This time, with parents of teens. You can comment there, if you’re registered (which takes about 15 seconds), or you can comment here, but do let me know what you think!
4. What does our society do well with respect to parenting? What does it do poorly? Phrased another way, which societal messages would parents do well to absorb, and which ones should they resist?
For me, the critical message to reject is the notion that children are fragile, that any parenting action could scar your child for life, that you, the parent, are 100% culpable for any negative emotional or relational circumstance your child may experience, either now or in his/her adulthood.
We put way, way, waaaaay too much burden upon ourselves by accepting this idea. Yes, we do our best for our children. Yes, we try to ensure they are capable of loving, mutually beneficial personal relationships, fulfilling career relationships, and general capability in life. But is all this really going to be threatened because we lost our temper one afternoon when they were three? Or decided to use CIO for three weeks when they were 8 months old? Or didn’t breastfeed? Or chose Preschool A over Preschool B – or didn’t send them to preschool at all? Or were impatient with the Terrible Twos or the Hysterical Thirteens? Or were, just, generally, slightly less than perfect?
There are others: I have issues with messages that suggest that the multitude of changes you experience after the birth of a child are a) unnecessary and b) completely within your control if you “just” organized yourself better (and, thus c) merest self-indulgence).
I don’t like the way mothers are set against one another: working-for-pay vs. working-for-free. I certainly don’t like the way so many mothers are willing to choose a side and leap into the fray which only demeans all mothers. (The “Mommy Wars” manage to both bore me witless and enrage me beyond belief, all at the same time.)
I don’t like the way we set children as the fulcrum of the family. That they are the heart of it, I have no doubt. That is as it should be. But that everything should pivot on the child and his/her needs, with everyone else taking second place? And that to balance your child’s needs against your own – and sometimes let your child’s take second place – is somehow a parental failure? I completely reject this one.
Okay. I’ll stop here, and move on to the positive messages society provides us.
Well, there’s — but then again…
Okay, what about — well, perhaps, but then…
Well, then. I am rather surprised to realize how much difficulty I’m having with this one. What are useful societal messages for parents? Every possible positive I’ve come up with, I’ve immediately seen so many contradictory corollaries, I end up discarding it as a possibility.
Obviously, I need help with this question! Any takers? What do YOU think? What are some positive, useful messages our society gives us? What are the negative, unhelpful ones?
I won! How about that? Apart from a couple of door prizes along the way, I can’t recall ever, in my life, having won a contest. And all because of you.
Big hugs to all.
(And tomorrow I will post what I was planning for today, but didn’t get finished. Promise.)
Caught your attention? And it’s not just a gimmick! I really HAVE written an article about sex, only not here.
Work it, Mom! hosted an essay contest on the topic of keeping the spark in your marriage, and I submitted a response. Moreover, there’s the possibility of a PRIZE for me!! If I win, of course.
And how do I win? By having lots and lots and lots of YOU GUYS go over there and VOTE FOR ME.
So please, follow this link, read, (laugh, I hope), and then vote, vote, vote.
3. Most people who read your blog end up, like me, very impressed by your parenting (caregiving) skills. But ‘fess up, it ain’t all Mary Poppins! Share one of your mistakes with us! When you first started parenting, what were you doing that causes the more experienced, wiser version of MaryP to shake her head disapprovingly and mutter “tsk tsk”?
I do, you know. “Tsk, tsk” my younger self. Which is not to say I think I did a bad job. I rather think I did a great job, and my kids bear that out. However, back in the early days, I was…
I was an Earnest Mommy.
Yes, indeed. Nowadays I mock them, gently. Once, I was one.
Let me first say that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with being an Earnest Mommy. Most first-time mothers are Earnest Mommies, and they do, for all their over-analysis, angst, and intensity, a fine job. (YES, of course you do!) However, Earnest Mommy-ing does lend itself to certain parental weaknesses…
Now, I wasn’t an out-of-control Earnest Mommy. My children were never allowed to treat me with disrespect, scream in my face or hit me, dictate their own bedtimes, or misbehave in coffee shops.
See this fridge magnet? Which I now have on my fridge because it makes me grin, every time?
Back in the early days, I would not have understood this. It would only have confused, or perhaps annoyed, me. It would have been inexplicable. Aren’t mothers supposed to do all they can for their children? Isn’t it right and appropriate that a child can know s/he can rely on their parents?
Now I know better. Yes, I do my best, but I am not the beginning and end of my child’s world. Their every twitch and rustle does not take its root in me. Their decisions are their own, not mine.
In the early days, I made it my responsibility to see that my children were happy.
So, when my first came home from school upset at a certain social interaction or dynamic, I would work with her, sorting it out, analysing it, considering the best possible response(s). I might – though not often, even then – meet with the teacher or even phone the parents of the other children. But mostly, when working it through with my daughter, I would not leave off until she was happy. If I put forth several possible solutions, and she, in her disgruntlement, dismissed each and every one, I’d keep going, brain-storming, encouraging, persisting, probably, now that I consider it from this distance, essentially badgering her (in the kindest and best-of-intentioned ways), until she would accept one of the ideas (or, unlikely as it might be in a mindset of dismissal, suggest an idea of her own) and work with me.
The result? I became responsible, not only to be a resource to her in these situations, but for her happiness.
When you make yourself responsible for your child’s happiness, you take this responsibility from your child. Now when the child is upset or disgruntled, it’s up to you, the parent, to fix it. It becomes your fault. An impossible situation, really, because no one, no matter how much they love, cherish, respect, admire – whatever – another person, no one can make another person happy.
As a result of my Earnest Mommy refusing-to-release till she was content, when she was unhappy, I became the source of that feeling. Of course, I wasn’t (well, not generally!), but we both worked on the assumption that until Haley was happy, my work wasn’t finished. It made for a lot of dissatisfaction, resentfulness, and, ironically, unhappiness. (Well. Let me clarify: Haley’s childhood was essentially happy, and the conflicts we had in her adolescence would have made me the envy of many of her peer’s parents – but the principle holds. This assumption of ours reduced her experience happiness/satisfaction rather than enhanced it.)
Nowadays, I will listen, I will help the child sort it out, examine the dynamic, analyze what’s happening. Because, hey, I’ve been alive for 24/28/32 more years than you, kid, thus I have more general life experience, and a perspective you may lack. I provide a different outlook, and suggest myself as a resource. I will try to help the child evolve responses. But should the child resist…
“All right, then. I’ll leave it with you, then. You can let me know if you want to talk about this later.” (Sometimes, I confess, if the resistance has been expressed with sufficient snark, I will say this in a rather snarky tone of voice myself. Because I am human, and the older they get, the more one expects an adult-level response from them.) But I don’t respond with snark often, because most of the time, unless they’ve been offensive, I’m not offended. I’ve just know these days, that, bottom line, this is my child’s problem. If they wish my assistance, they can treat me and my ideas with respect. If they don’t wish my assistance – or, if they’re responding to it with resistance, hostility and/or disrespect – I don’t give it. Simple.
(I’m talking more about teens than toddlers here, but even with toddlers, you can – I certainly do – say “You may be angry, but you may not scream/hit/kick/bite. When you can use your calm voice/stop hitting, I can help you some more.”)
And thus they learn that a) I trust them to solve their problems/make their own decisions, b) I think they’ve capable of doing this without me, and c) their happiness is their responsibility. I will probably follow up in a day or two – “How did it go?” – but I don’t feel I must be part of the process through to its completion.
Emma appeared part-way through the writing of this. Sat on the porch railing and stared at me as I tried to compose my next pithy sentence. When I finally deigned to look at her, she came out with the completely predictable, “I’m bored.” I lifted my chin, grinned at her, and said, “Not my responsibility.” “Ooooo”, she says, pointing a finger at me and made a hissing sound, grins, and vanishes inside the house. Two minutes later, she’s on her way to a friend’s. Perfect!
She’s happy. I’m happy.
“Cookie! Cookie! Cookie! Cookie! Cookie!”
We are in a coffee shop. Emma has a blueberry Italian soda, I have a calorie-rich chiller, and the tots are sharing a couple of enormous oatmeal raisin cookies between them.
“Cookie! Cookie! Cookie! Cookie! Cookie!”
Anna wants a cookie. She is not loud, but she is, er, focussed. Emma, who is sitting beside her, responds.
“Anna, you have a cookie.” Sure enough, clenched in one chubby fist is a chubby-fist-sized chunk of squashed cookie. The other hand points with increasing desperation at the plate with the cookies in the centre of the table.
“Cookie! Cookie! Cookie! Cookie! Cookie!”
“Anna, baby, look in your hand.” Anna scarcely hears, and certainly doesn’t register. She doesn’t need to look in her HAND. Look at that PLATE! Look at those COOKIECOOKIECOOKIESCOOKIES!!!
“Cookie! Cookie! Cookie! Cookie! Cookie!”
“Anna. Anna – Look. In. Your. Hand.” Emma taps Anna’s fist. Anna drops her gaze from the plate of cookies to…
Oh! Well, would you look at that?! There’s a cookie in my hand!!!
One of the perks of blogging – apart from you, all my wonderful readers and commenters – is the attention you sometimes garner from publishing types. Publishing types who then send you books. Free books!!
(For some reason, most of the books I’ve been offered have been self-help books. Should I be concerned? Is the Universe trying to tell me something? If it is, I’ve read enough of these books to know the proper response: be open to the Guidance of the Universe.)
Thus, this semi-regular influx of Improving Literature has helped me create a highly satisfactory morning routine. Each day, in the quiet space I preserve for myself by getting up an hour or two before everyone else in the house, I zip through my morning housework routine then make myself a cup of tea and retreat to the front porch with a notebook, pen, and a book, often a self-help book.
Now, you may be of the percentage of the population that holds the whole self-help industry in some suspicion, giving it a long, lean, dubious look before passing on. That’s okay. Some days I’m in that camp, too, but, for reasons I’d never before stopped to consider, I’ve always found the idea of self-help books appealing. Now that I have them arriving in my mailbox, little surprise packages of how-to and you-can-do-it, I’ve grown to understand their appeal – their appeal to me, at any rate.
Self-help books, you see, trade in optimism. In hope. Sure, your life may not be all you desire right now, but look what you could have! See? It’s all possible!
And you know what? I think they’re on to something. Now, stop being cynical. I’m not talking about the millions that are made from selling these books and seminars and DVDs and workshops and, and, and…
Can we all, every one of us, be slim, healthy and long-lived, be in perfect relationships and have beautiful, obedient children, our dream home, and the perfect job? Oh, and rich beyond the dreams of avarice, of course. All of us? You know, something tells me that it just may not be feasible for the every person on our weary old planet to achieve such heights.
Just because we all can’t have it all (and we can’t), doesn’t mean we can’t each improve our lot in meaningful, permanent ways. And why shouldn’t we try? In fact, I’d turn that around: we should try. I think it’s a basic human drive. We need to try. Consider how much depression and/or dissatisfaction with life stems from the feeling that we’re not improving, that we’re stuck in a rut, that nothing will change. Consider how much satisfaction comes from tweaking your life, from identifying goals and striving towards them.
No two people will have the same sets of goals. For me, relationships, home and career feature high in my pantheon of desires; great wealth is low on the list, and fame doesn’t even feature. Someone else’s will be quite different, may include things I’ve never considered. Whatever our goals and desire, we all have them, and we’ve all felt frustrated by things that just don’t change.
Self-help books? They offer a leg-up out of that rut, the possibility of change, the hope of a brighter, more fulfilling future.
The books can’t change you, of course. You do that for yourself. Or not. But they can offer guidance, a fresh perspective, ideas, a goal, a plan of attack, or a strategy, a little encouragement, and maybe even a hint of inspiration.
Not so shabby for $19.95.
(A little prior information is necessary here. Malli is the much-doted-upon youngest child of three. She has two older siblings, about 7 and 10 years old. Both of them brothers.)
Malli: Mike [a neighbour] is the boss.
Mary: Who is, lovey?
Malli: Mike. He’s the boss.
Mary: Well, maybe he’s the boss at his house. [Though I think his wife might have a word or two on the subject..] Who’s the boss here?
Malli: You are.
[Heh. Good answer, kiddo! She's so smart.]
Malli: My sister has a nice house.
Mary: [Rule of thumb with random proclamations in total defiance of all known reality: Don't Quibble. You find out more by going with the flow.] She does?
Malli: Uh-huh. A nice house that’s big enough for me. It’s a big enough house. It’s a little house. I have a sister now. Her house is under a bridge. I live in down the bridge with my sister. I do. I do. I do. I do, Mary, I do. (All this repetition is more in the order of a meditative chant than anything else.)
And you know? I did give my sister that new house today. I did. My sister has a pink house. But it’s not too big, it’s nice and smaller.
Mary: [okay, I have to break in and probe for details.] When did you get your sister?
Malli: I got my sister at my doctors, to my mommy. I taked her to the doctors. I took my sister to the doctors. We go to a walk, but we… and we go to the doctors. And I will going to take care of her. She has a nice house, a small house under the bridge, and we live in the house together, today. Today. Today. Today.
My sister have a band-aid at her house. My sister’s name is Inna. She is name is Inna. [ Or is it Enna? I'm not sure.] And I take her to the doctors, then the mommy says, “Okay. You can gonna take care of her.” And I am gonna take care of her. I – you and me – hold her hand like walking like that. No holding no hands walking by herself, that is not safe. We like to hold hands.
And we have a nice house. A little house. A pink house. It is across the street. An easy-builder house across the street.
And my sister soon make too much noise and crying and I just heared that noise and I just must shoot her.
Mary: [Rule of thumb flies out the window with the shock.] Shoot her?!?
Malli: Yes, like Anna. I must just shoot her for her to stop crying.
Mary: [weak with relief] Oh! She needs a soother like Anna?
Malli: Yes, just a shoot her. It’s a silly one, but a silly sister might need a shoot her for her to be happy and quiet– Mary, I think Samantha is awake.
Mary: Samantha? Who’s Samantha?
Malli: Yes, Samantha inna bedroom by when I go to the baffroom.
Mary: That’s not Samantha. That’s Ki-woon.
Malli: Ki-woon, yes.
Mary: I guess I should put the computer away now, huh?
Malli: Yes, you should close the ‘puter and go help Ki-woon come downstairs. He is talking to you and needs to see you and talk to you.
Mary: All right, lovey. Let’s get Ki-woon.