Parenting Lesson #5093: Less is More and Letting Go

 

Prayers Into Space, by Chris Roberts Antieu, http://www.antieaugallery.com/shop/nature-night-sky-angels-collection/prayers-into-space/

Mindful Parenting of Teens = Letting Go

If you have a child over the age of ten, you may already know this. So good for you. My friends with much older kids told me this years ago and I didn’t want to hear it.

                     Parenting of adolescents sometimes means letting go, looking away, or stepping out for a beer with our friends. Sometimes less is more.

I see children over forty who are still unable to leave home, live their true sexual orientation, or change occupations. They feel stuck in their hometown or childhood role or vocation. They hate the thought of devastating their parents by being who they truly are. Adult children get depressed after decades of suppressing their desires.

I see adult children who drink too much as they try to numb the guilt they feel about disappointing their parents (or even wanting to).

I see parents who believe something is wrong because their 25-year-old doesn’t want to visit every week.

I see grown-ass parents who drive their 18-year-olds to rehearsal and wait outside in the car as if they must monitor their teen’s safety as they walk from the building. I relate, because I’d love to still be doing that.

But we can’t. We have to let go. Those young adults who still look like their baby pictures need LOTS of room to experiment with who they are.

. . . which is why Parenting Lesson #5093 matters so much. See if this list of ideas resonates, or if it makes you cringe. (I am cringing at the same time I’m learning.)

  1. Sometimes mindful parenting involves us being out of the room, out of earshot, across town, or at least in the backyard. Distance is our friend now.
  2. We give our kids more when we control them less. And we really can’t control them anyway. After about the age of 12, we could barely keep a stranglehold for a few years, but then they’d want nothing to do with us.
  3. Often, our teens need us to back off and shut up. Fewer words = better perspective.
  4. Although we have LOADS of good advice, earned through decades of living, and although we want to spare them our mistakes, our kids need us to do more meditating and less talking.
  5. Sometimes the best mindful parenting involves radical self-care: taking walks, getting out with friends, making art, sleeping well, doing yoga, getting our nails done . . . (This is NOT selfish. This is teaching by being.)

When we over-control our kids, we lose them emotionally (and sometimes physically). If we over-identify with them (note to self here), we disappear as the role models they need us to be and turn into heavy weights for them to carry.

Mindful parenting means taking care of ourselves and then meditating for our children’s safety, peace, and joy.

There’s good in all of it (even though it hurts like hell).

Contact Deborah

Leadership Monologues: Take Back the L Word

Take Back Leadership

By presta from Tufts University’s Cohen Auditorium. (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Leadership (said with a sneer)

I hate the word, “Leader.” It’s lost every shred of meaning it once held for me. Leadership once meant authority and concern for the welfare of everyone in its reach. Now it sounds like a fake word with fake facts to support its nothingness. A poser, posing as a real idea. Maybe I’ve seen one too many bad leaders come into power and spoil the essence of what it means to guide a group of people toward a shared goal.

When Leader falls into the realm of fakeness, every part of society suffers in ways that are hard to identify. People go hungry for what’s real and they get depressed and panicky and eat too much sugar. Then we get fat and we judge ourselves for losing control. Emotional health epidemics have everything to do with dysfunctional leadership, or A Failure of Nerve.

So, I want to take back the word. Remember the Vagina Monologues? Remember how those actors reclaimed the various words used to insult women’s genitals? Like, C – U – N – T. They spoke it and saturated it with specific, positive meaning. I need to do something similar here, for my self, my family, and my clients, with the word, “Leader.”

Because I have to be one. And so do you.

Because, if you parent, teach, counsel, advise, or instruct, you lead. And thank God you do. We starve for your good leadership. Everybody needs a healthy leader (even if they don’t know it and try to sabotage it).

But look for one and you realize how few good leaders there seem to be in the world. The good ones don’t grab the microphone and make themselves obvious. They live in libraries and work in battered women’s shelters. They labor behind the scenes.

We confuse and conflate leadership with a bunch of other things.

To target this confusion, I give you a short list. I hope that by separating Leader from these other things, we can see more clearly what Leader is and cultivate Leader in our selves.

ŠJů, Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Leadership. Does. Not. Equal:

  1.  making money or fiscal policy. But healthy leadership fosters creative growth, which, in time, helps more people generate income. Healthy leaders are patient for this.
  2. politics. Enough said.
  3. a quick fix. Leadership takes a long view of progress (see #1).
  4. controversy. Yet . . . good leaders take unpopular stands when necessary for the good of the whole body. These unpopular stands tend to bring out all our better natures by modeling wisdom in action.
  5. scaring the wits out of – or using people. It isn’t a tirade. Healthy leaders help us calm down and think rationally. Picture good parents here. A wise elder puts things into perspective so we can breathe more easily. “It’s going to be okay.”
  6. focusing on issues. It’s not driven by the anxiety or the problems in the group. Healthy leaders take care of themselves and keep the bigger picture in mind. They listen calmly to the issues of their people, but keep pointing to the transcendent goals of the community . . . what really matters in the long run (e.g., how we treat each other).
  7. neutrality. A healthy leader sees how the system works and calls out any dishonesty or bullying. Real leaders see and address dysfunctional behavior in a responsible way. They prohibit intentional and/or unnecessary violence.
  8. divisiveness. True leaders foster unity, because at some level, we are all one. They help us appreciate each other.
  9. self-aggrandizement. Healthy leaders exude humility in confidence. Yes, that’s a real thing. It says: I don’t know everything, but I can listen and learn.

In conclusion, we need to know the difference between: (A) health-promoting leadership and (B) health-compromising leadership. We need to distinguish between Leadership and the grab for power. We can learn this and do this. Like choosing broccoli over Cheetos. Like telling your kids, friends are more important than money. Like talking to your mate instead of shopping to fill the void. We can exercise our leadership muscles and take back the L-word.

Contact Deborah

Loathing, Lust, & Longing: Why We Obsess so Much

My son amazes me. He has his obsessions, but they’re about his music, his philosophizing. He’s so different from the adolescent me of thirty-five years ago. He’s calmer and freer to learn. He’s funny, and takes creative risks with language. He accepts people with all their weirdness. At his age, I worried a lot. I fretted about my social life so much that I smothered my vocabulary, my empathy, and my sense of humor in the process.

My boy pays little attention to having the right shoes or the right jeans. I take care of his wardrobe before he asks (because at 15, I wished my mom would have done this). When he disses the shirts I bring home, I exchange them. He waves off shopping. He’s comfortable and un-perturbed about how he looks.

He knows . . . I’ve got his back.

And where I was boy-crazy and so afraid of being an ugly old maid, my young man seems comfortable to let it happen (or not), let others worry about romance, and just enjoy life where he is now. He likes it when girls pay attention to him, but he shrugs it off when they don’t. He laughs at his faux pas, his breakouts, his bouts of ennui. Ginormous difference. 

So, in my way, I craft a theory to explain it . . .

My son’s emotional needs are noticed, anticipated, and met (maybe to a fault) . . . especially the ones that I did not have met. Back in the 70s and 80s, my parents resented each other to the core. I felt their disconnection and anger every day and absorbed it into my own nervous system – as if I was in a lonely, rejecting marriage myself. I learned that true love was rare. But in 2016, my son’s parents love each other, imperfectly but deeply. We’re nice to each other. He can see, every day, there’s plenty of love in the world for everyone. No need to worry.

Think about the implications here. When we obsess over religion, rules, sex, drinking, eating, or being sinless, we NEED something that feels missing. Our addictions, our compulsions, our fears, our hates . . . tell us what we need.

Perhaps you need: Rest, Friendship, Sweetness, Comfort, Color, Protection, Change, Nurturing, Challenge, Order, Forgiveness . . .

image

When we obsess, hate, and fear, we show our gaping needs. . . which formed a long time ago.

For instance:

I must achieve more, or I’ll be a loser. = I have to make something of myself because my father did not.

I must find love or I will have failed. = I haven’t been loved enough (or my mother/father hasn’t been loved enough).

I need a better body – mine will never be good enough. = I have little worth beyond my body (or I watched my mother deal with being overweight).

I don’t have enough money – I can’t afford _____. = There’s not enough love (or food) to go around. So I could die or be cast out.

I must always be prepared for an attack. = Nobody has my back.

I must eradicate sin and evil. = I must keep proving my goodness, because I’m really so very bad.

If you see your obsession in here somewhere, trace its urgency back as far as it will go. Notice the fear there. When do you first remember having that fear?

Now, close your eyes and picture life without the obsession or the fear. How do you feel? Who can you love more easily?

Take three long, slow breaths and hold this idea: There’s enough for everyone, always.

Contact Deborah Read Wife Material

 

 

Hands are Not for Hitting: Let’s End Corporal Punishment

Hands Are Not for Hitting

A Tree of Healing Hands

Hands are Not for Hitting (and not for Shoving, Slapping, Swatting, Pinching, Jerking, or “Spanking”).

We read this book to my son when he was three. Hands help and love and wave goodbye. Hands paint and cook and communicate. But some adults still use their hands for corporal punishment of children. Maybe you know someone who still hits. Please share this post with them. Corporal punishment destroys natural impulses that are healthy and creative – it breaks relationship and leads to a host of emotional problems.

I work mostly with adults. At least 80 percent of my clients were hit as children by someone who was supposed to love them. Most do NOT want to talk about it. They come to me for other reasons, such as anxiety or difficulty concentrating. But their adult symptoms are usually related to their experience of physical punishment as children.

 

Being hit as a child is so horrifying, so degrading, so demoralizing, we resist even allowing ourselves to remember it happened……much less connect it to our current problems. So let’s analyze the practice a bit, so we can see how it affects us long-term.

Kids get hit for:

*going against their parents’ instructions

*forgetting to do something

*making too much noise

*making too much mess

*having open conflicts

*saying things that upset their parents

*adding stress to the parents’ experience (e.g., whining, complaining).

These infractions come mostly from impulse. And children are creatures of impulse. Kids need those impulses to learn and define themselves in the wide world. We rely on our parents to calmly teach us how to use our impulses in an organized, regulated way. But being hit teaches us something else:

                                                     ……….if we express ourselves honestly, if we have needs or desires, if we’re not always on the alert for our imperfections, we could get whacked.

Exercise: Make a list of offenses for which you were hit as a child. How has this list affected your adult life?

My list created an inner censor that stops me from speaking up when I should. It taught me: I’m not safe to speak or move or act. My novel, Wife Material, deals with religious abuse and child maltreatment and the repression of all sorts of natural impulses and voice……things that would be good to have…….natural elements destroyed by hitting.

I’m DONE being inhibited by my list of punishable offenses. I’m ready to bust out of that list. I’m ready to paint really outrageous things and write insurgent poetry and use words like bastard. I’m ready to go up to strangers in the mall and say, Please! Hands are not for hitting! You with me?

Please send this to everyone you know.

Contact me if you’d like to learn more about recovery from childhood trauma, including being hit – or if you’d like to make amends with your own child and start making better use of your hands.

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.