Relax and be an Imperfect Parent

 

Imperfect Parenting

We’re imperfect parents, but we so want to get it right.  Am I providing enough security? Am I being consistent? Will he absorb my disappointment in myself? Will he absorb my anxiety? Am I telling her enough of what she needs to hear? Will she be self-conscious like me?

We try to be conscious parents. We want to do it better than our parents did . . . because we know more than they did and our little ones deserve the benefit of all that knowledge.

But this unrelenting conscious attention to our parenting can block our awareness to the beauty right here. It robs us of the gentle moment where we could share a laugh or notice the uniqueness of our child. Constant anxiety about our parenting also prevents us developing ourselves as autonomous adults, something our kids need us to do . . . so they can be free to do the same.

What I want to offer today is what I am literally learning, right now. Self Care is our most powerful parenting tool, and yet it’s the thing that seems most irrelevant. You want me to sit in the hot tub while my daughter fails chemistry?  Yes. I want you to relax. Do whatever you need to do to slow down thought and be in touch with your body – for 15-20 minutes. Here are some thoughts to help you embrace your imperfect parent self.

Relax and . . .

  1. Know you’re a good-enough parent.
  2. Know you’ve got a good-enough kid.
  3. Take good care of yourself. Your kid needs you to be healthy and happy.
  4. Do what brings you joy. This will show your kid how to do the same.
  5. Let your child push against you. It’s his job to resist, disagree with you, think you’re full of crap. Breathe and let it go.
  6. Let your child hear you laugh, a lot. Let them see you cry. Allow them to see your humanness.
  7. Find good attributes in your spouse or co-parent. Your kid needs to know the positive you see (or saw) there.
  8. Let your kid fail, screw up, and experience disappointment. It’s painful but essential to her sense of self.
  9. Know your child has his own path and own inner compass. You have no ultimate control . . . nor should you. If you try to exert false control of their personality and choices, you can really make a mess of things and restrict growth in both of you.
  10. Trust that your kid loves you. They have to love you. They will always love you, even if they don’t like you.

We Are Enough.

Contact Deborah

Lessons in Relational Justice, I

By Juozas Šalna from Vilnius, Lithuania (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

What is Relational Justice?

I just watched Michael Moore’s (2016) film, Where to Invade Next. It’s all about Relational Justice. In the two-hour movie, Moore visits eight countries to steal good ideas and bring them back to the U.S. He also raises some questions that have been with me all day.

  • What caused our country to be so anxious?
  • And what effect does our country’s anxiety have on me personally?
  • How did we get to be a nation that denies each other basic humanity? Basic food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, and education?
  • Why do we hide from our sins (e.g., slavery) and gloss over them in the teaching of history?
  • When I consider these questions about the nation to which I belong, what does it mean about me?

If you disagree with my beginning premises, that’s okay, just allow the mental exercise. I don’t have all the answers here, but I have guesses and I’d love your thoughts.

In the movie, Michael steals:

  • Healthcare for All!
  • Let Children be Children!
  • Stop Punishing (and Start Treating) Drug Abusers!
  • Paid Vacation for All!

 

By Jos Dielis (Évora Uploaded by tm) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Michael also steals this idea:

LOVE EACH OTHER.

How would our use of antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, prescription pain medications, heroin, and methamphetamine be different if we truly loved people? How would our relationship to government change if we believed in relational justice? What would our business practices be if we lifted people up? How much would we pay the minimum wage worker? What would our diets and school menus look like if we believed everyone deserves love, health, and happiness?

I believe this kind of love means Relational Justice, acts of kindness that communicate a high value on human (and potentially, all) life.

  • How would relational justice improve our parenting?
  • How could relational justice reduce our fears of aging?
  • What would happen if we took better care of each other?

 Relational Justice = Love

Social justice sounds lofty and unattainable, but it begins with Relational Justice. Relational Justice means loving our neighbor. The Golden Rule. Practicing Love. Giving. Promoting People’s Happiness. Relational Justice takes an attitude like Jesus, like Nelson Mandela, like Michael Moore. Relational Justice means you feel it personally when your neighbor has nowhere to sleep tonight. You (I) can’t sleep if they can’t eat. We feel it when they suffer. We want their happiness as much as we want our own.

PS: Love, happiness, and world peace are all topics for EMDR therapy.

Contact Deborah

Leaving Home to Find My Higher (Grownup) Self

Growing Up Paisley from Flowers Reborn, Deborah Cox, 2016

Growing Up Paisley from Flowers Reborn, Deborah Cox, 2016

I Write to Grow Up

I struggle to differentiate, as we all do. Leaving home is a lifelong process, as described by Murray Bowen, the father of family systems theory. But writing my novel, Wife Material, about the process of leaving home, catapulted me forward. That’s why I so recommend life-writing as part of trauma recovery. If I can create story around the invisible problems of fundamentalist Christian culture, I understand myself better and pull myself further out of that mindset.

And it makes me wonder: why do fundamentalist Christians have such a hard time letting their children grow up and leave home? Take Christian home-schooling for example (I have numerous lovely friends who home-school their children, so please, if you’re one of them, I can imagine circumstances in which home-school makes sense). Take “Christian College” for example (and again, if your kid goes to Harding or Evangel or Liberty, read this with one eye closed). Some of this may be true of your family – but perhaps not. We are so complex.

But to me, home-schooling and Christian college really show the gravitational pull of the fundamentalist family . . . the frightened family. Well-intentioned parents in fundie traditions fear the process of leaving home. They dread letting their kids out into the world where differentiation happens. Because differentiation can be scary.

What if they encounter drugs? Sex? Bad attitudes?

        What if their faith gets diluted?

            What if they develop nasty habits or vulgar language?

What if they stop believing in God?

The Vital Mess of Growing Up and Leaving Home

Fear of differentiation creates the need for schools like Waltham Academy, where my protagonist, Elizabeth Campbell, grew up. At Christian schools, children are sheltered from outside influences, thus restricting their thoughts to a prescribed area that’s been deemed appropriate or familiar. Fear of differentiation creates the need for home-school. Fear of differentiation creates depression and anxiety.

Typically, when you go off to school for the first time, you step into a foreign environment. You make friends with different types of backgrounds, orientations, and lifestyles. You see contrasts with your own family values and you start to question the rules and rituals with which you’re being raised. This is normal, healthy. This is how we leave home. Birthing is painful . . . and so is launching: uncomfortable, necessary, bloody, messy, and real.

When I left Christian college for a liberal (and feminist) state university environment, I made friends with Muslims and atheists and Jews, gay men, lesbians, and transgendered individuals, and people from other spots on the globe. This triggered my realization that my parents did not know everything . . . (nor should they have) which liberated my mind and allowed me to keep growing up. Growing past them.

If I’d stayed loyal to the churched educational system in which I was raised, I’d be dead now (at least mentally). I’d have compressed myself into a small intellectual space and blocked my mind from reaching out for more new information. Root bound. Enclosed. Strangled.

Differentiation is Growing Up

Differentiation is Growing Up

Every parent is limited. I know this like never before, raising a 15-year-old whose vocabulary and imagination surge ahead of mine and leave me feeling like a dusty old relic with my relational theology. But limits are normal. We don’t know everything. Our kids will know more than us. They’re supposed to, at some point. We grow beyond our parents’ abilities to imagine . . . and that is the stuff of this beautiful world.

At its base, Wife Material describes getting free to grow up.

We all desperately need to pull and scrape and claw our way to freedom so that we can leave behind our parents’ ideologies and grow into our fullest, brightest, wisest selves.

Read Wife Material

Nonviolent Parenting: 10 Reasons to Avoid Corporal Punishment

Okay, I need to talk about something that really pisses me off.

“I got spanked and I turned out just fine.”

People who say this, in defense of old school parenting advice, usually prove my point, cluelessly. They hold a tight little view of the world. They stay unaware of their deeper emotions. They resent people who seem to have an easier life. They never address the humiliation or fear that was caused by their own punishment as children. So, they must defend the practices of their parents or risk feeling all the devastation they actually experienced so long ago.

We know more than ever before about how children develop and what they need. If you follow my blog, you probably have more mindful parenting methods than to hit or slap or shove. You probably already know how damaging it is to a child’s sense of self to be humiliated and made to feel pain by you.

At any rate, I hope you’ll keep this list handy to give to friends or family who may not yet understand the dynamics of child abuse or child corporal punishment (CP).

Good Reasons to Avoid CP

  1. Your child won’t learn to be afraid of you. (So, you won’t have to sense their dread when you enter a room or come home from work.) This protects the parent-child relationship.
  2. They won’t learn their body can or should be made to feel pain by someone who is also supposed to love them. (This pays off in their later selection of a mate who does not try to dominate them with physical bullying.)
  3. They can learn to solve problems in other ways besides aggression. (…..Such as, talking it through, mutual understanding, etc.)
  4. They can learn to trust you and be close to you without tension or hypervigilance. (This will come in handy someday when you are old and they need to care for you.)
  5. They will learn creative discipline from you – and pass this along to their children. (And you will watch the next generation evolve into more loving, more creative beings.)
  6. They are less likely to be depressed or anxious as adults.
  7. They will have greater cognitive freedom and flexibility.
  8. They won’t have to associate pain with love. (Have you ever wondered where sadomasochism comes from?)
  9. Their sexuality will be protected. (Remember, the buttocks are an erogenous zone. Remember, corporal punishment can be a form of sexual abuse, whether or not the child’s clothing is removed.)
  10. They will get to see you, their parent, struggling with your own frustration, demonstrating the sometimes difficult process of expressing it verbally, and arriving at more productive ways to set limits. They will get to see you as a real human person – accessible to them, imperfect, yet loving and aware of the impact you have on them.

Pretty good deal, huh? I think so too. It doesn’t work anyway.

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The Submissive Wife: How This Role Damages Boys (and Girls)

How do I keep my son from growing up to be a jerk? How do I help him become egalitarian? 

Great question: How do we raise boys to share power in relationships? The answer lies in your willingness to share power in your own relationships.

The “submissive wife” sounds like the title of a porn movie or a handbook from the 1950s. But it’s actually a one-down female role still prescribed in many families and doctrines. It says the woman in a heterosexual relationship should defer to her male partner in all or most areas of conflict. It says the woman should try not to fight about issues that upset her. It says the man is the head of the household and should have the final say-so.

This article is not a political treatise, but a collection of psychological observations I’ve made over my lifetime – as a child growing up in a conservative community full of submissive wives – and as a family psychologist. Based on what I’ve learned, we really can raise boys (and girls) to be egalitarian. We can teach them how to share power with their partners, which will help them develop more satisfying love relationships as adults.

Yes, the submissive wife still exists. She may tell you she’s a complete person and on equal footing with her mate, but she still blames herself if the marriage becomes tense or gridlocked. She blames her spouse if there are money problems. She stifles her anger. She develops other symptoms (like migraines or other chronic pain) and she spends too much on shoes and Xanax.

The son of the submissive wife has a challenge. He must try to get to know his mother, while she hides much of her true self from view.

At the level of family interaction, here’s what I notice.

Like girls, boys watch their parents interact. Boys follow the flow of dialogue, even about minor, everyday things. They watch their fathers to see . . .
1. if they can share power
2. if they can share emotion
3. if they can admit their mistakes
4. if they can express affection openly
5. if they possess purpose – and how this purpose drives their behavior

Boys (and girls, for slightly different reasons) watch their mothers to see . . .
1. if they can express emotion freely
2. if they can assert themselves
3. if they can express resistance and still be warm and approachable
4. if they can maintain the integrity of who they are in relation to their mates
5. if they have passions and personal agendas and clear wants and needs

I watch my son watching us, my husband and I, as we talk. I see when he looks worried and when he looks relieved. I see when his attention is focused and when he’s free to unfocus it. I listen to the stories of boys and men in my practice, too, and how they tell those stories. Particularly the ones about their parents, so key to their own current love relationships.

“She wouldn’t look him in the eye.”

“They never talked about love.”

“They only disagreed behind doors.”

“She seemed invisible.”

“I don’t know what was important to him.”

“He didn’t say much.”

Between the lines of these stories, I hear these grown-up boys craving some signs of the emotional life of their parents. They need to know who these people are – so that they can figure out who they are too.

Here are some tips for modeling egalitarian relationships in your family. These tips assume a non-violent relationship. So if there is any physical aggression of any kind happening between you and your partner, please seek immediate professional assistance to create safety – before you address the things on this list.

Tips for Modeling Egalitarian Relationships

(assuming a non-violent relationship)

1. Allow some of your conflict to be seen and heard. Don’t hide it all behind a closed bedroom door. Children need to see their parents resolve arguments . . . or at least attempt to listen to each other’s points of view.

2. Even if you divide household duties in gender-traditional ways, make the division of labor overt. Talk about who does what – and why. Don’t allow the unchallenged assumption of “women’s work” or “men’s work” to prevail in your family’s culture.

3. Regardless of your gender, if you’re the dominator in conversations, tone it down a bit. Practice doing more listening than talking. Allow your mate to get the last word. Model a quieter approach to arguments. If you bluster (that is, raise your voice and stomp around or become physically menacing), take deep breaths and focus on helping your partner feel comfortable enough to stay in the argument with you.

4.  If you’re the one who normally gets quiet in an argument, practice staying emotionally present during conflict. Don’t retreat to a corner. Stay there. Make notes about how you feel. Share them. Out loud.

5. This one goes without saying, but I’m saying it again anyway. Absolutely no violence whatsoever should be tolerated in your relationship: no verbal, physical, or sexual violence – and no destruction of property. If this has been an issue in the past, please seek help from a licensed professional. If you’re the recipient of aggression by your partner, the previous four tips don’t yet apply to you. Seek safety first, then you can recruit help to address the balance of power in your relationship.

6. Talk about power openly. During times of low stress, when you and your mate are feeling relatively satisfied, discuss how power is shared between you. Allow your kids to observe if you feel comfortable enough.

7. Talk about your interactions – in real time. It’s hard to overstate what a gift this will be for your kids. (Can you imagine yourself as a child, listening to your parents calmly discuss their power relationship or the heated exchange they just had?). Bringing covert emotional operations into the open air allows your children to avoid the trance-inducing effects of experiencing a power-imbalance but having no words to describe it.