You want the best possible life for your child. At every age and stage of her life, you want to see her happy, healthy, successful, fulfilled, enjoying great relationships, living a sane and balanced life. This is your dream for her.
From day one of your being a parent, you commit yourself to doing everything in your power to make this dream come true. You care for her, groom her, show her, tell her, teach her, prepare her, you supervise her every activity. You also try to shield her from both the worthless and the harmful in life – be it thoughts, activities, information, or people.
You are dedicated to help her create and live the best possible life she can.
It is your best effort, but it is a fairly lopsided effort, and doomed to failure almost from the start. There’s a reason I’m saying this: if you’re preparing her to have a happy, healthy, successful… life, then you need to introduce her to all of life, not to selected bits and pieces of life. But you don’t!
I know this, and so do you, because if you’d been talking to her about all of life, she’d know about puberty and sex and stuff like that from the time she was a toddler. Instead, all she learns from you is that there is stuff ‘that she should not ask / talk about’, or ‘that she is too young to understand’: basically, she gets the clear impression that you are uncomfortable and/or unwilling to face and deal with some questions / issues.
Tell me something: Say your 2-year old asks you why leaves are green, and why everyone says you should plant trees. He’s way too young to understand photosynthesis and soil erosion and ‘stuff like that’, but you still try your best to get as close to the real explanation, don’t you, when you try and answer his questions?
Then why do you clam up about sex?
Of course you need to deliver the answers in a form he can understand! That goes without saying, no matter what the message, or what the age of your child.
Why, then, do you perpetuate the “the-stork-brought-you-home-type” of stories? (Then he watches movies about teenage sex, and wonders: ‘What is going on? My parents can’t be such dorks they don’t know this stuff, so it looks like they don’t want to talk to me about it.’ So it becomes forbidden. Before he ever learns sex is as normal as sleeping or eating, he learns it is ‘bad’, ‘taboo’, something to be uncomfortable about.) And you think you’re so smart fobbing him off with some made up stories! While he’s learning not to trust you… Sad, sad situation – of your own making.
If there is a Mom living in the house, she presumably has periods. Why isn’t it talked about? It’s not a big deal – it can be as normal as why people have fevers, or why Granddad has arthritis, or the importance of going to the dentist, or how fire cooks food, or why it is important to keep the house clean, or why the sun rises and sets…
Children are not too young to deal with it. Children are the most accepting, matter-of-fact people you can find. It is WE parents who are too scared, under-confident, and conflicted in our OWN attitudes to these issues; it is we who are unable to deal with them. And we end up passing on these conflicted attitudes to our children.
That is the only reason why we make such a mess of ‘THE TALK’.
And it is a mess – the timing of it, the way we broach the topic, the way we either avoid making eye contact or stare the child down, the awkward “one long lecture should fix it once and for all and then I don’t need to worry about it” thinking behind it, the searching for ‘technical’ words which they won’t hear at all in the real world, the avoidance of slang which is all they hear around them, the ‘good’ attitude to it (she must behave like sex doesn’t exist for her at a personal level!), the ‘bad’ attitude to it (she can’t think: I am curious, I want to know more, I want to ask someone who won’t think less of me or condemn me for asking, I want to ask someone who will tell me things as they really are, not someone who will try to manipulate my thinking with their answers, I feel things I don’t understand – how do I make sense of them?, is it wrong of me to feel this way?, is it wrong of me to think this way?,…)
If you, as a Mom, are not yet comfortable with your body and your menstrual cycle, if you haven’t accepted it, if you can’t talk to your partner about it, how do you expect to speak with your child about it? Whether your child is a boy or a girl is entirely beside the point.
If you as a Dad are unable to deal with how your body acts and reacts in various situations, if you don’t acknowledge that you have fought for control over your body (and might still be doing so! 🙂 ), how do you think you will be able to explain anything to your child? Whether your child is a boy or a girl is entirely beside the point.
One of my parenting mantras is never to lie to a child – any child. Never.
I will try my best to tell them the truth in whatever form they can get it. If they absolutely can’t get it, I might say, “I’m not sure how to explain so you can understand, but I’m trying to come up with a way to do so. I need some time.” And then I give them an example. Maybe something like: “Sometimes, you feel something, but you don’t know how to express what you feel. Or you may not even know yourself what you feel, just that you feel something. So you need to spend some time to understand what it is you’re feeling. I need time in the same way…”
You see, I know the answer to what they’re asking! So it is my responsibility as the parent (or the adult) to find a way to explain it to the child. If I can’t explain, it is only because I am unwilling to do so. There is no other reason. After all, I’m happy to talk to the child forever about everything else under the sun! Just not this ‘sex stuff’…!
I have spoken to at least a dozen children of various ages over the years, telling them about what adults euphemistically call “growing up”, and I’ve never had any problems telling them, and they’ve never had any problems accepting what I said.
Obviously, these are all children who are very close to me, with whom I have had a real relationship, though I am not necessarily related to all of them. And these conversations have played out over years, growing in complexity as the issues became more real and immediate to the children, with one or the other of us coming back to it at different points. With each child, it was an interrupted, but ongoing conversation, one both the child and I were comfortable with.
I have seen these children make conscious choices in life, and that has been a wonderful experience – seeing them make a choice from a position of love, affirmation of oneself; empowered with information. They haven’t avoided the mental and emotional pains of growing up, but I believe they have had it much easier than many other children who are left to make sense of the whole ‘sex stuff’ on their own – sucked under by the collective quagmire of social ignorance, labeling, peer pressure, and their parents’ cluelessness. The oldest of these ‘children’ is now married (happily married! 🙂 ), and has not yet shown signs of being negatively affected by getting the ‘sex talk’ from the time he first broached the topic – when he was less than 4 years old!
It’s do-able. Give it a shot.
One of the reasons we face so many problems with growing children is that they are growing at a natural and normal pace, but we’re holding them back.
You won’t talk to them about their bodies, about the body in general, about puberty, about the opposite sex, about how babies are made; but you will talk them into the year 2015 about taking on more responsibility, doing chores, performing well at school, taking care of their parents / grandparents, taking care of the environment – things YOU consider grown up.
And you’re trying to tell me your kids are not growing lopsided! I don’t believe you.
If they’re growing up, they’re growing up in every way – you can’t tailor their growing up to your convenience, though you’d like to do so! 🙂
Over and over again, you have seen it: the more you suppress or ignore something, the greater the force with which it will hit you in the face when you least expect it. (I’m sure there’s one of Newton’s Laws here – action and reaction?) It’s like a Jack-in-the-box. The more you try to influence your child to have one kind of attitude, the more extreme will be his reaction in exploring the opposite attitude. That too, at a time you’d rather he be guided by you! (Be honest: wouldn’t you rather that he be guided by you always and forever? 🙂 )
Okay, you’re willing to consider the idea that the earlier you start talking to your child about ‘stuff like that’, the better off you both will be.
So: when should you talk to your child about puberty, sex and stuff like that? Every time he asks you.
Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂
If someone asked you to identify your child’s most irritating habit, it would take you some time to do so. Not because you have to think really hard to identify it, but because there are so many, that you’d need first to list them, and then put them in order to identify the most irritating habit! 🙂
Maybe he’s forgetful, he’s rude, he leaves the tops off things (tubes, tins etc.), he doesn’t close doors, he ‘lies’ (this is a tough one: it is difficult to define what is the truth and what is a lie), he does things behind your back, he’s careless, he’s untidy, he’s fixated on a particular way of doing something…
Whatever the case, there are only two reasons you are irritated by something your child does or does not do: either you cannot, for the life of you, understand why she does what she does, or you have the same habit!
Let’s say she eats very slowly. Actually, once the food is in her mouth, it has found a temporary home. You spend m-i-n-u-t-e-s reminding and coaxing her to chew and then to swallow, but she resists you with all her might. You’ve tried to understand the peculiar satisfaction she derives from treating her mouth as a holding area for food, but after months (or maybe years!) of effort, you still don’t get it.
At times, you’re tempted to go back to mashed food or smoothies, which you can just pour down her throat – and you’ll both be done with mealtime!
You, on the other hand, have always been brisk and business-like, putting the food into your mouth, chewing to your satisfaction, swallowing, and then following it up with the next mouthful. Your partner, both sets of grandparents, perhaps your other children – everybody eats normally. Just this one drives you insane, trying to create a world record for the morsel of food held longest in the mouth. (And she does this with every morsel!)
What can you do?
How about stepping back? It’s her mouth, her food, her stomach, her hunger – why not give her a chance to do it her way?
I can almost hear you think: “But then she’ll never get any food into her! She’ll starve, she won’t get enough nutrition, she’ll get sick, she won’t grow…”.
Do you really think she’ll starve if she doesn’t eat ‘enough’ (this is your definition of how much is enough for her, not hers!) for a few meals or days? Not one of our children is likely to come even 50% close to starvation (that’s something to be profoundly grateful for 🙂 ), so this fear is completely unjustified.
You’ve tried everything else you could think of; why not try stepping back from the situation? Trust her to know: when she’s hungry, how much to eat and how to eat.
As you lay off reminding, encouraging, cajoling, blackmailing and scolding her, she will realize in a few days that she has to rely on herself to get enough food. And she will eat. Maybe she still won’t chew as fast as you’d like, maybe she’ll continue to keep food in her mouth for too long (in your opinion) but that’s just how she eats. Accept it! And once you accept it as part of who she is, her ‘habit’ will stop irritating you.
But what if you have the same habit?
Your son procrastinates. No matter what you say, the response is: “I’ll just do it; in just a minute”. But you don’t see him get up to do it. Not immediately, not in the next few minutes, not in the next hour, maybe. Sometimes, not over the next few weeks! And you fret and fume about him: you son, the eternal procrastinator.
Hola! Do you procrastinate?
Of course you do! 🙂 And of course you procrastinate differently from him!
You won’t be late getting the kids off to school or yourself to work, you won’t routinely delay mealtime, you won’t delay filing your tax returns (or will you? 😉 )…
But when it comes to taking the clothes to the drycleaners, fixing that loose bolt, getting your paperwork ready for tax time… – you do procrastinate. Whenever you are confronted with things you need to do but don’t want to, you postpone the unpleasantness by doing something else instead. So laundry piles up, dishes pile up, errands pile up, personal goals pile up, social obligations pile up. Your life is under pressure from the things and people you’ve put off for ‘later’.
And you’re irritated that your son procrastinates. He’s learnt from you! “If Dad/Mom is doing it, it can’t be such a bad thing, can it?” he thinks, and happily mirrors your behavior.
He’s busy reading the latest Percy Jackson book, or playing his favorite video game, and you’re asking him to put his lunch dishes away. Firstly, he barely hears you. If he does, he’ll nod and mumble ‘yes’ just to be rid of the distraction you present, and promptly forget he agreed to do anything.
If he has heard and understood, and agrees to put his dishes away, he truly means to do it. Except that continuing the pleasurable activity he’s already engaged in is his first priority, so he’ll do the job just as soon as he’s done with the pleasure. But he keeps prolonging the reading or the playing (wouldn’t you?) and before you know it, it’s evening, and the dirty lunch dishes are still on the table in front of him, probably adding to biodiversity by growing a new species of fungus.
But you don’t care about biodiversity at this moment. You want those dishes in the sink – NOW! Scenes, recriminations, bad feelings on both sides… You know how it goes.
Look at yourself carefully. Whatever habit of your child irritates you the most is something you are guilty of doing.
So fix it at the root. Don’t say anything to him. Fix yourself first. Don’t expect miracles – not with yourself, and definitely not with your child!
But if you keep at it, as you slowly address your problem, he will change too. As he begins to see you dealing with things promptly, he will automatically begin to adopt your new behavior, and you would have successfully fixed your child’s most irritating habit! 🙂
Of course, there’s a whole laundry list of them, so you can just take a deep breath and start fixing the next one – the new Most Irritating Habit! 🙂
Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂
You are a dedicated career person, relatively happy and busy, progressing in your field. Then you hit a speed-bump called ‘having a baby’.
Most societies are patriarchal, so the parent who stays home to look after the kids full-time (if at all such a decision is taken by the parents) is usually the mother. However, there are some stay-at-home dads too, who raise the children while their partners go to work.
So you’ve made the decision to stay at home and mind the baby, till she’s a bit older, till she’s slightly more independent. Once she’s better able to take care of herself, you’ll go back to work.
In a few years, another baby comes along, and then you’re busy managing the differing needs of children in two (or more) different age groups. Obviously, the youngest is too young to manage on his own, and even when the elder one (or two or more) are able to take care of themselves, guilt keeps you home: how can you not do for your youngest what you did for the others?
It’s impossible to pick the ‘right time’ to go back to work!
Before you know it, ten or more years have gone past. Now, you are grappling with teenage issues, and more than ever before, you feel you need to be home. “He doesn’t share anything! I need to be around him so I can see what he’s up to, so I know what’s going on in his life. (As if hanging around him would tell you what’s going on with him! 🙂 ) And if he ever wants to talk, at least I’ll be around.”
Towards the last few years that the children are home, you feel increasingly redundant. You stay at home to be available to them, but you find yourself being sidelined as they get busy with their friends, their interests, and their own lives.
On a day-to-day basis, you are treated as nothing better than a maid-of-all work. What hurts is being called a nag. Routinely, you are told: “Will you stop it? Just chill, will you? Stop nagging! Don’t get after my life! I don’t need you to tell me this – I can handle it! Why are you after me all the time? Just leave me alone, will you?”
Slammed doors, locked doors, loud music, the silent treatment, making faces, leaving the house in a huff, sulking for days on end – it’s become a way of life.
And you stayed home to be a full-time parent! You wonder what’s gone wrong.
Nothing’s gone wrong. But two things have happened.
One: Your child is growing up. This means he is learning who he is when he is on his own. He is learning how to think, how to evaluate people and ideas. He is becoming his own person.
In the process, he will veer violently away from what you have taught him. It’s logical, if you think about it. For ten-odd years, he’s been influenced by your way of thinking. This makes him grow in one direction, thinking a particular way. For him to find a sense of who he is, he must (and will!) try out the opposite way of thinking too! So he will seem to reject you and all that you stand for.
If you want to help him become a worthwhile adult, this is a price you have to pay – whether you are prepared to pay it or not.
The second thing that has happened over the years of devoting yourself exclusively to the children is that you have become uni-dimensional. You have become boring – you haven’t learnt new stuff, haven’t grown in your abilities as an individual.
You are frustrated at the time you have lost – time you could have used to give your life any shape you wanted! You are also resentful that your child is not showing enough appreciation for your ‘sacrifice’ in staying home and looking after her. She should at least acknowledge, if not appreciate, that you have put your life on the back-burner for her. Instead, she’s openly ungrateful!
Well, she has every reason to be! It was your decision to stay home and look after her. It was you that decided she ‘needed’ you home for a ‘bit longer’. Why should she take responsibility for your decision?
A part of you is also scared because you’ve concentrated exclusively on being a parent for so long, that you’ve forgotten what it feels like to be yourself – who you are when you are not ‘being’ a parent. You’ve lost confidence in your ability to work at something other than parenting. And the kids don’t need you anymore!
The truth is that you were a fully functional human being long before you were a parent. You had your interests, passions, and dreams. When you decided to be a ‘career’ parent, you brought the rest of your life to an abrupt halt. And now that this ‘career’ is at an end, you don’t know what to do with yourself.
This is why I say: Parenting is a bad career option.
To be a good parent, you must be yourself – all of yourself – not a poor ‘shadow’ of yourself. Keep doing whatever fulfills you as a person. If you do not find challenge and satisfaction in what you do from day to day, you will not be happy. And only a happy person can have good relationships.
You must find work that is yours to do, goals which are yours to achieve, delight which is yours to share. You don’t have to work 18 hours a day outside the home. In fact, you might do work from home – run a business, coach students, write, paint, sculpt…
I know a few women, who love running their homes – to them, THAT is their job. And they are successful at it! They don’t have a salary, but they are busy, happy, and fulfilled, and take great pride in running a home that supports the well-being of the family and of the individuals within that family.
But a majority of stay-at-home moms say, “I’m just a home-maker”. And that ‘just’ is the most unjust thing you could do to yourself.
Don’t think you will neglect your child. Don’t worry about not having enough time for her. Your joy and fulfillment will make you a far better parent than you would otherwise be. In fact, I’d go so far as to say you owe it to your child to be a working parent. Show her that it is possible to find fulfillment both as a parent and as a person – that the two are not contradictory goals. 🙂
Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂
You are a busy person. You wear many hats, and manage, somehow, to stay on top of it all. One day, a baby gets added to your packed schedule.
You have some months’ notice, so you start clearing your schedule to make place for the baby. And when the baby is born, you have maternity / paternity leave to spend quantity time with the baby. As the end of your leave period approaches, you devote serious thought to how you will spend enough time with your child once you’re back at work.
The solution involves your spending all your after-work hours with your child while he’s awake. Once he’s in bed, you’ll catch up on chores and other work. The stuff you can’t finish will either get postponed or fall by the wayside.
As your child grows, there’s more going on in his life. But your responsibilities have grown too, and you get busier as well. Also, once the novelty of having a child has worn off (sounds like sacrilege to say it, but it’s true! 🙂 ), you want to get back to something that at least vaguely resembles the life you had before he came along.
Maybe you were at the movies every weekend before you became a parent. Now that you have a child, is it too much to want to watch one movie every 3 months, you wonder? The reasonable answer is: no. This puts further pressure on the time you have with your child.
As time goes by, you want to stay involved in your child’s life, but you aren’t around him for a large part of his waking day. When you get home, you ask: “What happened today? I made your favorite dessert for lunch as a surprise – did you enjoy it? What did the teacher say about your essay on your favorite animal? How was the school picnic?”
He might be tired and sleepy. He might be having dinner while watching TV, so he’s not really in the mood for conversation. He says: “Nothing much. I loved the mango custard, thanks. She didn’t say anything about my essay. The picnic was good.”
He might get animated when it comes to the picnic, and give you details, but it won’t be the same as it would have been if you’d been home when he burst through the door screaming with excitement about all that happened at the picnic.
So here you are, doing everything you can to give your child quality time – focusing exclusively on him -but you’re conscious of something missing.
The fact is that quality time doesn’t work. All children, however old they are, need quantity time. First, there has to be quantity time. Quality time may come later.
This is why many working parents become jealous of their child’s caregiver. The child seems to bond so well with the caregiver, and the caregiver knows the child much better than they do!
Obviously – what else do you expect? If someone is spending eight or ten hours a day 5 or 6 days a week with your child, they’re with him when he’s screaming, laughing, playing, teasing, talking, sleepy, messy, funny, grouchy – they share all those moments with your son.
And you hurt – because you would rather be the one who shared all this with your child, but you’re not.
So how can you, as a working person, get quantity time with your child?
Build it in.
Driving time is a superb example of this. In today’s day and age, most of us commute significant distances. If your child is with you, actively use driving time. Asking her “what happened at school this week?” is a sure way to make sure she’s silent throughout.
Instead, you might want to start with a story of your own. How when you were little you dropped a bottle of water in the classroom, and what a mess it caused. You can be sure she’ll respond with some story – about how someone made a mess, or dropped food, or eats messily, and as easily as that, the stories will begin, and you can share her world, her time. 🙂
Why do you want to do chores when she’s asleep? Let her do them with you! You’ll teach her that running a home involves work, you’ll train her, and you’ll share time and experiences with her. Isn’t that what you want? You simply can’t go wrong with this one.
The best part is that you can start doing this even with babies who are a few months old!
Preparing food? Let her hand you the vegetables. Washing stuff? Cleaning stuff? Wiping the table? Pouring things? Let her stir, season, arrange, put away, wipe, clean, dust. Yes, so long as she can sit, she can do all these things. The only one who thinks she can’t is you!
I’ve had 8-month old babies sit on the kitchen counter and transfer peas from a bowl to a pan. I’ve had them use long ladles to stir vegetables cooking on the gas with the flame on. I’ve taken them shopping, showing them what is a good tomato to buy, and how to pick potatoes. We’ve picked fruit, weighed vegetables, debated about buying one type of chips over another… You are the only one that’s limiting the time you spend with your child.
Want to wash the car? Well, sit him in it. Give him a cloth, show him how to wipe the dashboard and steering wheel, and let the fun begin! Maybe he’ll toot the horn. You can clean the windows and play peek-a-boo…
As your children grow, let them do more things with you. It’s easier, because they are able to do more things. But it’s important that you let them do those things.
Whenever you think the time is right, let them use electrical gadgets – the blender, the kettle, the microwave. Whenever you think they (and you! 🙂 ) are ready, let them use knives and sharp implements – let them peel and dice vegetables, hand you nails to hammer into the wall…
Do it with them – it’s less of a chore, and you’ll be amazed at the quantity and quality of time you get with your child. As you get things done together, you’ll also keep talking – sharing stories, thoughts and events.
Share your world with them. It’s only reasonable, don’t you think? After all, you want them to share their world with you.
P.S. My father says I’m in danger of being arrested for breaking the law against child labor! 🙂
There was a time, perhaps in your childhood, when only adults experienced stress. The adults might not have known the word ‘stress’, but they experienced it. There was a living to earn, a family to provide for and raise, parents to look after, social and community roles to fulfill: adults were under pressure.
Children, by contrast, were said to lead carefree lives. No responsibilities, no worries. They were loved and provided for, and all they had to do was to go to school and study and play. Life was easy for the kids.
Today, even 2-year olds are stressed. From going to classes with parents, weekday activities, weekend classes, social events, technology, trying to learn the alphabet, knowing their table manners, how to speak with adults of every age – they have already begun the juggling act. And it is vital that they keep all the balls in the air. Children of all age groups learn this from their parents: no matter how old (or young!) you are, you cannot afford to let anything drop.
As a parent, you try to make it easier on your kids. You show them how to juggle so many things. (And they don’t even have to deal with half the stuff you do!) You show them how you make lists, prioritize, keep to a schedule, and then make time for relaxation. Yes – you’ve even managed to make time to ‘de-stress’! 🙂 So maybe every first Saturday of the month you head off to a spa early in the morning for a full-body massage. Bliss! 🙂
Except that you’re scrambling to wake up and get to the spa, and the moment your massage is done, you’re back on the treadmill, achieving goals and managing stress.
I have a slightly different suggestion. Just for a change, try not to manage stress. The moment you feel you are stressed, take a break. Act like this is the last straw, and you can’t handle any more.
I can see your disbelief. What?! You’ve spent months of your life reading up on how to manage stress, how to handle increasing amounts of stress without breaking under the strain, and along comes some idiot suggesting you undo all that learning and practice; suggesting you start crying ‘Wolf!’ at the slightest sign of stress! Well, the way your life is right now, all you’ll be doing is taking breaks all day long – nothing will get done!
Excellent! 🙂 I’m more convinced than ever that you need to stop managing stress. In the process, you’ll also teach your kids to not-manage-stress. What you’ll really be doing is teaching them to stay off lifelong physical and mental health issues.
Take a moment to think about it. Why do you want to increase your tolerance to stress? So that you can accomplish more?
That’s like saying you must keep playing – even after your muscles have cramped up, and you’ve developed a hairline fracture from stress. Why? So you can tell people I can play even when my muscles have frozen and my bones are broken? And how well do you think you’ll be playing in this condition? And what’s the point of it anyway? The only thing you’ll get is frozen muscles and broken bones!
Quit this madness.
Look at your life when you ‘manage’ stress: You’re worried about someone backstabbing you at work. You’ve got this under control – when you get home, your family doesn’t see how stressed you are. You feel good about your ability to ‘manage’ the stress.
You haven’t slept too well because of the office situation, and you have an argument with someone at home – your partner, or your child. Again, you dig into your well of patience and tolerance, and don’t blow up. You keep with the script, getting things done, making sure everyone’s ready and out the door when they should be.
The argument is piled on top of the work stress; but you’ve got it ‘under control’. You feel even better about yourself – you can manage ‘more’ stress.
You drive to work. You don’t need me to spell it out. You manage this stress as well. Pat on the back. 🙂
Get to work. Your supervisor makes an unreasonable request of you, or makes an uncalled-for comment. Especially in view of the cagey situation at work, you put your best face on it, and doggedly soldier on. Super! 🙂 You are the king / queen of stress management!
Sorry to burst your bubble, and welcome to the real world. As you go through your work day, the feelings of irritation, resentment, worry and annoyance simmering inside you bubble up, till you can’t concentrate on your work. You turn in less than your best. You can’t concentrate; you miss obvious facts, draw unwarranted conclusions; things just don’t come together.
More stress. More worry. Drive back home. Child calls: “Please pick up some special craft paper for a project.” Partner calls: “Honey, I’ve got stuck with some urgent work. It’s my turn to fix dinner, but I’ll be home really late.” You remember: partner was planning some fancy dish, for which the ingredients are in place. You can only make burgers, and all you have at home is sliced sandwich bread. The queue at the supermarket is serpentine. At the craft store, you can’t figure out the kind of paper your child wants. Ten minutes on the phone trying to figure out which kind of craft paper you need to buy.
You get home to find your children complaining about each other, or about what happened at school. Or they say, “Oh no! Not burgers again! We were looking forward to…”.
E-X-P-L-O-S-I-O-N!! Then guilt…
But there is another way: the not-managing-stress way.
You get home worried about a situation at work. You spend time with the family, and then tell them you want to take time out to think about something. You shut yourself up in a room, or go for a walk, or listen to music… Basically, you deal with your fears and all the what-ifs of the office situation. You feel better. You don’t lose so much sleep at night.
When someone pushes your buttons in the morning, you get mad, but instead of acting ‘normal’, you say, “I’m mad, so please don’t talk to me for a while. I need to calm down.” Going through the morning routine without further provocation calms you.
You drive to work and take a few minutes to work out the kinks in your neck and shoulders from the tense drive, or chat with your colleagues, or drink a quiet cup of coffee at your desk. You’re fresh, and ready to do your best at work.
Your boss makes an unreasonable request. Instead of shouldering the burden, you take a mental time-out, and consider the request. You figure out how you want to deal with it; you make a conscious choice, and feel empowered. No stress. The day goes on like this.
This is the only way you can be sure that YOU are the one making decisions, doing things. Otherwise, you will merely be reacting, much like a puppet whose strings are jerked this way and that by people and circumstances.
Do you know when I figured how wonderful not-managing-stress really is? The first time my daughter told me, “I’m much too angry to talk to you right now. I need some time by myself. I’ll talk to you when I’m feeling better.” 🙂
At the heart of parenting is the idea that you are the best parent in the world when you are yourself. Sometimes, unfortunately, when the parents of a child are themselves, the combination is explosive. They clash too hard or too frequently or both. This leaves the child feeling lost, insecure, responsible, and guilty – the last two because she is convinced that it is she who is in some way responsible for her parents not getting on.
You ache – for yourself, for your child, for what could have been with your partner – if only he or she would… but there’s no point going down that road.
Say you want to have another child, and your partner doesn’t. You both have ‘valid reasons’ for the way you feel. (The inverted commas are because everything everyone feels is valid, though most of us forget this! 🙂 ) It has gotten beyond discussion and reasoning. Each of you is unwilling to give in, and no half-way compromise is possible.
As the tension slowly ratchets up, you see the fun, the laughter, the joy, the togetherness – all of it, dissolve under the weight of this conflict. And you see your once happy family of 3 breaking up under the strain.
Your son is perplexed. All he can see is Mom and Dad being nasty to each other. If they are not openly warring, they are making snide comments to each other or about each other, or giving each other the silent treatment.
And he’s trying to figure out how to fix what is wrong between you two.
Can you do anything to make it easier on your child? I’m convinced that you can. You can lessen his pain, make it easier on him.
Only you can do this.
You can do this by acknowledging that there is conflict between you and your partner. Tell your child that the two of you disagree about something, and that is what is causing all the fights. Let him know that the conflict is not related to him.
The best course of action is if both of you agree on what to say and sit together with your child to reassure him that the conflict is not his responsibility. But this is not always possible. Sometimes there is so much bitterness that you may not be able to do even this together.
In which case, tell your partner that you would like to reassure your child about the tension in the household. Tell your partner what you intend to tell your child. Give him or her the choice of being present as you tell your child.
If communication between you two has broken down to the extent that even this conversation is not possible, just go ahead and speak with the child yourself.
There are two things you must do if you decide to speak to your child about your conflict with your partner.
The first is to put it in context. Depending upon your child’s age and temperament, you must tailor the message so that he can understand what you are saying. You cannot tell a 2 year old you are fighting about whether to give him a sibling or not.
You might say, “When you fight with your friend about whose turn it is on the swing, you are angry with your friend, but not with Mom and me. Just like that, Mom and I are angry with each other about something, but it has nothing to do with you. We will keep being angry for some time, but we are trying to stop being angry and be friends again.”
You might tell your 5 year old, “Dad and I are angry with each other because he wants something and I don’t want it. Suppose I want to bring a dog home. I love dogs, but you are scared of them, so you and I will fight about whether or not we should adopt a dog for a pet. There is no ‘right’ answer, and we both feel strongly about it. Dad is out of this picture. Just like that, Dad and I want different things, and we’re fighting. Not pleasant, but that’s how it is. You are out of the picture – the fight has nothing to do with you. What you need to know is that we both still love you and always will. It is silly for us to be fighting when we tell you not to fight with your friends, but grown-ups are silly sometimes.”
You might tell your 8 year old, “Mom wants us to have another baby – a sibling for you – and I don’t want another baby. That is what we are fighting about. Let me explain: you always want to go to the beach on vacation, and Mom and I love going to the mountains. So sometimes we go to the beach, and at other times, we go to the mountains. But when it comes to a baby, we cannot sometimes have a baby and sometimes not. We either have one or we don’t. Do you see? And we can’t come to a decision, so we’re arguing and shouting at each other. We’re upset because we each believe what we want is right for the family. But what you need to know is that both Mom and I love you, and whether or not we have another child, we will always love you.”
It’s a good idea not to tell your child why you feel the way you do. If you tell her the pros and cons of the issue, you will be actively involving her – the very thing you’re trying NOT to do!
Also, depending upon her one-on-one relationship with you and with her other parent, she will be more inclined towards one view or the other – again, she will be involved, and will feel responsible about the conflict and its outcome.
The other thing that you must do is NOT to vilify your partner. This is a much tougher thing to achieve.
You are hurting, you are bitter and you are angry. It is very likely that these emotions will spill over into your explanation to your child. You don’t need to actively say, “She’s bad” or “He’s wrong”. The tone of your voice, your body language, the way you put your point of view across – all of it can communicate to your child that you feel your partner is cruel and unfeeling not to give in to your point of view.
But remember, you and your partner are the first relationships your child has. If he gets the impression that “Men are unfeeling” or “Women are wicked” or whatever, these ideas will influence all his relationships throughout his life – at school, at work, romantic and social. These ideas will become his worldview. It is a very high price for him to pay. Just because you could not hold back your angst.
When you say negative things about your partner to your child, you are forcing him to choose between you, and he gets caught in the middle – not fair!
Not fair to him (why should he choose between two parents?)
Not fair to your partner (feeling differently from the way you do does not make him / her a ‘bad’ person; it does not disqualify him/ her from being a loving parent)
Not fair to yourself (your child will always remember that you made him think badly of the other parent. At some time or other, I am positive, your child will resent, maybe even hate you, for doing this.)
In your own interest and that of your child, avoid saying negative things about your partner to your child.
But what if your partner is saying negative things about you to the child? It becomes even more important that you desist. Show your child an alternate way of being, of loving, of living. If the child confronts you “… says you’re really mean because you don’t understand the problems (the other parent) is having”, you can say, “Yes, … feels this way. It doesn’t make me mean. … just feels I’m being mean.” And stop right there. Don’t defend yourself, and don’t accuse your partner. Leave it there. Your child will not question you further on this.
Your conflict is your choice. Your child is caught up in it through no fault of his – he has no choice in the matter.
The best you can do is to assure and reassure him as often as it takes, that he is not to blame for what’s going on between you and your partner. It is difficult, but it needs to be done.
And you can do it! If you let your love for your child be your guide.
We are so unnatural around little children! We don’t want them to know about hurt, anxiety, anger, fear. More precisely, we don’t want them to know that any ‘negative’ emotions exist outside their little world. We behave like Gautama Buddha’s father 🙂 – let them not know there is anything but joy and pleasure and ‘good’ things.
But some day, your son will know. However hard you try, someday he will know that these troublesome emotions do exist. Someday he will learn that people are vulnerable to these emotions at every age, that no one is immune to them. Someday, he will have to learn to deal with these emotions.
One of the most common ways we try to hide the ‘ugly’ bits of life is the way we handle adult conflict around children. I’m not talking here about the ‘you were so thoughtless’ or ‘you were so rude’ kind of arguments. I’m talking about basic, major conflicts that you may have with your partner.
These may not be at the forefront of your consciousness: so you don’t argue all the time, but you wish your life could be different, your partner could be different, your relationship could be different. Or the conflict may be a living, breathing reality in your life: you are hanging on to the tatters of the relationship by your finger-nails, wondering how, hoping, praying, to make it work. Sometimes, you are trying to make it work only because the alternative is too scary to contemplate.
When your baby is little, you are too tired to put much energy into disagreement. As she grows, and your routine slowly swings back to normal, you feel more yourself, and more ready to make a point with your partner. You are still careful around her. But she sleeps enough hours in the day to let you have it out with your partner. So you feel she is protected from the conflict you are both experiencing. Any protection she enjoys is only relative, however.
I say your baby is only ‘relatively’ protected for two reasons. Firstly, I believe children take in a lot subliminally, especially when they’re babies. So somewhere, your argument is registering in her subconscious, if you are having it around her sleeping form. Secondly, if the argument is fierce, you will both be feeling its after-effects, and it will affect the way you will be with each other in the near future (till the problem is sorted out – if at all it gets sorted out). When she wakes up, she will get the unfriendly vibes that you are sending each other. Oh, yes! She will definitely know that there is conflict. So any protection she enjoys is only ‘relative’.
After a while, it becomes difficult to control yourself. Arguments may flare up for any reason at any time. There are hundreds of reasons to clash with someone, and only one to hold your peace.
You and your partner disagree about something. Both of you are unyielding. It might have started as a discussion of whether to go to Australia or Switzerland on vacation, but it has degenerated into how each of you is impossible to live with.
As the disagreement escalates and tempers flare up, vocal cords are out of control. One or both of you may start banging doors or throwing things around. If you realize in time that your child is awake and may be listening, you may put the fight away for the moment – till she is in bed, or elsewhere, so that no ‘damage’ is done.
You are proud of the fact that you don’t show conflict in front of your child. You present a united stand. You are loving parents who love each other. Yours is the ‘happy family’ that fairy tales end with.
Is this a good idea? I doubt it.
I believe you are doing your son a grave disservice by making him believe that life is a bed of roses. The sooner you can acknowledge reality and introduce him to it, the better equipped he will be to make his way through life with relative happiness.
He must know that people have differences of opinion, and that they work (or argue or fight!) to resolve them. He must know that it is normal to disagree with loved ones. It doesn’t make the love any less real. He must know that it is okay for people to feel anger and resentment against loved ones, and still be ‘good’ people, still be lovable.
In his life, he will be faced with conflicts. How will he handle them? If you don’t handle at least some conflicts in front of him, how will he learn how to handle conflicts in his life, in his relationships? Would you rather he learnt how to handle conflict from the TV programs he’s hooked to or the movies he watches? He has to learn from somewhere, and he’ll learn from whatever and whoever is available. It is your decision to make.
But there is a much more immediate cause for concern when you hide conflict from your child.
No matter what you do, your child will know something is wrong between the two of you. You may think you’re giving nothing away, but he knows.
Children are egocentric – they consider themselves the center of the universe. 🙂 Whether at age 2 or 12 or 16, when it comes to their family, the world revolves around them.
So when your son sees or senses conflict between you and your partner, he unconsciously but naturally considers himself responsible for it. There must be something he’s doing or not doing, some way he’s behaving or not behaving, that is causing this rift between you and your partner.
You won’t be able to make any of this out from his expression. He might be stoical or matter-of-fact about your fights, but in his head and heart, he’s wondering how he can fix what’s wrong between the two of you.
He may become extremely docile to please you and make you happy. In his mind, this happiness will then spill over into your relationship and all will be well. Fixed! Or he may go wild. His wildness will give you both a common agenda and draw you closer together – towards happiness. Done and dusted!
But this doesn’t really happen, does it?
Your child struggles under the weight of the conflicts you are either suppressing or giving vent to. Not quite what you’d intended when you started out as a parent, is it? More tomorrow…