I tried. Really. I did.
Instead, I channeled Mommy Dearest. With my kids in tears, I did not anticipate what happened next.
As parents, what is your definition of grace? Let me know in the comment section!
I tried. Really. I did.
Instead, I channeled Mommy Dearest. With my kids in tears, I did not anticipate what happened next.
As parents, what is your definition of grace? Let me know in the comment section!
In a recent post, Piggy Piggy, I exposed my illustrious criminal past. I’d like to tell you my early stealing experiences led me to become a cat burglar or international jewel thief or something equally dramatic and screenplay-worthy.
Unfortunately, I can’t yet report any prison time, foreign currency escapades or Swiss bank accounts. My only suspenseful international drama involved catching a train in Rome to evade the Italian authorities.
While I don’t have many strong memories of my childhood, the details of my four-year-old thievery (retold countless times over the years by my family members) are clear in my memory.
Some of my readers asked me to describe what happened next when my mom discovered me in the closet. This is for you…
As my mom slid the closet door open, I froze, terrified, and slowly dragged the two piggy banks deeper into the shadows between my pudgy legs. “If I don’t look at her, she won’t see me,” I thought. And then I peaked. Slowly. When our eyes met, I knew. She saw me; she knew me.
“Mary Lynn, what the hell are you doing?” My mom never swears, but in my memory, she’s a bit wilder with her words.
“Nothing,” I said.
“Nothing? You’re taking your sister’s money! You’re being sneaky and naughty. Come out of there.”
Still clutching the piggy banks, I scooted my body through the closet door dragging coins under my fuzzy pink behind.
My mom explained that it was wrong to steal and helped me redistribute the money into our respective banks.
I don’t remember any spanking or yelling; I do remember feeling scared and ashamed. Even at that young age, I knew what I was doing was wrong and somehow had gotten the message that I had to be sneaky to get something I wanted. The sibling rivalry I felt went unnamed.
Writing about this incident started me thinking about how I would handle a similar situation with one of my daughters. I asked some Facebook friends what they would do.
Advice from Facebook Friends
Jeanine Olson Chiappano I’d say she is going to make one strong business woman. Ha!
Joe Balice I would ask her if she was a democrat.
Xavier Christopher David FitzSimons I would ask her if she was a republican.
Alyson Probst Higgins I’m sure I would fly off the handle, rant & rave and judiciously hand out irrelevant punishments. And then take note of how much cash these kids have just in case the delivery guy shows up & I happen to be short. My kids used to pool their money to count it & then fight like mad trying to separate it again.
Debra Lynn I’d have the little pocket thief take some of her own money and donate it to charity, after the lecture of what is right to do in the world. As an elementary principal, I see lots of kids try this and I usually try to make the consequence a natural one that fits the crime. 😉
Brian Dietmeyer Natural consequences are great…pay it back with interest!!! We made our teenager volunteer at a soup kitchen as a result of some bad decisions.
Stephanie Jones In my book, it’s about creating a higher consciousness in helping the child to understand how her negative actions affect her sibling and in turn affect her in the end. We’re big on karma in my house. If you believe ‘what goes around comes around’, I believe it helps children to arrive at a higher state and to be more reflective on what outcome they want for themselves. Not altogether altruistic, but I’ve seen it work beautifully with my 13 and 14 year olds since they were small. It’s a simple concept that small children can grasp since they are ‘me’ oriented. As they grow older, it becomes less about self and more about kindness and care for others and the world around them.
Kathy Churay I would enroll her in a gifted math program. Clearly she’s destined for Wall Street.
Clearly, my friends are
I also asked Ava, my eight year old, what she would say to her daughter in the same situation.
Advice from Ava
It looks like you want to make some money. Let’s think of some ways you could do that.
I love that kid.
Back to Me
When I spoke with my mom about this memory recently, she asked if I thought she had handled it okay all those years ago and if I thought there was a better way. Her willingness to learn, even after all her children are grown, is one of the things I admire most about my mom.
While I have no idea the best or “right” way to handle these situations, after some thought, I am clear of what I would like to tell my four-year-old self, a redo of sorts:
“Little one, what’s going on? Why are you hiding? Come on out of there, honey. You look like you feel scared and lonely. Let’s put the banks aside and cuddle for a minute. Would you like that? I know I would.
When I was your age I was jealous of my sister and felt like she got everything. I never believed there would be enough love or attention for me. I told myself my sister got everything and I didn’t think it was fair. I wanted what my sister had. Do you ever feel that way?
I was hurting inside and I needed a friend, someone I could talk to about how sad and lonely I was. Do you ever wish you had someone to talk with?
You don’t have to be ashamed of wanting more, honey. It’s okay to want more. It’s not okay to take things that aren’t yours. Next time you want more, come tell me and we’ll figure it out together. Ok?
Now, it seems to me you’d like to earn some more money. Am I right? Let’s think of some ways you could do that …
Is this an effective parenting strategy? I have no idea. I do know it is the amends I want to make to myself all these years later.
Thanks for reading.
“Mom, I can’t wait to see what house I get into!”
So began our journey into Pottermore, JK Rowling’s online world of all things Harry Potter. After signing up and answering a series of questions, the website determines the best Hogwarts’ “house” for each participant.
Reminiscent of college sorority rush, the warning signs were there. And I wasn’t prepared.
My daughter is obsessed with Harry Potter. She, like her forefathers, read the first Harry Potter book two dozen times and fancies herself a Hermione doppelgänger, bushy hair and bossy intellect alike. And similar to many fans, she expected to be chosen for Gryffindor, the heroes’ house.
The computer screen returned the verdict: Hufflepuff.
My heart plummeted.
“Mom, I can’t be a Hufflepuff,” she moaned, her disappointment as intense as her original anticipation. “They are boring and dumb. I didn’t answer the questions right. I must be a Gryffindor!”
My first instinct was to disavow her feelings and remind her that Pottermore is a silly computer game with zero impact on real life.
Instead I hugged her while she cried and told myself we could weather this storm. And she was learning a valuable lesson.
But what the f**k was the lesson? Don’t let a computer algorithm determine your self-worth? Can an eight year old understand that lesson? Can her forty-something mom?
I flashed back to college sorority rush. Hundreds of young women, dressed to impress, chatting and mingling as if the rituals were natural experiences instead of contrived, competitive events. I chatted, smiled and hoped I would get what I wanted – entrance into the “right” houses.
I wanted validation that I was worthwhile, that I mattered and was acceptable. I got the opposite: none of the houses wanted me.
I was devastated and inconsolable. My friends soothing words felt hollow and disingenuous. They were accepted, not humiliated and filled with shame. The message: I was worthless and unwanted.
And now my daughter was a Hufflepuff. Despair!
As I hugged my heartbroken daughter and fought my insecurities, my thoughts cleared. Could I be projecting my own feelings of devastation on to her? Would this disappointment truly derail her youth or was it possible my daughter was a separate being, with distinct insight and wisdom? Could I let her have her own experiences without superimposing my own?
After frantically trying to undo and redo the computer test, my daughter grabbed the telephone.
“I’m going to call Lexie and find out what house she got into,” she declared.
Lexie, my niece and fellow diehard Harry Potter fan, was assigned to Slytherin, the evil Lord Voldemort’s house! And yes, Lexie was equally disappointed with her results.
Relieved and resigned, my daughter decided her computer-generated house assignment was a mistake and wouldn’t stop her from enjoying Pottermore’s many other enticing features.
Ms. Rowling, thanks for the lesson. Apparently, my daughter’s resilience and self-worth surprisingly and thankfully surpass my own.
After listening for the whirring noises of my mom’s sewing machine in the basement of our split-level home, I slipped a butter knife from the kitchen and silently marched across the hall into my sister’s bedroom. My fuzzy, footed pajamas felt scratchy on my skin as I dragged my sister’s desk chair over to her tall dresser and hoisted her piggy bank into my arms.
I had spent the better part of the morning comparing the weight of my sister’s bank to my own. The data were consistent and clear. Her bank was heavier. She definitely had more money. It wasn’t fair.
Her bear-shaped bank was beautiful – silver-plated – a majestic figure with a sanguine expression on its face. My bank, shaped like a squat pig, was silver-plated, sure, but ugly and fat with a grimacing countenance. And decidedly lighter.
My heart racing, I carried both banks into my sister’s closet and carefully slid the door closed. Not all the way. It would look more natural that way, in case my mom came looking for me. A sliver of sunlight gleamed across the bear’s peaceful face as I tried to pry off the plastic plug.
“If only my fingers weren’t so stubby,” I told myself. “My mom’s fingers are long and graceful. Why aren’t mine like hers?”
The butter knife made quick work of the plastic cap. I carefully slipped some coins onto the hardwood closet floor. “I want hers and mine,” I thought. “I want all of it.”
Candy. I would buy candy. Reams of delicious, chocolatey goodness. Like Charlie in the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, I’d savor it, slowly and delicately, make the pleasure last forever. I wouldn’t gobble it up like that greedy girl, Veruca, in the movie. No way. And I wouldn’t have to share; wouldn’t have to stop eating until I wanted to.
The pennies would buy Bazooka bubble gum; the nickels, Gold Rush gum – the kind in the little draw-string pouches. I could taste the delicious banana flavor on my tongue as I quietly dug more coins out of the bear’s behind. Laffy Taffy with the dimes; Charleston Chews with the quarters.
“How did my sister get so many quarters?” I wondered. She was swimming in quarters.
“Grandpa? I bet Grandpa slips her quarters,” I thought. “He doesn’t like me because I don’t want to give him hugs. My sister gives him hugs. I bet she gets quarters.”
I only got dimes. My beautiful, loving Italian grandmother secretly slipped me a dime every time I saw her, with the unspoken message I wasn’t to share, wasn’t to tell. I was her favorite, and she gave me the biggest hugs. She also gave me the biggest slices of her perfectly-delicious almond coffee cake. And those dimes.
I sensed the my mom’s presence moments before a rush of sunlight highlighted her dark features.
“Mary Lynn, what the hell are you doing?”
My husband and I recently celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary with a long-ass drive and a frivolously-fun weekend away in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
When we had been driving home for several hours and were a few miles from picking up our daughters at their grandmother’s house, my expectations kicked in:
I wanted a show-stopping reunion with our girls immediately followed by two hours of whine-free driving (to get home) and ending with a fuss-free re-entry into our regular lives.
In other words I wanted to hug our girls, express how much we missed each other and then have them disappear into no-need nirvana before effortlessly going to sleep. As long as I was knee-deep in fantasy, I also wanted to return home to a butler ready to unpack and neatly put away all of our crap.
Mike and I haven’t taken much time off together as a couple since we became parents eight-plus years ago, and we both really enjoyed our weekend together – sleeping, reading, biking, eating, getting massages, making out like teenagers (so we’re clear: we have little first-hand experience with this teenage rite-of-passage nor will our girls if we
keep them locked up can help it).
While I missed Ava and Rhys and was excited to see them, I wasn’t ready to start being a mom again ever yet.
While I knew our daughters would be happy to see us, I also knew they’d be overtired and sad to leave the bevy of cousins and fun they had enjoyed over the past two days. Anticipating what I expected to be a combustion of oversized feelings and needs, I knew we were headed for our usual trouble – lions and tigers and bears exhaustion and sadness and power struggles, oh my!
For once I was clear that my expectations of familial bliss were out of whack. No way were our girls going to run into my arms and then have no needs for the rest of the evening.
I called my friend Trish for some advice on how to handle our vacation re-entry:
Her sage suggestions: “Your only job tonight is to be loving and to set whatever boundaries necessary to get everyone a good night’s sleep. End of story.”
My over-muddled brain loved the idea that my mothering experience that night could be boiled down into two simple ideas: be loving. I could do that. Set boundaries. Not a sure thing, but doable.
When we arrived home, Rhys was 47 gummy bears past overtired. After an initial power struggle around brushing her teeth, I held her while she moaned and cried, all the while repeating my mantra to myself, “be loving and guide her toward sleep.”
Once she got her cry out of the way, she was willing to brush her teeth and move on to the story marathon that is our sleep routine. By the time the irresponsible man with the yellow hat had left Curious George alone to incite mayhem for the second time, she was blissfully asleep. One kid down, one to go.
Ava had enjoyed some cuddling and reading time with her dad, so I was anticipating an easy sleep transition. “Be loving and stay firm,” I told myself. After we enjoyed our Harry Potter reading ritual, I was ready to say goodnight, lock my parenting hat in the closet and check my Twitter feed connect with my husband.
Instead, Ava wanted more attention before she could sleep. She wanted hugs and a chance to tell me how sad she was about leaving her cousins – how much she loved them and how happy she felt while she was with them. In Michigan. Not at home. Unless home included me reading her another chapter of Harry Potter.
I held firm and held her through her initial resistance to sleep. When I felt her soften in my arms, I said a small prayer of thanks to Trish and smiled. Mom fail averted. Job well done.
How do you help your family re-enter after a vacation or time away? We have a family trip to Michigan planned for later this summer, and I need your ideas!
I’m participating in Pour Your Heart Out with Things I Can’t Say!
I start off every summer with wonderful intentions and high hopes for wringing every last drop of summer fun out of the few short months before school starts up.
In my summertime delusion vision, my girls and I spend our days together making memories (all documented in glossy pics and HD video): picnics in the park, sand angels at the beach, long walks around town, make-believe play at every playground in the city and visits to all museums within a five-mile radius.
We’ll play hopscotch, badminton, and frisbee with the neighbors, eat homemade popsicles, ice cream and s’mores out on the deck, and go on zoo, aquarium, planetarium and arboretum adventures before our math fact and reading marathons (to prevent that insidious “summer slide” I keep reading about).
And on the second day, we’ll tackle the water parks – don’t forget the water parks!
Our days will flow from one joy-filled activity to the next. Television/computer/iPads/phones – who needs ‘em? Other than the occasional movie night complete with cuddles and popcorn, we’ll be far too busy bonding to let electronic diversions into our lives.
Beginning on June 21, I started pressuring myself to get out of the house and enjoy the summer in a big way. With July 4 coming up next week, I’m in full on panic mode. We haven’t even begun to check-off our summer fun list. What will become of us?
I’m beginning to think that my hyper-intensive focus on having fun this summer may be is strangling the joy right out. If your goal is to sabotage your summer and ruin a perfectly lovely season, you’ve come to the right place. Here are my top six tips:
I know what you’re thinking! And I agree! We need … a hammock. A hammock will fix all of this
insanity angst and ensure we enjoy the summer! Think of all the great conversations we’ll have swinging on that hammock drinking lemonade, identifying the constellations and catching fireflies (that I’ve never seen a firefly within ten miles of our home notwithstanding).
Thank you for reading my mind! You. Are. Genius.
Well then, smartypants, you must have other ideas. Please – save me from myself. How can I let go of my inner bully and salvage what is left of the summer? If you can’t help, please commiserate! How do you sabotage your summer joy and fun?
I am participating this week in the 2012 Carnival of Gentle Discipline hosted by Parenting Gently. I wrote the following article for the Carnival. Please visit ParentingGently.com to read other parents’ takes on Gentle Parenting …
Being Teachable: Ideas & Ideals
I am in no way a Gentle Parenting expert. Frankly, I only recently heard the term and started learning about the concepts. To me Gentle Parenting means treating my children with the same love, compassion, respect and kindness with which I want the world to treat me. And for me, living up to that ideal is no easy feat!
I firmly believe my two daughters are my best teachers, and we’re growing up together, step by step. When I pay attention, I can learn from them how to listen to myself, stay in the moment and enjoy the adventure that is raising them. As an aspiring gentle mom, I want to be the kind of parent who:
While these ideas don’t come naturally or easily to me, here’s what I’m learning:
My goal as a parent is to celebrate and enjoy my children. Rather than parenting with resentment or martyrdom, as often as possible, I want to give to my family from a place of willingness and joy. Unfortunately, I tend to be reactive. And a perfectionist. A volatile combination – and not exactly conducive to joy and fun! I have noticed that when I take in more mothering from loving friends and more nurturing for myself, I’m less reactive and better able to lovingly connect with myself and my children.
When I focus on myself and consciously look at all the ways I treat myself both lovingly and hurtfully, I recognize that I naturally treat my children in those same ways. In my experience, I can’t neglect my needs or ignore my own emotions without at some point offering the same to my children. For example, when I yell out of frustration or offer shaming messages to my children, chances are good I’m treating myself to those same powerful messages. Yet when I’m accepting and forgiving of myself, I tend to model those traits in my interactions with my kids.
To make those positive interactions a reality, I need a lot of loving self-care; things like regular meals, consistent exercise, bathroom breaks when needed (not put off until I’ve completed five more “urgent” things!), sufficient rest and downtime, some grown-up play and fun, a little fresh air and, possibly most importantly for me, connection with other loving people. If I don’t make these things a priority in my life, there is little chance I’ll interact with my children with love and compassion.
Making Choices/Setting Boundaries
Gentle Parenting to me means choices. When I am able to take a deep breath before I respond to my kids, I find I have more choices in how I interact with them. You’d think breathing would be an easy task, given that I’m presumably doing it regularly. You’d be wrong! When something isn’t going my way or is different from my plan, my typical reaction is to control, not breathe; tighten, not soften. When I’m able to remember to breathe, slow down and be gentle with myself, I tend to enjoy family interactions more. I’m guessing my kids do too!
Gentle Parenting to me is letting go, primarily of my expectations. I struggle daily with letting go – thus re-dos are a big part of my parenting. As I was working on this article, eager to finish it on my timeframe, my daughter Ava (8) asked me to read a Harry Potter book to her, one of our favorite mommy-daughter activities. My first reaction was “no,” I had to get this article done. The question, “Why?” popped in my head. I love to read with my daughters. And I love to write. Writing would give me a sense of accomplishment, a “to do” checked off my list. I knew I’d have some writing time later in the afternoon when our babysitter arrived, yet I still wasn’t convinced.
Anxiety drove my initial “no” response. Then, when I stopped, breathed and asked myself what would bring me more joy in the long-term, I realized I had choices. And here’s the tricky part: there was no “right” choice! Choosing to stop writing and read to my daughter would have been a fine choice; choosing to keep writing and agreeing on a time later in the day to read together would have been a fine choice, too (even if my daughter had feelings about my choice – yikes!). It seems important to me to be conscious that I have many choices and am making choices all the time.
This time, I asked Ava for a redo. When at first she wasn’t interested, I got up off my chair and went to her. We had a delightful time cuddling and reading together. When the babysitter arrived later and I started writing again, I felt happier and more in touch with joy.
While I strive to make my relationships with my daughters my first priority, it’s also important for me to remember that I deserve to set boundaries. I’m not always available at the exact moment when my children (and others!) want my attention. Neither are they. When I accept my limitations and imperfections, our time together feels more authentically loving.
Identifying Vs. Controlling
Being gentle in my parenting means being gentle and loving with myself first, something I have little patience for on my own. I like efficiency and order, the antithesis of humanness (and my children!). When I can appreciate that my girls are providing me with opportunities to grow, to open my heart and live a fuller life, I soften. When I identify with them rather than try to control them, we all grow.
For example, my daughter Ava (8) and I often struggle over her homework during the school year. Whenever I’m focused on her progress and how easily distracted she is, I end up trying to control her by pressuring and nagging. When instead I focus on my own feelings, I realize how alike we are and how hard it can be for me to focus after a long day.
When I explain to Ava that I understand and often feel the same way, we connect. When I make our relationship more important than my expectations about her homework, my daughter tends to blossom. I like to think I do, too.
Finding More Joy
To me gentle parenting is the opposite of control – it suggests forgiveness of myself first for all the ways I don’t live up to my expectations as a mom. It requires humility that I don’t always know what’s best and an open mind to let in new ideas. Gentle parenting means embracing forgiveness – of myself first – and teaching my children by modeling that there’s no shame in making mistakes, there is no shame in owning our humanness, there’s only more joy to be found.
I’d love to know … What do you think of when you hear the term Gentle Parenting? What does parenting gently mean to you?
Please join us all week, June 25-June30, 2012, as we explore the world of gentle, effective parenting. We have new posts each day by talented authors providing us with insight into why gentle parenting is worth your time and how to implement it on a daily basis. Check out all the carnival posts over on ParentingGently.com
We are also giving away several parenting book and other goodies from our sponsors this week. Please stop by and enter to win!
This year’s beautiful motherhood artwork is by Patchwork Family Art. Visit the store to see all her work.