Sunday, July 17, 2011

Naomi Aldort's Parenting Philosophy: Excellent, But NOT for Everyone

Along with the controversy surrounding Naomi's bogus PhD, there have been numerous book reviews and comments on and other forums regarding the advice that Naomi gives to parents about raising their children.

In case you are not familiar with her book, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, I will try to give you a brief synopsis.  The sub-title explains that her ideas, when put into practice, will transform the parent-child relationship from reaction and struggle to freedom, power and joy.  The basic principal of Naomi's teachings is that children deserve to be treated with the same respect and trust as is befitting any adult.  Her book asserts that lack of age or life experience does not make someone less worthy of freedom, autonomy and self-regulation.  She suggests that parents need only provide compassion, patience, emotional security and unconditional love in order to raise joyful, powerful children.  (If you fully understand her book, you will know that the word power is easily replaced with autonomy.

It sounds simple, right?  Wouldn't every parent gladly give up conflicts with their children in favour of living in freedom and peace?  Of course! But not all parents are equally capable of achieving this amazing equilibrium in their homes.  Here are some reasons why.

1.  Some parents confuse Freedom with License.
Freedom is what happens when a group of people mutually agree to respect each other's needs as equal to their own.  Freedom is NOT license to do whatever you want. 

One area where Naomi's book is easily misunderstood is how she suggests that children should be allowed to determine their own bodily rhythms when it comes to food and sleep.  Some parents would think that she is suggesting that children should stay up late into the night as much as they want or that children can choose to eat nothing but ice cream.  No, that is not Naomi's strategy at all.

Consider the act of driving a car.  One must follow the rules of the road, purchase insurance and keep the car safely maintained.  Having the Freedom to hop in the car and drive wherever and whenever we please is not the same as having the License to break the speed limits, run stop signs and drive on the sidewalk.  By choosing to drive, we choose to respect our own need for safety and the safety of others.

The food and sleep issue for children is the same.  Few parents would find that the family functions well when one or more members choose to sleep in patterns that disrupt the rhythm of the rest of the family.  And few parents would be comfortable with their children never choosing to eat a fruit or vegetable.  However, if the parent creates an environment where any available choice for food or sleep will be acceptable to all members of the family, then there are no problems.

In my own family, all of the children lay down in bed at the same time in the evening, usually when the baby is ready for bed.  We talk about our day, tell what we are grateful for and sing songs.  If one or more of them are not tired then they get up to do a quiet activity when the others fall asleep.  Later, they go to bed on their own or whenever I decide to go to bed.  We also have an agreement that every Sunday everyone stays up and we do a family activity like watching a movie or having a campfire.  There is no fighting about 'bedtime' and everyone gets enough sleep.

Freedom to choose whatever food the child wants is similarly easy:  Simply don't bring food into your home that you don't want your children to eat.  Some days one of my daughters will consume nothing but toast and soy milk.  This is no problem for me because generally the next day her body will be craving some fiber and she'll eat lots of raw fruits and vegetables (which are always plentiful).  If my house has potato chips in it, it is no surprise to me that my children will not touch anything healthy because they can only think about the junk food.  If it's not available, they will eat whatever IS available.

Freedom to make one's own choices within the boundaries of what is good for everyone is just life.  Boundaries are not rules.

2.  Some parents don't know how to be the Leader in their homes.

Most of us are really good at being The Boss.  We grew up in a school environment where we were permitted limited autonomy and the adult was always in charge.  Many of us had home environments that were the same as school where our parents were authoritarian.  We bring this familiar paradigm to the parenting of our own children because it is comfortable and common.

Some of us are really bad at being The Boss.  We're the Pushovers.  We are so afraid of creating disappointment or sadness or frustration for our children that we give them whatever they want and offer them no boundaries, values or priorities of our own because we don't want to clash with them.  We seek their love and approval rather than unconditionally giving ours.

Neither of those scenarios are ones in which the parents have a clear sense of what is best for themselves OR their children.  A Leader creates authentic boundaries by living within clearly defined Values and Priorities.  You might consider establishing a Family Mission Statement as a way of clearly defining your own Values and Priorities. 

For example, if healthy eating and exercise is important to you, then you are a Leader by engaging in a healthy lifestyle and not creating a home full of junk foods where the most common activity is watching TV.  You aren't being a Leader if you make your kids eat veggies and rice while you eat fries and cheese dip.  That's obvious, right? 

Similarly, if a tidy home is important to you then you better keep it clean.  A BOSS creates rules about making everyone clean up.  A PUSHOVER complains about the mess but does nothing OR cleans up constantly as the Cinderella who is serving everyone else's needs.  A LEADER cleans up and shows everyone around her the benefits of order and cleanliness. 

Being the Leader is what prevents your home environment from becoming one of License rather than Freedom.  We are not to become the servant of our children, running ourselves ragged to meet their every demand.  A Leader models self-care and self-love.  A Leader states clearly her own needs and limitations and then acts in such a way as to meet her needs and surrender to her limitations.

For example, my two older children love to go to playgrounds, especially during the school year when there are few other children there.  I am totally committed to following their agendas and facilitating their play and learning, but I really dislike going to playgrounds because Julian is at an age (12 months) where the playground is very dangerous for him with his limited physical abilities and his enormous curiosity (and total lack of sense!)  It is exhausting for me to play with him at the playground and keep him safe while also assisting his sisters on the monkey bars and pushing them on swings and watching them do acrobatics on the climbers.  I have explained this to my daughters (ages 5 and 7) and I have asked them to go to playgrounds only when their dad is available to either go with them or stay home with Julian.  This is being the Leader.

3.  Some parents are not very good at self-analysis.
One of Naomi's most important suggestions is that parents STOP their reactions to their children from being expressed and just listen and observe them in our heads.  This pause gives us the time to consider how our reactions might hurt our relationships with our children.  Instead we should question our reactions and ask ourselves how we will connect with our child in that moment.

Some people are just not very good at this because they are convinced that the story playing in their own heads is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  They are not good at examining their stories and finding out why it might be wrong. 

For example, one time I was at an indoor playground with my children and when we reached the 'agreed upon time' for leaving, my daughter Jasmine refused to put on her coat and boots.  I panicked and I told myself a story:  The baby needs to sleep and we have to get on the next bus or else wait for 30 minutes!  I picked up Jasmine, forced her into her boots and dragged her out the door.  It was terrible.  In that moment I was believing my story and I was being The Boss instead of The Leader. 

Some parents might say, "Well, she should have left when you told her it was time.  And besides, you had to take care of the baby so the older child can't always get what she wants."  It's easy to get sucked into believing that story.  But I know it to be false.  If I had played out that horrible, aggressive reaction in my head (rather than doing it for real) I would have experienced how terrible I was going to feel afterwards.  I would have seen her sad face and scared little eyes in my mind and I would have chosen a different course of action.  How do I know I did the wrong thing?  Because of the guilt I felt afterwards!  Guilt is always your heart's way of telling you that you made the wrong choice. 

Through my phone sessions with my life coach Tara Wagner (The Organic Sister) and through reading, watching and listening to The Work of Byron Katie, I have become much, much better at stopping my reactions and doing some self-analysis.  By keeping my connection with my children as my top priority, I have learned to control my sharp tongue, offer more validation and listen better to their needs. 

4.  Some parents are not confident doing things differently from their family and friends.
Do you know how many times in a week I hear the phrase "Wow.  You're brave."  It's always in regards to how I have 4 young children, or how we don't send our children to school, or how we practice selective vaccinations, or how we are six people living in a 2-bedroom bungalow, or how we swing amortage in Toronto on one income, or how....whatever.  And it never means that the speaker thinks I am a woman of courage.  It means that the speaker thinks I am a total oddball who is doing everything completely differently from the mainstream.

Well, good.  Because I AM doing everything differently from the mainstream.  And I am completely confident in my choices.  I know what I value.  I know my priorities.  I believe in my ability to learn and grow and change and create so that my family and I can live the life of Freedom and Joy that we all want and deserve.

But I totally understand that not every parent feels as confident as I do about making choices that are different from what everyone else does.  I have 2 friends who are really uncertain about sending their children to public school.  Neither of them want their children to be 'different' but neither of them is convinced that public school is the right place for their children.  One of the mothers, after a year of uncertainty, has decided to try part-time schooling.  The other mother has enrolled her child but is 'fighting' with the school principal about accommodating her daughter's needs.  BOTH mothers have made big, BIG choices to go against the mainstream in making decisions about their children.  Simply questioning the status quo is an ENORMOUS act of courage sometimes, and I have nothing but admiration for these two moms for having the confidence to act against the mainstream. 

5.  Some parents are looking for a technique to create a certain behaviour in their children.
Aaah, this is a biggee, my friends.  Most parents buy parenting books because they are looking for a set of strategies or techniques to 'fix' their child.  Naomi's book will not fix anything about your child because Naomi's philosophy is that there is nothing wrong with your child.  The only thing that Naomi's strategies will fix is the parents' reactions to their child.  Her ideas and techniques are all about trusting the child and deepening the parent-child relationship.

If you are looking for ways to make your child conform or comply (which most mainstream parents want more than anything) then this is absolutely the wrong book for you.  The strategies in this book will only work in so much as the parent is willing to change, adapt, reflect, question and lead.  There are no rules, no punishments, no incentives, no rewards and no techniques that will change your child into someone better.  There is only Trust, Freedom, Autonomy and Joy.  When parents are willing to open their hearts to living their own Trust, Freedom, Autonomy and Joy, they will simply open up every relationship to experience the same things.

I believe it is possible for everyone to choose a parenting trajectory that brings Freedom and Joy to their families.  Not everyone who reads Naomi's book is ready to begin that journey.

How about you?  Do you have any further questions about how I have used Naomi Aldort's parenting advice to find Freedom and Joy in my relationships with my children?  Did something in this post resonate with you?  Please leave a comment or consider sending me a private email.

Freedom and Joy to you and yours, my kind friends and followers.


  1. I like and agree with what you write here, Jazzy Mama. Dang, I actually hope that Naomi Aldort is for everyone. I still do. :) Maybe people should read Byron Katie's books first and learn about self-inquiry (The Work) before they can understand Naomi. They both help me tremendously in my parenting journey.

  2. Hi Patii,

    Great post. I am a big fan of Naomi and you did a wonderful job of pointing out the challenges in adopting Naomi's advice. Most importantly you show that the benefits of using Naomi's methods are well worth the effort.

    My family and I are also trying our best to adopt her methods. I loved her book too. The part that I get hung up on (there are many) is being embarrassed in front of other parents. I know it's me and not what my kid is doing but it's very hard for me. Still, I will keep trying.

    I really like what Naomi says about modeling for your children. If we try to control our kids, what they learn is to try and control other people - not to incorporate whatever behavior we want them to learn! So - I make an effort to hear myself speak - the tone, etc. To use compassion and patience as I would for an adult friend.

    Anyway - thanks so much for your post. It's wonderful to find you out here in cyber space.


  3. Hi I al a great fan of Naomi and The Work. I've made a lot of progress but I have a daily lapse into stressful thoughts - does it keep getting better?

  4. It seems disingenuous for you to basically find flaws in parents if Naomi Aldort's work is "not for them". To summarise your points:
    #5 parents are wrong for wanting to encourage a specific behavior,
    #4 parents don't have enough confidence,
    #3 parents aren't good enough at self-analysis,
    #2 parents don't know how to be leaders,
    #1 parents don't understand the difference between freedom and license.

    How is it that an article that promised to discuss why Aldort's work might not be right for everyone ends up pointing the finger at that uncomfortable ~everyman~ rather than at the author/public figure herself?

    I would like to hear honestly what you are protecting in your defense of Aldort. Why like do you deflect the focus from Aldort to "those parents who just don't understand"? What is the cost to you if Aldort is not right for me, or anyone?

    1. Children deserve to be protected from any action by any adult that is not truly rooted in love, trust, respect and freedom. There is enormous cost to all of us when children become adults who do not know their own autonomy and who look to others for their worth. I choose to live in Freedom and Joy with my children without the need for rules, punishments and rewards. Some other parents I know do that too. Generally they are people who know that parenting is all about the PARENT, which is basically the whole point of Naomi's book and the point of this blog post.

    2. I really appreciate that you post comments that may not entirely conform to your world view. That is not common in the blogosphere and is one of the reasons why I continue reading your blog- there is a chance for discussion.