Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Red Flagging – Ummm... I mean Shirting... Part 2


This post is the second in a series on the phenomenon of Redshirting.

In Part 1 I discussed the phenomenon of redshirting and some of the reasons behind it. The most common reason for redshirting is perceived deficiency on the part of the child – the child is not deemed ready for kindergarten due to a lack of maturity or skills. Parents do have a cause for concern, because teachers seem to show a bias against younger students, as a major factor in ADHD diagnosis is whether the child is the youngest in the class. Also, proponents of redshirting cite evidence that children who are older than their classmates get higher grades, have more confidence, and generally are favoured by teachers, or should I say, that teachers, in general, complain most about the youngest children in the class...

Recent articles written by economists take a broad approach and find that redshirted children do better overall, such as the findings of Elizabeth Dhuey, whose works have been cited in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, as well as several newspaper articles, including several features in the New York Times. Her 2006 Article, published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, seems to cement the case for redshirting, demonstrating that oldest children, and redshirted children maintain a clear advantage to Grade 8 (when her data set ended), and then demonstrated that oldest students are “12.8% more likely to be university bound than the relatively youngest” high school graduates. However, another factor that is important to consider, is that students who are held back voluntarily (so, redshirted) are most likely to be children of at least middle class or higher families. Why is this the case? Well, redshirting does not come cheap. School, being free, provides financial respite for cash strapped families. In some ways, those in the lowest socioeconomic rungs of the ladder gain a reprieve when their child starts kindergarten. If both parents have been working, the now half day of childcare puts less pressure on their budget. And, if mom has been staying home with the child, she can now attend work for at least a few hours a day. Once the child starts grade one, and is in school full time, the budget relief is palpable. So, financial standing plays a large role in whether or not a child born close to the cut off is voluntarily retained or not.

However, the distinctions do not stop there. While the poorest of the poor frequently qualify for subsidized childcare, the same cannot be said for the working class or low end middle class families. These families are often stuck accepting whatever childcare they can afford, and these are not high end preschool classes... Instead, only the basic necessities of life are met by their childcare, on average (some families do manage an enriched situation for their children, but this is hardly the norm – because it is often out of reach financially, not because poorer parents necessarily neglect their children). So, therein lies one major flaw in Dhuey’s research: in comparing the redshirted children to the youngest children, the redshirted group is almost exclusively high socioeconomic students who spent that “gap year” in high quality preschools, compared to the non-redshirted group who would be a mix of high and low income (and, depending on the district, as redshirting seems to ebb and flow in popularity across districts – with some districts having voluntary redshirting rates as high as 90% and others having rates as low as 4%, some of those districts would have only exclusively poorer children.)

Dhuey tries to control for this effect by including the education level of the mother in the data, however, maternal education is not the main factor in how a child performs in school, nor is socioeconomic status. Food insecurity is more closely linked to developmental risk and poor school performance. Even well educated people can fall on hard enough times that they cannot keep their fridges stocked.

Now, for those of you who have clicked on all my hyperlinks and read the associated articles, you may say, but some of her data sets were out of Europe, where free, government provided high quality childcare is more the norm. The thing is, in Europe this effect would also hold true. Government funded childcare centres and preschools typically do not allow for extra years of attendance. Parents do not control the timeline nearly so much as with private care centres - so, if European parents choose to redshirt, that gap year – whether it occurs before preschool or between preschool and kindergarten, it is on the parent’s dime. Parents who can’t keep the fridge stocked aren’t in a position to do this. The socioeconomic gap stands, whether it is in Europe or North America.

Other researchers have tried to examine more closely the impact of socio-economic status in regards to this voluntary delayed school entrance. One method is by using semi parametric matching. Each child who is redshirted is compared with one or more children with similar birthdates AND socioeconomic standing who was not redshirted. Their trajectories are compared. Researchers Jane Arnold Lincove and Gary Painter divide a specific cohort children by youngest, on time and redshirted, and examine their trajectories from Grade 8 to age 26 – a period missed by Dhuey. Their study was published in 2006 in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, and the full body of the article can be found for free. They begin by comparing young to redshirted looking for benefits and comparing likelihood of repeating a grade... Then move on to how repeating a grade impacts each group, and whether repeating a grade is more advantageous or less advantageous than being redshirted. Interesting findings in their study were that, when children of similar status were directly compared, varying only on whether or not they were voluntarily entered late, children who could have been redshirted and were not AND were never held back had the highest grades and more gains regarding human capital overall. Children likely to be redshirted who repeated kindergarten fared equally well with redshirted children, and redshirted children suffered more (grades-wise and human capital-wise) than non redshirted children when they were held back a grade. The only situation in which redshirted children fared better than eligible children who were not redshirted had to do with when those non-redshirted children were held back in a grade that was not kindergarten. However, overall gains in this area were relatively small. They concluded that, when each scenario was compared, the benefits to being the youngest outweighed being redshirted:

Our results suggest that, in the long-term, there are no benefits to a policy of intentionally delaying kindergarten entry. Although children who start kindergarten older are less likely to repeat a grade, the effects of repeating on dropout rates appear to be less severe for younger children. The matching results show that when students have similar probability of repeating a grade, the younger students perform as well as redshirted students. This indicates that the observed differences in outcomes for redshirted students are largely due to selection of students into the redshirted and non-redshirted groups.

They go on to caution regarding the very real issue that concerns parents – whether or not their particular child will be held back:

Although being younger at school may raise achievement on average, parents should still be concerned with the higher risk of repeating a grade for young kindergarteners.

They suggest that parents weigh the school policy regarding grade retention, and their own role in advocating for their child. And, finally, they conclude with reference to human capital:

...the most important effect of age at school entry may be that older students lose a year of participation in the workforce rather than that younger students are disadvantaged in the early years.

Parents should note: biases do appear to come into play when it comes to grade retention – especially regarding boys – and this is a key area for parents to advocate (and, actually, a key area for broadening the education of teachers). Height is a factor in grade advancement for boys – shorter boys are more likely to be retained, even when researchers control for low birth weight (a factor in ADHD and other disorders that would also impact height), and for low socioeconomic status, and maternal IQ (factors in school performance and general IQ). Moreover, the researchers point to evidence that:

Age tends to be underestimated in shorter children and this can leave them “infantilised” within the peer group. Conversely, taller children have consistently been reported as more mature than their age matched classmates. There is also evidence that adult expectations of and reinforcements given to school age children vary according to a child's height.

Short term (grade 8) studies which do not control for social status finds massive gains in redshirted individuals – but much of these gains can be attributed to social status, as, in long term studies which begin in grade 8 look at the phenomenon of redshirting and control for social status, the gains disappear. But, what about the actual biology? How does brain development work, and how does that factor into this whole equation? Stay tuned...

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Red Flagging - Ummm... I mean Shirting... PART 1

This post is the first in a series on the phenomenon of Redshirting.

So... redshirting has been in the media a lot lately. This is not a new phenomenon, but, currently it does seem to be getting fairly extreme. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, redshirting refers to the practice of parents or a school placing children in kindergarten the year AFTER they meet the age requirement. So, that means if the regulation for entry to kindergarten is that the child must be at least 5 years old by September, and a child meets that criteria, parents wait until the following year to place their child kindergarten. So, the child will in fact be 6 years old by that cutoff, rather than 5. There are many reasons parents delay entry to kindergarten: frequent reasons cited are a lack of maturity; poor "kindergarten readiness" (I put that in quotes, because parents and teachers often have very different ideas of readiness...); and the parents desire to give their child an edge in skills and leadership abilities. 60 minutes recently did a segment on this phenomenon and this final reason; being an oldest child giving an advantage; was the main focus of that segment.

However, a major factor in whether a parent delays entry for their child is birth month. Another major factor is gender. Children, specifically boys, born in the months immediately preceeding a cutoff are most likely to be redshirted, and the most typical reason is for a deficiency; perceived lack of readiness. Notably, this redshirting is independent of when the cutoff actually occurs, a different, earlier cutoff does not reduce the occurance of these delayed entrances. So, in my province, the cutoff is March 1; children as young as 4.5 enter kindergarten here, whereas in other provinces the cutoff is January 1 and yet other provinces have a cutoff of September 1. Where the cutoff is March, the targetted group is born November and later, Where the cutoff is January, the targetted group is August and later, and where it is September the greatest retainees are born May and later... The greatest cluster of kids who wait to enter is in the month just preceeding the cutoff.

However, currently, I am noticing a shift "on the ground." I find often that the media discusses a "trend" and it appears to simply be a means to stir controversy. In the day to day life of "the average person" (okay, me) this "trend" may or may not exist at all. But, this particular phenomenon does seem to be on the rise - even in my little life... I have had conversations with mothers whose children would be among the oldest in their cohort who STILL decided to redshirt their child - when their child actually displays many markers of readiness. Case in point, I spoke to a mother whose child was born in JUNE (considering that March 1 is our cutoff, this child is in the oldest quartile...). Her child is currently 5 years old, can read, has good social skills, is physically capable and competent, has excellent communication skills... and so on. She is even tall for her age. Her mom has decided to place her in kindergarten next year so that she will be even farther ahead of her peers, and have great "leadership skills." At the end of kindergarten, she will be turning 7, when the oldest of the rest of her "entered on time" classmates will be turning 6.

Malcolm Gladwell's discussion regarding the hockey roster in Outliers is the oft cited rationale behind redshirting for advantageous reasons (delaying entry of a normally developing child to provide an edge as opposed to holding a child back because that child is perceived as lacking in some area). In his book, he discusses how in all sports that have a cutoff, the older kids do better, then segues into discussing how the same kind of cutoff is impacting our schoolchildren. Bascially, in hockey, it works something like this: children born just after the cutoff are bigger, more mature and more physically capable in the early years, and so are most likely to be selected for the better team in the following year. Look through any roster of hockey players, and you find that this early advantage does follow through all the way through a hockey players career. The vast majority of hockey players are born just after the cutoff, and ones who are born just before the cutoff often have some sort of exceptional history... When he moves the discourse to talk about kindergarten entry, he discusses the advantages that an older child receives in kindergarten. Older children have an edge in kindergarten, typically, because they are better able to carry a conversation, have grown out of a lot of the extreme antsy pantsy-ness that plagues preschoolers, and generally are viewed as more intelligent. Youngest children, on the other hand, tend to be biased against. Supporting Malcolm Gladwells assumptions is a 2010 study published in the Journal of Health Economics regarding the frequency of misdiagnosis in schoolchildren who are the youngest in their classes.


Using a sample of nearly 12,000 children, Elder examined the difference in ADHD diagnosis and medication rates between the youngest and oldest children in a grade. The data is from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study Kindergarten Cohort, which is funded by the National Center for Education Statistics.

According to Elder's study, the youngest kindergartners were 60 percent more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than the oldest children in the same grade. Similarly, when that group of classmates reached the fifth and eighth grades, the youngest were more than twice as likely to be prescribed stimulants.

Overall, the study found that about 20 percent -- or 900,000 -- of the 4.5 million children currently identified as having ADHD likely have been misdiagnosed.

The researchers go on to say:

The results -- both from individual states and when compared across states -- were definitive. For instance, in Michigan -- where the kindergarten cutoff date is Dec. 1 -- students born Dec. 1 had much higher rates of ADHD than children born Dec. 2. (The students born Dec. 1 were the youngest in their grade; the students born Dec. 2 enrolled a year later and were the oldest in their grade.)

Thus, even though the students were a single day apart in age, they were assessed differently simply because they were compared against classmates of a different age set, Elder said.

In another example, August-born kindergartners in Illinois were much more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than Michigan kindergartners born in August of the same year as their Illinois counterparts. That's because Illinois' kindergarten cutoff date is Sept. 1, meaning those August-born children were the youngest in their grade, whereas the Michigan students were not.

The article then discusses the teacher's instrumental role in an ADHD diagnosis, that their perceptions of the child's behaviour is very much taken into account when an expert is in the process of providing a diagnosis. The fact that date of birth plays such a key role strongly implies a bias against younger children, which then influences their school experience.


The conversation with the "extreme redshirter" in particular got me thinking. What is the scientific basis for redshirting? Is it a valid way to offer an advantage? Are there reprocussions that have not been considered? Could there be benefits to being the youngest? Detriments to being the oldest? What do the long term studies say? And, does the comparison with hockey even hold water? And, finally, is redshirting the best (or even a good) answer to the problems it tries to address?

Redshirting is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it was so common in the mid 90s that the cutoff in many US states was actually moved back from December 31 to September 1 along with the advent of the "No Child Gets Left Behind" policy introduced in 2001. States like California that did not change the cutoff are doing it now.

The 1970s also saw a bout of redshirting... so there actually is a lot of research out there on the phenomenon. I have been pouring through that to find the pros and cons of being a young child, vs. being an older child, vs. being redshirted, vs. being held back in the early grades.... In the next few posts, I will discuss the short term and long term effects of all these situations.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Additions

So, this is a very personal post, really my first one so far.

At the beginning of May, I found out that I was pregnant - a surprise pregnancy that I wasn't sure how I felt about it. We have 4 boys, and 4 is a number that just feels right and 5, well, I always said 5 was excessive. But here we are - 14 weeks pregnant, a beautiful ultrasound under our belts - well, under mine, really, dh just got to watch the screen :) And, I haven't even told everyone... I don't know why, and I am afraid that what I feel is shame. Shame for having moved outside the realm of a large sized normal family and into the realm of bizarre. Shame that somehow this means that I wasn't capable of only becoming pregnant on my schedule. And that weighs me down, that this upcoming addition somehow feels like a subtraction. I am acutely aware that it shouldn't be this way, that I shouldn't feel like this - and, well, it hurts that I do. And then I feel that maybe I am simply still in shock.

I remember commenting to a friend that Canadian culture, and, likely that of most first world countries, is uncomfortable with the idea of children - that there are so many rules and limits - that remaining in the "nuclear" set is integral to remaining in good society. Talking to mothers who have extended their brood beyond four, it was interesting to hear their stories. One mother talked of announcing the news of her pregnancy to her friends and family, and receiving a backlash of anger and condescension. Another mother told me of a friend who was caught by surprise with a 6th pregnancy, and the friends would gossip behind her back as to whether she had heard of an abortion... These stories instill a sense of fear in me, as I procrastinate the big announcement.

However, my forays into telling people have only been met with positives. My husband, who was certainly not planning a 5th has been nothing but supportive. My mother in law and all my in laws have been excited for me. The kids, well, they are in a tizzy and absolutely over the moon with the news of a 5th baby. My mom has been excited for me, and so have any friends that I shared my news with. I have truly been spoiled with the good response so far... yet I still have not officially made the announcement.

So, here goes...

We are having a baby!

Our little (5th) bundle should arrive the 25th of January - apparently, again I have hit the birthday of a friend with my due date - the third time this has happened. The first ultrasound went beautifully, our baby measured perfectly for dates, and had a heartbeat of 150 (according to the old wives tale, this predicts another boy). We are going to find out the sex - not every family likes to do this - but we like having the name all picked and refer to the squirming belly with an actual name... Plus, I am not a fan of green and yellow...

The plan, as it stands, is for another home birth (though, of course, I am aware that things can always change), and I have already had one midwife appointment (at 9 weeks - the doppler picked up a nice, strong heartbeat), and go for another today.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Who's to say what an inappropriate movie is anyway?

There has been a lot of chatter lately on whether or not Brave is appropriate for kids. I have to confess, I haven't seen the movie. But, I do know that the whole discussion of "appropriate for kids" makes my teeth ache. Regarding movies like Harry Potter and Avatar, I have read various comments by posters commenting on how they see young children watching these movies and wonder what kind of parent would allow a five year old into see any of the later Harry Potter movies, or Avatar. I have to say, I am one of those parents of which they speak. My children have seen all the Harry Potter movies, and Avatar and probably quite a few others that would elicit gasps of shock, incredulity, and in some, indignation bordering on overzealous rage... I understand about terrified children, and it makes me sad to think that there are children who go to sleep at night utterly terrified. I was one of those children - heck, I am one of those adults. My husband finds it both amusing and burdensome when we watch a scary movie together and in the middle of the night I am nervously waking him up in order to accompany me to the bathroom. To his credit, he obliges...

You might think that I force my children to watch scary movies in order to buttress them from a life of hiding under the covers... but no. My motives for allowing my children to watch movies with more adult themes is that it is wonderful fodder for conversation. Avatar led to some very interesting talks about the correlations between Pandorans and Native Peoples, and the attitude that in order to make things better some handsome white guy had to come to their rescue... Children's movies like Cars simply doesn't have the complex, rich tapestry of emotion, experience and, well, pathos that exists in better movies (though, blockbusters aren't considered the "best" of movie fare - but I do find that they provide opportunities to point out stereotypes that exist all around them). My kids have watched various documentaries, many of them quite adult... we pause and discuss as much as we can. I find movies and books excellent fodder for communicating our families values - sometimes very much in contrast with the world around us.

Another aspect that I find about watching movies and reading books to my children that I find interesting, is that we connect on a different level. It also allows me a distinct level of involvement in their entrance into a technological world. When our kids were born, my husband and I made a deal that TV or movies would only be watched when an adult was in the room - but that content would not be particularly limited (Game of Thrones if for Mom and Dad only!) - it would be DISCUSSED. We are not perfect, the kids have watched the occasional children's movie without us present, however, we are mindful as parents and this decision has served its purpose. The kids are also interested in the things WE are interested in. It is nice listening to The Vinyl Cafe with my 9 year old - not ONLY hearing chatter about whatever new videogame all the kids in his class are playing... it helps me relate.

And, our kids are aware of the world around them and various real life issues. We have created opportunity to discuss larger issues such as racism, bullying, and gender discrimination. I was very proud of my 6 year old standing up for his friend when another child called him "fat."

I am all for the websites that describe violence of movies, and feel that parents should make decisions based on their own kids and values. But, just because you hear about a parent watching a movie rated pg 13 with their 6 year old, doesn't mean that parent doesn't have values.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Attacks on attachment parenting

Recently, in the media, I have noticed an uncomfortable trend. Attachment parenting comes up again and again as some sort of "extreme" or "unrealistic" parenting style. Parents who practice attachment parenting apparently do it because they are making up for their own poor childhood experiences, or have a martyr complex, or are taking this "exhausting" style of parenting because they have poor judgement.

In this video Times writer Kate Pickert defines "attachment parenting" as having three basic tenets:


1. Breastfeeding, and often extended breastfeeding.

2. Co-sleeping

3. Babywearing.

However, she discusses the use of these three tools in the attachment parenting toolkit as being unrealistic for most working parents. That babywearing and cosleeping are too hard. On point 1. I actually agree - if she is talking about American life - that extended breastfeeding is very hard, as there is very little maternity leave and few protections for mothers who choose to remain home. Typical Maternity leave in the US is a paltry 12 weeks, and much of that is without pay - compared to our North of the border 50 weeks... Under those circumstances breastfeeding is nigh impossible for many moms. I don't know that this is an issue with attachment parenting, this is an issue with a system that lags seriously behind every other first world nation...

Moreover, if a mother is not breastfeeding, it is actually not safe to cosleep (there is a much higher rate of cribdeath - I use this term because the medical terminology is unfair here, labelling many cosleeping deaths as SUDI instead of SIDS and not actually looking further into whether it was true SIDS, or suffocation), though no one really knows why. There is speculation. Perhaps it is that with cosleeping babies, the position of the baby is at the breastline below pillows and below mom's exhaled air, instead of at the faceline - where there is higher risk of contact with pillows or rebreathing. Perhaps it is that in order to be breastfed easily babies likely do not have respiratory problems or heart trouble, and that babies who bottlefeed may have underlying unrecognized issues. Breastfeeding requires skills from babies, too, and if baby is not breastfed, we cannot tell whether those skills are present or not...

That aside, however, if a mother is already breastfeeding, cosleeping actually makes breastfeeding EASIER, not harder. A cosleeping mother can turn over, stick a breast in her baby's mouth, and drift back to sleep while baby slurps. Or, like I often do, cosleeping mothers can simply wake enough to mutter a sleepy shhhhhhh and baby drifts back, rather than waking even fully enough to nurse. None of this listening to the moniter in the babies room to a baby wail and hope that baby goes back to sleep before I have to trudge down the hall to nurse or prepare a bottle or whatever. Just groggy boob in mouth and roll over. Also, a common misconception is that people who cosleep necessarily do it without the father in the bed. Certainly not a requirement. You can sleep with a man AND a baby in a queen sized bed.

For details on safe bedsharing check out kellymom or This pamphlet from New Zealand, linked from Dr. James McKenna's page.

Now, on to babywearing.

Babywearing is a tool like any other parenting tool. Instead of baby in a swing or stroller, baby is strapped to the body. Instead of baby in a playpen, baby is worn. Wearing a baby in something like a baby bjorn (aka a crotch dangler) is very uncomfortable, and certainly not realistic long term for mom OR baby. However, using a wrap, a long piece of fabric holding baby in place is quite comfortable, and, if it is in a non stretchy material, it can be very comfortable for long usage. A wrap really is like a swing/stroller combo for many mothers - I know that my sister in law used a swing in order to keep her infant calm or sleeping while she did the things that she needed to do around the house, and used the stroller for the same when out of the house. I used my wrap in the same way. My baby would be on my back or on my belly and I would be putzing around the house, picking the older kids up from kindergarten or generally going out with my groceries. My husband got in on the game too... wearing the baby while shovelling the walk and giving me a much needed break...
I don't find attachment parenting particularly cumbersome. I find it is honestly what works best for me and my family, no martyrdom here.

As for the real rub.

I am honestly tired of what seems to be a new thing (which also occurs at the end of that article) - making sure to comment on how many interviewed parents are practicing attachment parenting because of how rotten their childhood was. This argument is a "poisoning the well" logical fallacy. Talk to a few mothers, get them complaining about their childhood, then get them to explain their choices on how they parent. I could easily do the same for any style of parents... it is an attempt to discredit their choices. MANY, MANY people wish to change the way they were raised, and do things differently than their parents - this is why parenting has changed since the 1900s, because this change is NORMAL. Notably, in our particular scenario, my husband was the big proponent of cosleeping, and I decided to prioritize breastfeeding because of his medical condition. He has Crohn's and there is some evidence that being breastfed can minimize the risk of a child from developing this condition which has some genetic basis. I was the one with the less than ideal childhood, and his was pretty darned close to ideal - yet he was the original attachment parenting advocate in our little family. Mayim Bialik is an advocate of attachment parenting, and well, she certainly doesn't seem to have mother issues - choosing specifically to live close to her parents. Another friend of mine cosleeps because that is normal in her culture, being from the Phillippines. I wish that the various media outlets would stop branding Attachment parents as weirdos with mother issues.

Finally, I would like to say that attachment parenting is much more broad than the three "tenets" provided by Kate Pickert.

Attachment parenting for a baby is about reducing stress to the infant. The goal of attachment parenting of an infant is to reduce crying and infant (dis)stress. That sounds good to me - when my baby is happy, so am I. However, attachment parenting goes beyond infancy. I personally love one bloggers "relationship based" parenting style. She journeys through homeschooling (another common thing in attachment parenting) up to sending her daughter off to Thailand and a top university in Canada.

Does attachment parenting mean that my children are perfect? Gosh no. But, the very fact that I made a choice about what style of parent I am choosing to be probably makes a massive difference period. I am not reactionary parenting. I am proactive - trying to look to the next stage of development and modifying my parenting style to accomodate. I do think that this can be done under different parenting philosophies - but I really wish that mainstream media would quit portraying people like me like some freakshow parent who has a martyr complex and wears her issues on her sleeve.

Maybe, just maybe, attachment parents are like most parents. Looking at their situation, figuring out what works, and doing that.

Friday, 20 April 2012

(pre) Mourning CBC

I was driving in my car yesterday, and as per usual, I turned on CBC (for those who do not know, CBC is the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the government run radio station)... All I got was static. I switched to another station, to see if it was a problem with my antenna, a lump of dread rising in my throat... The radio was working. CBC was not. Panic. Finally, after a few minutes, airplay on CBC began, and it was clear that CBC had simply been experiencing technical difficulties in my area. 5 minutes of dead air had forced me to consider the loss of my beloved radio station. CBC is undergoing deep cuts by the current government, causing many long standing programs to shut down in the next year. Among the cuts - Dispatches. A wonderful show in which reporters around the world give short documentaries in the midst of change. The current show is dealing with the issue of news censorship in Syria, from an unlikely source - the rebels. A commentary that each side has a mandate, and when your interviewee provides for your safety, and for your translator, how do you know what information to trust? Your source has a mandate, too. I, for one, will miss dispatches. No other coverage for the international stage provides such thought provoking commentary. Last show is in June. I will be listening.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Fighting fair in front of the kids... worth it?

Well, my thoughts on this come from the perspective of growing up in a single parent household, where there weren't parents fighting at all...

Add in having read a lot of stuff by John Gottman and his love lab research.

Reading actual studies on habits of couples who are happy and who are not, I don't worry so much about "fighting fair" in front of the kids. Because, honestly, fighting fair is not the panacea it is cracked up to be, by studies of actual couples. Learning how to fight fair will not save your marriage, and won't teach conflict resolution... because sometimes what we are disagreeing about isn't going to be something that we can compromise on, or sway people on... In his love lab experiments, he has several examples of couples disobeying the fighting fair rules constantly who still remain happily married (and rate themselves as happy, and by researchers accounts demonstrate their happiness)HOWEVER, "healthy" people in healthy relationships accept the bones that their partner throws them (in general), and do not have contempt for their partners (contempt is the big sign that a marriage is going to fail).

So, when someone is very angry and says - "I still love you, you jerk," the partner doesn't turn around and yell back, "well you have a terrible way of showing it, you asshat," with a level of vehemence that carries the fight forward... Instead, the comment might elicit a fleeting smile with the same spoken reply - with a much more ironic flair... with an "I love you, too" added in. Heck, it might even end the fight.

Honestly, the ability to make repair attempts and the ability to accept them when they come from your partner in the heat of anger is probably one of the best indicators that a marriage will continue. A key thing that I have learned (that was never modelled to me, because I had a single parent), is that some fights (in fact often many fights) never get resolved. They cycle over and over and over. The couples who are able to deal with this (usually via repair attempts) are the ones who stay together. I do think that the rules of fair fighting are important, but I also think that they should play second fiddle to teaching children to acknowledge when your partner is trying to back out of a fight, or to repair things, or whatever - even if the fight is not resolved.

I think back to a couple I knew who eventually got divorced. They went to counselling and were taught the rules of warfare. Thing is, he already did most of them, and she did not. Suddenly all their marital issues were the fault of her lacking self control. She was to blame. It didn't matter the issue that began the fight, her not fighting fair became the scapegoat, and provided an issue that he could feel contempt for her on.

Dh and I, on the other hand, went for counselling and our therapist gave us a bunch of studies from John Gottman and his love lab. We were taught how to make repair attempts, and why it is important to acknowledge them... Well, we don't always fight fair. We try. Many, many times we succeed, however, the biggest thing for us that keeps us okay is learning that it is okay to disagree, that some things aren't going to be solved by arguing - learning how to fight fair seems more to focus on disagreeing and fighting... whereas learning repair attempts, ("hips" for those familiar), and engaging more in these, rather than in "pips" (negative, needling interactions often laced with contempt) seems to focus more on resolution. Resolution apart from actually fixing the problem - end the fight, not necessarily the problem. Some problems can be fixed. Some will never be.

Anyway, I am not against fair fighting. I just think that it isn't the first priority in a healthy relationship.

Regarding fighting in front of the kids. I think that they key is that they always know that mom and dad love and respect one another. Even if, over something that completely polarizes them, they sometimes act like assholes. Other studies have shown that kids need resolution to feel safe that fighting in front of kids (caveat: in a healthy relationship) is BETTER than fighting away from them. Fair fighting, which may leave fights completely unresolved, doesn't help kids - instead, adults actively engaging - mid fight - in reconciliation even without resolution is what helps kids. Kids are aware of heightening tension and allowing them to see the process of disagreement to reconciliation is important in helping them feel safe.

The other thing to consider is that couples who have made a pact to not fight in front of the kids often find themselves BEGINNING a fight in front of the kids, move the fight out of range of the kids - so the kids only see the beginning of the fight. They are still worked up over the stress of what they saw, they don't wind up seeing the resolution, so they wind up at higher risk of anxiety issues (Nurtureshock is really a great read.).

However, my perspective is probably different than most people, because I went into marriage thinking that every problem could be solved and should be solved, and that if you just discussed things the "right" way (aka, through fair fighting), wedded bliss was truly two people with one mindset. Boy was that an unhelpful attitude... I blame the 90s psychobable...

I have since discovered that there is no convincing my husband of some things, just as there is no way that I am going to be agreeing to everything he says and does. And that is perfectly fine. Sometimes we even hash it out, and realize, yet again, that on certain issues, we are simply wasting goodwill. That was more important a lesson for me than fighting fair.