My husband and I adopted our son when he was nearly five. Our son was 11 and I was 40 when my husband died. I raised him as a single parent with the support of family and friends who were our ‘village’. I was not the perfect parent. There were certainly times when I used words that were not in my spiritual vocabulary, and I think that people who have viewed me as being Zen would be shocked. I recall a co-worker telling me, “You’re so calm, like Mother Teresa.” “Honey,” I said to her, “I’m no Mother Teresa, and I’m sure there were days when Mother Teresa was no Mother Teresa.”
When he was 14, my son told me “Mom, I’m an undercover angel sent to teach you patience.” My incredulous response was multi-fold. I told him that, apparently, I was a lifelong learner since he was still teaching and I was still learning. I added, “But you don’t believe in angels,” to which my teenaged wise man volleyed back, “Yeh, but you do.”
One day, in a fit of exasperation about who knows what, I yelled my last. What caused this turnaround? He laughed at me and said that he liked to provoke me to see me lose my cool. Not wanting to give my power to an adolescent by acting like one, I began to use my filters and go heart-to-heart and not head-to-head with him. Many were the times I needed to clamp my hand over my mouth, lest what might come out of it lead to guilt and regret. Did we stop disagreeing? Did he suddenly keep his room clean or keep his agreements with me? No. Did I have a tendency to want to make him wrong for those things? You bet. What I told him that seemed to work was that my intent for him was that he grow up to be a man of integrity who could be trusted. That he has become, as my daughter-in-law thanked me for raising the man of her dreams. Can you think of any parent who wouldn’t want to hear that?
The good news is that we both survived his adolescence with relative sanity intact.
I recently read an article—one of many—about the damage done when parents yell at kids as a means of discipline. Today there was an NPR podcast on Radio Times that focuses on the reasons why spanking is more than unhealthy for children. Both seem to me to be about the loss of control and instilling fear. Is that the kind of relationship you want with your child? Is that the kind of relationship you want them to have with their children should they choose to become parents? We are often the best and worst role models for their future behavior.
There is a huge difference between discipline/structure and abuse/punishment. There is no excuse for striking another human being unless it is done in self-defense. There is no excuse for name-calling or bullying in the guise of getting someone’s behavior to fall in line. I don’t give a shit if you think you ‘turned out okay’ after being exposed to those parenting dynamics.
The example I use when this is in question:
If what was done to you as a child or what you do to your children were done to an adult stranger, would it be considered criminal assault? If what was done to you or what you do to your children were done instead to a neighbor’s child, could that parent press assault charges against the perpetrator? I the answer is “yes”, then it is abuse. Pure and simple.
I followed my parents’ rules because I respected and loved them and they taught me pro-social values, not because I feared them. I didn’t want their disapproval and wanted them to be proud of me. One of the things I remembered my mom saying was, “Don’t ever do anything we would be ashamed of.” Turned out I remembered it erroneously. Years later, she clarified. “Don’t ever do anything YOU would be ashamed of,” is what she really said. Throughout my life, I have endeavored to live my life with the mistaken belief that they were the arbiters of my conscience. The truth is, I have crossed the line of my own values and have deep regret about some of the choices I made as a parent. In my (hopefully) wiser years, my son and I now have the kind of relationship I wish we could have had back then. I am grateful that we both grew up.
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