Wednesday, August 08, 2007

teaching fish to swim

I was always taught not to make too much of myself. Don't make too much noise. Don't upset others. Don't cause a fuss. Put others first. Nothing wrong with some of that - manners are important and there is nothing wrong with a well behaved child. But there was a point when it became clear that the needs of others were more important than mine. That my role was to accept things as they were. To not stand up for what I wanted. Easier that way and besides, who was I to deserve it anyways.

The pros of this upbringing is that you are generally thoughtful of others and make friends easily. You keep your commitments no matter how hard it may be. You think of others first and put their needs at the front of the line. Nothing wrong with some of that. Nothing wrong at all.

Except it also made me feel small. And by the time I realized my smallness it was already so ingrained in me it was no easier to separate it than it is to isolate the red part of the rainbow apart from the rest. It's just not a rainbow without the red.

Suffice to say this has had both a negative and a positive impact on my life. I've had to learn how to get my needs met in relationships the hard way and it's still a work in progress. My 20's were a fierce struggle of individuating and reprogramming. I still hold things in. I peacemake more often than I should. It's still evolving and this is no sad lament. I like who I am, the bumpy parts included because trying to find myself has been hard won and that alone is worth a lot.

But I am determined to teach M differently. To say stop if someone is bothering her. When she hurts herself I don't try and shush her. I hold her and let her wail and I tell her to wail some more because it hurt, dammit, and she has a right to it. If she's angry I give her a pillow and tell her to whack it. Nothing wrong with whacking a pillow. And if she's upset over not getting what she wants I validate her reaction even as I hold my ground. She's allowed to react and her feelings matter. Things don't always go her way and I don't think they should but she's allowed to not like it and she gets to find her way through it too. And she needs to know she is always most important even when things are ugly. That she is safe with me and she is safe with herself.

I fear I may be overcompensating but so far it seems okay. She tells me when she's sad and she comes back to tell me when she's better. She apologizes for being an occasional brat and will ask me how I am doing and if I had a good day. She doesn't always want to share and I don't always push her. I tell her what I think and how much I adore her and when I am upset. We will talk about it with her in my arms and when she's not ignoring me it feels like it's sinking in.

And sometimes we make way too much noise in public. Harmless toddler noise but noisy all the same. And I deliberately choose not to quiet her because she's got a lot of important things to say. Because I want her to be a warrior no matter how she chooses to define it. My job is to give her the space and breadth to scream yes to the moon and roll naked in the surf.

55 comments:

Jennifer said...

Oh, M is a very lucky little girl.

Magpie said...

Wow - this rang so true for me. We are trying to raise our Miss M. the same way.

kristen said...

Thank you for this post. I need to remember to NOT quiet my girl in public because who cares? I try to validate her feelings and the only time I ask her to stop crying is when it's not really crying but more whinging, as in 'why can't i go next door at 7pm even though i'm so exhausted my eyes are rolling in my head', that sort of thing.
I wonder if it's a generational thing - to be obedient and not make too much of yourself. I know the world of parenting has vastly changed since I was a kid and I'm glad.

Mad Hatter said...

Yes, it is a balancing act that we do here, isn't it? Teaching our children to respect others without losing respect for themselves. It sounds as if you have thought your path through and that you move forward wisely.

painted maypole said...

Oh Jen, I have so enjoyed catching up with what you have been up to while I was off around the world. As usual, you have managed to make me laugh and cry... and where does one even begin to react to all the beauty? And this lesson you are trying to teach your daughter? Fits in perfectly after the post where you spoke so well of yourself. Because while it is so easy for us to list the things we don't like about ourselves, we need to know what we DO like about ourselves. And you can use both of those lists to nurture your daughter into the fabulous person she will become.

Oh. And for that trip around the world? I am dying to stand on an ancient stage in Greece or Rome, and look up the hillside and proclaim loudly some lament against the gods.

And touch? For that homeless man. wow. I can only imagine how lonely he felt, and how important you made him feel by listening, being, and touching. Good job.

thailandchani said...

Wow.. yes! It sounds like you have a very good balance there. Really.


Peace,

~Ch

metro mama said...

I agree completely. M is a lucky girl.

flutter said...

Amen.

deb said...

She's a lucky girl.

Lawyer Mama said...

I love that last line. We all need to learn how to scream to the moon and roll naked in the surf.

And this, "My 20's were a fierce struggle of individuating and reprogramming. I still hold things in. I peacemake more often than I should." Dude, that's me too.

I'm struggling with doing it differently with my children too because I already see it in Hollis, which makes me wonder if this is some genetic component of personality. Either way, I'm trying to make sure he unlearns it.

Lovely post, Jen.

Susanne said...

Ah, I needed that today. Am feeling especially small. But I'm trying to think big.

I do the same with my child. Validating his feelings. Teaching him manners nonetheless. And while I don't hold him back in public I find that most children are so much louder that everybody perceives him as quiet and nice.

Janet said...

Good for you! For not quieting her voice, even when its unpopular; even out in public where others may tsk tsk and exchange knowing glances, as they watch. We should all do more of that.

I am a life-long pleaser. Don't rock the boat. Always say yes. I find now, as I sit on the eve of tipping over from my early thirties, to my late thirties, I am changing, becoming braver.

It feels good.

crazymumma said...

And a damn fine job you are doing as well woman.

I am in a perpetual state of unlearning to allow my children a higher height.

Not always easy.

KC said...

You are giving her emotional intelligence among other wonderful things. You, rock star mom, you.

Jenn said...

"Because I want her to be a warrior no matter how she chooses to define it."

Exactly, exactly, exactly it.

Your awesomeness astounds me daily.

nomotherearth said...

This post says it perfectly.

mamatulip said...

This really resonates with me. What you said about yourself is pretty much me, to a T, and I have been trying desperately to teach Julia to stick up for herself and to fight back, but not in an especially aggressive way.

It's been difficult, but I plug away. Because she's got important things to say, just like M does.

Motherhood Uncensored said...

On many days I fear as though I'm not the greatest instructor because I didn't learn how to swim very well myself.

Thank god for floaties.

And beer.

(And posts like these).

Wayfarer Scientista said...

Beautiful teaching of M, Jen. I noticed, when my niece was visiting how many people frowned at us b/c I let her jump and run and be active as long as she wasn't in any one else's lap & all the other children were being taught to sit quietly (this on a 4 hour boat ride) and I thought - I don't want to teach this girl not to be active, isn't inactivity a nationwide problem?

AmandaD said...

Bless you, mama. I wish I had been raised to feel entitled to the same things so many others take for granted. So far it sounds like you are doing much better than ok.

Momish said...

This is just like me jen, however, I cannot claim to have fully overcome it since I hear myself telling my daughter the same things I heard all my life.

You are right, and I will have to try harder to let her be herself even if that mean being a bit too loud at times, being stubburn and firm at times and being big and tall at times.

M is lucky. But you knew that!

Kyla said...

I think parenting mindfully is key, and you clearly do that, jen. You are giving her tools right now that will allow her to become herself one day.

Rock the Cradle said...

Whew. Right on.

I'm not sure when I realized that I thought of myself as a second class citizen, but soon enough to realize I had to do the same as you.

Bring out the pillows, and try to raise a warrior who will know how and when to scream.

I'm still learning, myself.

Beck said...

I feel like I should print this post out and keep it up where I can see this as a reminder of the balance I'm trying to strike with my own kids.

Persephone said...

I feel humbled by this post.

slouching mom said...

How lucky M is to have you, who had the insight to see what was missing in your own childhood and the strength not to take the familiar road when parenting your daughter.

slouching mom said...

How lucky M is to have you, who had the insight to see what was missing in your own childhood and the strength not to take the familiar road when parenting your daughter.

Tabba said...

oh, i just loved this.

M is so very lucky.

And I'm sure you are too :)

Bon said...

you make noise, the two of you, your daughter and yourself.

i am sure that you will raise a thoughtful, considerate, empathic girl...that goes without saying - it's too much a part of what forms everything you bring to the world and your parenting here.

but it is more work to raise a girl not afraid to take up her own space, to scream yes. i commend you. keep it up.

carrie said...

I think allowing children to express what they are feeling is vital to their development and validating as they mature.

If my kids cry, I let them. I try not to coddle (sp?) them too much about it, but I let them know it's okay and if they need to let it out - let it out.

And I don't think we'd survive without pillow punching.

Carrie

Oh, The Joys said...

It is nearly 10:00, two hours after The Mayor went to bed and he is up throwing a huge fit and I am trying to let him just throw it, but friend... I am through.

Mrs. Chicky said...

You and I had the same childhood upbringing apparently.

I'm also trying to teach my daughter to own her feelings, good or bad, and to speak her mind. But it's not easy sometimes. Old habits die hard.

Thank you for this, Jen. It's nice to know I'm not alone.

Mavin said...

You're both strong and you're an intelligent and sacrificing mother.


Nice blog btw. :)

Em said...

I had a very similar upbringing and I'm trying to do things differently with my children... I hope it works!

ewe are here said...

This has to be one of my favorite posts of yours.

What a wonderful mom you are to your girl, letting her find and develop her own voice like this, and not shushing her when its inconvenient for you or others (perhaps) because she IS a person and her feelings count as much as anyone else's. Parents could learn a lot from this...myself included.

Hel said...

That is it. You have been chosen as the one day godmother of the wagener-kroll offspring.

Dudess you rock!

This post made me giddy with the possibility of what motherhood can be like.

Julie Pippert said...

I am trying so hard to teach my daughter tools to manage her temper.

You...I have no worries you are giving Miss M great tools.

Your last line rocked my soul. :)

Julie
Ravin' Picture Maven

mitzh said...

You're a great mom!

liv said...

I can tell you are doing a fabulous job. It is so hard to fight the old childhood stuff and move forward in a brave new direction with our children. Brava!

Gill said...

Brilliant post. I was also brought up to put others first and it is a v hard habit to unlearn. I too am trying to bring my daughters up to believe that their wants, needs and feelings are valid and should be expressed. I want them to be powerful woman, not afraid to fight for their rights.

Laurie said...

Wonderful post, Jen. It sounds to me like you are doing all the right things.

bgirl said...

wow...this resonates so much. i remember my mom actually pinching me under the table 'to be quiet'. your conversations with M sound much like mine with R. like you, i believe he has a voice in our family and the right to be heard. and like you, he may not always get what he wants, regardless, he is completely entitled have feelings about it! in many regards it is b/c of this i've come to know him even better and him me. authenticity. that would be my one-word summation of it.

cheers to you jen. i'm soooo in your court.

and again, so happy i found your blog. :)

Kelly said...

You've definitely got me thinking. There is a line between raising good, thoughtful, polite children, and creating a doormat of some kind. What's hard is finding appropriate ways of expressing the more serious emotions. And me, shit...the lines on my wrists prove I'm no good at that. So it's one of those things I struggle with in parenthood: teaching my children that their emotions matter, but that we have to find healthy ways to express anger, sadness, disappointment...

urban-urchin said...

you're better than me. i try to let them go through what they're feeling but when it's hour 2 of a marathon whine fest- I quit.

ms chica said...

All children should be taught it's okay to feel, well done.

luckyzmom said...

If only we had known. If only our mothers had known. If only their mothers had known.

Ruth Dynamite said...

She will be a fearless warrior, and you her wise and compassionate Queen.

FENICLE said...

Very good point. Just today I kept asking Ethan to be quiet inside Target. He was just making little boy noises of cars and such..not a big deal. I was more pressured by what others might think....who the hell cares. They should think - there is a happy little boy!!!

QT said...

M is lucky -and I agree with KC - emotional intelligence. It will get you far in this world.

Aliki2006 said...

M is so lucky. I want this for my daughter, as well. It sounds like you have a wonderful relationship already and a strong foundation for it to build on.

Binky said...

Damn straight. You wouldn't fit in at our local library children's room either, I'm happy to see. "Library voices," my ass.

Amy York said...

That was beautiful... I feel bad for shushing my kids at Target the other day - they were having so much fun but were being loud and I thought disturbing other customers. But if someone was disturbed by the laughter of little boys, I guess that should have been their problem, not ours. I will remember this next time and not shush them. Thank you :)

River said...

Sounds like you were raised exactly the same way I was. Needless to say I also chose to raise my children differently. They were allowed to make noise, get dirty, speak their thoughts etc. (My mum did NOT approve). They are grown now and wonderful adults. Sounds like you are doing a great job with your little miss. Keep it up, be proud of the job you are doing.

PunditMom said...

A lot of familiarity to me in this post. I, too, had a similar upbringing and am fighting to make sure that I do my best to help PunditGirl feel her feelings and let me know them and let her know it's OK when she wants to keep her own counsel. It's a challenge, but I'm trying.

Sober Briquette said...

Nothing to add to this but an amen.

And if the surf is at Nauset Beach on Cape Cod, it is exhilaratingly cold.