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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Different Strokes For Different Folks

It's easy enough to make decisions for other people- to assume that we know what their problem is and how best to handle it. It's easy to be decisive and clear when it's about somebody else. But try imposing your own emotionality into an otherwise obvious situation, and suddenly a whole lot of lines begin to blur.

A very small case in point: I operate a home/family daycare by day and parent my own children by evening, night, and weekend. During the day, I have very clear boundaries about what is acceptable and unacceptable. For example: No wrestling. No somersaults on the living room couch. No running circles around the kitchen table.

These are clear to me because I know that I don't want someone else's child bashing their head on the corner of my table, falling off the back of my couch (I learned that one the hard way...), or getting punched and crushed in an innocent match of WWF. I have these children for 8 - 10 hours a day, and it's clear to me that they can live without these particular aerobic activities for that length of time.

If I were to consider parenting, there would be a whole other cookie to crumble. Isn't it normal for children to tumble around together, sit on one another, occasionally get carried away with a smack or two? Isn't a living room for living in? Isn't running around the table better than rotting away in front of a television?

And so it's not nearly as clear because my heart is chopped in teeny pieces and I'm thinking about their personal, spiritual, physical, and emotional development for.... well.... the rest of their lives.

I know plenty of parents who are very decisive most of the time and don't torture themselves with every nuance and possibility. And I admire that skill. But I have also grown to appreciate the way my own brain and heart work. By looking for the motivation behind my children's actions for the past 7-15 years, I think I have a pretty good line of communication going. They're not afraid to come to me with weird and difficult questions. With confessions. With fears. I don't think they've ever lied to cover up for something they felt they might get caught for doing. I've never been particularly punitive.

Now, I still torture myself. All the time. I know I'm getting it wrong all over the place, and could really expect more from my children. I know that I'm a big pushover mushpot at times.

If you were looking over your fence at my family, it would probably be pretty clear to you where we are going "wrong"; just as when I look over other fences I think I can see some obvious tune-ups that need to be taken care of.

It's a potential alligator pit though. Yes, we all learn from one another. No, we are not all the same, nor will be parent the same. There is a place for a trusted friend to peel some blinders off in this race. It's a risky place to wade into, this plucking out of other's logs and splinters.

It's why it is so much easier to gossip- get all that great advice out of your body, but avoid the potential conflict and tension of being the messenger. Which makes us all more paranoid. What is so-and-so saying to so-and-so about what she notices in me? Do I really want to know? Would it devastate me? Ruin a relationship?

I wonder if the decisive people have it easier. Decide on your life program and stick with it come what may. Blame the other guy.

This whole human thing can get plenty confusing. We tend to flock together, form relationships, lean on one another, and disagree. Build up quiet defenses. Feel wounded and betrayed.

And see with perfect clarity what the other guy ought to change.


Donn said...

W.C Fields memorable quote, "Never work with animals or children" instantly came to mind.

The timeless ideal which reached it's zenith during the Victorian Era, "Children should be seen and not heard" is based on the idea that quiet, obedient, unconfrontational, easily-manipulated, uber-Conservative, sycophantic, spineless, tedious, egregiously-dull, superfluous, submissive, robotic, children are superior in some sense.

It's now an urban myth.

I for one am horrified that the Boomer's have thoughtlessly unleashed a generation of politically correct, self-entitled, I'm special, everyone's a winner and all soccer games must end in a tie, little screen addicted, brats.

Except for our kids of course :)

Hell hath no fury like a Parenting Style out!

Judy said...

I remember.

My children are all adults, yet I still wonder...

joyce said...

I'm way with you on the "I'm a really special princess and I can do anything if I just believe"-gag me with a maggot mentality.

And I like all that other really intelligent stuff you said. ;)

I was wondering tonight as I drove and drove, deep in thought, whether a guy like you would have some perspective- having done it all more than once.

Judy- I look at my beautiful, non-cocaine-using teens and i'm enormously pleased. Then I wonder. Do other people see something hideous that I'm missing?!

(like children are extensions of our SELF. pfffffttt) Only when they are model citizens.

Janice said...

I just said on your other blog that I admire you-who-look-after-children. Then I click over her and read your motherhood navel gazing post. I mean navel gazing in the most RESPECTFUL way possible. Since I held that slimy baby on my chest I have always wondered if I was doing it right, or doing it wrong. I was always doing a bit of each - and I still am. So are you.

I also was always observing other parents doing things right and doing things wrong. Sometimes HORROR OF HORRORS, one of of those observers spoke to me about what I was doing wrong. (Did you/I ever speak to them about what they were doing wrong!! OH NO, not you/me - we diplomatically kept our thoughts to ourselves.)
You have wonderful teens, and I have one. That attests to our parenting right and wrong with love. God is love. Love is all you need. The bible. The beatles.

Karla said...

All I really want is for my girls to be kind people.... even though I'm not very kind to them sometimes. I still hope...

mmichele said...

I just say I am sorry a lot.

Christine said...

i think that it is in us as always wonder, fear, and worry about what might happen or be happening unbeknownst (i like that word) to us as parents. i personally will never be a "decided" parent...and i also personally believe that people can act, and aren't necessarily all that "decided" on the inside.
don't fight it, or torture youself with the fact that you HOPE for the best in your children's lives, that you DREAM that they will never feel unloved, i think that is our job as mothers...and you are doing it well.
my husbands mother didn't act like she cared about her kids at all. it wasn't because she hit them (she didn't), or called them useless (that was their father's job)...but she was complacent and unemotional towards them. she gave off huge megaphone messages to her kids, that indicated she didn't care about anyone but herself.
so, yah. i hope you interpret this mumbo jumbo as my way of saying that your kids are blessed and you are on the right track.

even if they dabble in stuff or get/feel "lost" someday (i wish i could lock my daughter up in her room for 20 years to prevent this...)
i think the fact that they know you won't toss them out on the street (non-judgmental) , and are assured you love them unconditionally (which all comes naturally to you)...your children will survive grief and tragedy, and always want to come home.

Christine said...

i forgot to add.
as a mother who had the "toddler" that every one else could see as "oh, i'm glad i don't have to deal with THAT" or "boy, does she need some parenting skills"... i realize that we always compare our kids to make ourselves feel good or bad.
i do it all the time, with or without even realizeing it.
with my little guy and his tantrums, public rages etc. etc. (i know you don't have toddlers anymore....but hear me out)...i felt like smudge on the bottom of a creek..yucky, a failed mother.
people didn't know the whole story about liam.
there were underlying reasons, other then my parenting that made him sometimes uncontrollable.
so i had to try to let it go. and it didn't work. but i tried. l had this mantra in my head.
"he is MY son, and I know what's best", or "screw them".... so that i wouldn't worry what other people thought. i hope that when my daughter gets pregnant in high-school and my son robs the local 7-11, i'll be able to shepherd my children home, love them...and say "screw you" to the judgmental folks around us.
sorry for dominating the blog.

Karla said...

Christine - If your beautiful son or daughter come home in various states of disrepair, I would like to be with you all in your warm, nurturing house telling them I love them too. (Oh yes, and "screw you" to every one else!)