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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Two Choices

If you're like me, if you had a less than stellar childhood and upbringing, you have two choices as you become a parent:

1) Parent as you were parented, because it's the path of least resistance and you turned out "just fine," or
2) Reflect upon that which you did not like as a child and use the bad examples as ideas of what not to do.

I chose to go with the latter, obviously.

I was punished and abused. Some of that included grounding, spanking, slapping in the face, being sent to the car to sit alone (even at a very young age) when we weren't at home, yelling, screaming, threats, bodily intimidation (making fists, running up to get right in my face, lording over me, etc.), name-calling, and the like.

I was put behind the significant other of both parents. I was told that my step-mother didn't like us, because we made her feel like she was second banana. I was abandoned by my father when he remarried. I was not acknowledged as even existing, as my father would tell people he had only three kids (my three younger half-siblings) as opposed to five (including me and my brother). I was told that my step-dad was the highest priority in my mother's life and kids come second. I was moved from one home with one step-father to a new home with a new step-father while I was on a school trip and hadn't been given a clue. My trust was betrayed countless times as I said something to my mother in confidence only to find out she then repeated it to my step-father.

Had I been a boy, I would've been circumcised. My younger brother was and he is "just fine," too. He's "just fine" enough that he cut the genitals of his own three boys.

I was breastfed for a mere six weeks and then switched to cow's milk and rice cereal.

I was forced to grow up at an obscenely speedy rate. I was victim-blamed. I was not listened to. I was not believed. I was not valued. I was used as a show-piece. I was expected to live up to impossible standards. I was punished when I could not. And on and on and on.

Here I am. I turned out "just fine" and am still here to tell the tale. I grew up to excel in school. I graduated high school with honors and college Summa Cum Laude. I received countless academic rewards and was an officer in my academic honor society. I had two successful careers. I am now, according to my parents, a "good" parent. I own a home with my family. I pay my taxes. I don't break (many) laws. So, by all accounts, what was done to me turned me into a productive member of society and I have no need to do anything different to or with my son.

By all accounts, I turned out well. It serves to reason, then, that if I raised my son the same way I was raised, he'll turn out well, too. Or, maybe I turned out well (and that's certainly subjective) despite my upbringing. Maybe I want more than that for my son. I could've taken the easy route and gone with my family's status quo. It's worked for generations before me, right? Or has it?

Instead, I chose to do things the hard way. (Typical.) I chose to think, reflect, make intentional choices, see my upbringing as a lesson in what NOT to do. Sure, there were positives. I took those with me. But the negatives - I analyzed them, spent years in therapy, spent longer in my head with it all, and came up with Zen Parenting. And this is a constantly evolving thing, as well. I have changed my opinion slightly (and completely) on many different things as time has passed. I have made mistakes - mistakes that I recognized, apologized for, and hope my son will learn from AND mistakes that I have yet to realize that I also hope my son will learn from - and will continue to make mistakes. As I make those mistakes, I'll continue to learn - I do this WITH my son. We learn and grow TOGETHER. I don't hide my imperfections from him. I don't hide my learning process from him. I don't keep those secrets and pretend that I'm the perfect parent. That would be doing him a grave disservice.

I choose to live differently than the way I once did, than the way my parents did and their parents before them. I am a better parent than my parents were. I hope my son will be a better parent than I am and that the legacy I leave of growth and choosing to reflect, take the good, and discard the bad will continue on.


  1. i'm always surprised that more people do not choose to parent more thoughtfully...it seemed to me a thing that was worthy of reflection, information-gathering, soul-searching. an endeavor deserving of great care and consciousness. i've realized that most people don't necessarily see it that way. i've also realized that most people are comfortable parenting unconsciously; and that, despite good intentions, when the chips are down and parenting is challenging, it's too often their own comfort or convenience that wins out, not their child's best interest.

    sigh. i recently saw a youngish mother bitch-slap a child, perhaps 15 months old, in the local post office for being fidgety while she attempted to prepare a big pile of stuff to mail. not a light tap, an open-handed smack to the head/face that left the little one reeling and then wailing. no one else who saw it looked remotely shocked or disturbed. in the past week also, i've seen a miserable, wailing infant pushed about a mall in a stroller by an utterly unresponsive mother, and an infant ignored in her car-carrier while her mum dicked about on her mobile phone endlessly. i've seen a toddler in a cart in target drinking "monster" thru a straw while his idiot parents shop and drink the same crap. and i know that in most of the houses around me, babies and children are being "raised" according to parenting norms which include bottle-feeding or early/forced weaning, circumcision, being left to cry alone in rooms when their parents wish to sleep or "have a break", and slapped, spanked, and shamed when they manage to annoy the adults. i see tiny babies dumped in sub-standard "care rooms" at gyms, crying until they "fall asleep", so mummy or daddy can get the workout done. actually, everywhere i go i see infants being ignored. it's rare that i see one being worn, held, and lovingly handled.

    parenting isn't easy. but i think it's rather important---important enough to make it the central concern of one's life, not something we do reflexively, carelessly, without reflection. because sometimes "good enough" really isn't...

    1. I think many people see it as harsh criticism and disrespect to parent differently than we were parented. And how dare we do that...

  2. I breast feed until my kids wish to stop, baby wear, co-sleep and bed share. It confuses the crap out if my family but they don't fight it and respect my decision. We are an attachment family. We practice attachment parenting and sibling attachment.

  3. Shannon asked me to post this comment for her, as she was unable to do so herself:

    "What I've been dying to know is how you changed all that learned behavior so easily? I could just weep reading your posts most of the time because you're everything I strive to be. I had a severely abusive step-father, was also abandoned by my bio dad and was also cast aside by my mom when my 2nd step-dad came into the picture. I've been in therapy too for many years and I can clearly see the difference in how I want to parent based on what I don't want to do. But in times of stress, I find myself almost automatically reverting back to some of that learned stuff. I yell. I threaten. And I've gone as far as smacking my 4 year old on the bottom a time or two. I DON'T EVEN BELIEVE IN SPANKING! I feel pretty awful about myself afterward and I talk to my kids openly & honestly about it. But I feel like crap about the damage I've already done and when I read your stuff, you make it seem so easy. I can honestly say that reading your posts help me a great deal but I know I've got more work to do.

    I've been wanting to ask you this for a while but have only just got up the courage to be honest and it feels vulnerable admitting that I make such poor choices with my kids when I'm stressed.

    Do you EVER have times when your child is acting out in a way that causes you stress? I feel like everything I read on your FB (previous to you shutting it down), blog and twitter pages indicate that you don't ever have those kinds of moments with your son. Granted, I'm a fairly new follower so maybe I've missed something.

    And please don't get me wrong. I am not seeking absolution or justification of any kind. I know my behavior is a choice. I'm working on it in therapy. But I am sincerely curious how you do what you do so perfectly/seamlessly/effortlessly??

    Warmest regards to you!

    Shannon Wood"

    1. Shoot, of course I have times when I'm not perfect...ALL the time, in fact. I get frustrated, I get impatient - I'm human. No, I have never spanked my son. No, I don't yell at him. That doesn't mean you're a bad mom, because you have, though. I do believe that, for myself, age has something to do with my being able to be a Zen Parent. Had I had my son 10 years earlier, I would've done things MUCH differently. Having gone through therapy and, more than that, years of self-analysis and reflection, I've come to learn more about who I was, who I am, and who I want to be for myself and my son. Nothing comes to me perfectly, seamlessly, effortlessly. It comes with a lot of imperfections, many crooked seams, and great effort, but I try to keep my kid-self in mind all the time and use her and her mother as examples of what I do not want for my son. I often ask myself, "How would I feel if I were going through this?" That helps get me back on track every time. I never want him to feel the way I felt. Ever.

  4. I miss you! I need to visit your blog more often