Had I to define it, I’m not sure what I would call my parenting style. (Desperate?) With my first two children, I was calmer, more organized, better able to project being in control. Yes, they were close in age, but there were only two of them. When number three and four burst onto the scene less than a year apart, leaving me with four children in just under five years, let’s just say the parenting style I began to identify best with was survival.
One day while perusing the internet trying to avoid my mountain of duty, I came across an article that described a parenting style called shock and awe parenting. Intrigued, I leaned in to glean the details of such a method, I was sure to resonate with it.
The basic premise is this: every now and again do something unexpected, out there, shocking, in an attempt to keep your children in suspense, wondering what could happen next. This is intended to keep children in a state of awe and discourage random outbursts. Fearful that as a parent you will imitate their outbursts and tantrums, they modify their behaviour to ensure it will never happen in public. (I imagine this method would work well with teenagers and look forward to employing the technique experimentally in a couple of years. I envision jumping out of the van in my pajamas at school drop off, stomping my feet and whining loudly that they never wake me up in time to get dressed properly for school; wailing loudly in the mall about how much things cost and it’s not fair because I really, really want to buy it . . . you get the picture.)
Though I had always imagined it more effective with my future teenagers, a recent case study revealed that it can also be quite an effective strategy for parenting elementary age children as well.
It was the summer of 2013. My husband was very busy with work, and the children and I decided to venture over the mountains to visit my sister in British Columbia. (I must interrupt at this point to inform you that I have an insane fear of heights. They paralyze me. Watching TV shows with soaring vistas makes my stomach sick. Also, I do not like to drive on the highway. Navigating rush hour on city streets does not faze me. Driving through the prairies on flat landscape where you can see for miles in any direction, especially when there is oncoming traffic, unnerves me. Driving mountain roads, suspended high up over cliff ledges, well, I quake as I write this.) (I have numerous other neuroses, but as they are not relevant to this case study, I will leave them for another time.)
Despite my fears, my sister assured me the drive was just fine. She does it all the time and it is really nothing to worry about. (This sister curiously has not inherited many of my idiosyncrasies.) Trusting her council, I bravely loaded my four children and copious amounts of luggage into the mini-van and hit the road. The first stretch of driving boosted my confidence as I navigated city streets on my journey west. Thirty minutes later we waved good-bye to the last vestiges of the city and cheerfully greeted the stunning mountain-scape that awaited us. This was not nearly as bad as I had envisioned. The highway was wide and divided, and the scenery wild, but seemingly contained.
However, as the expedition continued westward, the back drop grew increasingly feral and isolated. The touristy resort towns faded into the distance and I was left on narrow, winding, mountain roads with no cell phone reception. A fear that had niggled in the recesses of my mind for weeks, now became a virulent threat. To reach my dear sister I would have to traverse the bridge just east of Golden, B.C.
While hailed as a feat of engineering and believed to be the largest horizontally curved steel plate girder bridge in North America, all I knew was that it towered some ninety metres above the Kicking Horse River and I was expected to drive across it with my eyes wide open.
As the signs indicated we were drawing near this architectural wonder, my panic grew. Not knowing which corner it was around, I began to grip the steering wheel tightly as each corner approached praying loudly. My children, who had behaved reasonably well until this point, fell silent. Though they have become accustom to some oddities with me as their mother, this display of religious fervor was new to them.
For about half an hour before the bridge the scene in my van was one of utter silence, punctuated at regular intervals with my shouting out prayers petitioning the Lord – for guidance, steady hands, a spirit of calmness, begging Him to take the wheel – only to be followed by another period of absolute stillness.
As was inevitable, we rounded one final corner to be met with the sight of this bridge; soaring off the edge of a cliff. While my behaviour up until this point may have been eccentric, it was now completely desperate. Whereas before I could articulate some of my needs, now all I could do was loudly shout, “JESUS!” For the entire four hundred metres of this ravine crossing, I bellowed His name at the top of my lungs. My hands shook badly, and I was seriously worried I might black out from the sheer terror of the experience. Finally, my wheels reached the other side, and my shouts of desperation turned to praises of deliverance.
It took me a few minutes to calm down after this passage. When I had finally regained some of my equilibrium, I glanced back at the children in the rear-view mirror, wanting to explain the recent course of events. Each one of the four sat with wide eyes, gripping their armrests, eyes glued to me. I tried to reassure them that all was well and that Mommy just has a fear of heights. They nodded, never taking their eyes off of me. The remaining distance to Golden was driven in silence. They did not complain, they did not ask how much longer until we got to stop for lunch, and not one of them voiced a need to use the bathroom.
While this experiment with shock and awe parenting was unintentional, it did deliver definite results. To this day, when driving alone with the children, I need only to run my hand through my hair in exasperation for them to quiet down.
While driving home with some of the kid’s friends after school this past month, Shay and his friend were discussing going to camp together in BC. Shay mentioned that maybe it would be better if his friend’s Mom was the one to drive them there. When questioned why, Shay rolled his eyes and shook his head exclaiming, “My Mom’s kind of weird in the mountains. It would be too embarrassing to drive with her.” I grinned at Shay in the rear-view mirror and he caught my eye and started laughing. His friend looked between us, but it was a private joke.
How grateful I am that as a child of God I do not get what I deserve. How thankful I am that my Heavenly Father’s parenting style is steadfast love and unending faithfulness, abundant mercy and grace upon grace.
The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.
The LORD passed before him and proclaimed,
“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
As an interesting note, my oldest son in currently on the other side of that bridge attending Gardom Lake Bible Camp. In several days time, I will be crossing the bridge to bring him home. “Ain’t no mountain high enough, to keep me away from you . . .” 😉