Sept 23 &
That is so very right. Little babies are born to
be loved and meant to continue being loved until they
die of old age in their beds, sleeping warmly and
dreaming of a place of miracles and joy. Babies
are designed to draw us in with their big eyes and
rosebud lips, to pull us into full on protective mode
and to suddenly be willing to give our lives for someone
we didn't even know a year before. It is indeed
incredible how much parenthood changes a person.
Everything is suddenly so much more intense and
critical. Every decision is riddled with
importance and for many, many years, every choice we
make has to consider another person's needs. It's
not a job, it's an adventure.
Parenting six children has been quite an adventure for
me. It started in 1978 when I was sixteen and I
did NOT have a clue what I was getting into. As it
turned out, it was the greatest things that ever
happened to me. I had babies in 1980, 1982, 1992,
1997 and 1999. My kids are some of the greatest
people I've ever met and each one has been a joy to have
in my life. The are extremely individual from one
another, totally different personalities. As you
can see from the dates, there is a ten year gap between
my two generations of children. Interestingly
enough. my first and my fourth children, my second and
fifth children and my third and sixth children are the
most alike. It's as though they copied the pattern
set before them.
have five sons and one daughter (#4). I can say
with authority that boys are considerably easier to
raise that girls. What's interesting is that my
daughter was a tremendously challenging younger child.
As a baby, she was a screamer, a complainer, a tantrum
thrower. She's stubborn to a fault and had me
pulling my hair out on more than one occasion. For
a good long while, my oldest son, Joe was her caregiver
and I swear, I'm shocked she didn't send him into a
mental institution. She was one tough cookie.
I mentioned this was interesting, didn't I?
Somewhere around the age of ten, Delena started to
evolve into this amazing, loving, fun, funny and
cooperative kid. That's almost two years that
she's been golden. We were so worried about
how she'd be as a teen that it somewhat distracted us
from the presence. It just goes to show that we
need to focus on where we are now, because where we're
going could be anywhere at all.
don't claim to be any kind of parenting expert by a
longshot, but I do claim to have a good bit of
experience. If we learn best by screwing up, I
should definitely have expert status. I've had
over 26 years to screw up a good bit and I took good
advantage of it. Still, I'm taken aback by some of
the letters I get and some of the case studies I see on
TV. As much as love, deep and abiding love,
parenting is about common sense and it sometimes seems
that common sense is a lost art. All of us who
were parented by parents of the 50's and 60's likely set
out to do things differently from how we were raised.
When the restraint of that time met with the free love,
freestyle world of the 70's, then collided head long
with the ME 80's and the techno 90's, we may well have
swung a little too far the other direction. It's
quite possible that we became more interested in being a
pal to our kids than in raising them responsibly.
We may well have gotten so averse to upsetting them in
anyway that we forgot to teach them the qualities of
empathy, of impulse control, of sharing and of
self-discipline. To this end, I submit some of the
prime choices that were illustrated last night in Dr
Phil's prime time special, "Family First."
The ones that really stymie me are the parents who have
fallen into the deep end of the pool and lost total
perspective of who is the parent and who is the child.
Dr Phil spoke with a woman who was completely helpless
in the face of her very young children who would not
wear anything but pajamas. She spoke of them
wearing pajamas when they went out in public to stores,
to birthday parties and such. She was in complete
mental gridlock as to how to handle this difficult
dilemma. Although Phil and I frequently part ways
on the subject of parenting, this time and for most of
the night, he was absolutely dead on. Who's the
boss here? What she's failing to see is twofold
(other than the fact that she might well be an idiot):
Children, like the adults they will grow up to be, will
take whatever you will let them take. It is in
their nature to be self-gratifying and they will pursue
this to the extreme to which they are allowed. The
other obvious fact that she and other parents much
embrace is that you are going to make your children
sad. You are going to make them cry. You
are going to break their hearts and you are going to
crush their tender little spirits. We try not to
do it any more than necessary, but sometimes, they have
to hit the wall and know that the wall is immovable.
Ironically, kids need walls, even though they will beat
their tiny fists against them and scream to high heaven.
Phil told her to simply inform the child that if they
don't change into appropriate clothes, the jammies go
into the trash. "But she'll get them out!"
"Then put them where she can't get them." Again,
when did people/parents become so helpless? "But
she'll cry!" Well, yeah, then she'll get tired and
then she'll get over it. I would have been a
little more direct if this child was manipulating me in
this fashion. "I know you love your jammies and
you want to see them again tonight, don't you? If
they aren't in a puddle at your feet in tennnn seconds I
am going to set them on fire. Ten...nine..."
Another child who was TWO watched 9+ hours of TV a day
and "refused" to not watch TV. The mom admitted
that she did it to keep him out from under foot.
So what kind of masochist takes this story to Dr Phil?
The one who wants to hear him tell her that she should
take every TV out of the house (yeah, that'll happen.)
Then there's the four year old who has more toys than
God and gets pissed when the UPS guy drives past the
house without stopping. The mom just can't tell
the little girl no and actually rearranges the budget to
buy her more toys. You should have seen her face
when Phil told her to get rid of (pack away, donate,
whatever) 90% of what the little girl owned and let her
get used to having less (another one where you could
tell that Mom wasn't going to even come close to doing
what he suggested). I don't even think these moms
want anything to change. I'm not sure what they
are hoping to achieve with the Phil experience, but they
glaze over when he gives great advice.
next question is why oh why do these people giggle and
tee hee whenever Dr Phil calls them on their behavior as
parents? "Do you laugh when he goes potty on the
floor? Do you put him in time out and then not
enforce it." Yes. Tee hee hee.
It's really not funny. At all.
The most interesting case was the absolutely crazy kid
whose family Phil interviewed. The kid tortured
his sister, killed the family pets, smeared his own
feces on the wall, was violent with his parents and had
uncontrollable screaming fits. Phil told the
parents, "There are fourteen characteristics of a serial
killer. Would it surprise you to know that your
son has seventeen and Jeffrey Dalmer had seven?"
Actually, the kid only had nine, but wow, what a
handful. At one point, Phil told the father he was
going to have to "take this child back to the nuts and
bolts." Eric, Delena and I all three thought he
was going to say, "take this child back to the
nuthouse." Sherry and I wondered today if the kid
would get his ass kicked in school (or be feared and
worshiped) after the Dr Phil special, having been
"labeled" as a potential serial killer. I could
picture his teachers watching the special saying, "Fuuuuuuuuuuuck!!"
think Phil summed it up particularly well with one of
the moms. It was either the mom who spoiled her
kid with gifts or the one who let her kids wear jammies
24/7 or Mike Teevee's mom. He said, "Who told you
this was going to be easy?" Parenting isn't easy
by anyone's standards, but I can tell you that it's
"Worth it," I've found, tends to fluctuate from day to
day when you're in the throngs of difficult parenting.
I've definitely been there. As I said, Delena was
a very tough cookie for the first ten years or so.
Josh (#3) was a handful all the way through. He
was a very, very sweet baby who didn't even cry until he
was eleven days old and he had to have a state mandated
PKU test. Around the age of 3-4, he got very busy
and precocious and ended up being my challenge child.
From the time he was about 9-10 on, that kid was always
in trouble. He tormented David (two years older
than he was) like mad and was defiant as all hell.
It seemed like it was forever a struggle just to get him
to do the simplest things like go to school, brush his
teeth or clean his room. Every moment with Josh
was high drama and amped up to the highest degree.
I know I'd deal better with it now than I did then, but
my common sense was out the door back then. Had I
known then what I know now, it's likely Josh's life
would have gone a lot differently, but then, so would
the lives of my other two sons. Josh is the one
who skipped school on a regular basis, fell into the
drugs and alcohol and familiarized me with the Juvenile
Court system. Although he is still strongly given
to the dramatic (even overly dramatic), he's doing much
better now, has a little boy and two beautiful
stepdaughters. At 22, he's quite the family man
and does his best to do what's right and is working to
get his life together. It's so difficult for young
people in today's world, especially when children are
involved. Rent is outrageous, groceries are
through the roof and car payments are impossible to
meet. In short, it's an incredible accomplishment
for young, unskilled people to meet even the most basic
of human needs. Before he was getting by, however,
he really put me through the ringer.
Nathan, as many of you know, was a pistol from the word
go. His daddy is an engineer and he got that in
spades. His life is built around cause and effect
and he won't rest until he's found out what causes the
sound inside of a toy or seen what the dog will do if
you lock him in a closet. Will the turtles eat
this? I want to write. No paper! I can see
better if I write on the walls! He is impassioned
with life and lives every moment of it to the fullest.
His brother, Dylan, is two years older and is fairly
quiet, reserved, sweet and quirky. They are
extremely opposite in personalities and are the very
best of friends. They share a room, almost never,
ever fight and love each other fiercely. Dylan has had
to take a back seat to attention needed to keep Nathan
in line and he has done so with good spirit. He's
a very low maintenance kid and I make sure he gets a
good amount of my time. That's one of the reasons
I was comfortable home-schooling him. Between
Nathan, Josh and Delena, there's not much about the
normal life of kids that I haven't experienced.
I know from which I speak when I say that
motherhood/parenthood can be a very thankless job.
I think one of the most major mistakes parents,
particularly moms, make is in thinking that they are
going to be rewarded in some way for being a good
parent. We expect that children (and in some
cases, husbands) are going to "do" for us or think of us
in the same way that we take care of them. We
think that they are able to intuit what we need or see
us up there on the cross, trying desperately to get that
last nail hammered in. We think that they will
care that we are inconvenience on their behalf or that
we are giving until we have nothing else to give.
How often do we become angry and resentful because
people are taking advantage of what we are giving?
Usually with nothing more than a "Thanks, Mom" and
you're lucky to get that. I talked to a
psychologist friend of mine about this very thing and he
quickly informed me that people, in their younger forms,
are not set up to think or react in an empathetic manner
until they are (get ready) well into their twenties.
They are in survival mode to the point that projecting
outward to externalize into what another person might be
thinking, feeling or needing is nearly impossible.
They are immersed in stark awareness of their own needs
and wants to the extreme. We expect that if we
make allowances for them, trimming back the budget to
get something they particularly want or rearranging our
schedule to accommodate some activity they need our help
to pursue that they will go all dewy eyed, hold our
hands in theirs and say, "Mom. Thank you.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you." What
really happens is that you think about how you were
going to take a long bubble bath, dress, drop your
daughter at the movies to meet their friends, then go
spend the evening having dinner with a friend, swing by,
pick them up and drive home where you'll get to bed on
time and sleep blissfully. Instead, she needs you
to leave an hour early to pick up Missy, Chrissy and
Pissy at their houses which are all at opposing sides of
town (you're the other point of the square and the movie
theater is in the middle = no bubble bath). When
you get to the theater, she realizes, OMG!!!!! She
left her allowance that she's using to pay for the
ticket and popcorn in the pocket of her OTHER hoodie!!!!
She HAS to see this movie, she just HAS to and she'd
saved up for weeks to have lots of money for the arcade
before and now she's got nothing, NOTHING!!!! OMG!!!
Eeeeeeee! You pull your last $20 out of your
wallet and hand it to her, your fingers gripping it a
little tighter as she snatches it from your fingers and
disappears inside, bouncing up and down with Missy,
Chrissy and Pissy like little whack-a-moles. As
you're driving away, your cell phone rings and it's HER
cell phone. "MOM OMG I JUST FOUND OUT THAT CISSY,
WHO WE HAVEN'T SEEN IN FOREVER CAN COME TO THE MOVIES
TOO BUT I NEED FOR YOU TO GO GET HER BECAUSE YOU
REMEMBER CISSY WHO WENT AWAY TO VISIT HER SISTER IN
MINNESOTA AFTER HER MOM WAS SENT TO REHAB AND SHE'S BEEN
GONE EVER SINCE AND SHE'S ONLY IN TOWN FOR THIS ONE
NIGHT AND IT'S OUR ONLY CHANCE TO SEE HER AND YOU JUST
HAVE TO GO GET HER, YOU JUST HAVE TO!!"
*sigh* Cissy and her amphetamine addicted
alcoholic mother will be the death of you, or at least
of your evening. But it's a rare event that Cissy
is in town. You call your friend and tell her
you'll meet an hour later, then drive back across town,
pick up Cissy and drop her at the movies. As
you're leaving from dropping off Cissy, your cell phone
rings and you gingerly look at it. *whew*
It's your friend and not another trip across town to
pick up Lissy or Swishy or some other friend. Your
friend tells you that her daughter, Sassy, broke up with
her boyfriend on the phone a few minutes before and is
hysterical, so your friend thinks she should stick
around because Sassy is freaking out. You drive on
to the restaurant to have a nice dinner alone, only to
find that it's closed for renovations. Not to be
outdone, you pull into the McDonald's down the road and
go inside to order where a 20-year-old takes your order
on a register with pictures of the food on the buttons
and has trouble counting back your change to you.
The burger you ordered with no onions has double onions,
the fries are cold and you have real coke instead of
diet code. You sit down, eat your food, drive back
to the theater and sit in the lobby for an hour until
the movie is over, drive the bubbly "issy" crew home to
their respective homes, then drag yourself into your own
driveway. Weary, you crawl into bed and remember
that you wanted to invite your friend out for dinner the
next night and reach for the phone, only to find that
your daughter is on three-way with two of the "issies,"
talking animatedly and not looking as though they are
going to be finished any time soon. You hang up
the phone, realizing your cell is downstairs, alllll the
way downstairs, in your purse. As you turn over,
your husband says, "Oh, I'm going to go play paintball
with Steve tomorrow, so I'll be late." Which
solves the problem of whether or not you get the phone.
You take a zoloft and go to sleep.
Sound at all familiar? I can't count the number of
times I've very quickly trashed plans I made for myself
in favor of what a family member needed or wanted.
If I'm making chicken, I give the largest breast to my
husband. If there is one piece of pie left, I ask
if anyone wants it before I eat it. If I want to
eat Italian food and my husband wants Chinese, I'm going
to be eating Chinese that night. At least that's
how it used to be until I realized how resentful I was
getting over always getting the shitty end of the stick.
I was the one who would sacrifice if sacrificing needed
to happen. I always presumed that they wanted what
they wanted much more passionately than I wanted what I
wanted and would give in to make things easier.
But it didn't, really, because I was teaching them and
teaching myself that the things I wanted didn't matter
and shouldn't be treated as anything important!
If *I* do not honor my own plans, my own wants, my own
nurturing, how can I expect them to do so? Why
should they assign value to the things that I'm
demonstrating to them are unimportant? If they get
what they want, they aren't going to care if I sigh
heavily, use passive aggressive guilt maneuvers and
velcro the longsuffering back of my hand to my tortured
and much maligned forehead. The end result is that
it's a small price to pay to get to do what they want to
can't expect that husbands or children will come to us
and say, "Is this an inconvenience? If it's too
much trouble, I can make other arrangements."
Rather, we can't expect that until we have TRAINED them
to know that we are also important and when we extend
ourselves to them and go out of our way to accommodate
them that it's a gift given of love. We have to
value ourselves first and let them see that our time and
our plans are important as well.
Something I noticed when I started implementing this
strategy (if you can call doing what they're already
doing for themselves as "strategy") is that about half
of the time, no one much cared. If I ate the last
piece of pie without saying anything or took the large
piece of chicken, they didn't care. It was
monumental for me, but they didn't even notice. If
I told my husband, "No, tomorrow night isn't good for
me. Remember, I told you I was getting a pedicure
then. I have an appointment," he would say, "Oh.
No problem. I completely forgot. I'll move
it out to Thursday."
how can we changed what happened to our poor heroine and
her horrible night?
Remember the original plan: bubble bath, dress,
take daughter to the movies, dinner with a friend, pick
up daughter and go home.
You can see from all that happened that the mom really
does care about the daughter and Cissy and their
happiness, but she shouldn't have to sacrifice her whole
night. This is where you pick your battles.
First question: Where are the issy's parents?
Call the two who live on the other side of town and find
out which one can meet you at the theater to pick up and
drop off. That way, you're only doing half of the
driving and can still wiggle into that bathtub.
Next question is the money... make CERTAIN you get the
money BACK from the daughter when you get home, teaching
her that your money is as valuable as hers. Cissy?
Sure, you can drive over and get Cissy since this is a
"once in forever" situation, but since you are giving up
some of your time and plans to help your daughter do
something SHE wants to do, that favor should be
returned. How can she free up time for you later
in the week? Can she make dinner and do the dishes
one evening while you relax? Perhaps she can wash
and fold the laundry and put it away while you go visit
a friend. Let her know very calmly that you have
abruptly changed your plans, which are important to you
just like hers are to her, to help her and that you'd
like to have that time given back to you. Tell her
when and tell her what. Another alternative is to
call your husband and ask him to haul Cissy's ass to the
theater. (OH, but we don't want to interrupt HIS
night, do we?)
Dinner? You paid for it, you fix it. I have
been so surprised at the number of women I've met who
wouldn't say shit if their mouth was full of it. I
do not HESITATE to send food back, whether I am at a
fast food joint or a fancy restaurant. I am paying
for food. I asked for it to be prepared a certain
way and that's how I want it to be. The chef and
the waitress (and I say this as an ex-waitress of many
years) are doing their job. If my steak is
cooked through and I ordered it rare, it's going back.
If my eggs are runny, they're going back. I'm not
going to sit there and eat food I don't enjoy because
someone dropped the ball. If I DO get the food I
ordered, but it doesn't taste good (too greasy, tastes
off or isn't as described), I send it back. If I'm
paying money for food, I want it to taste good and I
want to enjoy it. I'll say something like, "You
know, this doesn't taste like I expected and I'm really
not enjoying eating it." Invariably, the waitress
will do one of two things. Either I will be
offered another entree and the cost of the icky food
will be deducted from my bill or a manager will be sent
over. If the manager is called (this is supposed
to intimidate the patron on one level and on another
level, in some restaurants, only managers can make these
decisions), I repeat my info and they will usually do
the same thing ("Can I get you something else?")
I've never had it turn into a big deal at all and I end
up spending my money on something that I really do
enjoy. If I don't want another entree (honestly,
sometimes if it's overly greasy or just tastes nasty, I
may have lost my appetite), the cost of the dish is
taken off my bill. Of course, I mentioned that
common sense thing and it comes into play here.
You shouldn't try to send back food after you've eaten
half the plate. I'd say up to a quarter or a third
is a generous portion to figure out that you just aren't
digging the food.
How does this fit into parenting? Because so much
of parenting is about what Phil calls "socializing" your
child, meaning teaching them about this world and our
society and how to integrate themselves into both in a
positive way. Part of that means being able to
accept that you don't always get what you want when you
want it and that the world will not stop and wrap around
your every heart's desire. Your children can't
know that you are going to stand up for yourself and
what you need and want unless YOU know that. It's
hard the first few times because you feel like you are
"putting people out" and being a fusser. You
aren't. You're taking control of the things that
you are and are not willing to accept in life and I can
PROMISE you that when you narrow those down and become
less accepting of some of the things that make you feel
resentful, your life feels a lot cleaner and more on
target. Sometimes, a kid needs
to hear "no" and not "no" with a lengthy discussion of
how and why, but sometimes just "No, that's not
something that can happen right now." Although I
am a MAJOR communicator with my children, I learned a
while back not to explain away everything. I don't
feel we should wield power trips over our kids, hitting
them in the head with "BECAUSE I SAID SO" and lording
our superiority as adults over them. Kids
have very little control in their lives overall and
while they are very excited to take that control when
it's handed to them, we won't have to rub their faces in
it maliciously. Still, sometimes, they have to hit
a firm wall. I do believe that we often work too
hard to make our kid's every wish come true. We
get the feeling that if it is within our power at all to
accommodate their wants, we should. Sometimes,
their disappointment turns into a tirade and temper
tantrum and sometimes it's met with a shrug and asking
what's for dinner. If we cave after we've said no,
we've taught them that we can be manipulated if they can
just shout us down or stay in the game longer than we
can. One of the first principles I taught Delena
was "No means NO." It doesn't mean, "Maybe."
It doesn't mean, "OK, let's barter this out." It
doesn't mean, "See if you can talk me into it." I
also don't throw "no" around lightly. If one of my
kids asks for something material or for me to do
something for them, I do seriously consider the degree
to which it would put me out to accommodate them.
If I can without feeling oppressed, then I do. If it's a
close call, but still on the side of feeling like I can
do it, I'll ask them to help me in some way in return (I
don't want them to think we follow strict "Rules of
Acquisition" for every little thing I do for them, so I
only ask for something in return if I'm going to
inconvenience myself in some way. It's a fine line
between getting them to understand that they need to
also think of others and the value of their time and
inconvenience versus creating a mindset of "what's in it
for me" whenever they do something for someone).
If it's going to really throw a monkey wrench in my
plans to do what they need, about 8 times out of 10,
I'll say no. You know what? They've lived
through it every time so far.
Above all, like I was mentioning in a previous column,
do not give anything you cannot give with love. If
you are giving of yourself to your family and resenting
them for it, YOU have contaminated the relationship, not
them. It's your responsibility to know your limits
and calmly, lovingly but firmly define and protect them.
You don't have to scream, shout, hit or bring drama into
it. Smile. Tell them you love them, but let
them know that you are absolute on this and that it's
not negotiable. "I'm sorry. I'm just not in
a place to do that for you." If they try to
convince you of how you ARE actually in a place to do
it, just keep repeating, "I'm sorry, that just isn't
going to work for me." There are some pretty
powerful words you should learn if you frequently find
yourself over-giving. In addition to a simple,
"No," two of the most effective words you can use are
"regardless" and "nevertheless." You can even
acknowledge their predicament. "I can tell this
upsets you and I'm sorry you are sad; nevertheless, it's
the way it is." "I've heard what you have told me
and I can see that it means a lot to you, nevertheless,
I'm going to have to say no." Listen to them, look
attentive, nod, say, "mmm hmm," now and then, then say,
"OK, I hear where you're coming from. Regardless,
it's just not going to be something I can do."
Don't act as though you simply don't care about their
plight, but that it's just not doable. You might
offer a compromise or alternative if you want. "I
can't take you to the mall tonight because I already
have plans (even if those plans are taking a bubble bath
and giving yourself a pedicure), but I am going by there
on Tuesday to go to the bank and I'll be happy to take
you then." "I'm not comfortable with you seeing an
NC-17 movie, but I'll be happy to take you to an R rated
one." "I can't really get you that DVD right now,
but if you'd like to do some extra chores around the
house to earn additional allowance, we can buy it on
not always being available to fix every ailment in their
lives or acting as an energy and transportation ATM, it
also helps our kids learn to problem solve and come up
with alternative arrangements. Often, they get too
fixated on one solution (usually involving output of
some kind from YOU), that they don't open their eyes to
other options until the old reliable solution is
Something else that never fails to shock me are the kids I've seen on Dr Phil and in real
life who scream at their parents, hit them, call
them names, spit on them and slam doors in their faces.
Let me tell you, friend. When that happens, the
whole world needs to cave in on that kid. I am
not an advocate of spanking and, in fact, have not
spanked my last three children. That doesn't mean
that they are undisciplined and it doesn't mean the
world hasn't caved in on them a time or two.
Hitting doesn't have to happen to get the point across.
It's all in the energy projection.
Another point that I was really screwing up on was that
I was insisting on applying the same rules I used for
the kids on me. I didn't think it was fair that I
could do something when they cannot. Then I
thought about RHIP (Rank Has Its Privileges). They
can't drive. They can't vote. They can't buy
liquor. They also cannot eat in their rooms, eat
at my computer or stay up past 9. I can. I
can because I'm a grown up. They can when they are
grown ups. It's as simple as that.
That same psychologist who told me about the mode of
operation of kids and teens also told me that in this
world, there are a few basic rules of existentialism:
You cannot have everything you want all at once.
You cannot have everything you want sequentially.
Every choice is bittersweet. When you choose one
thing, you sacrifice other things.
Every action, no matter how big or small, has
Good words to know.
Just bear in mind that being a good parent,
despite what we'd love to believe, does not mean we will
always be thanked, always be popular, always be
appreciated or even be liked. Sometimes, you have
to be the scourge in their life to help them to grow and
to learn that it's not always about them. It's
also important that we completely understand that
sometimes, it IS about us and WE do come first.
Yep, they're born to be loved, but loving them means
teaching them and giving them a "whole parent" and a
loving parent who is giving to them with love and joy
rather than with resentment.
Have a wonderful weekend,