Thursday, September 30, 2010

More live and let live

This is such an important topic, this where-do-we-draw-the-line-with-live-and-let-live! I'm appreciating all the comments from those who weighed in on the discussion. Some good points were made, and some questions were asked that merit thought.

You know, some of us are talkers. Some are more quiet. Some are straight shooters, and others are private about what they believe. I really think this comes into play here. Rachel, for instance, indicated that she used to offer her opinions regarding everything, until she learned that this isn't always the best approach. But she still will speak up quite clearly and easily if someone is behaving in a way that is directly inethical, in her opinion. Whereas myself, as an introvert, am more challenged by confrontation and thus err on the side of live and let live rather more often than perhaps I should. But I also don't like to waste words, so if I'm going to speak up, I want it to be effective. Well, I waste written words all the time, on here =), but I mean verbally.

I also think it's a matter of worldview. In my opinion, not very many of your average parental behaviors are *damaging* to children. I have this very deep belief in childrens' ability to grow in a variety of circumstances, which comes in part from watching Matthew persistently grow and thrive despite numerous changes in caregivers and geographical homes, and living with me in my least effective coping times as a parent. I also believe children are born with innate strengths that help them heal and grow and function as future adults. So perhaps a worldview that viewed children as more fragile or susceptable to environmental influences would believe that many of your average parental behaviors ARE damaging to children. Which would influence their desire to speak up as opposed to let live, because the stakes are so high. I generally tend to think of children as NON tabula rasas, but individuals whose growth is affected by their environment. I don't know if my distinction between tabula rasa and being 'affected' by an environment is clear, but I just mean it as a matter of degree. I mean, all kinds of really amazing people and world leaders and artists and contributers to society grew up with less than ideal circumstances and are more empathetic and caring and positive and strong people because of it. I know there were some aspects of my childhood that affect me even today, but I would not generally describe them in damaged terms. You know? I have some vestiges of challenges, but I don't know if those are damage.

Language use is so powerful.

I read an article a few years ago on economic theory, and it presented the counter culteral idea that we live in a world of plenty. Often we approach economic theory or resource use as though there is not enough of each to supply the billions of people who live on earth, but this article countered that there is, in fact, enough on earth to support ALL of us, and enough to feed ALL of us, and enough to supply ALL of our energy needs...but that it is not effectively or efficiently distributed. I'm not doing justice to this economic theory at all, I'm sure (maybe I should google it!), but it really appealed to me.

Similarly, I am attracted to ecological theories that focus on what we can DO, and how we are succeeding in caring for the earth, and how we can strengthen and build on those successes and actions to do better in the future.

Nutritionally, I like reading about what foods I can eat and feed my family to make us healthier, rather than focusing on the industry's failures and rising rates of XYZ [insert health problem here].

I find positive focus more motivating. So I think I try and shy away from the term *damage* when it comes to child rearing practices for similar reasons. I am heavily weighted down by all the many impossibly imperative and difficult choices I have with regards to my children, and struggle often with guilt. So any opportunity I have to try and look at parenting in a positive light and to trust that my kids will grow up healthy and whole, I cling to pretty tenaciously. Maybe I'm wrong. Or maybe it's just my style. But I just get tired of taking absolute responsibility for all the possible future psychological variations of stability that my kids might turn out to be! I really believe that if I can step back from the debilitizing guilt and agonizing over choices, that I can be a better parent overall because I'll stop second guessing myself. I'll have more energy to put into what I have experienced in my own life to be the basics of psychological stability, and personal joy: secure relationships. So, though I may send my kids to public school, and someone else may sleep train with cry-it-out, and someone else may bottle feed, and someone else may the end, a secure attachment in one's primary relationships are what makes the difference.

This may not be a sound example, but when I was a kid, my mom spanked me and my dad didn't. My mom believed in it, and my dad did NOT. Many adults I know express that the experience of being spanked was extremely negative for them, and I acknowledge that, and this isn't to debate the merits of spanking vs. non spanking. BUT I have always thought, even as a small child, that I would rather have had my father be emotionally attuned to me and spank me, than off in his own world and not spank me. It was far more hurtful to feel distant from my dad, than it ever was to be spanked (my dad's a great guy. Don't get me wrong!). It was difinitively not damaging to me to be spanked, and I was a pretty sensitive kid. I also believe in complete healing. Maybe the spanking was damaging to me, but each time, the relationship and attachment I had with my mom healed it completely, right away. In the same way, I believe that although Matthew had major changes in his early life, stability and security, and most of all, GOD can completely heal those for him. And has. He may become retraumatized in the future when he grows old enough to more fully understand what happened to him, but then I believe complete healing is possible for him again. It is possible to heal from a traumatic event, and to move on. My mother and I were well attuned, and thus her discipline choices seemed like minor characteristics. Like the difference between Canadian Tire brand spark plugs, and Honda brand. As long as you've got the spark plugs in your car, the difference is pretty minor. Fine tuning.

We SHOULD fine tune! It's what makes us stronger and healthier, and helps us to contribute positively to the next generation! Research which spark plugs have which characteristics, and choose based on what works for YOUR car! But buy the spark plugs.

To me, the spark plugs of parenting are a strong, emotionally attuned attachment.

So. If this is the case, and I see other parents who are not fostering emotionally attuned attachment with their children, what do I do?
ARGH! I don't know. Throw my hands in the air. Or something! Be a good example???

I remember once when Ayden and Matthew were small I was at a friend's house with a bunch of moms and I was totally overwhelmed with my toddlers. I was talking about how hard it was, and how bewildered I felt, and how I hated being cranky mom who was always saying "DON'T" but didn't know what to do, and my friend Jenna spoke up. She gave me some tips, including: "See how Ayden just shared with ____? Catch him doing something positive and praise him for it." I was so grateful that she spoke up! I actually put into action the few tips she gave me, and it pointed me back in the direction of positive, attachment parenting when I was really funked and overwhelmed. It made a huge difference in how I felt. So speaking up is really good, but it has to be with a gentle attitude, and the right context. I was open to feedback, because (a) I was so bewildered, and (b) I was talking openly about how frustrated I was. And because she was so non judgmental about it. It helped that I knew her well and really liked her kids and her parenting style. So she demonstrated a good example, and was willing to offer some advice when the time was right. Advice in small doses, too.

And, I think, an open mind will carry us very far. The more we can foster community, the more we will have the opportunity to demonstrate the applications of our beliefs in healthy ways, and the more we can support each other. The more we will also have the opportunity to learn about how others do it differently, but healthily, also. There are many variations of healthy and loving. For absolute sure.


Caryn Ouwehand said...

"So, though I may send my kids to public school, and someone else may sleep train with cry-it-out, and someone else may bottle feed, and someone else may the end, a secure attachment in one's primary relationships are what makes the difference."

...(Insert sound of Melissa hitting the nail on the head here.)

You kick bum Mel, you word things in such a way that I sit at my computer and go, 'YEAH! TOTALLY! EXACTLY!"

Asheya said...

Thanks for all these thoughts. You really help me think! I'm going to go away and ponder...

tamie said...

Mel, what would you say to a woman who was having a scheduled C-Section (scheduled for her convenience, not for a health-related reason) who argued that it wouldn't affect her baby's health or her relationship with that baby? I mean, obviously in the moment you might smile and not say much, but I guess my question is--would you feel comfortable applying your live-and-let-live philosophy to that situation?

I'm pushing you on this not because I think you're crazy but rather because I think it's an important and relevant issue and I respect the way that you live and I really struggle with this particular issue. Just the other day I had a conversation about parenting and I tried to put in a word for AP, but I feel like I came across as judgmental and dismissing (fortunately, the person I was talking to wasn't a parent--in which case I would've been more careful), I think probably mostly because I feel so frustrated and alone so much of the time, when it comes to how I see kids vs. how so many people around me understand kids.