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Posts Tagged ‘Opinion’

Surprising Things I’ve Learned About Parenting

November 19, 2013 5 comments

I had preconceived notions about motherhood before I joined the cult.

I thought that newborn babies slept all the time. I imagined I’d set our round kitchen table for three balanced meals a day, but not much else would change. I believed my children would flock to me for advice, and once they were comfortably seated at my feet, I would begin my teaching moment. I thought my children would be exactly like me, just smaller and with better hair.

I remember thinking these thoughts, and now gently ask myself, self: were you on crack?

If motherhood is anything; good, bad, ugly, wonderful, transcendent, frustrating, confusing, beautiful (it is all of these, and frequently within the space of fifteen minutes), it is mostly full of surprises; reality has tossed my crazy ideas right on my perpetual ponytail.

Too late, I learned that newborns rarely sleep (except when you want them to be awake). Our place mats still have price tags attached. My life bears no resemblance to its former self, back when I mattered. The more advice I offer my kids, the less they want to hear. And my children are as different from each other as they are from me. But with better hair.

So, preconceived notions cast aside and thrown in the garbage alongside an astounding amount of candy wrappers, everyday I learn new things about motherhood that surprise me. Shock the hell out of me, in fact. A short list of recent surprises:

  • I didn’t realize I would be the butt of all jokes in our house, and that the only thing that unites my children is their collective laughter at me. Apparently, and without even trying to be, I’m hilarious. Forget surviving middle school relatively unscathed – if I can survive my daughters scorn, I can survive anything.
  • We spend more time discussing my teenaged daughter’s social life than socializing.
  • No matter how many groceries I buy, my kids can’t find anything to eat in our house.

I’m not exactly that all-knowing role model I expected to be. Surprise. But, and sorry to overuse the word, another surprise. Mostly, it is my children who teach me. I knew (or hoped) it would happen in time, but I’m astounded by how fast it’s happened. Here’s a short list of things I’ve learned recently, courtesy of my daughters:

  • The eldest educates me about important things like eye primer (did you know there was such a thing? She owns five.) and the vast difference between my mascara and the BEST mascara. Needless to say, I’m not meeting her expectations.
  • My twelve-year old patiently explains the rules of hockey to me. Every week. (Penalty! No mom, they’re allowed to do that.) She doesn’t play the sport, but grasped an understanding of the game – even an appreciation for the fighting – that I have failed to achieve in my lifetime. (Still, those refs are blind.)
  • My nine-year old signs me up for Instagram, and then explains the apps I should download and the filters I should use for an optimal experience. Her fingers fly across my iPhone like butterflies around a flame, and I’m like but wha – whoa – hey – where – wait a – how did you get there? Kids these days.

And then the more profound surprises, of course.

I knew I would need patience, but the frequency with which I meet its limits is astonishing.

I knew my children would need me, but didn’t realize how much it is actually I who needs them.

I knew I would watch my children grow, and by definition, overcome obstacles, but didn’t think about the pain and restraint involved in watching them struggle.

I knew I would love my children, but the depths of which I love them, still, is shocking.

Motherhood hasn’t been a smooth ride – on the contrary, it’s filled with potholes, sharp curves, and the occasional road block. And no driver’s test required, amazingly. It’s not a one-way street, and frankly, I’m not always in the driver’s seat.

But oh, the places you can go.

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Parenting: Democracy or Dictatorship?

February 16, 2011 6 comments

I know some really good parents, and I know some really bad parents. I’m not naming names; you know who you are.

Or maybe you don’t. Maybe, like Amy Chua, you think forcing your child to practice the piano for hours each day is your idea of a loving relationship. You’re thinking, they’ll thank me in the long run.  Forcing them to bring home A’s, even bribing them into doing so, is your idea of caring.  Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother reads more like an exercise in child abuse rather than a useful parenting tool.

There has been a huge backlash since Chua’s parenting memoir was released in January. For a truly chilling account of her parenting style, click on this article by Chua which appeared in the Wall Street Journal, which details why she would never let her child go on a play date, receive a grade less than an A, or let them play any instrument other than the piano or the violin. It is all shocking, but she attributes these methods to the reason Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful children.

It would be easy to attack someone who mandates their children practice their instrument for three hours a day (the first hour is the easy part, Chua says, it’s hours two and three that get difficult). Rather than climb aboard the growing anti-Chua train that is snaking its way across North America, I thought I’d write about an entirely opposite parenting movement that is gaining popularity in my neighborhood that embraces a much gentler and respectful style.

A growing group of parents I know actually go to a parenting group. They meet on a monthly basis and discuss their issues with the help of a counselor.

Many of these people start their sentences with, “Jim Skinner says…”, Jim Skinner being their therapist/guru/demi-god. Skinner uses the Adler approach to parenting, which emphasizes the freedom to be creative while making decisions within a respectful and responsible family structure. My interest piqued by all this Skinner-disciple talk, I decided to check him out when he lectured at our school.

Almost everything he touched on made intuitive sense to me, and seemed to take into account both the wishes of the parent and the child. Here are some of the highlights from the one lecture I attended:

  • Parenting with a hands joined in a democratic arrangement is by far the most successful of parenting styles, judging from his twenty years of helping families. Military style parents: throw your whips out with the garbage. To summarize, in a democratic house, when misbehavior occurs, you and your child come up with consequences together. This gives the child a voice and some control over the situation, rather than being rendered a helpless deer caught in the headlights, awaiting the blow of whatever punishment the parent deems worthy.
  • Pampering and spoiling children does them a disservice; this includes overindulging, being over permissive, over dominating, and being over protective.
  • The best parenting style is one that fosters and develops a child’s self-esteem through encouragement.
  • Think of successful sports teams: they are co-operative, and work together as a team to produce great results, as opposed to a team with a few individual stars on its roster. A family should also be set up in a co-operative way; minimize competition, maximize working together to achieve goals.
  • People don’t change, they simply become more or less of who they are from the beginning. It is the role of the parent to help invent a child’s future by determining their unique strengths.
  • Help children learn from their mistakes, rather than simply chastising them.

If this parenting style catches your fancy more than Chua’s, ignore her controversial book and instead pick up Honey I Wrecked the Kids, by Alyson Schafer. Your children will thank you, and Child Services won’t come knocking.