A few of my Twitter followers asked that I elucidate on “ten lists” I’d turned out recently. Here goes with the ninth installment of my first list: “Things That Make Parenting Easier”, based off my ten-plus years being a devoted and hard-working parent. I hope you find it helpful. That is the only point of this post. To help those who could use it.
Each post will have a picture from my life, my day, when I wrote the post. A picture from this evening: on an 8 o’clock walk, Phoenix and Hutch pause and goof around. Hutch is RARING TO GO, out to the mile long semi-wild loop we call “The Flats”, just a few blocks from my house. The kids and Hutch get to here every day; usually Ralph or I (or both) also take the dog this way later in the day.
I parented my fears for many years. I thought about writing in a general way to cover lots of ground, but I’m worried these Ten List posts are too general. So let me talk about something specifically. Manners and so-called “socialization”.
For years I tried to parent my kids to be “polite” and well-mannered. I know that sounds good on paper, right? But unfortunately, “manners” were required at the expense of my kids’ authenticity; and, to be honest, at the expense of my own. Specific social niceties were required years ahead of when it was reasonable for a child to develop them. These behaviors were essentially enforced, rather than looked at as something they would naturally learn if I modeled them; what I like to call the long view of compassionate parenting. You know those annoying adults who give your three year old child a treat and then sing-song, “What do you saaayyy?” (meaning: This was not actually a gift, YOU MUST THANK ME FOR LIKE AN ANGRY AND CAPRICIOUS MINI-GOD I DOLE OUT CORN SYRUP BLESSINGS)? Yeah, I basically went along with that. “Say ‘please’,” I’d order them. Like a douche.
I sold my children out.
Oh, not every single time of course. And hey, weren’t my intentions good? It’s something many parents do, if not most (if you seriously think I’m judging, you don’t read me too closely). Today I have compassion for my former strategies. I wasn’t just culturally-trained to parent my children this way; it was also a family lifestyle. I certainly came by it honestly.
Yet, parented this way myself, I had not only resented it, but I’d learned the wrong things. I remember going out to a restaurant and one of my parents was so servile to her perception of the waitstaff’s time schedule that often I did not get to order the food I want, rushed through my selection I’d be forced to eat something I didn’t want. I wasn’t treated like an adult would be. Well into my adulthood this same parent did the same thing. A couple years ago she apologized to the waitress when I asked, perfectly politely, for an ice tea refill. “Excuse me, may I have a refill on my ice tea?” I ask. “Sorry!” my mom winces and calls out at the waitress. TRUE STORY.
This sort of thing was not an isolated incident, but hopefully it serves. I didn’t like being parented that way for about a dozen reasons. One, I learned as a child I was less important than an adult. I always knew this was bullshite, but I didn’t seem I had many people to back me on this. (Later, sadly, I would treat my own children as “less than”.) Two, I often felt like my parents, in particular my mother, would sell my ass out to meet some kind of approval from a perfect stranger. I hated my mother for needing that kind of approval from others. I hated her for not being in my corner. If your mom’s not in your corner, who is?
I’m happy to tell you today I no longer carry that hate and resentment; my mother’s need to get approval is none of my business. But releasing the resentments of my past does not mean I don’t remember how it felt and the reflexive responses I developed. Namely, being a people-pleaser. Saying “I’m sorry” for stuff that wasn’t mine. Caring more about “polite” and “nice” than kind, compassionate, and authentic. Saying “Yes” to stuff and coming to resent the person I’d said Yes to. Twisted shit.
Years ago I read an article by author Naomi Aldort entitled “How Children Learn Manners”, which fully articulated what I didn’t like about the way I’d been raised and the way, de facto, I kept treating my own kids. This article blew open everything I couldn’t fully articulate as a child. I’ve sent it to parents now and then who struggle with this issue.
I began to parent my hopes. I began to stop demanding my children perform in public. I began watching my own behavior and talking to my husband more about the problems in our previous approach. We figured if we modeled civility the kids could learn it (we were right).
I wasn’t perfect at this – specifically relinquishing controlling behavior. Old habits die hard. There was this weird gap too where I hadn’t learned to address my kids’ deeper issues effectively, but was determined not to be scary to them in public, and there were times I was caught amiss and the kids were too. (Here’s a great, gory story you’ll love.) I went through doubts and fumbles. But I am so glad I stuck to it.
Today I have no regrets. My children are kind and considerate. When they say Thank You, they mean it. They have well-developed consciences. Two days ago I came home and the children hadn’t done the dishes as they’d said they would; when my eight year old walked in from taking the dog out he said, “I apologize mama, for not doing the dishes.” then he did them. Stuff like that. The system works.
The truth is, it is rather easy to bully one’s children into being “well-behaved”, but it is not a lasting model, and there are so many negative side effects, as I’ve written on at great length in many other writings. It isn’t the issue so much but the methodology; I was parenting out of Fear. Fear they wouldn’t be nice and that it would reflect on me. Yup, I didn’t want to admit that to myself, but that was just about it. Talk about being self-absorbed!
Today I can parent out of Hope. Not even hope – Faith. I absolutely know children grow up on their own terms, and are best served being treated well and being around adults who treat all people well, big or small. I know it because I’ve seen it. I’m passing it on here, so maybe you’ll believe in it for long enough until you see it for yourself. Maybe you can have some Hope until you get your Faith.Read More
A few of my Twitter followers asked that I elucidate on “ten lists” I’d turned out recently. Here goes with the eighth installment of my first list: “Things That Make Parenting Easier”, based off my ten-plus years being a devoted and hard-working parent. I hope you find it helpful. That is the only point of this post. To help those who could use it.
Each post will have a picture from my life, my day, when I wrote the post. A picture from this evening: my kids horsing around, skateboarding and fortune-telling. At far right you can see the corner of our rental’s porch, covered in some kind of outdoor carpet and inundated with enough cat piss to be seriously disgusting. Oh and by the way, this is many hours of play today; my children love each other very much.
This post may seem redundant. After all, I wrote a bit a couple days ago about what kinds of parenting I’ll be glad to reflect on, and what I might be less glad to remember. I have a few more words about keeping parenting in perspective.
Our children are the authors of their own lives. Once we know that, and commit to helping them, we can stop letting our minds be run by “experts” and stop letting every magazine article or parenting guru or next-door-neighbor invoke our insecurity. It doesn’t take a particularly organized, well-groomed, college-educated, perfectly-devoted, etc. etc. mother (or parent or carer) to know what one’s child needs. Sometimes their needs baffle us, or frighten us. Sometimes they are screaming and we don’t know why. Sometimes we sense they are unhappy, deeply so, maybe for days or months on end. As they get older it can get scarier. Maybe they’re cutting themselves or showing signs of very troubled relationships or drug or alcohol use.
The day we throw up our hands and pretend we don’t have a right and a responsibility to help them is the day we let them and ourselves down, profoundly. Sadly, I’ve seen it happen time and time again. I’m not saying you have to be perfect – please, PLEASE read my whole many-year blog if you want to see Imperfection in action – I’m saying that there are always mentors, there is always prayer and meditation (if you are earnest and don’t find it objectionable), there is always community to help. Have a bad day? Cool. What do I do with my bad day? These days, for a little while at least, I’ve been able to forgive myself and dust off my knees and get going. I operate not out of self-pity, fear, and anger, but out of gratitude, humor, and some degree of humilty. String a few days together like that and this parenting thing can become a joy no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in.
I have the privilege of living in a home with my children and being able to give them my time. My time and my unconditional love are job #1. They will have plenty of adversity in their life and I am not frightened of it. My job is not to shield them unnecessarily; but also, not to organize the adversity for them. It is sad how many parents and carers are locked into doing just that.
I’m a bit hesitant to post a list several parents assembled on the ways we organize adversity for our children: “How To Screw Up Unschooling”. The list is helpful enough; but one thing I know is that parents often beat themselves up very badly and sometimes don’t even know they’re doing it. Parents expect themselves to be so-called “perfect” parents (mothers are pressured a great deal especially) and again, may not even know they’re doing it. The list – which is not at all confined to those who identify as “unschooling” or pro-unschooling – can be used as a series of life-changing opportunities. If you like, print it out without looking at it and have someone else slice it up into stack of slips. Work on each little scrap of paper for a week. Go easy. Be kind. Prepare to have your mind blown. It’s that fun.
Children are resilient. They shouldn’t have to be, but they are. Nevertheless, don’t let “children are resilient” be an excuse to continue ignoring that voice deep within that tells you how you are mistreating them, or how you are mistreating yourself (and therefore, them).
The real question is, are we resilient? Are we able to admit, “I’ve been doing _____ for a while now and I don’t want to do it any more.” That is the beginning of admitting we are faltering and being that much more open to asking someone for help. We are not the first person to be confronted with what seems like an impasse. Believe me, tangentially, as an alcoholic and a survivor, this process holds deep meaning. I can tell you that saying, ”I’ve been doing _____ for a while now and I don’t want to do it any more” is a perfectly good start. Maybe you don’t know how you’ll ever change your reality, your habits, your circumstances. I’m here to tell you change is possible and the construct of No-Choice is an illusion and a choice in and of itself.
Admit where you’re living a way you no longer want to. Trust another human being and ask for help. You have only a better future to gain.Read More
A few of my Twitter followers asked that I elucidate on “ten lists” I’d turned out recently. Here goes with the seventh installment of my first list: “Things That Make Parenting Easier”, based off my ten-plus years being a devoted and hard-working parent. I hope you find it helpful. That is the only point of this post. To help those who could use it.
Each post will have a picture from my life, my day, when I wrote the post. A picture from this morning: my son, after a bowl of cereal, but before he drank the milk in the bowl. He’s giggling about something, but I’m not sure what. I went out for a run right after I snapped this picture. When I got home he shared a hot bath with me. Lovely times.
For me, it hasn’t been enough to merely refrain from and attempt to unlearn judgment; it is necessary I find out why I’m upset so easily by others. This process has helped me a great deal in that these days I am considerably less disturbed (angry, anxious, depressed, et cetera) than I used to be.
There are usually only two reasons we “fight or flight” when it comes to other people’s choices, their lifestyle. I’ll get to them in a minute.
Although the principles I discuss here can be applied to lots of areas of our life, I am trying to focus on raising a family. So what do I mean by being disturbed or uncomfortable by someone else’s parenting?
Maybe we’re angry when we see a family in a big SUV and we decide they are not environmentally conscious enough (for our standards). When we see a family in McDonalds and hold them responsible for our food anxieties. We see an obese family in Walmart and hate them for a baffling number of reasons. When we see our neighbor’s thirteen year old daughter dressed a certain way and wearing a certain amount or kind of makeup. When we see a child have a loud emotional meltdown in public. When we see a bottlefed baby. Or a breastfed baby. When we see a father berate his child in public. When we see a toddler drinking a pop. When we see boys in their Pee-Wee football league playing with one another and bullying one of their group. When we see a little boy in a pink dress. When we see a little girl in a pink dress. When we hear the neighbor child of age ten call another child a “retard” and a “faggot”. When we see an evangelical Christian family, seven well-behaved boys and girls, daughters and wife dressed in long dresses and hair in a bun.
When I say we feel “hate” – is that too strong a word? What else would you call the feeling in the pit of one’s stomach, the desire to Other that family, the feeling of “pity” those (supposedly less-fortunate) beings evoke. Pity and “feeling sorry for” someone are not loving, kind, or compassionate responses; these are not skillful strategies. These are merely another attempt to distance ourselves from others because we can’t tolerate them and what they evoke within us. To pretend, perhaps, we don’t have their problems because we’re better / smarter / etc. than they. Or even more fallacious: that if everyone would just behave, would just do what we think is right, everything would work out better.
There is a way out of being overrun by these reflexive coping mechanisms. But we can’t make much progress unless we figure out why we feel the way we do. The good news is, we have everything to gain from this process. We stand to gain some degree of equanimity. We stand to gain strength and calm and constructive action and intuitive thought, even in the face of things that previously would have upset us a great deal. We can speak up when we see something abusive or unkind; we can speak our truth. But we no longer have to be Right, or Righteously Angry, or – disturbed.
I live in a better place with this than I used to, but I still have the capacity to be disturbed. A few hours ago I was at a meeting. I witnessed a group of people repeatedly and a bit angrily shushing a five-year old child (for being, merely, a five-year-old child with attendant behaviors and energy). The bit of disturbance I felt is because I despaired, briefly, at the unkindness and intolerance shown this child. I am powerless to control the situation and it is my powerlessness I have not accepted. Yes, I have some options. Maybe I can speak up and say, “That’s not right,” or, “Come on guys, he’s only five!” or as I did today, smile at the little guy and play “peek-a-boo” and lean down and whisper, “I have new shoes too!” and let the other adults know he belongs, as far as I am concerned. But no matter what I say and no matter how perfectly I say it, I do not have the power to MAKE those other adults see things my way, let alone behave the way I think is best – whether I’m correct or mistaken about what “best” is.
Earlier I said there were two basic reasons we get disturbed, that we “fight or flight”, we feel uncomfortable, aversion, or hatred. Either we are reminded of something we have not accepted about ourselves, or we cannot tolerate and accept other people’s suffering. That’s just about it.
Today I grow in seeing myself as the perpetrator, past or present. In having compassion that I too have been short-sighted, short-tempered, lost, confused, consumed or angry. To pretend I am in the right and know what is best for everyone, is no longer an option I willingly exercise. I have found, conversely, surrendering to a more open mind and a more compassionate spirit has left me stronger than I used to be. I speak up more, not less. And I have more success, and fewer fights, and I sleep better, and I am friends with a larger variety of people – not just the ones I previously needed to feel comfortable or to bolster my ego.
A few of my Twitter followers asked that I elucidate on “ten lists” I’d turned out recently. Here goes with the sixth installment of my first list: “Things That Make Parenting Easier”, based off my ten-plus years being a devoted and hard-working parent. I hope you find it helpful. That is the only point of this post. To help those who could use it.
Each post will have a picture from my life, my day, when I wrote the post. A picture from 6 o’clock: my daughter has just asked me if I got dog biscuits for our dog, and I took a few pictures to stall my answer, which is no, not yet. I’m going to get some soon, promise.
When my daughter was very wee – I may not have even been pregnant with her younger brother – I took her out on the streets of Port Townsend with me. It was beautiful out after a refreshing rain. And even though finances were tight while we lived there, I always worked hard to make sure my kids had quality footwear and raingear (my mom often bought their winter coats each year, for which I am grateful). On this day I’d dressed my child to play in the rain comfortably. She had boots and a raincoat and wee mittens and she was fed and she was dry in her diaper and we were going for a walk. Crossing the street she wanted to splash in a puddle a few feet out of our path. We veered off, her little hand in mine, and she made a satisfying jump and (to her mind) a massive SPLOOSH in the puddle, and she was happy as shit.
An older man passed us in the crosswalk right as my daughter completed her gleeful stomp and splash. I looked up and our eyes met. He smiled and said, “Good mama.”
I want to be the parent who does what my kids need me to do.
I am not going to look back and be glad I yelled at the kids for making a mess, or glad I bitched at them about how we couldn’t afford X because it was so expensive, and enforce all of MY money anxieties aloud or by my tacit behavior. I am not going to be glad I pressured them from the sidelines to be MY kind of athlete or to be the best in gymnastics or swimming; I won’t be glad I exercised my will to get them to impress coaches or to beat other kids’ performances. I am not going to be glad I “managed” their relationship with their grandmother(s) or their father or the neighbor kids, that I made sure they thought and acted the “right” way. I am not going to be glad I cluttered up their schedule with activities and treats to compensate for my bad moods or feelings of personal inadequacy.
I am going to look back and be glad I tickled them late at night when everyone else was asleep and we were dissolving in giggles. I am going to be glad I watched monster B-movies and ghost-adventures with them, I am going to be glad I took long walks to nowhere out in the woods or along the beach, I am going to be glad I made all their favorite foods and made some of my own favorites and shared with them how to do those things, when they’re interested.
I am going to be glad I spent the time helping them clip nails and brush teeth and take baths. I am going to be glad I took a few minutes to recognize that their first visit to the doctor’s or that their vaccinations are a big deal for them, and to be Present for them during this. I am going to be glad I take the time to find out what their interests are and why, and not offer my opinion if I don’t “get” video games or the latest pop star they’re into or their personal clothing style.
I am going to be glad I bought them everything they need to do their art or have their fun, within my absolute best abilities to get them these things. I am going to be glad I sewed them their favorite clothes and their unique and beloved Halloween costumes. I am going to be glad I let them have as many sleepovers, as many trips “froggin’” at the railroad tracks, as many s’mores and outdoor fires, as many bike rides to new parks, as many ice cream cones on as many summer days, as many of their favorite comic books as I can afford.
I’m going to be glad when I take care of my needs – not require them to – and then I give and give and give without thought of return.Read More
A few of my Twitter followers asked that I elucidate on “ten lists” I’d turned out recently. Here goes with the fifth installment of my first list: “Things That Make Parenting Easier”, based off my ten-plus years being a devoted and hard-working parent. I hope you find it helpful. That is the only point of this post. To help those who could use it.
Each post will have a picture from my life, my day, when I wrote the post. A picture from this afternoon: my children cleaning up the play/bedroom upstairs. Within about ten minutes the beds were tidied, linens in the laundry, Legos put away, floors vacuumed, and costumes and stuffed animals bundled away. The kids also vacuumed the large bedroom and my sewing room. No threats, bribes, or coercion were employed.
I’m going to get down to brass tacks and say it: there are very few emergencies in public that require us to step in forcefully with our children. Full stop. And yet, we do it anyway. For many of us, it becomes a way of life. It isn’t the handful of times they run into the road at age two, when most people could easily understand a deeply-frightened parent grabbing a child and striking the child’s bottom. No. It becomes our way of life. We grab their arms or yell at them or perhaps, even more sinister, we impart consequences, many not necessarily violent, and build a world so fearful for them they are petrified to make mistakes in public. We do whatever we can to coerce them to behave well.
I have so much empathy and sadness for how this starts for so many. Maybe it starts at age six months when the infant cries in a restaurant and we capitulate to the glares of those who think children do not belong in public spaces; resentful, embarrassed, overwhelmed, and full of congested shame we flee the restaurant. We skip our meal, we women (usually) who sleep little and don’t eat enough and are overwhelmed and often ill-supported; we make sure no one is inconvenienced by our young child. And there it starts.
Sooner or later comes the day we are too tired and too overwhelmed and we don’t leave the restaurant and our kid cries and we think, “Fuck it.” Perhaps we hate our child. Perhaps we hate the world. We feel the disapproval of strangers or father-in-law or whomever but we cannot bring ourselves to march out that door and abandon our rights; nor can we cope with our current reality. Sadly, our parenting skills decline. Sadly, our child – sensing she is not welcome in the cafe and she is somehow disappointing her mother or even incurring her mother’s wrath – is left frightened and defenseless and without an advocate. This becomes a way of life; feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, resentful. It becomes a problem we cannot name but we feel it’s effects.
Our children suffer the most. Not the stranger in the coffee shop or the father-in-law. Not even us, although we suffer a great deal. But:
our children suffer the most.
And they learn how to parent their own children; and they learn how to manage those who need help. That is, they learn to MANAGE them. Or to try. They cannot tolerate the pain and suffering of others; they cannot tolerate their own pain and suffering.
If there’s anything I could take back, it’s the time and time again I parented in a reactionary fashion (I sometimes call this “reptilian parenting”), caring more for my reputation and for my kids’ “good behavior” than parenting according to a long view of what parenting is really about. And that is, briefly, this: as my children’s parent it is my job to keep them safe – and for a time, to keep others safe from them – and to nurture them and to be their advocate and helper.
It is not my job to make sure others approve of their very existence and/or my parenting or any particular episode of my life.
I have little patience for those who call the practitioners of punitive parenting “monsters” or some such, who loudly call spanking “child abuse” on internet forums. Certainly hitting someone smaller and less empowered than us is abuse, full stop. But someone being called a “child abuser”, her ears will close up. You have effectively tapped the shame she’s been feeling. She will stop listening. She will hate you. She will feel more lost and alone.
It is very unlikely she will stop hitting her child. She will not know where to seek help.
There are many who believe punishment is the right way of things; but these people are not monsters. They merely believe in a strategy I myself do not support, but they have come by these beliefs through intense indoctrination. Even so, there are few parents and carers who don’t feel pangs of conscience when they punish their children. Calling these parents or carers names, shaming them, will effect little change, no matter how briefly exhilarating it is to rehearse righteous anger.
When you call them names you are demonstrating YOUR inability to tolerate other people’s suffering.
In any case, so many out there vilify and call parents names that I can relinquish this right. It’s being taken care of by other parties.
It is never my intention to shame parents or carers who read here. I have not always been skilled at being careful, and I have my own biases and prejudices I may not be aware of. But hopefully I am better today than in previous writings.
I have a few closing remarks.
If you yell at your kid, give them a “time out”, count to three (repeatedly or once), hit them, scream at them, pinch their arm, cold-bloodedly smile while planning to later remove their most precious precious thing EVER when you get home, employ “natural and logical consequences” – in short, PUNISH them, do something to them to elicit emotional pain – and EVERY parent/carer has done this -
- if you do any of these things:
DON’T PANIC. I’ve done them all (well, except maybe the “count to three” thing). I don’t do them anymore. If you want to stop, it’s possible. It’s a beautiful way of life, and it works. My children’s character, empathy, strength, loving nature, self-control, and care for other human beings is testament to a better way. I write here to help people who want to learn how to parent non-punitively; or rather, those who want to unlearn mainstream schema of punish, mold, “correct”, coerce.
It’s possible and I’m happy to help any who want it.Read More