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Unusual Ideas can lead to happier homes
By Starshine Roshnel, news-press staff writer

Authors say trusting your kid's instincts can point the way to joyful family living.

          Bill and Win Sweet don't do things like everyone else. The Bay Area couple homeschooled their two children in the 1960s, and their three grandchildren in the '90s. They don't believe kids should watch television or play competitive sports. And they don't celebrate birthdays. "Too much of aging is suffering in our culture," Ms. Sweet said. We just forget the whole age thing and know that we're anticipating joy for the entire rest of our lives."

          As unconventional as they are, though, the Sweets believe their homegrown approach to family living has brought happiness into their home - and they to help others do the same.

          The Sweets encourage parents to toss cultural pressures aside, reject traditional child-rearing practices and don't be afraid to let children's natural instincts guide them. The ideas are considered radical by some. "Trust children? What nonsense! You can't trust children," Ms. Sweet said jokingly during a recent telephone interview from their Bay Area home. Too many parents believe "that if we're not there all the time guiding them, our kids are going to fall to pieces," she said. "We don't have to be in there controlling them all the time." Her husband agreed that parents spend too much time rescuing their kid, or trying to squelch their True Selves.

          "There's a common view in our culture that children, if left to their own devices, are basically wild, uncontrolled, unsociable in nature, and that it is our job as parents to train them and constrain them until they become socially acceptable," he said, but kids are innately cooperative and loving. "Our role as parents is to recognize that, honor that and protect it"

          The couple, who say they've never read a parenting book made these discoveries for themselves. As a young family in San Jose, they saw other families in their neighborhood using drugs, spanking their children, spending a lot of time apart and generally lacking the joy the Sweets had always envisioned parenthood to be. "We said, 'Gee, we don't want that for our family, but where do we go?'" Ms. Sweet said. "We had to find a new way, and we did."

          She and her husband spent Saturday mornings brainstorming about different ways to create a stress-free and mutually respectful home. An electrical engineer, Mr. Sweet wanted to establish a set of principles that would guide their family living the way design principles guided his job. "I kept saying, 'This family business is challenging. Where are the principles?' We kept trying to get down to the basics," he said.

          They came up with a number of universal principles to be honored and respected by every member of the family. Whereas "rules" are often arbitrarily declared for the convenience of one person (i.e. No shouting when mom has a headache), "principles" are behavioral guidelines based on fundamental truths (i.e. A household without yelling creates a more peaceful environment for everyone).

          One Sweet family principle is "Family fun and laughter every day are just as important as brushing teeth—maybe more important." Another is "Supporting children must be balanced with avoiding unnecessary interference in their lives." Others include "Every individual is inherently valuable and longs to have that value recognized and appreciated."

          They realized these principles were working to create a harmonious household, they said, when all the neighborhood kids began descending on the Sweets' home after school. They say their plan takes more time and effort than the preachier, more hands-on style of parenting, but it's more rewarding.

          "It's always most efficient in the short run to just 'whip kids into shape.'" Mr. Sweet said, "but in the long run, a whipped-into-shape child just is not able to assume a cooperative, supportive role in the family. In the long run, it's far harder to do it the old fashioned way."

         Win and Bill Sweet will discuss their parenting theories at Santa Barbara City College on Nov. 2 and 3.  



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