Sunday, October 16, 2011


This article is, for me. 

I grew up in a house where my mother was often screamy and hysterical, in a disordered, stressed sense.
My father, I have come to realise, used rage and the threat of his rage as a defense mechanism - he never had to deal with anything if he could rant and bellow and scream at it and make it go away. And I suppose that it became a knee-jerk reaction, that and irritability. They were both damaged and depressive, I suppose, at least, so it seems from the hind sight perspective I now see through, through the eyes of parenthood.

I'm ashamed to put this article up here. I have done something I never anticipated - I've allowed my father's way of dealing with stress and demands to manifest itself in my parenting too. Shouting and cursing and menacing, at times. Explosive, trapped, loud outbursts of frustrated, infantile  behaviour. I've scared my kids. Not just on isolated occasions, but routinely, and the worst thing is that despite my horror of it, I'll most likely do it again. Maybe even tomorrow.

My first paragraph strains to let me off the hook. It's what I learned. It rose up from the deep, a demon leviathan, squashing all my good intentions, all my intuitive knowledge and research, grew me into the monster Mama instead - instead of the protector,  I became the thing to be afraid of. To a degree. That's not good enough, though. Explanations of what damaged my father just made me feel guilty, frustrated, responsible for him. I was not responsible for him. I am not now. I am responsible for me, and my own children. That is the bottom line.

And yet, it's hard. It's so fucking hard. But that's just how it is. I read to the end of this avidly, because I need an answer, a quick fix, and dose of strength and peace. I know it doesn't work like that, but I'm putting it here as a reminder for myself. And naming and shaming myself and my selfish unthoughful parenting.

 After twenty years of learning and teaching self defense, I believe the most fundamental skill women learn from this practice is the ability to stand up for themselves. The best self defense teachers structure their classes to rehearse that core experience of stating what we expect, desire or require and having it honored. It becomes normative to be heard and to have our boundaries respected. I teach like this now and I know that it works.

 So why not parent this way too? It's not like parenting isn't going to be a royal bitch anyway. There's no way to make this job easy, no way to transform coexisting with a growing little being into living with a rational adult—or into living alone, which is what I secretly crave on my most selfish days, no matter how deeply I love my family. So I may as well cultivate those skills I want for her, even if it means she's not always the "good" kid. The cost to me—if you can call it that—is having to really live my values, having to recognize my daughter's full humanity in every moment. Yes: even those tired, end of the day minutes when we are both coming unraveled, I have hours of work ahead before I can lie down, and I just want her to do what I say. The benefits are myriad, but on the short list is the fact that I can worry about her just a little less as she moves away from me and into the world. She's growing the skills she needs to fight for herself. I've got the bruises to prove it.


Emerald said...

When I read the article, I felt...well, pre-verbal, frankly. Words did not feel or seem forthcoming in me, as the content of the article struck me in a visceral sense. There is too, though, a sense of inspiration that someone (meaning the author) sees this, someone realizes these connections and this relevance, even if...others do not or have not seemed to. That seems reticent, coy, and/or cryptic, probably, I know...but I too have experienced guilt outright describing certain things I feel I experienced in relation to my parents, especially without explaining a lot of context.

Anyway, I really appreciated that article (it will be forthcoming in a Recommended Reading post). And I honor the self-awareness and intention I interpret you as expressing here—that you actively and consciously care about the kind of parent you are, the well-being of your children, that you do not feel willing or desirous of simply turning away from what is inside you thoughtlessly in order to make it feel easier to you regardless of what impact it may have on others, including your children.

All best to you. Hugs and love.

Craig Sorensen said...

It is a hard thing to confront your feelings about something you you don't like in yourself (I've certainly been there.)

But I do believe that in order to get someplace, we have to know both where we're going, and have an honest perspective on where we are.

As you said, something like this can't come in the form of a quick fix. Realizing that, too, is an important step.

All I can say is, I wish you the best in your journey.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting article. But I think what is missing is a sense of the innate personality and character of the child. I'm quite sure everyone will disagree with me on this but I think some children have enormously strong personalities and need less to learn to stand up for themselves than they do to recognise the existence and validity of other people's needs. Sometimes that involves parents setting very clear boundaries and getting the child to accept those boundaries involves a significant amount of conflict.

I also think there is a strongly gendered aspect to this article. She is writing as a lesbian feminist about bringing up a daughter and very naturally therefore is focusing on how important it is that girls are raised to be strong, forceful and heard. I think it would be incredibly interesting to see what her reaction might be to parenting an extremely strong-minded little boy.

Emerald said...

In response to Anon's comment, it seems to me that regardless of the innate tendencies of a child, if they do exist, the adult/parent is quite simply bigger and more able than the child, presenting an intrinsic power structure as such. The child quite literally depends on the parent/adult for survival—this is where and how the child begins to learn fundamental things about how to "be" in order to survive. While it may be that some children's actions or tendencies seem to call for more or different kinds of discipline, the child invariably requires the care of the adult, if only most fundamentally for the first few years, and this means that if a parent's highest desire is, as the article mentions, to produce obedience, it can have a significant effect on dampening the self-perceived autonomy of even the most strong-willed child. So it seems to me.

All that being said, my personal experience is undoubtedly affecting my perception of the article and the conversation, and I am not a parent (to human children), so that experience is solely from the "child" perspective in the equation.

Jo said...

I thought it was quite clear about teaching children to recognise and respect the needs and rights of others while also managing not to repress or stifle their voices. This article isn't suggesting that children are given free reign or never informed, corrected or taught discipline. At least, I see no sign of that.

I'm uncomfortable with the critique of the lesbian parent. I think it's a valid point that autonomy has long been fostered and encouraged in boys, while girls' voices were stifled. I always remember from the Laura Ingall's Wilder books, 'Laura. A woman's voice should be gentle and well modulated at all times.'

I see no reason why they wouldn't be as eager to validate a male child's feelings and raise them to be assertive too.