Is Parenting Brushstrokes or Big Picture?

June 21, 2012 at 6:46 am (General)

What matters more in parenting, the techniques or the philosophy?

The details are what help us get through each day–each moment–as successfully and meltdown-free as possible. Those how-tos. How to talk so kids will listen. How to elicit cooperation. How to get ready for bed without complaints. How to transition between activities.

How to get kids to help with housework.

How to dine out successfully.

Sometimes, though, I think the details of our daily parenting endeavors don’t matter that much because it’s really the overarching philosophy that’s most important. Without first understanding the paradigm of positive discipline, it is difficult to effectively put the how-tos into practice. But the philosophy is what gives the practicalities purpose–the ‘why’ behind the ‘what.’

So which comes first? Is one more important than the other? What should  we be focusing on?

I wonder what’s more important to an artist, the brushstrokes or the whole image? You can’t have a painting without brushstrokes, and it’s those strokes that add up. They compile, collect, and layer on top of each other to add depth, warmth and substance to the big picture. But they need not all be perfect to create a beautiful image. So where is the focus more important?

I wrestle with this in my parenting, and I keep coming back to the answer of ‘both.’ The details are less important when it comes to specific parenting techniques; it’s the relationship that matters most. But the basis of our relationship is formed by the collective experience of our daily interactions together–the details. We need those daily moments to compile and collect, to layer on top of one another to add depth, warmth and substance to our relationship. We need the details in order to form the big picture.

Though just as not every brushstroke has to be perfect to get the picture we want, neither does every parenting interaction. Even if a brushstroke here and there is a bit askew, we take it and make it work. We surround it with other strokes that fit with our big picture. We layer it in.

Sometimes I get hung up on wondering if I am doing things “right.” I think, “Was that the right thing to do? Did I say that right? Did I respond in the right way? How much does it really matter that I just yelled instead of ‘using my words?'” Sometimes I dwell on the details and forget to take a step back and see how the big picture looks.

It’s moments like this that tell me that the picture is, indeed, turning out OK:

They both matter. The strokes may not all be perfect, but they get layered in with enough of the ones that work to create an extremely enjoyable picture.

1 Comment

  1. Michael Morris, MA, MFT Intern, CPDE said,

    Nice article. You’re comment ” … the philosophy is what gives the practicalities purpose – the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’” reminds me of “the belief behind the behavior” and with my parent clients I see this opportunity to successfully engage with their child fail consistently. I ask parents to try and take a step back, but in the moment they are so focused on a detail, a tiny brush-stroke (to apply your lovely metaphor) that they miss the opportunity to see the entire canvas.

    I am developing a couple of experiential examples to use when helping struggling parents (In Your Child’s Shoes and The Story your Child Will Tell) to emphasize the point you make in this article. That is, your child is having an experience in this moment and you have the opportunity to have a positive or negative impact on that experience.

    This has been my biggest and most consistent challenge in being a parent educator likely because parents are processing/judging their own brush-strokes and canvas. Understanding the principles, from my view, is by far the most important aspect of “good-enough” parenting. The application of the principles is going to be subjective and based on the creativity and resources of the individual parent, and (hopefully) positively in-tune with the overall family dynamic.

    I struggle so much with this as a practitioner and really appreciate the perspective in this article. Thank you for sharing.

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