Sunday, 19 September 2010

Do All Stay-at-home Parents Have to be Stupid?

Years ago, I ran across an article in the now-defunct Home Education Magazine. The short version, in case you don't feel like finding a back issue and reading the whole thing: 
Amy Hollingsworth ruminates on what is 'missing' from a stay-at-home-mom's life, mainly work that will not be undone tomorrow... laundry that's just going to get dirty, meals that are eaten, children who will need a bath again, and her perspective of how to find a tangibly rewarding aspect to motherhood and housewifehood.
This is a perspective that has long bothered me. She says, at one point:
"Not like the tangible sense of accomplishment you might get after finishing a report or closing a deal or saying something really smart in a board meeting."

Uh... saying something really smart in a board meeting is tangible?

I worked for years before having children, and I have to say that closing a deal might be momentarily satisfying, but in a moment there are other open deals that need to be closed, and others still that are unopened... that never ends, anywhere. are few jobs where people finish the work and never have to repeat it, or something quite a lot like it, tomorrow. The report might be all crisp and bound, but it's not the last report. It will be revised, there will be editorial changes, it will need to be added to or there will be a different one to do. 

No one, in any job, walks home at the end of Friday and says 'there, that's done once and for all' with nothing to do on Monday. Even one big win doesn't stop the workflow, getting a huge project completely finished is satisfying, but it only completely clears the desk of someone whose job ends simultaneously.

The tangible rewards of motherhood and housewifehood are akin to the kind in the work world: I can enjoy the fresh air scent of the line-dried sheets when I replace them on my bed, and when I stick my nose into the linen closet, and I know I've accomplished something that is as lasting as the employee review, or serving the last table of the night.

If I don't believe the clean linens have value, or I don't value my effort (however much was done by technology), the accomplishment will not feel like one. But the same can be said of an employee review that is ticked boxes and requires the use of phrases written by others, or not being the one who made the food being served.
I believe that the key to healthy sanity is in personally valuing what we do. If I feel that tidying up the Lego  is drudgery or not worth my time, or what servants should be doing for me, or it should stay tidied up because I tidied it up ever... I'm going to have no difficulty slipping into the misery of unfairness, of being asked too much, of not being wealthy enough to own slaves or not being appreciated enough by others who should see Lego tidying as more valuable than I do.

This is the core of the problem with grades and praise and employee reviews and rewards and awards: they take the onus for appreciation off the person doing the work and put it 'out there' --where the tangibility of the smart thing said in the board room first has to be acknowledged as such by others.

When an accomplishment has at all to do with being seen by others, then I can feel exactly the same kind of tangible sense of accomplishment by saying something brilliant to a child, or even to myself in the kitchen... because it's either smart or it isn't, who hears it cannot be related.
I suspect that what many mothers feel the lack of is the pats on the back. 

When one is required to seek to find ones own sense of accomplishment, it challenges something we've come to believe is necessary for the functioning of the galaxy: an external witness. 

Yet, a huge part of self-esteem is being able to see, and value, ourselves accurately without relying on external praise or rewards to prop us up.

After my first was born, I went through an interesting change of heart. While I used to believe that what I did at work was valuable and a good use of my time, and worth what I got paid for it, I came to discover that it wasn't. In fact, it went from feeling important to feeling irrelevant. Anyone could move that paper around, answer that phone effectively, transfer those calls, write those reports, organize that workflow --only I could mother my daughter. I felt for the first time that what I was doing actually mattered, both in terms of what it was I was doing, and that it was me doing it.

From that initial discovery, my self-esteem came to be linked very closely with what I thought was valuable, not what other people might see, or think, or believe. So, my house is messy --and my children are loved and healthy and nurtured. The laundry really piles up, and I nurture my family with food made with care and love, skill and knowledge. The dandelions on the lawn are thriving, and I have nothing better to do with my energy than sit up until 3:35 a.m. talking with my 21 year old daughter about her day, her friends, her thoughts and her discoveries.

One of my tangible accomplishments has always been that the week ended with people who experienced many great moments, laid down some excellent memories, have fun stories to tell and deep connections between them. How can a job, a paycheque or a employee award, or the applause of the board compete with that?

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

No, Actually, I Do Not Want Your Kid to be Quieter in the Restaurant --you do

I find restaurant dining one simple joy in life, offering opportunities for everyone at the table to follow their own whims about what to eat without imposing themselves on anyone else. 

I like the vibrant noise of restaurants, the mix if smells, the comings and goings and different timings. 

Knowing about the frenzy behind the scenes and the fact that I don't have to do the dishes just adds a layer of enjoyment to the outing. I like food, and I like variety, and I like trying new things.

What I do not like is parents with their children.
used with permission (Creative Commons, Attributed, Non-Derivative)

Let me be clear: children, I can deal with. Even the random and chaotic noises children make, I have no problem with.

 I haven't eaten in a hushed restaurant in probably 25 years, so child noises fit in with the noise of forks, breaking glasses, moving plates, the music that many eateries feel is a necessary part of the ambiance, and people talking and laughing over the noise.

I find it mildly annoying to listen to parents trying to hush the natural and inevitable noise children make in an environment that they're barely making a contribution to, much less standing out in. I lose my tolerance when parents lie to the child.

Stop Lying to Your Child, and Stop Blaming Me

If you want your kids to be quieter, just tell them to be quieter.

If you need to get other people's opinions involved in the request to be quieter, own it yourself. not tell them that I want them to be quieter unless I have already confirmed that story, because I probably don't. 

In fact, out of all of you at your table, I want you to be quieter --I don't want to listen to you using me to pressure your kid to behave the way you (not I) want your kid to behave.

I certainly do not want to listen to you make noises that sound like an air compressor. Of all the noises in the world that are louder than the ambient sound in any large, people-filled space, shushing is nearly as disturbing as gunshots.

Monday, 12 April 2010

The Insanity Box: What Are They Thinking?

image used with permission (accredited, non-derivative) Creative Commons2010
During a conversation with a client a few months ago, the topic of 'all those voices in my head' came up. You know the ones, you're mildly wandering through a mall with a child who, upon reflection, probably isn't wearing the cleanest clothes, and their left shoe is untied and you aren't up for the struggle of getting it tied today, and you just realized you don't even know where a hairbrush is... and you catch sight of one of those faces in the crowd. Someone looks at your child, makes a face like it's encountered a bad smell, and glares at you.

Is there anyone who doesn't immediately roll out the litany of all the things that face is thinking?

  • why isn't that child in clean clothes?
  • who is that incompetent mother?
  • doesn't anyone love the child enough to tie its shoes?
  • let us hope that scraggly woman is the babysitter, although whose poor judgement hired her?
  • is hair brushing out of style?
  • parents should have to pass competency tests...
While it would be fun to list all the other potential things that face was actually thinking... 
'my kid was such a brat at that age...'
'that mom sure has it good, she didn't have to listen to my mother criticizing everything about her... '
'I hate being reminded of my deceased child in malls... '
'I wonder if my daughter will ever let me see my grandchild... '
'I hated being a child, I was never allowed to be so free...'

Yeah, that's fun...

...but the problems parents face aren't just that they're no good at telepathy, and worse at predicting what anyone around them is likely to be thinking at any given moment --however good they are at accurately guessing the mood.

The problem is that the voices that give such snarky and vile tones to the words in those thoughts are supplied within the parent's head, not from outside.

At some point in our lives, we have heard, half-heard and half-understood a great deal of emotionally-loaded criticism.
That we don't remember when we first heard them, or what the context was or even who it was who said it, or who repeated it, or who we didn't hear or notice contradicting it at the time is... interesting, but not really worth spending a lot of time exploring, in my opinion. The issue is right now, today, and the hit our self-esteem gets from our own minds when the litany is replayed, and replayed and replayed...

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Terry Pratchett, in Monstrous Regiment, describes a deceased god, who is now nothing more than reflections and echoes of prayers and requests, 'nothing but a poisonous echo of all your ignorance and pettiness and maliciousness and stupidity.' 

A quote which was rolling around in my head when my client described her personal litany of 'I'm a bad mom' that she expects to be going on in other's heads when they look at her.

"Those voices are just your Insanity Box," I quipped, completely out of the air.

"What's an Insanity Box?"
Echoes and reflections, interfering with each other, amplifying each other and recalling each other, voices of half-remembered, half-understood comments from almost anyone, often directed at someone else at the time... and a name gives a person power over it. 

Once there is a name for the Insanity Box, the owner becomes aware of the ownership, and the power of the Witness is developed. 
The Witness is the part of everyone that is the 'me' who says 'that sounds good to me', the 'I' who says 'I feel...' 

Once the Witness is aware of the Insanity Box it can perceive the voices as 'over there' or,
even more powerfully, 'not me.'

From that point on, there is a new way to deal with the litany of criticisms whether expected or imagined: 'oh, that's just my Insanity Box getting heated up again...' 

Eventually, it even becomes possible to see that a lot of people's critical words and harsh tones are nothing but their Insanity Box speaking through their mouths, not what they really think and feel at all. Peace at last...

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

When They Can, They Will: Potty Woes
If there is a subject that gets more airtime than potty training, I'd like to know what it is...

There are three simple and easy ways to potty train a child:
  1. wait until they're physically and psychologically ready, can understand and want to
  2. let them watch the parents and older siblings do bathroom activities for a couple of years and, 
  3. do nothing
Inappropriate potty training (too early, involving any kind of bribery, coercion or humiliation, too intrusive) causes some seriously weird behaviour, not only in kids but in adults, too. Those odd diaper fetishes, shy bladder and  impacted bowel (don't google that, it's gross) come to mind, but they are hardly the only ones.
Allowing kids to sort it out for themselves when they are capable and care might add to the laundry pile for a few extra months... and the only thing I can think of to say about that is 'so?'

Are there really parents, or parenting experts, who think that the whole goal is to minimize laundry? Personally, being of an extremely lazy bent, I would do an extra load of laundry every week if it means avoiding having to clean poop off a carpet even once. The number of parents who pick 'all the bedclothes' over diapers almost every night amaze me.
When it was time to think about 'training' my kids, all I could think of was 'why?' They'd learned to walk and talk without any lessons or training led by me or anyone else, how could this be any harder? When they could, I had no doubt they would figure it out. Strangely, they did. And you know what: you can't tell anymore which one of them started or finished learning younger. In fact, you can't even tell today if they learned this when they were 14 months old, or 14 years old.

If parents hate handing thousands of dollars to diaper manufacturers, maybe considering switching to cloth for the rest of the time for the same reason we don't buy single-use disposable shirts? 


Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Do You Think it Costs $180k to Raise a Child? Being Frugal

photo used with permission  Creative Commons, attributed/non-derivative 2010
As a long-time stay-at-home mom, one of the discussions I love having is about how 'it's not possible to own real estate on one income' and how 'it's no longer possible for one parent to stay home with kids in today's economic reality.'


Funny, how people told me the same thing the year (1989) my oldest was born...

I've read in various places those ridiculous estimates of How Much It Costs to Raise a Child to 18 ($180,000 was one I saw one), and after I shake my head in amazement, I'm curious about the fundamentals that have been used to determined that.
Is it based on a certain number of brand new pairs of pants per child per year? I'm pretty sure that for us, the total number of brand new pants per child up to the age of about 15 was 15. Maybe 20. It's amazing the thriving business second-hand and thrift stores do, in spite of everyone apparently having to buy brand new clothes all the time. Would you rather buy lightly worn $6 Gap pants for a 12yo who is in the process of outgrowing them or unworn ones she'll grow out of just as fast, for $60? That factor of ten adds up fast... faster than a 50% off sale can fix it.

Is it based on convenience, precooked, packaged foods as a large part of the grocery budget? One of the things that people who have never stayed home for 2 decades raising kids don't know is that when you're home most of the day, it's possible to
  • bake bread (for about 61 cents a loaf, even with 12 grains, whole wheat and fancy sea salt)
  • cook beans from dry ($2.90/kg dry or $1.69 for a half pound can, plus you control the added salt)
  • make muffins (that don't have the texture or sugar-load of cupcakes, for less than $1 a batch, instead of a dollar or more each), every day if you want to because it takes 20 whole minutes
  • make stew from scratch using the cheapest vegetables there are: tough meats,
    yams, onions, potatoes, carrots, etc.
  • roast whole chickens right in your own kitchen without needing to speed home from the store to avoid killing everyone with cooling rotisserie birds, still controlling the amount of salt added
  • make chicken stock from scratch without the salt (oh, man, the salt!), fat, sugar (not kidding), or whatever 'hydrolyzed vegetable protein' is --made for free from bones and scraps that would just be tossed
  • can or freeze anything that appears in abundance, free or low-cost, like a 4' box of 'picked too many' apples from a friend that became applesauce with no additional ingredients, the free blackberries that grow like weeds all over town, a box of nectarines that accidentally got frozen at the store and sold for $2 for 22 pounds and a bumper crop of cherries once: $10 for 25 pounds
  • grow a vegetable garden for the cost of seeds and watering, giving a parent something to do outside while supervising the kids who want to be out there anyhow
So, do feel free to choose between 2 hard cooked eggs in a cute little egg-carton shaped bubble package for $2.10 or eggs that you can use for anything, including hard cooking, at home in under an hour for $2.40/dozen.
An angel food cake only takes an hour, with the addition of about nine cents of other ingredients. Whip a cup of heavy cream with a tablespoon of real vanilla extract and serve the cake with whatever fresh berries or canned fruit you like... 

Let Someone Else Pay for New

With LetGo, Kajiji, Craigslist, Used[CityName] and Freecycle, there is almost nothing but food that anyone must buy new, and even then I see listings for 'come and get it' freezer emptying, orchard-picking, over-abundant garden leftovers and even 'made a whole bunch and no one will eat it' canning, as well as 'unused' 'totally new' 'in original packaging' and 'unopened' advertising all kinds of things.

What Time Allows

While I'm home I can do all kinds of other things I'd have to hire someone else to do instead: from lawn care to laundry, home improvements and repair to mending and removing stains from clothes instead of replacing them.

Maybe More Realistic Numbers...

I figure our kids were more like $2-3000/year for the first one and probably 50-85% of that for the second (because, among other things, there is no reason to buy more kid-sized plastic dishes once the set is in the house), over and above what we would have had to buy to live, just the two of us. I do know that, 2 years later, we certainly aren't floating in an extra ten grand a year, since our eldest move out.

What is On Their List?

So, what's the other $7-8000/year paying for? A car each every year? Six years of full-time post-secondary education (hey! You can't count that in the first 18 years, they don't go until 18, and what if they never go?)
I suspect that bureaucrats sit down with catalogs and layette lists and itemize absolutely everything that a baby could possible 'need' in the first 19 years of life supposing it never received a single gift or hand-me-down and every second-hand store in the world went up in flames. This list includes new furniture however often it outgrows the old stuff, a bedroom of its very own, a new car that seats enough people every time a new one arrives, and multiplies of things like 'vacations' and 'holiday shopping' based on the hilarious idea that having a third or fourth or sixth kid creates another $10k in income to fling around every year. people in the real world, on the other hand, have another baby and get to make the same amount of money spread among more people, trimming or eliminating some of the casual, unnecessary spending to do so. Which is why people with 16 kids don't usually make $160,000 a year over and above their 'real' budget... 

... and some of them still buy their own houses, even on a single income.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Trust Is Hard to Restore

photo used with permission attributed/non-derivative Creative Commons2010
Tragically, perhaps, once a question has escaped a parent's mouth and landed on the floor in front of the child, there is no way to make it not have been asked. 

Restoring trust is harder than it looks. Apologies only make reparations on the damage done in the moment. The break in trust lives on long past the event, and the apology. 

Truly, trust can only be restored by constantly and consistently refraining from repeating the offence. I am reasonably quick on the uptake, and managed to discover this (mostly by falling on my face, but I have found over the years that personal humiliation is an astonishingly effective learning tool) quite a long time ago, but with enough repetition to be absolutely certain what I was really doing...
Someone asked me if I'd asked one of my kids something about The Future with some particular boy. It reminded me that I've learned that there are some questions my sister can ask my kids, their friends can ask them, their grandparents can ask them, even total strangers can ask them... but I can't ask.

In my kids' heads, by virtue of me being The Mom, I can't ask some questions. Because the questions are loaded. 

Because they imply a preference or an opinion that should have nothing to do with how they live their lives. 

Because even if I'm dying of curiosity, it's none of my business until they decide to share. 

The weight of my status as 'mom' imparts extra meaning in questions --even if for me (or whomever) it is merely idle curiosity.

Questions from mom's face just will not be heard neutrally by her kids' ears.

5 Questions A Mom Can't Ask

1. Do you think you have a future with him?
This implies that I want (or don't want) her to be involved with him for a long time. That implication on its own colours the child's view of what she's supposed to think or want.
2. Can you afford that?
This implies two things: a. I have any reason to be in on your finances, and; b. I don't think you should be buying whatever it is you're talking about. A: none of my business, and; B: WOW, so totally none of my business.

3. Is your apartment clean?
Wow, yeah, still none of my business.

4. Have you kissed him?
My sister can (and has) asked questions like this... I can't. I just can't. I can't imply that I think she should have, and I can't imply that I think her judgement is poor. I just can't ask. Do you think that's safe?
Same thing, really --the only reason to ask this kind of question is because I clearly don't think it is. Either I don't trust you to have any rational sense of danger, or I think you're too stupid to know what a sense of danger means. 

Can't ask. 

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

What is Misoproliny? My new word... on hating children

creative commons non-deriv/attrib licenseI love English. It's so cool the way you can make up whole new words by using other language pieces.

Misogyny is a combined word, from the Greek, using miso- meaning 'hater' and -gyny meaning 'woman', neatly making the commonplace 'womanhater.'

Misanthrophy is the same prefix with the suffix which means both all people and men --neatly confusing the issue whenever it's 'manhating' rather than 'hating people' that is at issue.

The suffix proli- means child. A misoproliny is, therefore, a childhater. Strange, considering the decades of vile and hateful texts circulating as parenting advice and pedagogy, that this word has never before been coined. On the other hand, I'll take credit for making it up...

Monday, 18 January 2010

How Not Yelling Makes for Peaceful Parenting

helping mothers since 1961
Long ago, I attended a La Leche League Canada Area Conference. It was a cooperative event, with all attendees asked to help run the show. I was involved in the registration --it was my assignment-- so I know that there were far more than 200 people in attendance, from 8:30 to 5:30 the first day, 8:30 am to 9pm the second day and from 8:30 to 4 the final day.

creative commons Attrib/Non-Deriv License, 2009Beyond being a great deal of fun, there was something... odd about the experience. It took me nearly two days to figure out what it was.

Of course, it was a La Leche League conference on the West Coast, which lent it an odd air of super-granola in virtually every aspect, but I was used to the Islanders and their homemade soap lifestyles. The oddness was something else. Then I figured it out:

No one (seriously: no one!) was yelling at their kids

Virtually everyone attending had kids with them, with few exceptions of national office-level representatives, and one of the Founding Mothers who by that point had a handful of grandchildren and I'm sure wouldn't have thought of towing them to a conference.

Some of the kids were yelling. Some were melting down completely. 

But no adult in the whole building for the whole weekend yelled at any child anywhere I could see.

To say I was astonished is an understatement. I don't think the possibility of not yelling in life had ever occurred to me. While I certainly didn't make it to my kids' late teens without ever yelling at them, or about them, or near them... the conference opened up the possibility in my head that yelling was optional, not natural or necessary.
I'm sure lots of those parents who attended yelled at their kids at some point or other. Why not there?

I think there were two things: a basic premise that yelling wasn't going to help anything anyhow, coupled with a tremendously child-friendly, family-supportive atmosphere. There weren't spaces where kids were expected or encouraged to behave like mini adults (or like they don't exist at all). And that, to me, seems like the core of peaceful parenting.
There is something inherently violent in the premise that children should, or can, be 'little adults.' The very idea insults the core of who they really are: children. 

If they were adults, they'd have fully-formed adult bodies and fully-formed adult brains, they'd understand things the way adults do and would do things the way adults do. But they don't. 

They can't. 

Because they aren't. And they aren't going to just because we have a whole society convinced it's how it should be.
Believing that it is somehow aberrant to create an environment that acknowledges --even welcomes-- childhood's different needs, different pace, different lifestyle; that's just normal here these days. Encouraging violence, whether verbal or physical, is commonplace in the realm of 'how to raise children' advice and theory --even in clinical psychology.

How do we argue that it is possible to raise peaceful children through violence?