preschooler –the youngest of all the moms in the group– and a few of the older moms in the group ruled the roost.
They instructed the rest of us that when our very young children went outside to play, we were not allowed to check on them, not allowed to be outside with them, and not allowed to correct them.
If a child came inside and said “Tommy is being mean,” or “Amy hit me,” one of the older moms would tell the children to go back outside and work it out themselves.
If they came in again or if a mom dared to try to help them, one of the older moms would glare, lecture, and scold either the parent or the child.
This was a group of Christian homeschool parents, and I was completely blown away by the hands-off mentality and lack-of-concern attitude by the other parents –not to mention the adults who were basically bullying other adults.
I’m pretty assertive, but the older moms were absolutely firm and criticized anyone who went against them.
The children –dozens of them– would be out there for sometimes hours without any adult supervision.
There was no easy way to keep an eye on my children from inside the building; the play area was really just a 4-foot strip of bark dust and bushes at the back of the lot which was not visible from any of the windows.
After a few playtimes, I realized this was not going to work.
My 2-year-old was being bullied regularly because he couldn’t say his consonants yet, and the children would pester my 4-year-old son with ADHD and SPD until he had a sensory meltdown.
I put my foot down and started either keeping my children inside with me or standing alone outside to supervise the children while they played and the other moms ignored their kids.
It was hard enough to tell my little children that they couldn’t play with their friends, but I was treated like I was crazy and overprotective by the other moms who refused to step even outside onto the porch to oversee their own children.
I’m glad I was overprotective and trusted my instincts because –years later– I found out that younger children were being molested by older children in that back lot while the older moms intimidated the younger moms to keep them from being “overprotective.”
The resulting social interaction –having the children unattended outside for an hour or more and tell them to work it out on their own– was bullying.
It was really unbelievable to me, completely avoidable, and minimized once I was out there overseeing the children’s interaction.
Eventually, some of the other younger moms caught on and started bringing activities for their kids to do inside where they could see them, and they would play nicely on the floor with my children.
The rest of the ladies played along with the older moms, leaving their children to be bullied and mistreated.
Unfortunately, it was too late to protect some of the little kids who had already been touched inappropriately before their mothers chose to keep them inside.
The older moms were furious that we moms were not conforming to their hands-off approach to motherhood, and they tried many different tactics to try to get us to send out children back outside even telling us that we were wronging our children and depriving them of important childhood development by insisting that our children stay with us.
I’ll never get it.
I’ll never understand how you can expect your 2-year-olds through 6-year-olds to learn to healthily interact without you there to oversee and instruct them.
The older moms were using bully tactics to try to force the younger moms to allow a public school, playground-style social interaction –which included bullying and intimidation– to be forced on their children.
Isn’t this part of the reason they aren’t in a brick-and-mortar school?
So that we don’t have to deal with this nonsense?
So that our children are not exposed to this very unhealthy version of socialization?
The children of the bully moms grew up to be —imagine this— bullies.
Their mothers acted as if this was a healthy way to interact.
They may have taken their children out of the public school, but they still considered the public school social environment –which breeds antisocial behavior– to be normal.
I do not.
I homeschool for many reasons, and one of them is to get away from the unhealthy social environment.
I have special needs kids who are currently 12 and 15 years old, and they still often need me to be an arbitrator for their disagreements.
They are still –even now– struggling to find healthy ways to interact.
I think that so few adults know how to interact in a healthy way that they don’t even realize that how their kids are interacting isn’t healthy or biblical –just read public Facebook comments from those who claim to be believers and you’ll see what I mean about adults not interacting in a healthy way.
I remember asking my mother when I would stop being the arbitrator between my two children, and she told me “When they turn 18 –if you’re lucky.”
She also told me, “It’s part of your job as their mom.”
I am really glad she told me that because for a while I was starting to doubt myself. If you are told you are crazy long enough –no matter how confident you are– you begin to question your position.
We left that group a long time ago –we stayed too long, honestly, hoping we could make it work– but the things I observed in that extreme version of the let-them-figure-it-out-themselves approach to parenting left a huge impression on me and left me determined that I absolutely would not be using that method to train my children.
The following are 6 reasons that I absolutely refuse to let my kids work it out –which in most cases just means fight it out:
1. They lack the maturity.
Particularly kids of the age mine were at the time –between the ages of 2 and 4 have no concept of compromise.
For most kids, that won’t hit until ages 9 or 10 when they become socially aware –longer if they have special needs.
If you think children of any age are able to handle conflict resolution, take a look at your average interaction between high schoolers –that is telling, isn’t it?
Some children may develop this earlier, depending on personality and maturity.
Our children might be able to handle conflict resolution by age 16, if they are trained to do so, if they are taught to be unselfish, considerate, aware of other people’s needs –at the same time learning to stand up for themselves and for what is right– and if they see it demonstrated in their everyday lives.
We parents need to learn to be conflict resolvers ourselves so that we can model that behavior to our children.
If we can’t do it, how on earth do we expect them to?
2. It breeds bullying.
If you leave kids to themselves to work out problems, it just means that the biggest, baddest, most assertive, most aggressive, or most unkind kid wins.
This teaches our children that there is no reason to stick up for what’s right because whoever is the worst is going to win anyway.
Is that really what I want my children to learn?
That there’s no justice?
That no one will help them if they’re standing up for right?
That doing the right thing doesn’t matter?
That they should just roll over and let whoever is the worst person in their midst win?
That I won’t come help them if they need it?
This is absolutely not what I’m trying to teach my children and is the main reason that I will not force my children to resolve problems without adult help.
This is absolutely what my children learned in their limited interaction with the above-mentioned group.
It took some unlearning, but we did get past it.
3. It breeds anger and resentment.
If your child is being mistreated, they come to ask you for help, and you turn them away, why wouldn’t they be angry?
You are supposed to help them: that is your job.
You are also supposed to protect them: that is your job.
But in this environment, they are made into victims –unless perchance they happen to be the biggest and the baddest, and then they learn to walk all over anyone who they think is less than them.
You think bullies are happy?
They are the angriest and most unhappy people you will meet, just spreading that anger onto others.
It is bad for everyone involved.
Neither the winning or the losing child has matured through this process if they are left to themselves.
It has only left everyone wounded and hurting.
4. It’s unbiblical.
We’re supposed to raise our children up in the admonition of the Lord and teach them how to follow Jesus.
We should not expect them to figure out how to interact in a healthy, mature, and biblical way on their own.
Why would there be a command to raise them up correctly if it was going to happen without us intentionally doing it? Without us involved?
Even if we verbally instruct them to be kind before sending them out, more than likely they will not be able to do that without our guidance –especially in the beginning.
Even with our guidance and example, it may take years for them to learn.
Because, well, they’re kids.
They may me be able to handle situations maturely, but at what age will vary by child, so pray for wisdom before turning your children lose to resolve their own conflicts.
Until then, what they need is their parent with them step-by-step not only being an example but being a guide.
That will feel like you are a referee.
That’s part of being a parent: it’s in the job description.
5. It’s unwise.
Proverbs says that a child left himself will bring his mother to shame.
If that’s what Solomon –the wisest man who ever lived– believe would happen if children were left to themselves, what makes us think that leaving them to figure problems out on their own will have any positive result at all?
The children in the story above, particularly those who were raised to be bullies, did not learn how to interact in a healthy way on their own.
They grew up to interact in unhealthy ways just like they were trained.
It was unreasonable for those women to think that they could leave their young children to train themselves and not have it bring about shameful and unfortunate results.
6. It makes our children think we don’t care.
Is it a lot of work to be a constant moderator?
It is a lot of work, and I think that’s why some moms choose to let their children fight it out.
But it was the work we took on when we had children.
We do not get to ignore or abandon that responsibility simply because we don’t like it.
How are they going to learn to interact in a healthy way with people that they disagree with if we are not teaching them?
If they are not seeing us resolve problems in our own lives?
If we are not helping them resolve problems in their lives?
Our children should never come to us for help and get either the direct or implied answer that we don’t care about them.
That is not okay.
If I absolutely cannot deal with the squabbling, I am not above threatening them with life and limb that if they know what is good for them they had better sit on their own ends of the couch and be quiet until I am done cooking dinner and then we will figure it out.
But I will never intentionally communicate to my children that I do not care about them or their struggles.
If I choose to communicate that I don’t care when something small comes up, then when something big comes up they will not turn to me for help because I have already communicated that I am not reliable to help them.
I’m not saying that you should never ever let your children play without you right there, but that you should encourage them to come to you with problems they can’t resolve so that you can guide them –and you may need to do some eavesdropping to make sure the conflicts they do resolve by themselves are being resolved in a good way.
A society without rules and arbitrators results in anarchy and chaos; the same happens in the home.
If adults can’t exist without rules and arbitrators –imagine a world with no government or laws, where you just took revenge when someone wronged you– how can we expect our children to function without them?
Without rule of law and arbitrators, children will become little anarchists because then we are training our children to take matters into their own hands — that’s exactly what happened in the group I was part of.
It’s not good enough to just have rules; someone actually needs to make sure those rules are understood, accurately applied, and followed.
In this group, if anyone tried to make sure the rules were being followed they were labeled a tattletale or a bad parent, but in the real world, this is expected: you call the police if someone is breaking the law by stealing or threatening bodily harm.
So why would we not expect our children to live by that same concept?
Part of the problem with the public schools, in my opinion, is that there are (some) rules but no one –or perhaps not enough someones– there to make sure the rules are applied correctly and followed.
And, we wonder why the schools are breeding anarchists and people with anti-social behavior. We wonder why the schools aren’t producing good, law-abiding citizens.
I know, parenting is really, really, really hard.
It is probably the hardest thing you have ever done, and that means you are probably doing it right.
I am through most of my parenting years since my youngest is entering his teens in a few months.
And, although I don’t deal with meltdowns, spilled milk, or playground arguments much anymore, we certainly have our rough days.
They still struggle to get along sometimes, and I still struggle and strive to continually point them back to the Bible for our answers to how people ought to interact.
The following are a few of the verses I have used recently in my childrearing:
If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Romans 12:18
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment…. Romans 12:3
Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. Philippians 4:5
Let us be diligent to train our children up in the way of the Lord, not to leave them angry and bitter —which is one of the only New Testament commands to parents.
Let us to be good examples in our relationships, and to try to always point them back to Jesus.
Let’s guide them by our example and oversight so that they can –Lord willing– have healthier-than-average relationships in the future –relationships that honor the Lord.
When in doubt, check your parenting against scripture.