|Lenore Skenazy, "America's Worst Mom" and founder|
of the Free Range Kids movemnt
But the MOST interesting thing she talked about - it was also the thing that immediately drew her criticism in the question part of the talk - was how even what we SAY to children is so carefully monitored today, that parents are being told in books how to have conversations with children that will not completely crush their spirit for the rest of their lives.
This reminded me of a blog I read recently which, at first, I agreed with, but on further thinking actually felt quite annoyed about. It was called You Just Broke Your Child, Congratulations.
The sentiment of the blog post is that all children are precious gifts who we, parents (particulary father's in this case) need to treasure and protect. I really liked that sentiment.
Sadly, the blog post was full of sneering derision of parents who "break" their children constantly by not greeting them each and every time with a smile and open arms. By being impatient, or oblivious, or pre-occupied, or angry. By have expectations that are too high, or too exacting.
Now I'm not saying these things can't hurt children. What I'm saying is the benchmark of NEVER doing these things to your child because their spirits will be forever wounded and they will NEVER reach their full potential is some sort of expression of a self-loathing that propels parenting into a condemned state of Sisyphean proportions. Sisyphus was the guy who pissed off the Greek Gods, so they made him role a large boulder up a hill every day - it would take him all day to do it and each morning the boulder would be back at the bottom of the hill and his labour would begin again. Perfect parents make it from sunrise to sunset without yelling, ignoring, smacking, shaming, or belitting their children, then have to start this epic journey again the very next sunrise.
NO PARENT I have ever met has ever achieved this mythical state of having NEVER wounded their child's spirit.
Well, of course, you say. To err is human. DUH, Sif!
Okay, so riddle me this, Batman. If to err is human, and we're ALL doomed to wounding our child's spirit sooner or later, WHY OH WHY do Parent Bloggers (hey, notice I wasn't sexist there?) and Parenting Experts (like Alfie Kohen) insist of telling us how if we use the wrong words (assuming we're well heeled enough to never have smacked or yelled), or we aren't overjoyed at the very sight of our child each and EVERY time they enter the room, then we will have BROKEN them, CRUSHED their spirits and doomed them to an eternally hellish existence on earth plagued with self-loathing and anxiety and maybe, if we're lucky, they won't hang themselves by the time they're 16.
Skenasy actually broached on this very point. She borrowed a drawing from a little girl in the audience and told the rest of the audience how one parenting book advises parents to "take a moment" when presented with artwork by their child (because, I'm assuming, if you allow your natural reaction of parental joy and pride to overflow, you're bound to have failed already), and then carefully reflect back to the child just what the child did, "I see you used green and blue to draw this drawing." To tell the child it was a fantastic drawing or that she was a great drawer or a a good girl would be tantamount to beating the child will young sapling you'd forced the child to go out and find just for said beating.
This is when I, and I alone (because everyone else was taking a moment, I guess), applauded!
I have to wonder if the parents who try to be perfect think about what they would NOT modelling for their children (if they could achieve this mythical state of parental Nirvana)? If you are always happy to see your child. Always say and do the right things to your child. If you are perfect. What does your child see? They see the person they want to be (because most children admire their parents, even the far-from-perfect parents); they see someone who never feels anger or disappointment or frustration, who never requires forgiveness, who never needs their own space or time.
Then when they grow up and they feel anger and disappointment and frustration, and they need forgiving, and their own space and time, what will they do? They will feel like somehow they've fallen short. Something must be wrong with me because my Mum was always happy to see me and ready to do for me whenever I asked. My dad never felt angry or sad or the need to just not talk to anyone right now.
Of course, NO CHILD will ever have parents like that (thank goodness, I say, who wants a robot for a parent, a person so self-composed they seem somehow less HUMAN).
So, where do Parent Bloggers and Parenting Experts get off judging parents who have weak moments. How does Single Dad Laughing guy know that what he witnessed at Costco was the be all and end all of that child's relationship with his father? For all SDL guy knows, that Dad may have just watched his wife die, or maybe he had some beligerant family member tell him his son was "spoiled" so he turned to some freakazoid Parenting Expert's book in desperation that his child shouldn't grow up "spoiled and unlikable" and he'd just started implementing some counterproductive Super Nazi shame tactic that week... Maybe Costco dad was just having an unusally rotten day, but most of the time he IS warm and open to his son's requests...
SDL guy pleaded for people to tell him about the good dad's they knew, to restore his faith in humanity (because obviously humanity owes him). I thought about posting about the Father Figure in our household, but then thought - oh, but, hmmm, he does yell at the kids, and he has said stuff like, "What's wrong with you?" to our boys when they've done something he just can't fathom. Evidently, according to SDL guy, he is one of "those" dads who need congratulating for having broken their child (and more than once).
Thankfully, children are more resilient than the woman who posed the first
When did our society turn children into such delicate flowers that we dare not breathe too heavily around them?
Children throughout the ages have lived through far greater horrors than anything we can offer in modern day Australia, and not only have they survived, but they've come through the other end with a passion to do great things! How many times have we heard of great beauty and determination of character stemming from early childhood traumas? Far from robbing children of their full potential these events have provided them with enormous motivation to achieve!
Obviously, I'm not suggesting we schedule "Traumatise the Toddler" into the monthly calendar.
Resilience is born of overcoming difficult times. The most resilient children are those who experience adversity AND support getting through the adversity. What this means is, it's not the shouting at your child or fobbing them off that hurts them, it's WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. If wounding your child's spirit is following by more and more wounding your child's spirit, i.e. a pattern of abuse is established, then your child will definitely suffer long term. HOWEVER, if wounding your child's spirit is following by SINCERE regret and asking for forgiveness, and explaining to the child how what you did was the wrong thing to do in that moment, then chances are it will actually make your relationship with your child stronger, and the child him or herself MORE RESILIENT.
It will also make the child more:
- Able to forgive others
- Able to ask for forgiveness
- Able to forgive themselves
- Insightful, regarding other people's limits and limitations
- Confident in their relationship with you (because they know you are just like them, human and prone to mistakes)
And maybe, it'll also make them a hell of a lots less likely to sit in judgement of every stranger they see in public being less than perfect.
So, rather than saying every single moment of a child's life to should be laughter and love and light - something we are immediately doomed to fail. Why can't we judge ourselves and one another by our best moments and focus on achieving a high percentage of laughter, love and light - at least enough to tip the scales so those memories outnumber the flawed memories in a grown up child. Let's set the benchmark at a level that is achievable for most of us so we can rejoice in being parents and not constantly live in fear of failing or being judged to have failed our children when we only did what 100% of parents have done since the dawn of parenting - prove our status as humans, in all our glorious impefection. Have forgiveness in your heart, for your child, for other parents, and for yourself!