Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Free to Be--A Kid

A few days ago, Alisha emailed me a link to someone's blog, which prompted me to remind her that she really needed to stop reading bad parenting stuff on the web. However, Alisha, my dear, your folly is my gain, as I now have someting to write about, and with a passion.

Back to said blogpost, which I will not include a link to, invariably thwarting the spread of crap parenting advice the author was trying to perpetrate against all those newbie parents. I'm sure that somewhere, there are other mindless parents that will be her cheering section, following her lead and agreeing aloud as they read her oh-so-misguided words. But, in an effort to help you understand my big-oh-so-big-T Rex-big bone of contention with the offending article, here it is in a nutshell: the woman condones micromanaging and limiting children to such a degree that their natural abilities to learn are stifled. From what I gathered, they do learn, but what they learn is that "Mom is a control freak who thinks it's her holy mission to oppress my every 'undesired move' and will become a ticking time bomb in my teen years when I'll be too big to boss around." Yeah, I know it sounds farfetched, but believe me, if you'd read this, you'd be worried about their teen years as well.

In said article, the author, we'll call her MOM, doesn't believe that children should be given any freedom "they can't handle". The initial answer to this is, "yeah, well, duh". First, MOM states that she doesn't let her children play with cellphones or the remote, which is good advice, to be sure. But it's what follows that made me scratch my head and wonder if they really do let people blog from mental institutions. MOM claims that when she first started feeding her babies, she wouldn't let them touch their face or grab at the spoon or bowl. (To be fair, I am only paraphrasing, as she actually wrote that "they were not allowed to grab their bowels"). I mean, heaven forbid that a child show interest in feeding themselves. That's a life skill that apparently, her kids don't need to concern themselves with until she decides they are ready.

MOM continues to explain that childproofing is overdone, especially at preschools (no, really, I couldn't make it up if I tried) where children are-- get ready to gasp-- allowed to figure things out on their own! MOM asserts that she teaches her children the proper way to do things, because "It takes a wise man to learn from someone else's mistakes", to which I reply, "Um, yeah, but my son is 13 months old and, from what I can see, quite far from being a man." There's something so narcissistic to me in preventing a kid from exploring their world in their own way and not allowing them to draw their own conclusions. ( To be rather base, it reminds me of the Christmas Eve post I wrote about walking Peacock Lane, where the woman wanted her dog to look at the lights, and the dog just wanted to sniff the shit.)

Then MOM takes the all or nothing approach one step further and pats herself on the pack; after reading her post, I wondered if she had bursitis in the shoulder from all that self-congratulating. She claims that some of her friends only decorate the top half of their Christmas trees, in fear of ornaments being handled and possibly broken, while she has trained her children that they may touch two of them, and only the specified two. That just kind of makes me sad. Aren't Christmas trees things of shiny beauty to be enjoyed? Don't we put on oodles of twinkly lights and track tinsel all over the house because, deep in our reptilian brains, we really never grew out of diggin' shiny objects? Heck, take a gander at today's well-dressed woman and you'll see proof that we are obsessed with glitter and dazzle. We turn into Homer Simpson, muttering "oooooh shiny..." with that childlike catatonic-yet-enchanted look upon his face. Did it ever occur to her to just put more sturdy ornaments on the bottom, and let the kids have fun? Forget Winter Wonderland, MOM has turned Christmas Tree time into a world where her dominion, and her rules still apply.

Do I sound disgusted yet?

It all bothers me so much because I am the kind of mama who is determined to let my son live his childhood to the fullest. I struggle every day to say "NO" as few times as possible, instead, giving my son words for what I want him to do. I don't want his life to be filled by this ambiguous and negative word, which has limitless uses and is often used without limit. I work hard to give my son opportunities that are appropriate to his development, and when he shows interest in something from my world, I seek to find parallel experiences that work for his age and level of ability. Above all, I strive to create a safe environment, free of judgmental language and unnecessary prohibition, where children can explore and adults can relax. If I wanted to start a movement, which I don't, I'd call it Parentwise. Why? Because a wise parent doesn't set up their life to be saying "NO" all day long. I refuse to devote my entire day-- and my son's entire childhood-- in so-called discipline, in telling him how he should do/ be/perceive every little thing.

It's proven that when children learn for their own selves, they learn better. Some smarty-pants might say "Well, why don't you just let your child go out and learn about traffic by playing in the street?". What that mental midget has yet to learn is that there's a profound difference between parenting--being responsible for the health, welfare, safety and guidance of children-- and becoming the leader of your own self-made cult. Micromanagement is what cults are all about, right? Forced dependence, no sense of personal agency or autonomy- this is why many of us strive to raise thoughtful children empowered and knowledgeable enough to make good decisions for themselves, so that they don't go off and join some group of flunkies who worship a used car salesman formerly named Les but who now calls himself "Swami Omi Padre Gotcher Money GoSell Flowers".

Micromanaged children are done a grave disservice; they aren't allowed to grow into healthy persons who can trust their own instincts, make their own sound decisions, or express any feeling that isn't in accord with the status quo without some sort of fallout. This is why some teens run away. This is why some adults (we all know someone) don't seem able to function. They are unhappy with themselves and consequently, and may be in conflict with their family, spouses, children and coworkers, either openly or with passive aggression. Their futures seem depressing and formless, or perhaps they are always angry because they need to have someone tell them what to do, someone to give them the sense of approval for their actions that they needed to develop in themselves long ago.

I've got to wrap up here, because as safe as this office is, my son is getting antsy. We need some new surroundings. I just need to say, once and for all, Parents-- Your child may look like you, but they are NOT YOU. They may be of your blood, but they are not a form of YOUR SELF. They are their own persons, with their own feelings, learning at their own pace in their own time. Love and guide, embrace, but try not to smother. Give them room to grow. If the Big Parent Birds were always sitting on the nest, the babies would never have room to spread their wings. Take that mental image and run with it. I'm taking my kid outside to get dirty.

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