Tiny Coconut

I have things.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Setting an example--a potentially inflammatory post

I apologize in advance if anyone reading this is offended by what I'm about to say. If you find these parenting philosophy discussions tiring or obnoxious, feel free to skip it. Sure, you yourself probably account for a full fourth of my readership, but really, it's OK. I just need to get this down on 'paper.'

I've been thinking a lot about parenting styles and parenting goals lately. (Yes, in between outlining nonfiction books, writing fiction books, running a food drive at E's school, attending teacher conferences for both kids, attending PTA board meetings and working more-or-less full time. What, me, manic?)

Anyway. Parenting styles. Parenting goals. I'm still reading the Blessings of a Skinned Knee book I was talking about before. And last night's PTA meeting had a guest speaker who talked about 'affluenza' and the diminishing returns kids experience when we give too much to them/do too much for them. I've been thinking about attachment parenting and its various derivations. I've also been reading about positive discipline, and even a bit about TCS (Taking Children Seriously...and man, I really do have to figure out why I can't link..). And bits and pieces of each thing make sense to me, but I keep finding myself coming back to a basic question: What am I trying to accomplish as a parent? And do the things I'm doing get me closer to those goals?

Here's the thing, and I know that it's going to be hard to verbalize, because I've had a hard time grappling with it internally. But it's my parenting epiphany. (Alliteration rocks!) What I need to find, what I gravitate towards, is a parenting philosophy that allows me to model what I want my children to become. I don't mean that just emotionally, but literally, physically, concretely as well.

Why didn't attachment parenting work for me, when almost every single one of its philosophical underpinnings calls to me strongly? Because I couldn't reconcile the giving up of all the things I personally need--space in my bed, for instance, or work that fulfills me, even if it's outside the home--with what I want my children to become. TCS? I just can't begin to feel comfortable with a parenting philosophy that seems to require the amount of sacrifice of my own personal needs and wants that this does.

[And for the record, and just as an aside, I take my children very seriously, though not by the movement's definition. And I'm attached to my children, though not by that movement's definition. It's all about labels; I'm also very, very, very pro life, but not at all Pro Life, iykwim.]

I look at my children--at E, in particular, because she's older, more developed, and a girl--and I see the future, as most parents do. I see all the things I want for her: strength, independence, intelligence, wisdom, serenity, happiness. I see a person who I think will make a difference in the world, do things her own way, make her own life. And I realize--and this is where the light comes on for me--that I don't want to raise her to be someone who feels compelled to subjugate all or even most of what she is as an individual for her own children. Yes, I do think that that's a great way to parent. So many mothers I know are so supremely self-sacrificing, and their children flourish, and for that I admire them so much. And yet--and I know this is contradictory--I don't want that for my child. I want E to be whoever she is in addition to being a mommy (should she so choose; right now, my six-year-old pain wuss swears she's never having children). I'm not putting all this effort into raising her so that she feels compelled to put all her I'm-going-to-make-a-difference-in-this-world energies solely into raising another child who will grow up and feel that she has to stop pursuing certain avenues of her life because she wants to be a good mommy, and so on and so on and so on.

And so I'm trying, with all my might, to give myself the gift I hope to pass on to my children, to allow myself to both parent and pursue other outlets as well, to allow myself to be proud of the ways I parent well, even if they don't fit into a box, and to allow myself to forgive myself for my shortcomings in parenting and in life.

Taking myself and my own needs seriously is why my children were put into a crib at three and four months of age, respectively, the point at which I could no longer stand the kicking and touching. It's also why I rocked them to sleep every night for their first two or more years, because I loved that closeness at that time. (I don't like to be touched while trying to sleep. It may mean I'm a cold and awful human being, but it's true. And I haven't been able to change it, so I've accepted it.)

Taking myself and my needs seriously is why I never wore either child in a sling past the first month or so, because it hurt my back and I still couldn't use both hands. It's also why I've always I carried both of them a lot, and still carry N to this day, because I love the closeness and the warmth and the access to necks for kissing and nuzzling.

Taking myself and my needs seriously is why I nursed until two-plus years with N, something I cherished and felt good about and miss to this day and am sad I didn't get to do properly with E. It's also why I stopped nursing him the day I was given a prescription for ativan, in the midst of the panic-attack-to-end-all-panic-attacks.

Taking myself and my needs seriously is why I'm hoping to get this bipolar book, even though it will take me away from the kids a lot over the next four or five months, and may not ultimately bring in much money at all. It's also why I took the job I have now, with limited hours and good pay and solid medical insurance and good daycare and a college tuition plan and a killer 401K.

I guess what it all comes down to is that I want my children to see me care about and for me, because I want them to do the same for themselves when they are adults. I also want them to see me care about and for them and Baroy and friends and family and sometimes strangers in need, because I want them to do the same for others when they are adults. And so, lately, I've been making parenting decisions through that prism. Makes it much easier to sort things into column a and column b, to pick and choose from the parenting philosophies that call to me, and yet discard that which seems to be contrary to my goals.

Or maybe it just makes it easier for me to rationalize being self-centered and self-absorbed. I hope not, but the possibility is always there...

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