Friday, December 21, 2007

Dear Anonymous

I haven't posted about parenting issues in SO long. It's just such a sensitive issue, and sometimes I feel like I'm not following my own philosophy well enough to have the right to proselytize it. But I still get new comments on my old spanking posts every once in a while. Like this one from an anonymous reader:

"Your column is making me feel extremely guilty. with 2 naughty boys who are a year apart and the parenting part left to me - spanking has become a way of life. Yes I dread to think of the day when spanking will be ineffective. If we go visiting then they jump on the sofas, tear the flowers in the garden, act as if famished even if they are well fed up to the brim at home. Of course there is the pressure of relatives that your kids are intolerant, indisciplined. HELP" --Anonymous

Oh, dear mama, I do understand! We've all been there. Raising kids is incredibly challenging no matter how you do it. And active children close in age will always make the relatives talk. Plus we have to deal with our own "need" to please other adults, and the inner conflict that comes when the desires of other adults conflict with the desires and needs of our children.

It's not easy to mediate between our children and the world, but we often have to as parents. It's not easy to be patient and creative enough to find a solution that works for everyone in a situation. It's a lot of effort. But it's also worth it.

At some point we have to ask ourselves: What is most important here? What am I teaching my children about the world, themselves, and their mother by how I react in this situation? What do I really believe about my children?

Do I really believe that they are "naughty" boys who need to be corrected and punished? Or do I believe that they are unique individuals worthy of respect and love as they learn how to navigate this complicated world? Can I trust that they have a sense of what they need and are just trying to express it even if it comes out in ways that are inconvenient for the adults around them?

Kids do need to jump, run, explore, and try new things. They want to know what's in Grandma's pantry that they don't have at home. They want to touch the flowers as well as smell them. It doesn't mean they're "naughty." That's how they learn! Some kids respond to "no" because they want to please the parent more than they want to explore what's in front of them. Others want to learn about the world so badly that they're willing to sacrifice pleasing you. That's a matter of both temperament and trust.

So, what to do with children who trust you enough to follow their own hearts and risk displeasing you? First, be glad that they know you love them. Second, be grateful for the strong wills that will serve them well in adulthood. Know that a child with a strong will can survive a lot of parenting mistakes with his True Self still intact.

And trust yourself. No one loves your children more than you do. You will make mistakes. You can learn from them just as your children will learn from theirs. It takes practice, but after awhile it becomes second nature to notice what your kids need in the way of room to be active and noisy, and to find ways to support them.

Find support for yourself, too. Seek out like-minded parents, choose friends who enjoy lively children, check out online support groups such as We all become more like the people we spend the most time with. So make sure you like how those people treat your children.

And then, enjoy your kids! Have fun with them! Learn to laugh and play like they do! It can be difficult for those of us who eventually learned to be "good" to let go and be silly again. I'm still learning. But our kids are worth it.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas is almost here!

It just hit me that it's only four more days until Christmas Eve! The last week just zipped by, I guess. My sisters arrive tomorrow night and Saturday, and Scott is meeting his mom at the airport tonight. We'll have his family here for Christmas Eve, and then go to my parents' house for Christmas Day. I still need to wrap about half of the boys presents, and pick up two more things for Scott's family, but it's not too much. We've been baking, decorating, giving and eating cookies all week, but I'll have to keep baking if we want to have any for next week! Cookies don't last long around here.

Scott picked up our second Christmas tree tonight. We got our first on Dec. 2, after I convinced him I could make it last the three weeks before Christmas. It started to stink on Monday. A whole week short. Oops. It's the prettiest little tree, too, high off the ground so Baby Fish won't be too tempted by the ornaments. And actually, it doesn't stink anymore, but it is rather dry. So we'll go ahead and trade it out for the new one tomorrow. Decorating the second time seems a little anti-climactic, but it's a good reason to bake more cookies! (Obviously any earlier dreams of a sugar-free Christmas have been long forgotten.)

P.S. I do have more activity- and photo-laden posts on the boys' blog if you haven't been there lately. Lemme know if you need an invitation.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Confessions of an at-home parent with other dreams

Every once in a while I find myself wondering what I've gotten myself into. Like, when I decided I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, was it really because I wanted to spend all my time with my kids, or was it just because I was tired of my job and wanted an excuse to hang out at home, learn to cook and knit, and let my husband support me guilt-free? Or, when I started reading learning theory and thinking about the aspects of school I wanted my kids to miss out on, did I realize that I would have kids at home for the next TWO DECADES?

Sometimes I let neighborhood kids come over for hours at a time just so my kids will have someone else to talk to and will leave me to think my own thoughts uninterrupted for a whole ten minutes. Then when the neighborhood kids start talking to me, I pretend to be deaf. "I'm sorry, did you say something? Maybe you should go home and tell your mother about it, 'cause I can't hear you."

There's nothing like other people's Christmas letters to make you start re-evaluating your life. And when that's too painful, you just start judging how THEY spent their time this year. "Oh, so you took a few days away from your kids this year, did you? Guess you just couldn't handle the full-time parenting gig, huh?" No, no jealousy there. Not a smidge!

For most of my career as a mother I've belonged to the camp convinced that "good" mothers never want to pawn their children off on someone else. Except in special cases. Like doctor appointments. Or the occasional date with your husband. (Movie OR dinner, never both.) And only leaving them with your mother or someone else as trustworthy as yourself. Pity the woman whose mother lives on the opposite coast or who believes Oreos and nonorganic milk are an appropriate snack for children. She'll just have to wait for hubby to come home to take her shower.

In some circles, wanting to have a break from your children means either a) your children are driving you nuts because your discipline techniques are weak, b) your children are driving you nuts because you have inadequate patience and creativity to adequately meet their needs, or c) you shouldn't have had kids in the first place because you're obviously too selfish to be a full-time parent.

While some version of this philosophy insidiously infiltrates every social circle, there isn't a mother alive who's never wanted a few minutes to herself to poop with the door closed. Most of us want a little more.

It's taken me a long time to admit to myself that I do want more. Sure, I want to be the best mom and wife I can be. Sure, I want to enjoy the privilege I've been given to watch my children grow up before my eyes. I want to enjoy what they have to teach me about living in the moment, about creating unbounding joy out of sunshine and sticks, about accepting the waves of emotion that come as life's ups and downs wash over me. I don't want to give up any of that. Not even for the chance to learn how to spin yarn. Or go to the newest Harry Potter film without having to leave halfway through. Or take a yoga class even though it's at dinnertime and my kids will be inhaling corn dogs and tater tots while I exhale my negative chi.

And yet, I do want to do those things. I want to do them guilt-free, trusting that I'm still a good mother even if I desire things that will take me away from my children. Most of my desire has nothing to do with getting away from the people I love and everything to do with going toward something else that interests me. But it shouldn't matter. It should be OK just to want to get away sometimes. It doesn't mean we're inadequate as parents. It doesn't mean our children will suffer. It doesn't mean we're selfish.

At some point, we have to turn off the voices in our heads, ignore the looks and whispers among the playgroup mothers, and give ourselves permission to chase our other dreams. Yes, becoming a mother was a dream of mine. But it wasn't the only one. And while motherhood is a life-long position with never-ending demands, even the most important job on the planet deserves some time off.
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