Monthly Archives: January 2013

Sins of the Father — and Mother

father child hands

As a kid in Sunday School, I did not like the part of Exodus 20:5 about “punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation” (New International Version 1984).  What kind of justice was that?  Then, I got to understand the importance of family history.  I realized that maybe this verse was not a criminal sentence.  Maybe it was simply an explanation of how things are.  Children are condemned to learn from the example of their parents.  It is the most powerful example they have in life.  This is more obvious in some families, where we can see a clear pattern.  For example, abused children can become abusive parents.

But it is more subtle, too.  Have you ever thought, “Wow, I sound just like my mother!”  My husband says, “Parenting is not just what you do.  It’s who you are.”  (I married up — he’s a genius!)  Children go beyond doing what you do.  They internalize and incorporate who you are into who they are.  How you feel about yourself.  How you handle (or suppress) feelings.  Maybe that’s why we surprise ourselves when we sound just like our mothers.  We don’t just consciously remember the words; maybe we actually take on the emotion of her response.

On the flip side, the rewards of the father — and mother — will be bestowed upon the children (for a thousand generations, according to Exodus 20:6).  The verse was not literally about parenting, but it applies well, I think.  Your children will inherit the relationships you are building.  When you build your relationship with your husband, you also influence how your children will build their relationship with their future spouses.  When you create connections with your children, you are also helping to develop their ability to connect with their children.

I remember the awful feeling I had when I realized my son might grow up to “marry his mother,” as many men do.  Would I want him to marry someone like me?  Back then, the answer was, “no!”  Now, I’m at a point where I think I could deal with that.  There have been times when I’ve wanted to throw in the towel and stop trying so hard to make things better.  Self-evaluation and self-improvement are a lot of work.  Holding back my temper is hard.  Connecting with the kids takes a conscious effort.  Falling down and getting back up again is a challenge.  But, hopefully, these efforts will be a gift for generations to come.

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Haiku: Playground Advice

Detail of sandbox with toys

I heard a mom’s words

At the park:

Don’t take your lollipop in the sand.

– Copyright Christine (MomLikeABomb.com), 2013

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Mom with Failure-phobia, aka Perfectionism

By MeekMark (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Measuring Up

I have never been an alcoholic.  So, I was surprised at how well I could relate to Sandra Bullock’s alcoholic character when I watched the movie, “28 Days.”  I went straight to the computer and stayed up way too late researching addiction to figure out my connection.  That’s when I stumbled upon the concept of perfectionism.  I was surprised to find out what it meant.

I thought that a perfectionist felt driven to do everything perfectly, and probably looked perfect and had a very neat home.  That was definitely not me.  But apparently, there is much more to it.  A perfectionist is afraid of not being perfect.  A perfectionist, oh, just for example, might not pursue her love of writing for decades because she is afraid she might not be good enough.  Or, a perfectionist might be anxious about how she measures up as a mother.  For a perfectionist, “perfect” is the minimum that you are supposed to achieve.  Anything else feels Not Good Enough.

The day after I watched “28 Days,” I wanted to find a book about perfectionism right away at the library.  There were none available in the regular adult section, so I got one from the children’s section, “Too Perfect,” by Trudy Ludwig.  I started reading it as I stood there.  Soon I had to shut the book and fight back tears, because I saw myself in the little girl who couldn’t be happy.

This fear of failure is a powerful motivator.  It drives us to do well, but sucks the pleasure out of the process.  It paralyzes us when we consider trying something new.  Unfortunately, I thought I needed my children to be perfect in order to feel good enough as a mother.  Naturally, by this standard, I was never good enough, and neither were they.  I pushed, I nitpicked, I corrected.  I did it to myself, my kids, and my surroundings.

Even worse, I discovered that this fear of not being good enough had already infected my kids.  Within a week of discovering perfectionism, I heard my daughter asking to quit ballet because she wasn’t good enough.  My son was feeling the same about gymnastics.  I knew I had to get it under control in myself so that I could model it for them.  There are a few things I did:

  • Read about perfectionism online.  A couple of pages I liked are linked below.
  • Tried to catch myself and stop myself from being critical.
  • Tried not to get upset about making mistakes or having problems.
  • Tried to let the kids see me not getting upset about making mistakes or having problems.
  • Talked to the kids about enjoying their activities and not just doing them for the sake of achievement.
  • Did a fun little exercise of choosing one thing to do imperfectly on purpose.  This was in a book, and I am sorry I can’t remember what one.  I chose measuring cooking ingredients.  I did this carelessly, rather than my usual way of filling the tablespoon, leveling, adding a little more, removing a little.  It sort of made me cringe, but lo and behold, the recipe came out fine!
  • Accepted that it is ok to fail at things.  This is part of living and learning.
  • Worked on accepting the kids and myself as just fine who we are.

The funny thing is, the less anxious I was about how clean the house was, the cleaner the house actually became.  The less worried I was about the kids’ schoolwork, the better they performed.  I think we are better balanced and more successful when we can relax a little and enjoy what we are doing.

Links I like:

http://www.counselingcenter.illinois.edu/?page_id=113

http://stress.about.com/od/understandingstress/a/perfectionist.htm

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From Control to Compassion: A Mom’s Path in a Nutshell

Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-Art (PD-old-100)

When I learn something complicated, I like to see the big picture first, then follow up with the details.  So, I am going to share a whole overview of the stages I went through to find out my recipe for parenting.  Unfortunately, it was more like an aged cheese than a microwave dinner, and took many years to develop.  If you are experiencing some of the same things I did, I hope it goes faster for you!  In future posts, I’ll explain how I got from one point to another.  Is there something you’re curious about now?  Ask, and maybe I can get to that topic first!

Stage 1: Discovering that my authoritarian formula didn’t work

Stage 2: Trying to improve my implementation of the faulty authoritarian formula

Stage 3: Trying to figure out what was wrong with my son, since he didn’t respond how he was supposed to

Stage 4: Abandoning the intimidation-based (authoritarian) discipline formula.  So, I was left with a gap to fill.  I wandered through a parenting desert, with a confused mix of permissiveness and strictness.

Stage 5: Starting to recognize empathy and emotional intelligence as important skills for parenting (for relationships, too!)

Stage 6: Realizing that my children learned more from who I am than from what I did.  Realizing that I needed to change on the inside.  (When I write this stage, I imagine a choir of angels singing out a joyful note.)

Stage 7: Looking inward. Discovering the four horsemen of my parenting apocalypse: Anger, Perfectionism, Stoicism, and Guilt

Stage 8: Learning a better way, which meant combating anger, perfectionism, stoicism and guilt with a balance of empathy and boundaries

Stage 9: Practicing a better way.  Faltering sometimes, but getting back up and trying again.  This is where I am now

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The Perfect Parenting Formula

Large Resistance — isn’t that the truth?! Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-old

Ready for a laugh?  Here is how I thought the perfect parenting formula would work.  I thought I would establish rules, and my kids would mostly follow them.  Naturally, they would do this, because they love and respect me and I am wiser and bigger than they are.  And if they didn’t follow the rules, I would simply give them a disapproving look and speak firmly.  If necessary, I would impose a punishment or revoke a privilege.  Consistency would be the key.  Lots of articles and some books (including New Kid By Friday) reassured me that this formula would work.

On the flip side, I believed that if other people’s children were out of control, it was the parents’ fault.  Wild kids were obviously the result of overindulgence, giving in to whining, and failing to establish boundaries.

Some moms of compliant, “easy” children may be nodding their heads right now.  But moms of “spirited” children are probably thinking that I was the kind of woman who needed to get a serious reality check.  You can smirk now, because I got that reality check.  My second child, a girl, responded well to my formula.  But my first child, a boy, showed no interest in following any rules that did not suit him.  He did not seem to be impressed with my age, wisdom, or size.  If I wanted him to hurry, he would freak out about putting his shoes on.  If I wanted him to be quiet, he would shriek.  If I was stressed out, he dug his heels in on whatever I needed him to do.   He tested things (like toys and his little sister) by seeing what would happen if he whacked them.

I tried timeouts, and I got dents in the wall where he expressed his opinion about those.  I tried giving him a big bear hug and talking gently till he calmed down.  But to this, he just yelled, bit, kicked, and pinched until we were both in tears.  I know there were some parents who thought he was a candidate for a good spanking, and I am sorry to say, I tried that, too.  But I came to realize that all the force and coercion wasn’t working.   It was only proving to him how wrong I was.

And how wrong I was.  Lucky for me, he was a child who did not fear me.  His stubbornness forced me to find alternatives to my intimidation-based discipline strategy.  But that meant that everything I believed about parenting was falling through, and I had a huge gap to fill.  If that was the wrong formula, what was the right formula?  Like a mad scientist, I searched for years, reading everything I could get my hands on.  I’ve slowly discovered that parenting is more like a recipe than a formula.  There are many different ingredients, and you improve the mix over time through trial and error.  Different parents use different variations to suit different tastes.  Sometimes you have to change it up a little just for variety.  I don’t have one perfect recipe, but at least now my parenting doesn’t leave such a bad taste in our mouths anymore.  Stay tuned for my next post, in which I will outline the stages I went through during this process.

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Grocery Scene: Shrieking Toddler, Panicking Mom

stern woman

My son starts shrieking from his seat in the grocery cart.  “Shh,” I tell him.  He is suddenly calm.  HA!  Not really.  He is not calm.  He keeps shrieking.  Maybe if my tone is more intense, he will know I mean it.  He must be thinking the same thing about his tone, because the harder I try to hush him, the louder he gets.  My next clever move is to squeeze his hand.  I have to come up with something that works, because all the good moms with quiet children must now be thinking I am a really bad mom.  I squeeze his hand harder, and he shrieks louder.  Finally, his stubbornness gives in to frustration and/or pain, and he bursts into tears.

I feel relief, because crying is something I can deal with, and it is quieter.  I also feel guilt, because I just tried to solve my problem by hurting my son.  And, I feel anxiety because this has happened before and will probably happen again, and I don’t know any other solution.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was acting in desperation out of fear.  I didn’t even know then that fear could be a motivation.  I was especially afraid of what others would think of me.  After a while, I began to notice that situations like this escalated much worse in public than at home because of the pressure I put on myself to perform properly in front of other people.

So, now that I had identified my fear of judgement, I could work on getting over it.  I concentrated on caring less about the imaginary “good mom” in another aisle.  I worked on swallowing my pride and accepting the embarrassment of a screaming child, rather than making him cry to be more socially acceptable.  I still tried to get him to stop, but I became a little less panicked and a little more calm.  This took a long time and a lot of practice, and I still am not totally over acting this way.

This scenario was just my first step in recognizing that a mother has to manage her own reaction, both mentally and physically, in order to improve a situation.  Through the years, I have gotten better at understanding why he might be screaming in the first place, but that is a topic yet to come.

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