Parenting: The Basics, Revisited in 2012 – Be

Be who you are.

I can almost see you wrinkle your forehead in perplexity. “Be who you are?” What could I possibly mean by that? I mean, who else could you be but yourself?

But there are so many times when you don’t let yourself be who you are. Here’s what I mean:

1. You hide your real emotions – Maybe you are feeling upset because of something your child did or did not do (forget to wish you for an important date, ignore your request that she keep quiet because you are unwell, say hurtful things to get back at you for not being ‘nice’…). Do you hide that you are upset? When your child asks you if you’re okay, do you manufacture and flash a false smile at her to signify you’re alright?

Or do you tell her you’re not feeling so good and need a little time and space to recover? (This is very different from telling her: “I’m upset because you misbehaved with me.” When you say this, you are telling her that she is responsible for how you are feeling. She will learn not to be responsible for her own feelings. You are also trying to influence her behavior, which will encourage her to manipulate others and be manipulated by them.  But letting her know that you are feeling not-so-good is neither manipulative nor false.)

2. You are afraid that you will not live up to the image of the ideal parent – If you have an image in your head of how an ideal parent should behave, you try to be as close to that image in real life as possible. But you are not that image – and so, you end up being who you are not.

You may believe you are not attractive, not attentive, not loving, not educated, not rich, not talented, not smart – in short, you may believe that in some way or other you are not a ‘good’ parent. To reduce the pain of not being ‘good enough’, you deny your natural instincts, ruthlessly suppress your nature and personality, and set out to be the image of what you believe is the ‘perfect’ parent.

A friend of mine had an obsessive-compulsive mother. If a single t-shirt in her closet was out of place in the pile, the mom would pull out everything from the closet. No, I’m not exaggerating. At the end of a few minutes, the closet would be empty, and everything in it would be strewn all over the floor. My friend would then be asked to rearrange every single article of clothing back into the closet, making sure to get it right with no folds or creases, no clothes folded ‘out of line’, and all folded clothes arranged in perfectly ordered piles.

When she told me this, I smiled and remarked that she must have spent a lot of her childhood (re)arranging closets. She said she’d sworn then that her kids could be as messy as they liked and she wouldn’t utter one word of reproach. I stayed with her a few years ago. Her son was then a boisterous 7, and I was impressed to see how clean his room was. As he showed me his new toy and replaced it before going out to play, my friend called out to him: “Come and put your car back properly in the pile of toys. The way you’ve done it now, the box is tilting off the pile.” 🙂

I reminded her of her childhood decision (it had almost been in the nature of a vow) to let her kids be messy. “Oh! I’m nothing like my mom. When my son sits on the bed and the sheets get creased, I don’t throw down the bedclothes and ask him to make the bed again. He keeps sitting or reading or playing. All I ask is that when he gets up, he should straighten the bedclothes. But I have to ask him to keep the closet neat, or how will he find his toys?” There wasn’t any point telling her that the difference she was trying to point out was so negligible as to hardly exist.

Over the weekend that I stayed with her, I watched her seesaw between letting her child ‘be messy’ (!) and straighten up obsessively after him. As for the boy, he was afraid to move a muscle in his own house lest he disarrange something. What a terrible way to live!

So – whenever you next catch yourself living up to some ‘good’ or ‘approved of’ or ‘ideal’ notion, do yourself and your child a favor. Drop it. Flawed as you are (and we are all flawed 🙂 ), you are of infinitely greater value just as you are, than pretending to be someone you are not. Your pretence will increase your anxiety and confusion, bewilder your child, and encourage her to be who she is not. Why perpetuate the misery?

Set yourself – and your child – free. Free to be who you are. This is the only way you will ever have a real and meaningful relationship with your child.

You may be convinced that you are not ‘good’, but the truth is that you are ‘good enough’. And that’s enough. Now all you need to do is believe it and carry on from there.

***

As Ingrid Bergman said, “Be yourself. The world worships the original.”

Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂

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I Don’t Want to be My Child’s Role Model

When your baby is little, you are so careful around her! You watch what you say, how you sit and stand and talk, how you behave with others. You do it mainly so she can learn the ‘right’ things. Like it or not, you’ve become her role model. 🙂

It’s easy when she’s little, but as she grows, she enters more and more areas of your life. Now that she can walk from room to room, she follows you around. She’s listening when you’re on the phone: being impatient with your parents, trying to be patient with someone from work, flirting with someone, turning the air blue with your comments on how your favorite baseball team performed at the last game, having an argument with your partner, laughing crudely at crude jokes (yes, women do this as much as men do), making snide remarks about people.

You can’t watch yourself all the time – not for months and years on end. Eventually, the ‘role model’ image develops cracks and the cracks starts showing.

But you haven’t given up on your baby! She is your wonderful, special girl, the love of your life, and you’re determined she will be PERFECT!

Look at it from your child’s point of view:

You have shown him how to do be sit stand speak sleep dress eat brush bathe play – everything he knows, he knows from you. He tries first to copy you, and then to make that imitation faultless. Now, all of a sudden, you want to sheer off and do stuff that he is not supposed to imitate! Worse, you seem displeased or discomfited or both if he even notices you doing certain things (like banging a fist against the wall when you’re frustrated, for instance).

Obviously your son is confused. When are you in ‘role model’ mode? And when is he supposed to pretend you’ve faded into the woodwork?

To make matters worse, you don’t explain it to him. You can’t! If he’s supposed to ignore certain behaviors of yours, your calling attention to them is not exactly going to help him do that, is it?!

As he grows, you begin to feel the burden of this ‘role model’ business. “Finish your homework before dinner. You can watch TV after dinner” you tell him. But you want to watch a program while he’s doing his homework; you don’t have homework. Besides, you’re not a child; you’re an adult, and it’s perfectly alright for you to watch TV all evening if you want to, so long as you don’t neglect your chores (you might think). Why should you give up watching TV because he isn’t supposed to watch it at that time?

“Eat your vegetables” you tell him at dinner. But you don’t want to eat yours because you eat a large vegetable salad for lunch every single day, while he carries a sandwich to school. At dinner, you want some bread and meat. And dinner is the only time your child will eat vegetables (if at all he does). Why should you forego your nutrients to ensure he gets his?

You can be sarcastic with your friend. It is totally inappropriate for your child to be sarcastic with your friend.

You’re getting the drift, aren’t you? If you are a role model, you have to do be say what you want your child (or whoever else) to do be say. I’d say this is a foolproof way to introduce an incredible amount of stress into your life. How can you possibly live your life as an example of how you want your child to live his life?

And there’s something else you’ve forgotten. Your child is her own person; she is not you. Her nature and personality may be similar to yours, but they will never be identical. How, then, can you expect that you will be a role model for her?

Real life doesn’t allow for role models; at least, not on an ongoing basis. You can be a role model for someone who sees you for a short while, who shares a small slice of your life or your experience. But when someone is as much a part of your life as your child is, it is almost impossible for you to be a role model for them.

This is why I say: I don’t want to be a role model for my child.

Most people can’t believe it. “Don’t you want your child to learn anything from you?” they ask me.

Sure I do! I want her to learn from me.

I live my life according to my beliefs. I am true to myself. More accurately, I try to be as true to myself as it is possible to be. (If I’m in a group that’s praising someone for something they did, and I think what the person did is reprehensible, I won’t criticize that person, but I won’t say a single word of praise either. I’d be non-committal, poker-faced.)  

I want my daughter to learn from me: to be true to her own beliefs (which might be –and are, in some instances! 🙂 – different from mine). I want my daughter to be true to herself.

Would you call that being a role model?

Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂