PARENTING, AN INSIDE JOB
Last evening, I started writing a new book, a collection of short chapters or essays that can each stand on its own and the topics quite varied and all related to parenting. How is that for a nice long sentence? As I finished the first chapter, Beyond Parenting, I thought, why not post this as a blog and begin getting some feedback! So here it is. Yes, the title of the book is PARENTING, AN INSIDE JOB.
The next chapter will address the issue of POWER. Most of us enjoy being with people who are both powerful and connected to their hearts. We will stand on our heads for them and follow them to the ends of the earth. We could be that way for our kids, you know!
It pains me that we all have such potential power inside of us, but have no clue how to access it and transform it into interpersonal energy. So that next chapter will address our POWER. Coming soon. In the meantime enjoy Beyond Parenting.
CAN YOU TELL WHO'S THE PARENT?
What do I mean by beyond parenting? Well, let me begin by making the observation that, as parents, we are always asking a zillion questions as if there are answers out there some place. Questions like
What’s wrong with a swat on the butt? It never hurt me.
What’s the big deal about washing their mouth out with soap? Taught me a quick and meaningful lesson.
Are we just too easy on kids today? Don’t you think we overindulge them? I never had a cell phone, an X-box, a Wii, a Nintendo, a new car......
We are always asking these questions and then making these really dumb statements about what we didn’t get. What is the point? So you didn’t have a PS1 , 2, or 3! If you’re so resentful you didn’t have one, why in the heck do you turn around and buy them for your kids? And you buy not just one, but every Christmas the newest model. And some of you don’t even realize that your parents didn’t give you a PlayStation because PlayStations weren’t invented when you were a kid. Yes, you’re too old to be parenting! Just kidding!
You know what? I gotta a few PS’s for kids.
*P. S. 1. You got too much stuff, Kid.
*P. S. 2. You got too many toys, dude!
*P. S. 3. You got it made in the shade, you ungrate!
*P. S. 4. Yes, I did walk five miles in the snow (no I didn’t!)!
*P. S. 5 Don’t get smart with me. Yes, I do know the names of five starving children in China, India, Bangledesh or you name the country. Now isn’t that an interesting phrase? And we wonder why our kids aren’t smart. We keep telling them not to get smart!
*P. S. 6 You are going to have one rude awakening one of these days.
That’s right, one of these days. That day will never dawn because, as much as we want them to venture out and live on their own, to experience independence and maturity, we just let them hang around, some of us let them hang around till they’re damned near fifty years old.
In my book, twenty is too old to still be living at home. Why would you want to be living at home at age 20? There is too much of life to experience to be hold up in the same house you potty trained in for crying out loud.
Here’s another crazy thing we do. We attend parenting classes to learn to parent differently from the way we were parented. It doesn’t take a class to know down deep that all that #$@* you claim helped you, didn’t do diddly for you. Come on, remember climbing out the window at night, remember all the things you mumbled under your breath, remember all the ways you blackmailed your parents with their addictions and affairs to get your way, all the ways you played Mom against Dad and vice versa, all the ways you took advantage of the conflict in their relationship? Remember telling your first grade sweetheart that your mother didn’t have a cake for you on your birthday? Your mother was in the hospital having your sister, you cry baby!
Some of us actually attend parenting classes just to argue with the instructor. Come on, really. What is the point of that? I mean you might as well take out a full page ad and tell the entire world that you are absolutely livid that your kids are screwed up beyond belief. And you know you’ll go to jail if you take it out on the kids, so you take it out on the parenting class instructor who either is quite wise and experienced or knows nothing at all, but is well-intentioned and really wants to offer you some alternatives even if they don’t work! I mean why else would you take the time and money to attend parenting classes and then argue with the instructor?
Some of us still insist on putting kids on restriction for so long we can’t figure out why, when they get off restriction, they look like senior citizens. Some of us lay awake at night trying to come up with the all time all time consequence or punishment. And some of us can’t lay awake at night trying to figure out our kids because we are drunk or loaded. And, of course, we can’t seem to make the connection between alcohol and drugs, prescription and otherwise, and our ineffectiveness as parents. And some of us actually stand on our heads to make sure our kids have it better than we did, and we can’t figure out why they are not grateful.
We can get into discussions about how much power kids have today, how irresponsible they are, how uneducated they are. Can’t spell, can’t read, can’t write, can only text. We even complain how sexually active kids are. Are we resentful that we’re sexually inactive or that they’re getting lucky and we aren’t or what?
The stuff we talk about, whine about, read about, discuss about, argue about, go to class for and about, I mean it is endless. It used to be simple. Honor your Mother and Father whether or not they were honorable. Then it got even simpler. Do as I say, not as I do! We used to talk plain ol’ punishment. Then someone got concerned about the welts and bruises and started calling it corporal punishment. Then someone thought discipline was a better way to talk about punishment and now we have positive discipline.
Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s awesome that there is so much information, so much “stuff” available to us about parenting. But too many of us get entangled and caught up in the information. We don’t know how to use it, and we end up still being ineffective parents.
Let’s go back to that question, “Do we overindulge our kids today?” I mean what kind of a stupid question is that? I mean look at your credit card statement, look at what isn’t in your checking account, look at the car insurance bill, the cell phone bill, what you shell out for jeans, for “athletic” shoes. Look what you’re willing to cough up for Prom or Homecoming! I mean we are looking at a miniature version of the national debt for crying out loud. Why would anyone even wonder if we’re giving kids too much. Really, why? No one really has any doubts. There is no reason to continue the discussion. We just can’t stop ourselves for some crazy reason. And that is what’s worth looking at and talking about.
That’s why I want to offer you some good stuff that I like to call BEYOND PARENTING. Good stuff that if you get it and take it in, you will be able to put into practice all the parenting tools available including the electric fence and the cattle prod. I’m just joking. Really I am. But my point is this. You already know the answer to the question “Do we overindulge our kids today?” But you are driven from some place inside to keep doing it. It’s like you’re trying to fix something or make up for something but you’re not even aware of that.
A mom the other day tells me she knows that her consequences or punishments are over the top, but a belief inside of her that you got to give consequences keeps driving her to continue to be not only over the top but totally ineffective. And she doesn’t get it. She experiences being ineffective, but she blames her kids. It is them, and it is not them. It is her. She’s trying to parent without any framework, without any awareness or felt sense of how people work, how people respond and don’t respond, what moves a person to stand on their head for you and to follow you wherever. There is no connection between her personal experience of life and her parenting. She either does what she learned from her Mom and Dad or she looks for new formulas and new prescriptions, but there is no big picture from within which to work, and to put those new formulas into practice, no personal experience of relationships to evaluate whether or not what she is doing as a parent would work even for herself.
Let's look at the analogy of feeding an infant. "Anyone" can breast feed or give an infant a bottle. But it is important to have that sixth sense if you will, so you can tell when the infant is or isn’t getting enough, or has had too much, or needs to burp, or isn’t getting a good hold on the nipple or is in pain. It’s like some part of you gets inside the infant and experiences the event from the infant’s vantage point. You go beyond the information you've learned about nursing or feeding. You go beyond techniques. You begin to live as both an infant and a Mom or a Dad. You begin to know the experience from the vantage point of the infant, from being "inside" your own instincts and intuition and "inside" the infant. That’s what makes you a good Mom or a good Dad.
Here’s another example of what it means to go or be “beyond.” Or in this case, NOT! And I give this example at the risk of alienating one of my dearest male buddies. He’s not much for reading blogs, so maybe I will luck out! I first met Norm after his third tour of Viet Nam where he drove a tank. He was quite fit then and could hold me up over his head and twirl me around! Yes, scary, and that is how I still feel when I ride with him. I think he thinks he’s still driving a tank!
The other morning, while we are driving through the desert, he tells me that the rising sun is so bright that he cannot see in front of him.
“You really can’t see?” I ask.
“No, I really can’t see,” he affirms.
“So why are we continuing to careen down the freeway at 80 miles an hour?”
“The car will let me know,” he laughed.
What does that mean? I ask myself.
Then I say out loud, “Yea, when we crash into the back of a semi.”
“But we can’t just stop. We’re on a freeway.”
I mean the logic is...is...perfect....perfectly insane! And to make matters worse, the sun is blinding even me on the passenger side. I can’t see out the windshield either! I say my act of contrition and pray for some kind of miracle like an unforcasted eclipse. Anything.
On any given day when I ask him what the beeping or the flashing light means, he says, he’s not sure, that it happens a lot and he plans to have it checked when he takes the car into the dealer the next time. Next time? When is that? He tries to reassure me that the car is still under warrantee, and I tell him the warrantee will not help either one of us when we are walking across this desert. When I ask him what the awful noise is when he brakes, he says he is not sure but at least the car stops! He then adds that he has heard that this model car is known to have trouble with brakes. When the car bottoms out in one of those bottomless dips, he says, “Whoa! Hope everything is okay.” Yep, he thinks it’s a tank! When it feels like the tire is coming off when we go over a speed bump, he says, “it always feels that way. Probably left over from when I drove over that #$@&*e neighbor kid’s bicycle.” I was afraid to ask the next logical question!
For Norm, there is no connection between his action of driving the car and what is actually going on either around him or inside the car! He does not experience driving from the car’s perspective as if the car is alive. He feels the brake and gas pedals, but there seems to be no connection with how those pedals are connected to the “inside” workings of the car. Warning lights and beeps are just lights and sounds. Again, there seems to be no connection between them and the internal “life” of the car.
It is doubly interesting to me because Norm is very fussy just about everything else he owns. And I know some of you are rolling your eyes as if I have any room to talk because you know the condition of my car!
If you know your car from the “inside,” you can actually learn how to stop the car so the brake pads last for a very long time. You know how to put just the right amount of pressure on the gas pedal so you ease out from a stop instead of rocketing across the intersection and killing other blind people! You notice how the suspension feels when you go over a speed bump at any speed! You know what the warning lights on the dash board are telling you, and you even learn to tell when a warning light is really a warning and when it is simply a chronic malfunctioning warning light. In the back of your mind, you are thinking about oil and coolant levels, not because you are anal, but because you drive the car as if it is alive. You drive the car from the “inside.”
Just like driving the car, my hope for all of us as parents is that we can maintain a high level of awareness of how we are driving our kids. Now my buddy Norm says he keeps looking for a car that will handle better and have less problems. I try not to laugh. Maybe there is a car out there that is more suited to him, but for us as parents, the kids we have are the kids we have. We don’t have an option to trade them in or hope for a better model, or one that will handle better and give us less problems. As with the car, we can become aware of how we drive our kids. We can make and have a connection with them as if they are alive!
I am passionate about the possibility of each of you getting beyond parenting, getting beyond the doing of techniques you learn from a book or a class, or getting beyond a philosophy you adopt. I am passionate about you getting “inside” each of your children and experiencing parenting from their perspective.
Now, let’s get really clear here. I am not suggesting or wanting you to become friends with your children. I am not wanting you to stand on your head to make them happy nor to feel good about themselves. Sometimes they need to feel badly about themselves, some healthy shame and guilt! Right?
What I am wanting is for you to have a curiosity about what makes your child tick, what moves your child to behave in this way or that way. I want you to know your child “inside.” Not what you cynically think is going on inside, but what is actually going on inside your child. And you come to this information by drawing from your own personal experience as well as your experience of your child.
It’s the passion of the researcher or scientist I’m talking about. They have a passion for knowing how cells work, for example, or how different organs work and malfunction. The neuroscientist is absolutely fascinated by and infatuated with the brain. These folks can never get enough information. They’re always curious. They want to know it all and often not for any particular advantage, but for the sheer wonder of it. And their curiosity, their passion for knowledge does not make them a slave or subservient or less powerful than the subject of their study or research. They are always clear who they are and the difference between themselves and who or what it is they are studying. But over time, they come to know their subject inside and inside out.
Perhaps too, it is the same passion we witness in an artist, whether a painter or a poet. Michelangelo said he already saw David inside the marble. Michelangelo was literally inside the (his) marble as he chiseled away the precise pieces so the rest of us could also see the inside of the marble. The artist draws upon his own experience to express the work of art just as we draw upon our own experience in viewing the work of art. A “good” work of art often contains a kind of universality to it. We recognize something of our experience of life or of ourselves in the work of art. We can relate to it. We connect to it.
So the bottom line with our kids. RELATE to them. And discover every stumbling block, every road block, every barrier, every resistance to relating to them. Take ownership of those stumbling blocks, road blocks, barriers, resistance. They are all yours and yours to figure out what to do with.
We will never totally overcome our roadblocks or our resistance. But we can commit to keep working at them so they don’t keep us from being the parent we want to be, the parent we wanted for ourselves growing up, the parent we can be for ourselves now that we are grown up. Nothing like being your own best parent. We are never too old to receive and be blessed with good parenting. And being my own best parent is a guarantee I will be that same best parent for my child.
I want to conclude by looking at one more example. It’s the area of parenting that Jan Hindeman (A Very Touching Book) humorously says causes us to have purple feelings.
Many of us are just stunned at how sexually active our kids are today. As I teasingly commented above, are we just resentful that we’re sexually inactive or that they’re getting lucky and we aren’t or what?
Here’s what I really think. If us Dads were around a little more often to have those heart-to-heart talks with those guys who come around, they’d probably stop coming (excuse the pun) around. Yes, our daughters would be temporarily mad at us, but at some point, happy to have a Dad who watches out for them.
And, obviously, we need to have the same heart-to-heart talk with our sons. And it’s iffy at best when we are addicted to porn or having affairs to give much guidance like “you’re thinking with the wrong head, son.”
As grown-up men and women, it is crucial that we are totally at home with our sexual needs and know how to get our sexual needs met in ways that leave us feeling very very good about who we are as a man or a woman, ways that we do not have to keep secret or that leave us feeling guilty and ashamed.
I think, for the most part, our children are as sexually active as they are because we don’t seem to know much about who we are as sexual beings. We are not credible when we tell them that sex is something special because it has yet to become special for ourselves. It is till too much a mystery to us, too much a taboo that we cannot talk about, too much something we do in secret and often in ways that leave us at risk all over the place.
Many of us had to get married because we were pregnant. We do not want our children to have to get married for the same reason. Many of us got pregnant when we were young and gave our child up for adoption or we had an abortion which continues to haunt us.
The problem is we never came to terms with these pregnancies. They continue to live on in our history as mistakes, as wounds, as events that forever changed our lives. We haven’t found the wisdom to weave these life experiences into the fabric of our life, and once we do, we will first of all begin experiencing our sexuality in more healthy and life giving ways. We will then be able to stop trying to protect our children from the same mistakes. But instead, we will become a real life model for them of what it means to be a sexual being. And we will be there for them to walk them through the mistakes when they make them. And they will make mistakes.
One of my best and most precious experiences as a parent is when my son called me one day to tell he had been fired from a fairly lucrative job the night before. He was twenty six at the time. He was blunt honest with me in describing the "dumb" mistake he made. I simply asked him, "So what do you think?" He went on to tell me that obviously he regretted losing his job but he knew it was his own fault and had learned a lesson, yes the hard way. He also told me that it was not the end of the world and he would get another job.
I could not have been prouder. He felt free to call me and tell me the honest truth of his life. Says a lot for our relationship, a lot about our connection.
I hope I have not been too repetitive in sharing with you what I mean by the phrase, beyond parenting, Perhaps we can boldly go where no parent has gone before! Yes a little Star Trek. Why Not?
Now, be your own best parent to yourself today. Start there!