Posts Tagged by Parents
|May 24, 2012||Posted by Issa under Parenting|
A few weeks ago Joshua, Dylan, and I ran an errand that involved a significant bit of driving. Sometimes this goes smoothly with Dylan, sometimes it brilliantly lines up with a nap, and then on the other hand, sometimes he gets really upset at being in the carseat for so long. This trip involved the latter. We were headed back from our errand, but it was clear that he wasn’t going to fall asleep and wasn’t going to make it home without a lot of crying. We needed to stop for awhile. Joshua and I were hungry, so it made sense to stop somewhere and eat. We were in a small town mostly unknown to us, so we didn’t really know where to look for food. We found a small restaurant and stopped.
The restaurant was dimly lit and nicely decorated. Fuck. NOT the kind of place I prefer to eat with a baby.
Every time I read or hear a conversation about children in public, there’s someone on hand to bitch about babies in restaurants. Babies who are spoiling your night out. Spoiling the meal you paid dearly for.
All those conversations and voices slammed into me as I attempted to help Dylan wait for our food to arrive. There – that little sound he made there – is that the “crying baby” people are always bitching about? Oh shit, he’s banging silverware on the table. Is he ruining those people’s meals? What he really needed was to run around. There was no one seated anywhere near us, but when I put him on the floor to let him walk around, I could imagine the protests about “letting her child run loose in the restaurant”.
I took him to the bathroom. I figured we couldn’t bother anyone there. But all he wanted to do was slam doors and lids, and I was sure it could be heard in the dining room. We went outside, instead. Never mind that it was too cold, and we weren’t really dressed for that.
Needless to say, it was a miserable meal for me, and wasn’t that great for Dylan or Joshua, either.
This morning I was at another restaurant with Dylan. A man approached me and told me that he was there from church, which was mostly older people. But he said that a few people with babies had started to come to church recently, and the babies often made noise during the service. He said, “Isn’t that a wonderful noise? Such a blessing.”
Several of the older people who seemed to be eating out here together stopped by the table to say hi to Dylan. I felt very welcome and not at all concerned that we might be messing up someone’s meal.
The next time I’m running imaginary commentary in my mind, maybe I can summon their voices instead of the other ones.
I encourage you to think about ways you welcome parents and their children in public or the ways you push them away. When you say things about children or parents, someone is listening.
Sometimes your future self is the one who’s listening.
When I used to work in a restaurant, oh, 14 years ago or so, I used to bitch about the mess that children left on the floor. I was completely dumbfounded how such an immense amount of food could end up on the floor, and weren’t those people so rude! Fast forward, and now I have a child who leaves a truly amazing amount of food on the floor sometimes. Sometimes I try to clean it up, because the critical voice in my head is mine, but it’s really kind of silly. It’s silly for me to pick up food crumbs by hand, when there’s an employee nearby who has a broom, has to sweep the place anyway, and gets paid for the time either way.
The truth is that children are messy sometimes. And loud sometimes. And they run around sometimes. And they bang on things and drop things. And they and their parents should still be welcome in public spaces.
To attempt to eradicate the noise and the mess and the motion is actually an attempt to eradicate the presence of parents and children from public life.
If that’s what you mean to do, then you’re an asshole, and I’m not really talking to you.
If that’s not what you mean to do, give your words a second thought the next time you’re talking about children in public. Are your words welcoming? Or are your words the ones that send us to hide in the bathroom and push us out in the cold?
|January 23, 2012||Posted by Issa under Parenting|
Near the beginning of my childcare career, I read the book How to Behave So Your Children Will, Too by Sal Severe. As a newcomer to childhood development theory, it made comforting sense, seemingly outlining sensible ways to react to children’s misbehavior. These days I don’t look on this book so highly. It’s full of behavioral modifications and reactionary prescriptions. Your kid does this and then you do that. The book presents a view of the parent-child relationship that is transactional, overly rigid, and entirely carrot-and-stick. Severe recommends charts and stickers, total parental consistency, punishment escalation until the child complies, and utilizing his detailed lists of reward options for different age groups.
One section of the book stood out to me, and I’ve thought of it many times over the years. Chapter Six begins with a tale of Severe spending the day with a couple and their 3 kids. The day ends with everyone taking a trip out for ice cream. When the dad later asks Severe for parenting advice, Severe says that they did the ice cream thing all wrong by not connecting the special treat to the kids behavior.
Successful parents connect special events to good behavior: “You have had an excellent day today. Mom and I would like to take you out for some ice cream.” You can be more specific: “I saw you sharing several times today. That’s something that makes Mom and me feel fantastic. When we feel good, we like doing something special.”
The chapter is called, “Never Give Away the Ice Cream”.
That phrase stuck me through the years, even as my childcare philosophy radically veered away from this conditional, controlling mindset. “Never give away the ice cream” became a catchphrase in my mind, representing the kinds of relationships I did not want to have with children.
Now, fast forward. For parenting advice, I’ve come to rely much more heavily on Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting (UP) and people advocating a consensual parenting approach. I also ran across Taking Children Seriously (TCS), which is a philosophy that seeks to be entirely non-coercive with children. On a TCS email list, one person was asking for suggestions about getting kids to leave a business that is closing when the kids don’t want to leave. Another person suggested offering the kids ice cream on the ride home or some other enticing thing.
Hmm. In the Severe book, he advocates withholding the ice cream until it can be a reward for good behavior. In this email conversation, someone is recommending the ice cream as an enticement for good behavior. Those seem like they could be opposites, yet they veer awfully close to one other with the tactic of using ice cream to gain compliance.
Then another TCS list member asked if ice cream makes the time-after-leaving nicer, why not offer it to make the time-before-leaving nicer, too? Why would you only offer it at this specific time?
This exchange caused a real light bulb moment for me. If ice cream is such a good thing, why are you withholding it all the time? If you aren’t withholding it, if your child can freely choose when to have ice cream or not, then ice cream is removed as an option for coercion. This was a sharp reminder that while parenting philosophies seem to swing along a spectrum, it’s also possible to just get off the spectrum entirely.
In Unconditional Parenting, Alfie Kohn talks similarly about love, punishment, and rewards. People often think that punishing bad behavior and rewarding good behavior are vastly different, but they are really just shades of the same thing, and the name of the thing is control. Kohn talks about the emotional dangers of withholding parental time, attention, and love, even through such widely accepted practices as time-out.
Love is even better and even more important than ice cream and should be ever-present in the parent-child relationship. In a very real sense, love is the food and fuel that grow the child. Or it ought to be anyway. What happens if you take your love off the table as tool for control by making sure love is always, actively given and (more importantly) received?
Coming back around to ice cream, let me just say that ice cream is really, really yummy, and I eat it whenever I want. Should I suddenly start hiding it or not buying it because I have a child? Should I reserve it only for times when I deem that he’s been good? Should I save it up for times when I need to prod him to do something?
How about this instead? What if there was ice cream in the freezer now and then, and Dylan could eat it or not eat it whenever he liked, the same as I can, the same as Joshua does, the same as you do? How might my relationship with Dylan be entirely different if, instead of the ice cream sitting between us as a tool of control, ice cream was just the yummy sweet treat that it is? I’m guessing that our relationship will be a bit sweeter as well.
|January 9, 2012||Posted by Issa under Parenting|
Parenting isn’t hard.
Well, okay, sometimes it’s hard.
Sometimes it’s hard to contain all this love that I feel for my child, and I’m worried I’m just going to snatch him up and squeeze him to bits in a fit of overly-emotional love-smush.
Sometimes it’s hard to fathom the future and that someday there will be a 6 year old, an 11 year old, a 17 year old living here, and someday a 25 year old not living here, living out in the world instead where I can’t watch over him.
Sometimes it’s hard to love him so deeply and yet not be able to take his hurts away. I am sometimes bowed in this powerlessness.
Sometimes it’s hard to realize that I am his whole world right now and that his trust is vast and complete. I tremble before this power.
Sometimes I participate in a discussion about someone in public being mean to their child. By “being mean” I mean spanking, slapping, grabbing, yanking, dragging, yelling, name-calling, belittling, punishing and so forth. And there’s always someone in these discussions ready to declare that “parenting is hard” and we should therefore cut the parent some slack. And I just reject this wholeheartedly. It is not hard to not treat people like shit. Children are small, dependent people, and we should be doubly sure not to treat them like shit.
Parenting is the very act of caring for these smaller people. It should not be synonymous with treating them in abusive ways.
Say I’m in a McDonald’s. In a booth near me is what appears to be a romantically involved man and woman enjoying a meal together. Near the end of the meal, the woman accidentally knocks her soda over and it spills over the table and floor. The man leaps to his feet and yells, “Oh my god! I told you to be careful with that!” He grabs her by the arm and drags her out of the booth. “That’s the last time you get to have a medium drink!” He shoves her off to the side while he starts to clean up. “Go stand by the door, we’re going home right now.” After an initial little gasp at the spilled drink, the woman remains silent, body slack, eyes averted.
I would be horrified to witness this scene. I would worry about the verbal lashing, and I would worry about the physical aspects. Probably most people would be concerned on some level. However, when I witnessed that scene with, instead of a woman, a 10 year old child, no one batted an eye. It doesn’t even stand out. Doesn’t register. Some might even consider it “good discipline”.
But, it’s not. It’s just abusive. We would not say about the man, “Well, relationships are hard. He’s probably just having a bad day. Cut him some slack.”
On a “bad day”, I might grumble at Joshua. I might be a little curt, a little snippy. I would not pull his body around, hit him, yell at him, say belittling things at him, or order him about. We have a loving relationship together that doesn’t include those kinds of actions. Likewise, parenting is between parent and child but is still supposed to be a loving relationship together. People who are mean and abusive to children don’t have a parenting problem. They have an abuse problem.
Except it becomes a parenting problem when there are people running around saying “parenting is hard” as a way to excuse the abuse of children. I’ll bet there are people who aren’t actually assholes trying to be mean to their kids because they think that’s what parenting is. I’d like to put a stop to that.
Parenting is supposed to be a loving relationship between parent and child, and it should look like one, and that shouldn’t be hard.