Fathers Day 2015

healthy & hale

Today the children and I wrap a few presents for their father, and tidy the house for his return. He’s out meeting with someone he’s mentoring. Once a week, even with his schedule, he makes this time. I’m impressed by him. As always.

He shares the dark chocolate bar in his gift, with the children. They adore him.

Fathers Day 2015
Another beautiful sunny day – with that crisp bite of beachy air that I frankly am not willing to live without. I bake honey cornbread, first melting a stick of butter in the cast iron, and whipping the batter into a lightness. Yogurt and coconut flour additions: nutrition, growing children. I simmer beans on the stove while I instruct my daughter in dressing roasted chiles. We’ve an antiquated pressure cooker and can go from dried beans to tender in forty minutes – but I like the old-fashioned way, when I have the foresight.

My body is fatigued, more so that seems reasonable. I am continually amazed at the energy of my children – and it must be said, my husband as well. A few errands in the day, out to a volunteer gig this evening, then home for dinner where I feel wasted. I lie on the couch and, with my son, watch a full video game walkthrough – an impressionist, creepy 2D puzzle-play.

Evening falls outside and the house seems to settle. There comes a point when we know the work of the day is done. My daughter comes in and puts her arms conspiratorially around my waist – she asks if we can host her beau at our house for the day, tomorrow. I am on a one-day-at-a-time program: somehow finding the means, the methods, to care for my family (and others) as we await payday. There is a curious comfort to such methods; life is simpler. I don’t have the burden of making plans, and can set aside these ambitions.

Darkness now, in earnest. The evening rituals of hot showers; time for vitamins, brushing teeth. A last glass of water, perhaps. I’ve been having nightmares, small bouts of terror that wake me minutes after I fall asleep. For many months I’d been spared these episodes – but the last two weeks, I am terrorized more nights than not. My husband has noticed and asks: What’s going on? But I tell him: the whole point, is that my conscious thought can’t figure it out. I endure these unpleasant episodes as best I can. I am nothing – if not patient.

“This is a brief life, but in its brevity it offers us some splendid moments, some meaningful adventures.”

My Father, Mother & I - c. 1978

I miss my father.

If you’ve mourned the loss of a beloved one, you know that the “missing” part never goes away. It changes. You are changed, from having loved and lost. The pain resurfaces in pangs now and then. It is like this sweet ache. It almost feels good because it is a reminder how very alive I am. If that makes sense.

I grieved for my father in a healthy way. I am not angry he is gone. I am not one of those “fuck cancer” people. This has never resonated with me. For one thing, cancer gave me the opportunity to practice mindfulness, and to be glad for what I had while I had it, and to appreciate someone with my very soul. I had eight wonderful years to know my dad was dying. We are all dying; but rarely do we truly appreciate the implications of this fact.

I used to visit him during his chemo. I would bring him a milkshake, because he had trouble keeping weight on, and one thing he’d always consume was a chocolate shake. One time I went out of my way to find some protein powder to mix in. I somehow screwed it up and it wouldn’t dissolve. My dad took a sip out the straw and it was powder. He was so pissy. It gives me joy to think about it (although I felt bad for making a mistake). Just how pissy he was.

My father’s cancer was a very long journey with many rough spots. Kind of like life. I’ve this friend – she also died within the last year – very dear, a wonderful friend. She was hardcore and awesome and had survived SO MANY things. She used to say, “At its best, life’s a bitch.”

I would have liked more time with my father. He occupied an incredibly important place in my life. He’s one of the few people whose respect I wanted to have. Even so, I learned a healthy bit of detachment before he left. He was just a human being. He could be a real turd at times. He made me laugh. He gave me a great deal of comfort.

My father gave me many gifts. He was an agnostic, but he told Buddhist tales and koans and it is thanks to his influence I am a Buddhist today, which gives me so much joy.

My dad was more beloved to me, is more beloved, than I can express. I am not only grateful he raised me along with my mother, I am grateful that I liked him so much and that he was so gentle. My life was not to be a gentle one, but I always knew something better was possible. He was like a beacon in the night as he was very kind – at least he had become kind by the time he had children. Sometimes I think the compassion I have, whatever there is of it, has a lot of its root in my father.

Rest in peace, Dad. I miss you so!

My Father

these precious days I spend with you

The weather at the lake was kind of glorious. It was warm, but rainy. There was a kind of glow in the air and a stormy closeness. Hardly anyone else was at their cabins, which is nice. We’ll be back in September where once again the crowds tend to be missing.

@ The Lake

@ The Lake

@ The Lake

Father’s Day 2013. This year I missed my father acutely, so it did me good to see many of my friends loving up on the daddies in their lives. Ralph got a few lovely gifts from the kids and I, then spent the day on the road with his oldest off to see a MLP movie.

Fathers' Day 2013

As soon as we got back from our Mason Lake trip, I mean only a few minutes after we unpacked, the kids and I ran out to Ocean City to see the beached fin whale. I figure you might not want to be surprised here by corpsey pictures, but I have a few on Flickr. We ended up walking a few miles to get to and from the whale, and I also ended up hijacking a fellow in his big truck – so the kids, dog and I could pile in and get a ride. It was quite a sojourn but it was a massive, amazing specimen. Oh BY THE WAY my dog ate lots of that whale. And this whale was not fresh. The blubber pieces were reddish black. This is why we can’t have nice things.

We got back from our trip and I was balls-tired for many reasons, including a few miles’ walk on sand after a long day cleaning and driving. Ralph had cooked up this vegetarian feast of grilled vegetables – asparagus, red cabbage, and brussel sprouts – on a bed of basmati rice and drizzled with chile dressing. The kids were unimpressed, but it was very dear to me.

Grilled Vegetables Ala Ralph Hogaboom

on a walk

My daughter, my mother, my dog, and I walk together along the moss-rich gravel road. My son and his friend trail us, deep in conversation. Suddenly that blood-chilling cry echoes out, a sound every mother knows. A scream of pain tore from the depths. I turn and my son is running towards me at speed. “Mama, Mama I’m hurt! I fell! I tripped! My hand is hurt!” Nels is eight now, but his cries have the same element of rawness I recognize from my first days of knowing him.

I don’t run to him or even move; I wait and collect myself. It never doesn’t hurt, witnessing the pain of one’s child. I wait in this cold sunshine, next to my own mother, and my son runs for me. I hold Nels close when he arrives into my arms. I inspect his hand; it is raw and bruised, and looks as if it has encountered a nasty sharp rock. I brush off his hand carefully, and I tell him that his hand saved his face from being cut. I wipe his tears and kiss him.

Instantly, he has stopped crying. Only a moment before he was wailing aloud. Now he’s thinking about his hand and his scuffed knee and how they protected him. He calms and his hazel eyes are deep in the storm of thought. He is now calm because he ran to me in distress, trusting I would save him, and I saved him.

This sort of thing happens everywhere, everyday, in a myriad of ways, with children and their mothers all over the world. Why do we not acknowledge what a miracle it is, and how deeply we needed, or still need, this mother?

Ten List: Things That Make Parenting Easier, #9

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.

This is item #9. You can find item #1 here, #2 here, #3 here, #4 here, #5 here, #6 here, #7 here, and #8 here.

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.

Happy Pup + Happy Daughter

#9. Parent my hopes, not my fears. Works brilliantly.

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.

Ten List: Things That Make Parenting Easier, #8

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.

This is item #8. You can find item #1 here, #2 here, #3 here, #4 here, #5 here, #6 here, and #7 here.

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.

New Boot Goofin'

#8. Remember my job is twofold: to make my job obsolete, & help my kids have awesome memories.

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.

Ten List: Things That Make Parenting Easier, #7

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.

This is item #7. You can find item #1 here, #2 here, #3 here, #4 here, #5 here, and #6 here.

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.

Nels, Post-Breakfast

#7. When someone else’s parenting makes me uncomfortable, lean INTO it, instead of fight or flight.

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 family of fat parents or kids 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.

 

Ten List: Things That Make Parenting Easier, #6

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. 

This is item #6. You can find item #1 here, #2 here, #3 here, #4 here, and #5 here.

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.

My Daughter Asks A Hard-Hitting Question

#6. Parent the way I’ll look back on & think, FUCK YEAH. For me this means relaxing more, judging less.

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.

Ten List: Things That Make Parenting Easier, #5

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. 

This is item #5. You can find item #1 here, #2 here, #3 here, and #4 here.

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.

Housework; Upstairs

#5. Allow myself to suffer public discomfort for a few minutes; stop parenting in a reactionary fashion.

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.

Ten List: Things That Make Parenting Easier, #4

A few of my Twitter followers asked that I elucidate on “ten lists” I’d turned out recently. Here goes with the fourth 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.

This is item #4. You can find item #1 here, #2 here, and #3 here.

Each post will have a picture from my life, my day, when I wrote the post. So from this afternoon: my daughter does the dishes. She’s wearing a hat I made her last night while her friend was over. She is amazing at the dishes. It seemed like for so long it was more work to TEACH my kids how to do a chore (let alone MAKE them do it), but then suddenly they could and wanted to do so much on their own. Trusting kids, and having the long view. That’s kind of the theme of this piece.

Phee, Dishes

#4. Stop trying to get my kids to sleep/eat when/what I think is convenient or best. For me.

This is probably the most controversial of my posts in this list so far, if I go off the commentary I regularly see from adults on the subject of kids’ sleep and kids’ schedules and kids’ food. These topics cover a lot of ground and I’m not going to write some massive manifesto here. I’m going to say a few words about what I’ve observed, then speak from first-person about our family experience.

A little Problem Statement about the backdrop of raising a family. Our culture promotes the scheduling of children’s activities, full-stop. In most families the parents/carers decide just about everything about their kids’ schedules, whether by true necessity, convenience, preference or ideology; our family is a little different as we constantly work to relinquish this cultural edict of Control. On the subject of food, the United States is built on what many would consider an unsustainable model for feeding our population in an ethical manner. Some people have far more resources than others; and those with fewer resources are often villianized and condescended to. We are also an obesity-shaming, orthorexic country who promotes disordered eating and pushes fad diets daily. Our grocery stores are stocked with diet foods and convenience foods and magazine racks full of celebrity-shaming headlines honing in on these public women’s bodies. Our children are exposed to constant messages that their bodies are flawed, their appetites are shameful, and food should be consumed at our convenience with a minimum amount of our effort and respect.

There is very little I can personally do to change those massive realities listed above.

But, I don’t have to. I will just write a bit about where we’re at today.

Regarding sleep. We honor our kids’ autonomy as much as we can reasonably bear. As infants and toddlers, I abandoned setting their naps and schedules. It was exhausting and seemed cruel to everyone. I found they would fall asleep when they needed it, or give me signals they needed rest. I also learned that allowing them to sleep, or not, according to their needs gave me a greater presence in caring for myself. Instead of knowing I’d get free time at a certain hour and working myself to exhaustion in anticipation of that final “break”, I learned to listen to my own signals and rest a little more when I could. Not artificially imposing strictures on another’s life made me care a bit more for my own. I wasn’t a perfect adherent to these principles, especially given I was and am surrounded by people who not only schedule their kids’ lives but vociferously tell me why they do and sometimes, why my family should. Still, we had enough success honoring our kids’ sleep needs and adjusting our life to the realities of caring for small children that it gives me confidence to continue this way.

Today, sleep freedom includes allowing the kids to set their schedule and sleep when and where they want to. I remember when we first “allowed” them the option of staying up all night. Shit got weird. They would stay up all night. But oddly it was pretty chill. They’d take a nap. They were thrilled to have that freedom; reading a book or playing a game or doing art whenever they felt like it, alone until the wee hours. It was pretty thrilling.

That stage of all-nighter didn’t last though. For the last couple years, the kids have slept when we did, without any enforcement, fights, or complaints. They sleep beautifully, can sleep at other people’s houses and at camp, et cetera (there are some houses they prefer not to sleep in), and are well-rested. Not having to get up for school, they awake in the morning and cuddle with myself, their father, the dog, the cat, or one another. They sometimes get breakfast for one another or curl up with a book. When they’re ready for the day, they brush their teeth and wash their face and get dressed. Our mornings aren’t rushed and our nighttimes aren’t crabby.

Regarding food. We honor our kids’ autonomy as much as we can reasonably bear. This means we provide as well-rounded, ethical, and nourishing food as we can. And then we let them eat what and when they want.

We are not a family who can afford an all-local all-organic diet. But we are a family who can support those things to an extent. We are also a family who wants to let our kids enjoy their childhood; part of that is eating 7-11 hot dogs or ice cream or a huge bowl of popcorn. Or Halloween candy until they puke. On the Halloween candy subject, our son Nels did throw up one year… the next year he trick or treated and refused all candy, with a weary shake of his head and hand and a “No thank you.” Ha! I think he was four, which means he remembered the incident of the year previous when he was three. In subsequent years, he’s been very moderate in his candy consumption, on his own accord. No lecture required during any of this.

Our kids did odd stuff around food freedom now and then, but not as much as I would have guessed. I remember once my son filling a Chinese restaurant teacup with sugar and taking a spoonful. I even took a picture (he was also wearing a Hawaiian dress and had marker makeup on). I can’t find the picture now, sadly. Anyway, he didn’t repeat the experiment.

Our kids eat a variety of foods. So far today they’ve had apples, bananas, bacon, eggs, toast, and a smoothie with homegrown blueberries, raspberries, yogurt, and banana. At this moment they’re at a birthday party, so they’re probably eating pop and hot dogs. They love to eat at a variety of restaurants and order off the adult menu. Sometimes they devour a new dish with gusto – Phoenix is every enamored with Thai rad nah, lately, and Nels loves sushi rolls. Sometimes in a restaurant they order a large exotic dish and decide they don’t care for it. Which is kind of like, what we adults get to do. It’s really fun to watch them enjoy a huge variety of food. When I was their age, I’d go to a Chinese restaurant and order a burger.

I could talk a lot more about food and sleep. I encourage anyone with a specific query as to how they can employ their ideals within the confines of their current lived reality, to email me. I’ve written and helped many parents who’ve asked (and several childfree who had questions).

At this point, I’d like to close with a few comments about kids’ freedoms in general.

It is useless for me today to try to control every preference and freedom my children have. It is counterproductive and it is a lot of work. It does not teach them self-control; precisely because it is imposed control. Even “successes” at controlling my kids are likely to create within them anxieties or even resentments. Ralph and I can lead with the best conscience and actions our situation provides us. We’ve built a single-income life that prioritizes our kids’ greatest freedoms. There have been many ups and downs and no shortage of financial difficulty. But the freedom we enjoy today is wonderful.

I can’t program my kids to have the habits I want them to, the food or environmental conscience I think is best, the values I think are right, et cetera. I influence my kids a great deal, but to enforce my values on my children whenever I feel like it, or whenever it suits my convenience, runs so many risks I am no longer willing to make that a way of life. There are always, and I mean always, solutions to letting go mainstream parenting edicts. I am grateful I no longer have the illusions of Scarcity and I do not dwell on non-choice.