Say you’re sorry

March 13, 2019 § Leave a comment

broken pitcher

William-Adolphe Bouguereau Broken Pitcher

Every once in a while I see someone else do something (usually in the realm of parenting) that I have done myself about a 1000 times and I am suddenly struck with how absolutely absurd I have been.

When my children were little and hurt a friend or did something naughty I would insist that they say,  “I’m sorry”.   This was ridiculously wrong of me. My children,  I apologize for putting you and me and the other children through this exercise in soothing my own vanity.  What was I teaching you? Were you honestly sorry or were you just going through the motions – were you lying to comply with what I thought was best?  A compelled apology is not an honest admission of guilt, it is not a hope for reconciliation it is simply an act.  It is a pantomime of good behavior.

An honest inventory of conscience would suggest that at least half of my motivation was to show whatever adult might be watching that I took your behavior very seriously and  was working to fix it.  Another part of my brain was thinking that if you just went through the motions you would in time internalize it and would treat other people with gentle humility and empathy.    I am now convinced that this was probably not the best track.  This has led me to a few days of prayer and contemplation which,  as is God’s good way, has shown me several very instructive examples of what is wrong with compelling an apology.

With the years I have left (which are running out rather quickly) for this type of parenting I am determined to do better.   Instead of insisting that you apologize because I am feeling embarrassed by your behavior and because you have objectively done something wrong,  I will attempt to model the behavior I want you to have. Even if that means apologizing to a friend or teacher on your behalf or bearing judgement from other parents because I am not making you do the right thing right then.    I intend to take the time to talk to you, on your level, to help you understand what is the right thing to do – but not force you into something you are not ready for or genuinely feeling.  I will not assume that somewhere inside you are really super sorry and just need me to force it out of you. I will always expect you to behave properly, punish when needed, admonish and instruct.  It is my job to raise you to be kind, Christian and worthy people.  But I won’t force you to say something that is not true.

After some crazy today I had to step back and really think.  What is the worth of a forced apology?    Nothing.   I can say words that I don’t mean and you can hear words that you know I don’t mean and we can all pretend that this is some ‘understanding’, but it is actually a short-cut that creates barriers to any real reconciliation.   I can’t imagine as an adult how I would feel if a co-worker was forced to apologize to me by our manager or even some shop worker was instructed to say they were sorry to me by their employer.   The apology certainly wouldn’t mean anything,  but I have seen grown people insist that this sort of thing take place.

Have we taught our children this weird “I am owed an apology” mentality?  I am beginning to think we have.  This isn’t taught intentionally of course, but when the sandbox scuffle must end with the perpetrator being force by mom or dad to offer their wee little “I’m sorry” what is the offended child seeing and internalizing.  It seems that a good number have learned that an apology is a punishment and they are owed the satisfaction of receiving it as recompense.   If Sally hits Mary with a toy Mary gets to see her tearful friend being drug up in front of her to utter the mea culpa that is now Mary’s right as the injured party.   Is this what drives the teenage Mary to tell her friend “Say you’re sorry or I am not inviting you to my party” or the adult Mary to insist “I am owed an apology or I am never shopping here again”?  What an oddly entitled, misguided exercise.

When I was a girl of about 9 my grandmother told me that an apology never costs you anything, and can gain you understanding and respect.  So I have always tried to remember that letting someone know you are aware that you might have caused them distress is in fact letting them know that you care enough about them to try to make things right.  This small act of Christian compassion and charity is usually a really pleasant thing.   I don’t know that I have ever been rebuffed when I admit that I have done wrongly in hurting someone in some way.   It either ends in the person I have offended being grateful for my words or my burden being lifted by them assuring me I haven’t really caused them any distress.  It is a lovely, grace filled moment either way.

Now, admittedly there are also plenty of times where I am  oblivious to some distress I may have caused.  So I welcome having my bad behavior pointed it out to me. It affords me a chance to set things right if I possibly can.    If you say “wow that really hurt me when you said ___”  I hope that I will always be gracious enough to see and admit my wrong.   But if you come at me and say, “You were mean you own me an apology”,  pretty much we will be at an impasse.  It is going to be much harder for me to get past the insane entitlement of “I am owed” to work my way around to  what did I do to cause you distress.

If  an apology is being set up as a debasement of the the guilty party there is something very broken in the situation.  Even if  something wrong needs to be set right and the offender should offer an apology if the offended party is waiting to gloat  the apology can not be that holy, spiritual moment.  It is at best forced and very likely resented especially if others are involved to watch or enforce.  An apology is the sign of peace, the understanding that when we injure each other we injure the Body of Christ.  It is a literal healing and to mix that with power struggles or shame is like adding poison to what should be a healing balm.

This understanding of the apology as reconciliation isn’t  something that a young child has the ability to understand.  For them the ritual of ‘say you’re sorry’  is a token.  I say this and mommy isn’t as mad, I say this because I was bad.  I am not saying that we shouldn’t encourage our children to apologize when they have done wrongly,   in fact it is very important that we do so.  But it also doesn’t mean teaching them to say things they don’t feel or believe, especially as they get older.  By modeling the behavior we wish to see.  Perhaps mommy saying  “I am so sorry Sally hit you, Mary, she is going to have a time out now.”  demonstrates the proper behavior with out forcing Sally to lie or giving Mary the idea that the apology that she is owed is a form of restitution that she is entitled to insist on.

What a strange and informative week it has been.  I am thankful to God for having the chance to reflect on this topic. Hopefully I have learned what I need to.

 

 

3-4-1 Rule: Three Good for Each Bad

March 4, 2015 § Leave a comment

Christ Blessing th Children

Christ Blessing the Children ~ Nicolaes Maes (1632-1693)

I suppose some people are just a tad more melancholy than others.  My Hannah has a tendency toward the frustration and discontent created by that deep-set desire for perfection and that whole being 13 thing.   To help combat this we have created a new rule.   For each one thing she wants to complain about she must first list off three related things that are good.

It is so much more difficult to find fault with something when something when you have just taken the time and energy to think of what is worthwhile about it.  This is a new rule so I will update the results later but so far the results have been good.

 

Wild Horses

June 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

There is something about watching a child step into adulthood that leaves you with such powerfully conflicted emotion.  You stand and watch and there is nothing else you can do- just stand and watch.   When your children are small everything is so much easier.  Their wants and needs are so much easier to obtain for them, you can gift them so much, so easily.  But then comes that stumbling foal moment where the thing they want conflicts with what you feel is best for them.  But you can gently guide them back.

Then come stronger impossible things, friendships that break, the times they don’t make the team, the times where a boy breaks their heart.  Over the years their view of you changes; you descend from almost godlike parent who they love with a full-bodied  joy to someone worn and worn out a bit behind the time, at moments wise and at others all to fail-able and human, the point where they see you for what you are.  But you try to hold on and give them the direction you can.   And then one morning you wake up and you child has managed to break away almost completely and you see them running toward their own horizons, awkward but beautiful and free and all you can do is stare and thank God that you have come to the point where you can be a place of safety for them, but you know that anything you offer them has to be accepted on their terms.

This is the point where I am with my oldest.  I watch her go out a little farther almost every day, turning 18, high-school graduation,  job hunting, college hunting.  It hurts to know that I am completely unable to help her with these things.   I count myself lucky that she hasn’t picked up that tendency of some teens to emotionally abuse those closest to them – that teenage cruelty of being kind to everyone except your mom and dad on whom is heaped nothing but contempt as they realize that their parents are really just mortals.  Instead she is rather patent with us as her parents.  But even if she did have that rebellious streak we would still have held on this long, and at this point we would still have to let go.  But then I love watching this.  I love watching her go and there is nothing in the world more satisfying then the times she gets things right.  It is probably the oddest feeling in the world.  Some odd half remembered quote from CS Lewis about how love is taking as much joy and delight the achievements of someone else as you would if they were your own.  With children that becomes a bit muddled because it can feel like their victories are your victories and their failures your failures, but neither is the truth.
It would be unfair to pile my own hopes or ambitions onto her.  She is a vastly different person than I am.  So I sit here and watch her step into her moment of independent youth, beautiful in the sunshine of morning and watch her in love with herself, a body too young to ache, a heart still unburdened with the worries of life and I have to step back and just watch.  I remember that moment of explosive, restless, youthful passion and how much I desperately wanted to just be me – free, alive, young and loved.  And I can look back at my mistakes and regrets and know that I am just as incapable of recapturing that in myself as I am incapable of reliving that time through her.  I had my moment in the sun; this moment is her’s.

I love her and love watching her explode away from me into her own life.  And I turn to my younger children and I know, with the utter certainty that I could never really grasp with her that they too will one day set off on their own.  I am an older and wiser mother than I was with her.  But I know I will make totally new mistakes with each of them.  They will each come to the place where they see me too well, where they know how I have failed them.  And they will take off to their own adventures, wherever God’s will will blow them.  I will stand here and marvel at their beauty and hope that they always remember when they need me I am here waiting, and watching and wild horses couldn’t drag me away from them.

Things you don’t need for a baby.

May 20, 2010 § 3 Comments

Since we are expecting number 7 I guess that makes me the “experienced” mom.   At least I am experienced in the sense that I have in fact been here and done this a couple of times.  My sister-in-law is expecting her first.  So I suppose it is natural to think back to expecting my first and the absolutely uncertainty that I was awash in when I was a first time mom and laugh at myself.

Something that has been amusing me the past few weeks is the “baby registry” phenomenon.    What do you need for a baby?  I can almost feel that remembered panic setting in with me, the new mom, sure that I was going to miss having that one, ultimate, thing that will make caring for a new baby easy.   Especially when you don’t have much experience around newborns it can seem like they are little alien creatures who will break if you don’t care for them perfectly, and marketers are more than happy to exploit these insecurities and sell you all sorts of stuff you don’t need.

The reality is that you really don’t need much for a newborn (under normal circumstances).

Top ten things you probably don’t need:

  1. A changing table.
  2. Special baby towels/washcloths
  3. diaper wipe warmer
  4. diaper genie
  5. mobiles/white noise/baby lullaby/ crib vibrators
  6. sterilizers
  7. full-sized high chairs
  8. special laundry detergent
  9. baby food
  10. diaper stacker

Your newborn spends the entire day eating, pooping and sleeping with occasional breaks to look at things usually to face of whomever is holding them – at first they would be perfectly happy to be held 24×7.  As they get older they spend more time alert and quickly start looking for things to do.   Baby’s needs can be divided  into some basic categories:  sleeping, eating, diapering, bathing and care, clothing, travel, and play. These needs are what should drive baby purchases, not marketing.

Simplicity Parenting

May 12, 2010 § 1 Comment

I finished “Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids” by Kim John Payne this week.   I wanted to love it, I liked it a lot, but it also left me sort of grumbling.   Generally I would recommend it but with the following caveats: it is not a book well rooted in the “Voluntary Simplicity” movement in general, it is not really about parenting and it certainly isn’t from a Catholic/Christian world view — not even a slightly ascetic world view.  If you pick up this book thinking you are going to read about how to parent within the voluntary simplicity lifestyle you are going to be disappointed — this book is NOT about that.

All of this I can understand, the author’s work isn’t about the simplicity movement; he is drawing from his work with his clients (presumptively mostly wealthy or solidly middle class, duel career couples with one or two precious snowflake children).  These people are not the type to embrace a radical lifestyle change — so for those of us on the more radical lifestyle path there are going to be a few places at least where we stop and point to some really hugely obvious issue and say “You could eliminate that problem entirely if you were just willing to be a little more counter-cultural”.

Western children are not particularly happy.  They live in the richest time and culture ever imagined and yet they are stressed, unhappy, out of shape, insecure, hyperactive, troubled little people.  They are figurative (and sometimes literally) starving for essential nutrients while becoming obese on a rich diet of sugar and fat    And we, their parents, do this to them – at the very least we let our society do this to them.  Payne gets this right and he also gets much of the solution right – I would argue that he doesn’t take it far enough, but Simplicity Parenting is a good, maybe even a great,  start.

Payne does a fine job laying out the case that what our children suffer from is the result of  “Too much, too fast, too soon.”  He points to the forces of consumerism, the self-fulfilling  marketing axiom “Kids are Getting Older Younger”, the work of David Elkind, and the endless appetite for parents to push their offspring to gain a competitive edge for the future as forces of modernity and consumerism are swirling  around our children pulling apart their sense of security and even their sense of self.   These forces push children into stress responses where they react in their own particular ways, the quiet thoughtful child becomes more withdrawn, the active child bounces off the walls, the child with the forceful soul becomes aggressive.  The book then bogs down a bit with a chapter comparing the over stimulation of children with physical illness.   Several examples from Payne’s  practice are trotted out to illustrate the “Soul Fever” concept and how simplification of the child’s world helps alleviate the “symptoms”

Where Simplicity Parenting touches on great is that it isn’t like so many of the current “problems with childhood” books.  It doesn’t spend 200 pages hand wringing over the plight of our children followed a short list of “action items”.  The book is almost a workbook.  It breaks several core concepts down into digestible chunks – phases to walk through.  And the book is brimming with “process” while illustrating the intention and hoped for result of each phase.

The best laid out phase is the first:  “Environment”.  Simplicity Parenting walks parents through the  process of de-cluttering their children’s rooms and “stuff”.  Toys are given extensive treatment.  Books and clothes are next up for culling and then scent and lighting (focusing mainly on the child’s room but also briefly touching the home in general) .   Coming from a Waldorf point of view Mr Payne has some definite opinions about what makes for good, creative play, especially in the early years.    The craziness of Rudolf Steiner aside I think there is a lot of value to some of the ideas of Waldorf — not all mind you but some of them.  I also agree with many assertions that Payne makes about the inability of children to really enjoy anything when they are overwhelmed by “options” and “choices”.   All in all getting rid of the “stuff” cluttering our children’s lives and rooms is an important and logical first step in simplifying and enriching their lives.

We then turn to “Rhythm”.  This is a very “Waldorf” idea, the one I think that is probably most valuable.  If you are going to plunder  from Waldorf this is the one concept to grab first.  Payne draws the concept of ritual into rhythm in a way that is natural and works.   This is also the chapter where the reality of what Payne’s audience will  accept and the reality of what children probably would thrive with comes into  crashing discordance as illustrated with the almost harmless sentence, “Rhythm and ritual are what we aim for; predictability may be what we can achieve.”   We then jump the tracks and start talking about how to compromise for predictability.

There is a subtle yet devastating switch at this point.   With “environment”  i.e. “stuff” the decluttering and dejunking focused on the child’s room and things.  Mention was made in passing that unless the the entire home went the way of the children’s things and simplified and decluttered that the child’s world would revert to a cluttered disorganization cacophony.   The hypocracy of expecting the children’s stuff to simplify while the parents stayed on a hyper-consumerism course would not work.  It might seem obvious, but it is glossed over for the rest of the book, if the parents lives are an unpredictable, overscheduled, over worked mess then all the good intentions to bring harmony, rythme and order to the children’s schedules are much less effective in the long run.  The imbalance and  hypocrisy will most likely overwhelm the attempt.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t good ideas in the rest of this chapter.  Some of the author’s thoughts  “previewing”,  the idea of going over the next day’s event, giving a child an idea of what to expect, is very powerful.  When the usual rhythm and schedule is disrupted this sort of preview can give the child a sense of control, but it is a piss-poor substituted for the comfort of normal rhythms and predictable schedules.   Among the other valuable items are little nuggets of parenting thought that seem to be commonly missed, children bond with us through the little daily things we do, that some of the best relationship building moments happen in the unstructured “down-times”, parenting is more craft and process than it is a checklist-able, goals oriented production.  Bringing back and simplifying the family dinner,  dumping “edible food-like substances’ and nutritionally dubious treats, creating bed-time routines and allowing for more rest, the return of the bedtime story and creating a sense of family connection with the sharing of family stories and history are all really great ideas and well worth incorporating.

Before leaving this section I also want to point out something that drives me a little batty.  There is explicitly stated the idea that a teenagers “work”, their developmental stage, is one of defining themselves in opposition to their parents.   To illustrate here is a quote about 15 year old Alison the daughter of Laura, “Alison’s full-time (developmental) job right now is to push Laura away, but on her “time off” she does what also comes natural to her.  She can think of her mom as an alien one minute and, thanks to their broad and deep connection, snuggle with her the next.”  This is my personal pet-peeve, so I won’t belabor this, but it IS NOT a teenager’s job to push their parents away.  Despite even modern takes on Freud and Erickson much of the conflict of this stage of development is constructed behavior based on the ridicules idea that young adults are busy with the work of developing their own identity and that means that they must have some kind of raging personality conflict with their parents.  This view is aberrant, the creation of marketing and social forces that undermine parental confidence and keep teens in the infantile  self-identification phase as long as possible, not allowed to take on adult responsibility and deprived of any meaningful work, their sense of self allowed to be defined only on the most superficial aspects they become easily controlled and herded through the corridors of shopping malls and high-schools, trained to be good little consumers, basing their sense of worth on the trappings of success, what they own, wear, drive and on physical perfection and competitive victories.  Ok, so maybe I did belabor that a little bit.   But it is almost astounding that in a book entitled “Simplicity Parenting” there wouldn’t have been at least a little questioning of the “teen” paradigm.

After Rhythm we turn to a very similar chapter on Schedules.  It seems that the author’s main distinction between rhythm and schedules is age.  Young children have rhythm, older children have schedules.   Within “Schedules”  there is a bit of an extended mixed metaphor of farming and sports and children’s over scheduled lives.   Payne makes a strong arguments for the worth of boredom, that busy days be balanced with calm days and he even make the daring suggestion of returning a sense of Sabbath to our daily lives.  All great ideas.  I really like what he says about the joy of anticipation and what it can give to children and I found the idea that over-scheduling can lead to an unnatural need for stimulation that replaces “inner development with outer stimulation”, a nascent addiction.   We then turn to the pressure parenting issue.  While Payne focuses on sports and martial arts this concept also applies to just about every aspect of a child’s world, schooling, art, music, dance, sports, all these good things get thrown into some deranged hyper-drive as parents compete to have the most wonderful little snowflake child possible or they at the very least feel compelled to give their children the “competitive edge” they “need” to succeed in the adult world.  Parents need to disengage their egos and hope and let their children approach life at a slower more balanced pace.

The final process chapter is “filtering out the adult world”.   The first part takes on the used of media “screen time” and how it is detrimental for very young children and at best of questionable value for younger children.   We then look at balance a child’s need for emotional safety and their need to explore their world and the role of parents in helping them navigate these conflicting needs.   We also look at the way parenting has shifted home is no “base camp” from whence children launch their adventures while over anxious “helicopter parents” flit overhead driven to protect their children from a horribly dangerous world.  The world of course is not much more dangerous than when these parents were young, but the immediacy of media and the desire to constantly sell the alarming makes risk assessment difficult.   There is also a few page of the reality that moms especially are overworked.  The female partner of duel career families almost always is the one to bear the brunt of child rearing responsibilities.  Payne gives us a few idea about the possibilities of father taking on responsibility for somethings — but this is a woefully under addressed aspect of this book.  Among the best ideas from this chapter are limiting screen time, talking less, monitoring less and trusting our parenting instincts more.

The conclusion of this book was strange.  We are present the tale of Carla, her hyper career oriented parents and the baby brother on the way.  At six Carla is stressed about the arrival of a rival and her parents are worried that their “production schedule”  will not go off as planned unless Carla becomes a team player and gives her buy-in to the baby-brother roll-out.   After her bedroom is de-cluttered, daddy adds “dinner” to his day-planner a few times a week and mom makes time for daily a special craft time with Carla (even though some nights mom is rushing to get take out to make the dinner meeting)  started to decompress and feel better.  I understand that the book would have been ill served to select a “perfect” family willing to make drastic changes in their lives and that is probably just as good that  we see that even small changes can be good, but this particular story just seemed to illustrate my problem with the book as well.

No one gets to have it all.  When we are unwilling to say, “I will trade off this good thing for that good thing” and instead just try to fit more “good things” into our days and lives eventually something breaks.  When we as parents try to fit our babies into our hyper-schedules, pop them into six weeks maternity leave, and then after work and weekends while we continue to rush forward at break neck speed in the career world somewhere a wheel is going to go flying off and more often then not it is the weakest link, the most vulnerable and sadly the most precious, it is the children.   Now I know that many people, probably all of Payne’s clients, and a good portion of the audience of Simplicity Parenting would swallow their own tongues before they would be willing to be so counter-cultural as to scale back, scale down, work less, consume less, live smaller, but yet at the same time live more fully, but that is the natural conclusion of almost all Payne’s arguments.  Yet he stops from going to those conclusions and leaves all of his great ideas at the children’s bedroom doors.

Raising prolife children — part two

June 4, 2009 § 2 Comments

Every Life is Beautiful

Every Life is Beautiful

This is the second part of this post.  The first part is here.

Raising Prolife Children

Our children live in a world that is often hostile to Catholic teaching and moral thought. While roughly half the people in this country are at least nominally “pro-life” the media and especially the cultural and educational institutions of this country tend very much to the “pro-choice” side. One of the jobs of Catholic parent’s is to equip our children to go out into the world and be able to defend their faith.The earlier we start preparing our children for this the better.

The early years – Where do babies come from?

What is the first thing you can do to help your child become firmly prolife? Save your child’s ultrasound picture. Fetal development is the first and best tool in the pro-life arsenal. While your child is still a preschooler you can teach them the very basics of “babies”.

  1. Follow a real pregnancy week by week. – It is most helpful if you can connect this information to a baby they will know. When a sibling is expected, or a cousin or a friend’s baby – as long as they will see the pregnancy develop and the baby grow. A child who follows a pregnancy like this is forever connected to the idea that babies begin growing in their “mommy’s tummy” and that this growth process is an uninterrupted line through childhood. When I am expecting we have used common objects like raisins, apple seeds or pin heads about the baby’s size. Never, ever avoid the reality of pregnancy – no storks or cabbage patches. Babies don’t suddenly appear at the hospital to be brought home.
  2. You can use real pictures of fetal development from the internet to learn about the growth of the unborn child. Talk about the pictures, even the weird looking little fetus with arm buds and tails and remind the children often that all people, even they, went through these stages too. My children have found it amazingly wonderful that once upon a time they had a tail.  Show them the picture from their ultra-sound, “this was you when you were in my tummy.” Nothing is more powerful than connecting with the unborn child they once were.
  3. Read books about developing babies. There are many good options, Angel in the Waters which tells the story of a baby and the baby’s guardian angel and is particularly Catholic, but there are more options. Checking out the local library is likely to yield a ton of results that you will find appropriate.
  4. Pray for babies yet to be born and the mommies and daddies and families waiting for them. You know you are praying for all those women this very day facing an unexpected and alarming pregnancy, those women struggling with the decision to abort or not; your children know that they are praying for all mommies to be happy and healthy while their little, tiny babies grow inside.

As children grow

Growing up in a family committed to the culture of life one of the strongest witness any child could have for the rightness of the pro-life movement. All too often the arguments for the “pro-choice” stance are actually arguments against false characterizations of those who are pro-life. The claim is un-apologetically laid that those who are against legalized, uncontrolled and elective abortion are only concerned about the welfare of the unborn at the expense of all others. This spurious argument is easily bared to be the lie it is when one looks at the lives of most pro-life proponents. We need to live as part of the culture of life.

  1. Offer help for mother’s in need. Support your local crisis pregnancy center. Donate toys, clothing, diaper… what ever they need. Include your children in these activist. Take part (or organize) parish fund-raising for pro-life causes, both the alternatives to abortion locally and help for the poor and needy, especially woman and children, world wide. While it is appropriate to teach our children chastity and to never glamorize unwed pregnancy, crisis pregnancy support saves lives. Showing an example of mercy is undoubtedly a good. As children mature we can discuss the disadvantages (both moral and practical) of single motherhood and intercourse before marriage, but mercy to those in need does not need to be suspended because we are blessed enough to know there is a better way.
  2. Honor the lives of all. My children have the advantage of having a sister with a severe disability. They see day in and out the struggles and the blessings both of being a family touched by disability and of those living with disability. My oldest has reached the age where she occasionally confronts someone advocating abortion of the disabled. This rightly sets her into a fit of indignation – the person thus advocating is speaking about her beautiful sister. While she could not and would never diminish the struggles she also knows first hand the blessings. We absolutely have to teach our children that having a disability is not a frightening, horrific thing. Support your parish families with disabled members.

    Volunteer at the Special Olympics and other organizations that help the disabled. Some schools have “peer” programs where normally developing children are paired with children with learning disabilities to assist them in their social development.At the very least never show fear or hesitation around a disabled person. Treat them exactly as you would anyone else.

    As an example: Several years ago one of my online friends confronted, first hand, the bias against the disabled in our society. Her husband’s brother and sister-in-law had died in a car wreck, leaving my friend and her husband in custody of their niece and nephew. The deceased couple had adopted a boy with spina bifida and then a little girl with autism. The boy was nine, had just lost his parents, moved across country to live with his aunt and uncle. While his aunt was enrolling him in the third grade class at a private school (regular academic) another mother saw his leg braces and said with contempt, “Oh, we are enrolling these kids now?” Apparently everyone in the office was too slack jawed at the woman’s rudeness to come up with an appropriate response. I am afraid my own would have been less than ideal. As can be imagined the hurt the boy experienced was very, very real.  While this one woman’s response was extreme their are many who would have thought the same, but wisely held their tongues. There is a ever growing part of our culture that views those with disabilities as “burdens”; at best tragedies for their families and drains on the “system” and better for everyone if aborted. (for further evidence of this topic note some of treatment of Sarah Palin over her son Trig) We have to fight this mindset tooth and nail.

    On the other end of life my children have had the opportunity to see my grandmother age. She is 85 and lives near us. They love Granny and see her as valuable and worthwhile. Even as she suffers from the affects of age and dementia. Do not be afraid to bring the elderly into your child’s life. Age is not something to fear; we are only stepping closer to Heaven and honoring and loving our aged relatives sets the example of families caring for their own with love and compassion instead of shifting this duty and (at time) a burden onto the state – which has neither love nor compassion.

  3. Pray for those who are suffering, the poor, the sick and dieing. Pray for a softening of the hearts so that people who are different won’t be discriminated against.
  4. I am not sure when is the most appropriate time to introduce the concept of abortion to children. My own children have grown up in parishes that aren’t afraid to pray for an end to abortion and they hear Catholic radio in the background with “pro-life moments”. So they hear the term and eventually they ask the question: “What is abortion.” Three of my children asked at around age five. My own mind revolts at not being truthful with my children, so my response has been something along the lines of “Abortion is when a mother is pregnant and doesn’t want her baby so she has the baby killed before it can be born”. I am sure there that some people who would object to that description as too harsh.

    I actually thought about it for a long while before I came up with it.  First I wanted the explanation to be short, honest and “horrific” in a way. I wanted it to be slightly shocking, because abortion is shocking. I use the word “mother” instead of “woman” because mother implies a responsibility for the child. I didn’t say “she has a doctor kill the baby” or “she goes to a clinic and they kill the baby” because I didn’t want my children to associate doctors with killing babies and I didn’t want to go into the questions of “what is a clinic”. I also wanted the word “killed” in there so there was no confusion on that. The above explanation is also open enough to invite questions.  My Josh’s first question was “Why would someone do that?” and it led to some discussion about the reasons why some woman feel that is the best thing to do, but how horrible it is and how selfish it is.

    My own experience and the insight I have seen talking to other parents and friends is that the way abortion is first introduced colors the way a person views abortion on a profound level. If your very first introduction to abortions is something like “Abortion is when a woman finds out she is pregnant but it isn’t the right time for her to be a mother so she goes to the doctor and the doctor ends the pregnancy before a baby can grow.” and your first introduction to the concept of pro-life is “some people think that abortion is wrong so they want to force a woman to have a baby even if she know that is the wrong thing for her.” your perception of abortion is focused on the poor woman forced to have a baby. If your first introduction to abortion is about the murder of the child and how those who are pro-life are trying to make it safe for all babies waiting to be born than the paradigm shifts. If you view abortion through the lens of the woman’s “rights” it is difficult to consider the child; if you view abortion through the lens of the baby’s right to life it is almost impossible to not be pro-life (though I have known a few people who managed it).

Raising pro-life children — Part One

May 29, 2009 § 3 Comments

Every Life is Beautiful

Every Life is Beautiful

I remember very clearly the moment I became pro-life.  I was in my 10th grade biology class and we were learning about fetal development.  My teacher was one of my favorites.  She was beautiful – tall and elegant, smart and she cared very much about her students.  Her husband had been my science teacher in Jr High – he was also a coach.  They seemed like such a wonderful couple,  and it was no secret that they wanted a child – but had never been blessed with one of their own and they had been trying to adopt for at least a couple years.  And so with that knowledge I sat in a darkened room with pictures of the tiniest of babies on the overhead while Mrs Watts explained the changes that each week wrought and as she finished the last frame of the 8 week embryos she quietly said, “this is when most abortions occur”.   She said it so sadly and so quietly that I doubt most the class heard, I was sitting right beside her so I caught it.   I had never really thought about abortion, I’m not even completely sure I knew what it really meant before that moment.  But looking at my teacher I knew completely what it meant.  Little tiny developing babies, little ones with toes and hearts, with DNA and a life and future all their own were being destroyed and sweet, intelligent women who longed to be mothers were sitting on long lists to adopt babies who were never born.   From that moment on I would be unshakably pro-life  — in fact I could hardly imagine how anyone could not be.

The next year I attended Governor’s School.  It was a state sponsored summer camp for students of high academic ability.  One of the “classes” was on ethics and morality – I am not sure that is what it was called, but that is unquestionably what it was.  The topic of abortion was presented.   “What if you were grabbed off the street taken to a hospital and strapped down with tubes sticking out of you.  You are connected to a person who is the greatest violinist in the world while they are ill, the treatment will take nine months,   if you decide to leave they will die.”  The question was posed – would it be ethical to refuse – to get up, walk away and let the musician die.

This is of course was a sly way of introducing the abortion debate.  I argued heartily with the teacher about the minutiae of his set-up.  Pregnancy isn’t they same as being strapped to a table for nine months.  Very, very few woman find themselves grabbed off the street and impregnated against their will.  Consenting to sexual relations means you engaging in activity that may and can by its nature pro-actively places you in the position of being responsible for another beings well-being and safety.   I don’t think the instructor was moved, but I don’t think the class went as he had planned either.   I have no doubt that the “plan” was to convince as many of us as possible that the “pro-choice” stance was the more ethical side of the debate.   If I had not already been convinced with absolute moral certitude of the pro-life position I might have been swayed.

When I had my own children one of the things I wanted to be sure to pass onto them was a respect for all life from conception to the grave.   My desire was to raise children who understand the precious gift that life is.   Sons and daughters who are willing to accept the challenge and responsibility of living in a world where this precious gift is assaulted from all sides.  I wanted to launch adults who know will protect the innocent in the face of of the strong, who are willing to stand up and even to fight for what they believe, but ones who remember every moment that life is beautiful and good — children seeped to the soul, dyed in the wool in the culture of life.

Part two

On Parenting: Ezzo, Babywise and Growing Families International

May 28, 2009 § Leave a comment

It is 11:30 at night and your two month old baby just won’t sleep.  You are tired and exhausted and wondering what you have done wrong and you type into Google “How do I get my baby on a schedule?” and land at http://www.gfi.org or you might ask around and  hear someone whisper the advice to you “Try Babywise” or “Try Growing Kids God’s Way”.  Do you give them a try?  Having a schedule, peace in your home, well behaved children – and for the Christian – the promise this is all Bible based is seductive.   If you think that you might have heard about them before you are probably right.  They made the news because their strict scheduling of feeding was (allegedly)  associated with malnourishment and even death in some babies whose mothers were obviously following the program a bit too closely.

Portrait of the Children of John Angerstein - Sir Thomas Lawrence

Portrait of the Children of John Angerstein - Sir Thomas Lawrence

What is Ezzo, Babywise and Growing Families International?  Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo developed the Growing Kids God’s Way workshops and books and their more secular book Babywise was at one point a hot seller.   I have know people who have really stood by the GKGW program and would rave endlessly about how great it was.  One of my “rules for life is:   “Always assume good intent”.    Most parents want to be “good parents” and while what we feel constitutes a good parent is sometimes be very different we all want to do what is good for our children.  I don’t think anyone would have the fortitude to stick with this program unless they really felt they were doing what was best for their children.

But there are some absolutely maddening things with this parenting method.   I have seen the very typical “blame the parent”  shtick  in both the criticisms of the program and the response to criticism from supports of the program.  Blame is laid at the parent’s feet more often than not.  If the program doesn’t work for a couple it is because they didn’t try hard enough or follow the plan close enough.   On the flip side if someone is describing the “strictness” of the program or faulting its practices it is always just a misreading – the parents are taking it too far and beyond the intent of the text.   Maybe there is some Ezzo Sweet Spot where if you do it just so then it works perfectly?   No, I am afraid this wagon is missing a couple wheels.

So, in fairness let’s look at the good things first:

Routine: Few and far between are the children who don’t do better on a schedule than off and for young children especially having a predictable schedule is a blessing to their lives.  It provides them with a sense of security and predictability in a world that is very big and beyond their control.    Routine is in fact very good for the whole family, the caveat to that of course being that the schedule must balance the needs of the whole family and work for the  family as a whole.

Respect: To me this is a key concept, but I think I take a slightly different tack then the Ezzo’s do.  Instilling children with a sense of respect for others, for authority,  and for themselves is the base for successful relationships.  While I am not convinced that the Ezzo style methods are going to achieve the goal of instilling respect in your children the goal is one I agree with.  But respect as a concept, respecting yourself, respecting others and respecting virtue, is absolutely key to good parenting.

Obedience: Again, this is one of my key concepts, but…  From what I have seen of the Ezzo material for older children obedience is the core of their parenting style.  What scheduling is to the infant obedience is to the older children… basically everything.  It colors everything.   Obedience is very important to a happy child and peaceful family;  it walks hand in hand with respect and discipline.  

Values Parenting I am not sure exactly what to call this so I will stick with “values parenting”.   It is (somewhat surprisingly to me) not universally agreed that parents should pass on their values and beliefs to their children.  Some  parenting philosophies feel that a parents shouldn’t “form” their children.   Personally I find this rather bizarre and agree with the Ezzo idea that one of the most important things parents do is shape the values and beliefs of their children.  In fact I would go so far as to say this is a universal fact of parenting, even among those circles that decry it as overwriting their child’s internal (natural, in-born) personality.  If parent’s value “self-discovery” and teach their children to “discover” their own selves then they raise children for whom this is the norm, they shape children to believe this is the right way.  The parent’s think the child is naturally a “self-explorer”  while overlooking the fact that they raised their child to be just that.  So at least let’s be honest and figure out what we are shooting for.

If you like your world view, your values, your faith and/or your culture then by all mean instill this into your children.   It is your right and obligation as a parent to shape the person you are launching into the world.  Every parent has the right to pass on their faith, culture, values and beliefs.    Now I know the inevitable comeback to this is something along the lines of  “what if parents are Nazis?”  Fair enough, but I have to pull the oft quoted line from Jefferson’s “Note to Elementary School Act, 1817″  where he grapples with the line between paternal rights and the societies responsibility to guard the rights of the child.  He  says:  ” It is better to tolerate the rare instance of a parent refusing to let his child be educated, than to shock the common feelings and ideas by the forcible asportation and education of the infant against the will of the father”.  Indeed I agree that it is better to tolerate the rare instance of a parent passing on questionable and at time repugnant world views on to their children than it is to try to interfere with the parent’s right to indoctrinate their own children into their beliefs and traditions.

Strong marriages: I find it interesting to see how often the marriage relationship is overlooked when speaking about parenting.  The Ezzo’s do not make this mistake and devote a goodly amount of material to the topic of healthy marriages.

On Parenting: Consensual Living

April 13, 2009 § Leave a comment

Last week I looked at a parenting style called Consensual Living.  I began by going over the points that I agree with.

Zwei Kinder - Eugene de Blaas

Zwei Kinder - Eugene de Blaas

Now to the points that I disagree with.

Children are not always reasonable and sometimes can not be reasoned with. Anyone who has ever had to deal with a small child who refused to go to bed because something exciting might be missed can attest to this point.   While one of Consensual Living’s principles is that “children can be trusted to know their own minds and bodies” this is not always the case.  Not at any age. Heavens, adults have a difficult enough time telling their real biological needs from their wants.   This is equally true from the nursing infant who can’t decide if he is more sleepy than hungry to the teenage daughter who can’t tell her hormonal drives from real affection.   Many times a parent’s superior experience is invaluable to children in guiding them to do what is best when they are willing and compelling them to do it  if they become unreasonable.
Discipline is very important.  I am not meaning in the “do as I say or else” sense of the word, but in the “do hard things” sense of the word.   Self discipline is not natural to a child, it is learned.   Concepts like delayed gratification, fiscal discipline, healthy living, self-moderation are all integral to happy and harmonious life.  I find it very ironic that a parenting style which displays, especially in the early years, a great deal of self-denial and dedication on the part of the parent seems almost designed to produce adults who have little to no familiarity with the concept.

A child who is in the perpetual habit of always negotiating every point to which they disagree is in for one heck of a shock when they have to interface with the real world.  Not everything can be compromised, at times you have to buckle down and do things you don’t like, have no interest in and sometimes can’t even see the point of doing in the first place.  Children who do not learn this will be less capable of doing the “hard things” in life that make them successful in reaching their own goals, or even having a job.  No teacher can negotiate 30 sets of rules, no police officer is going to accept that you really are the world’s best backwards driver, no boss is going to renegotiate a deadline because you really need to enjoy a nice spring day.  In the real world compromise is not always part of the deal.
Children are not developmentally prepared for the responsibility of being equal partners in running the household I am in no way against letting children have some say in the running of the home, especially when something is affecting them directly, but they don’t have equal say because they don’t have equal responsibility.   Now I don’t really fault anyone who misses this point, because society at large seems to miss it, but every right has a responsibility attached.  My three year old doesn’t want to have her hair washed.  According to Consensual Living I should rethink the basic idea of “have to”.  Why should she “have to” have her hair washed.  It is after all her hair and she can (according to Consensual Living) determine her own needs.  So what difference does it really make if she has gross, matted, dirty hair?  But it is also my responsibility to make sure her basic needs are met, including being clean at times this can go against her wishes.

Boundaries and rules are not bad things – in fact most children thrive within them and are lost without them. I am a big proponent for “that’s just the way it is” parenting.    Bedtime is 8:30pm, you have to brush your teeth, you aren’t allowed to play if you start hitting people– that’s just the way it is.   Having an autistic child taught me the value of schedules, rules and expectations.   When family life predictable everyone benefits.
Teaching children to respect authority, respect other people and instilling in them a sense of duty is important. I suppose it is a bit old fashioned to talk about respect and duty, but I firmly believe that they are things we need to be teaching our children.   Consensual Living hopes that by modeling empathy and concern for others children will follow that example and from natural good will begin to act in a manner that will reward the parent in producing a child who is sensitive to  other’s wants and needs.  Never mind that all  historical and experiential evidence claim that that less likely than more to happen.

Consensual living is not the only way, nor necessarily the best way, to achieve harmony in the home. Certainly leaving behind rules, “have tos”,  and any form of discipline will led to less conflict in the home.  If you allow your child to wear the same cat costume day after day there will never be a fight over clothing,  but the same can be achieved by simple and consistent routine.

Years ago I remember reading in a parenting magazine about a mother who avoided those “getting dressed” struggles because her daughter insisted on wearing only purple.  The mother bought her little sweety a completely purple wardrobe and all tension of getting dressed in the morning ceased.    I remember being amazed that such poorly thought out advice ever managed to be published… but there it was.  How did a mother ever managed to get herself into such a loosing position that she would have to be arguing with a small child about what to wear?

Preschoolers are notoriously fickle and distractable.  Even if mother had to physically stuff her little dumpling into a yellow frock the entire incident would have been forgotten by her child by the time mother had finished reading a story or driving to a play date.   I can think of almost nothing more damaging to the long term happiness of a child than teaching them that the world will and should bend to their whims.

The harmony achieved by never enforcing any expectation or rule is very dearly bought and I can not help but believe that it is bought at the expense of the child’s long term happiness.

Children learn from more than just example. I have touched on this previously, but this concept deserves a more explicit treatment.  Consensual Living hopes that children will follow their parents’ example and learn the positive lessons of  empathy and concern for the needs of others and follow it.   Children do learn through example, but I fear that there is little native incentive to learn such things within Consensual Living if it is practiced to the letter.    What appears to happen in reality is that parents eventually break the Consensual Living philosophy of no manipulation and create a very manipulative environment where the parent is set bargaining with the child in order to get the child to do what the parent wants to child to do.

I am afraid that in practicality it is inevitable that a system that naturally rewards the one who is most stubborn in their wants is not conducive to teaching a child how to put the wants of other’s before their own.

When it comes to the tasks of daily living Consensual Living’s precepts are not designed for success.   A young child who is in the habit of having mother or father do everything for him is not going to suddenly turn around as an older child or teen and “get” that mom and dad would like help with the household chores.  They might be encouraged to do some work to get something they want, but altruism of the type that Consensual Living depends on is not best taught by this model and hope method.

A gentle but firm method of teaching a child directly how to do the simple tasks of daily living coupled with a predictable schedule and age appropriate behavior expectations is much more likely to produce children with the knowledge and experience they need to be successful in life.

On Parenting: Consensual Living

April 9, 2009 § 2 Comments

While reading around earlier this week  I stumbled on something new:  Consensual Living.   The basic philosophy seems to go something like this:   All members of the family have equal say and all decisions that aren’t obviously life or death type things get negotiated until everyone is happy with the solution.  No “rules”, “chores”, or  “authoritarian limits” everyone’s needs and wants are weighed equally in the decision making.  Parents need to think through even a nonverbal child’s emotional reactions and find empathetic solutions. Rules and limits, requirements, chores, grades, behavior expectations…. normal life or an authoritarian regime forced onto children making them nothing but soulless automatons, cogs in mindless wheel.  Consensual Living questions just about every supposition about what it means to parent you can think of.

The Fisherman's Children - Jules Bastien-Lepage

The Fisherman's Children - Jules Bastien-Lepage

As with most parenting fads this one has a core of good idea wrapped in an idealistic layer and dipped into a complete lack of common sense.   There is nothing wrong with wanting your child to be an active participant in the family, there is nothing wrong with listening to your children’s thoughts and opinions and teaching them positive conflict resolution.  But Consensual Living takes it too far.

So, giving this parenting style its fair shake I will look at the good things first:

Children can (at times) be reasonable and reasoned with. Children do have the ability to reason and understand.  If your take a few moments to explain in simple, straight-forward language why your child must wear sun-screen or a bike helmet you may find them completely co-operative.   Children also respond well when you take the time to let them explain their feelings.  Sometimes what I have thought was a problem turned out to be a misunderstanding.   My 3 year old is absolutely terrified of having her hair washed, if we tell her she has to take a bath she will say “No, hairwash”, if we agree and say “No hairwash tonight” she is more than happy to hop into the tub.  Her problem is not with the bath itself, only with the hairwashing.

Treating children with respect is important. Children are human beings with the right to be treated with dignity and respect.  Shaming or embarrassing a child is almost never acceptable.  It is especially important when children are communicating their needs that they be listened to.   I witnessed an extreme example of this when I was a teenager working in a children’s clothing store.  A young girl, maybe four, was in the store with her mother.  The girl told her mother she needed to use the restroom.  The mother at first ignored the girl.  After repeated requests the mother began to grow impatient with her daughter.  The situation deteriorated to the  point where the little girl was doing the “potty-dance”,  so I informed the woman that we had a restroom in the rear of the store that she was welcomed to use.  This offer was declined and the woman continued shopping.  After a little while the mother brought her selections to the checkout and while I was ringing them up the little girl wet herself.  The mother lost it at this point and scolded the girl, complete with a swat to the tush, for soiling herself.  The only thing that kept me from flipping out at the mother was my utter shock that this was taking place at all.
Teaching problem solving skills is very productive. I agree with the consensual living idea of learning problem solving skills and interpersonal negotiation techniques in real life situations.  Children who can learn to express their needs and wants and compromise to find a productive and workable solution have a valuable life skill.    My children have to learn to compromise in many areas, that is one of the realities of living in a large family.   They have to compromise on what story they have read, what movie they get to watch, which outing they go on.   Frequently we add a bit of incentive by explaining that if they don’t agree to one thing we won’t do anything.   They also have to learn to express their own needs and listen to what other’s are saying in a respectful way.
A peaceful non-confrontational home is a benefit to all family members. I completely agree that peace and harmony are, if not necessary, highly desirable in a home.  A family who lives in a constant state of disharmony can’t be satisfactory.   The Consensual living advocates also seem to recognize the blessings of quiet time.   I am also picked up from reading on their site a recognition that most families are over-scheduled, over-worked and just basically so drained by their busy lives that they barely have the energy to interact sensibly, much less have the ability to create a peaceful home atmosphere.  When too much of a families energy is directed to outside pursuits the outside pursuits come to dominate the energy inside the home as well.    I can see this being a huge drawing point for overworked parents and their over-scheduled off-spring.
Children naturally learn from their parents example. Modeling the behavior we wish to see in our children is the best way to ensure that children learn this behavior. Actions speak louder than words is rock solid truth in parenting.  No matter how much we want to raise kind and gentle children our children are not likely to be kind or gentle if we are harsh and aggressive.    With something like smoking I could see not being a good example doing just as well being a horrible warning,  but for things like temperament modeling the best behavior is almost the only way to ensure that a child will incorporate that behavior in their own lives.

Next… the not so good

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