Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Occupy Parenthood

I don't really know what I mean by that title. It's just something to think about. I think about parenting everyday. Sometimes I think about it with great reflection and purpose. Sometimes I think about just surviving it with a modicum of dignity. Yesterday I sat at the top of my stairs with tears in my eyes because Ellen was throwing a fit and being a nightmare. She is delightful and funny and bright and wonderful and sometimes, at least daily, a total nightmare. I'm starting to think that all kids--all people--are all those things. In many ways Ellen is my "easiest." Still, I sat there feeling awful because I'd done it "right," I'd tried "ignoring," and I'd even gotten to the point where I didn't care what she did, said, ate, or wore. Nothing worked. It wasn't me, It was her.  As I sat there I thought to myself, "People would tell me to enjoy these fleeting moments with my 4 year old." And they're right. When she's older I will miss 4-year-old Ellen. But it still felt awful sitting there helplessly while she screamed that she hated me. It's like, I lose now and I lose later. But it's not all bad. Yesterday she "made me a Crystal Light" in a tall glass with ice. She also changed her name to Violet. She also told her preschool class she's having a baby sister. You just read this paragraph and so you know: That's a laugh. (Knock on wood.)

At church on Sunday a returned missionary played standing base with his dad on mandolin and his brothers on piano and violin while his sister in law sang "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing." I don't like a lot of musical numbers at church because such things as "a Capella," "harmony," and "falsetto" make me feel uncomfortable. But it's hard to go wrong with a mandolin and the Fount. It was really lovely. I wished wistfully to have a family of performers. I guess it could happen, but since our current deal is that my kids learn one hymn PER YEAR I think it is not bloody likely. Family bands are cool! If I were in charge that might happen. But again, it's not me--it's them.

I made a decision many years ago that my guiding principle of parenting would be to raise likable children. When you've got 4 kids and church and jobs and school and lots of stuff you find out that you can't do everything. So you start making choices about how to spend your time. When I say likable I don't mean popular. Think about the people you like. The people I like are good, interesting, nice, helpful, smart, competent, hard-working, and fun. That's how I want my kids to be. I want them to be a pleasure to know and be around. You know those people you hate? You know those people who are hard to love and serve? You know those people who are frankly just a pain? I don't want my kids to be those people. If you know my kids and you don't like them--bear with me. I'm not done with them yet.

Before I had kids I think I would have said I wanted my children to be accomplished. Being accomplished is great. I want my kids to be accomplished. But it isn't the only thing or even the most important thing I want.  And as we work through their strengths and weaknesses sometimes being accomplished takes a back seat to being likable. It's just what I've chosen. Maybe if you're super accomplished you don't have to be nice. Maybe you can be super accomplished in everything and nice. There's more than one way to raise a kid.

Before I had Sam I had a dream about him. We were standing in line for a ride at Lagoon. He was about 6 and he was wearing a red and white striped windbreaker that I had when I was his age. Before we started the ride he looked at me with fear in his eyes and I looked back with fear in mine. We both nodded and I knew we were thinking: "Shoes on tight, pockets empty, seat belt on, this is scary, but it will be over soon." He did turn out to be very much like the kid in that dream which is to say, very much like me. I don't know why but when he was little I made him take Kindermusik, soccer, piano, and gymnastics. We quit all of them. Now he doesn't even play the mandolin. But he does have very muscular legs!


When Sam was a baby there was a woman in our ward who had a sweet, quiet, little boy. When it was his turn to say his part in the primary program at church he put his head down and mumbled it to himself. The primary teacher grabbed his face and held his mouth up to the microphone. I saw his mom in the audience with tears in her eyes and I thought--I will kill anyone who does that to Sam. Or Maggie. Or Ben. Or Ellen.

Ben said his part in the primary program loud enough to hear for the first time last year. He doesn't exactly shake hands and say how do you do. We are working on the niceties. But he is known among the men in our ward as being strong and hardworking because he shows up for moves and fence-building and church-cleaning and chair setting-up with his dad and he has earned their respect that way even though he looks away when they try to give him a high-five. So I guess I'm saying, I don't know what I'm saying. I worry that people think Ben is rude. But people like him. And that's a relief. I like him. One thing is for sure--he will never hug and kiss you.
We were practicing our primary program at church yesterday. I was talking to my class so I didn't know what was happening. When I looked up Ellen was singing a song into the microphone with two other little girls. I was very pleasantly surprised. Kids: They'll surprise you!





This essay is very good.

30 comments:

  1. You know, the whole time I was reading your post, I had a little lump in my throat, because my kids are all grown, and it's true, you *do* miss them when they go, and it's also true, sometimes you think you might not get out of there alive. I still think that sometimes.

    Also, the whole time I was reading your post, I had that NYTimes essay in the back of my mind. And then you linked to it. Sometimes a blogger will surprise you.

    word verif: unifunly--as in, motherhood is unifun! so I like to parent unifunly! (but only one letter away from "unfun." Think about it.)

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  2. Each of your children will do something one day that will let you know that you've done it right. It will come at different times for each child. The hospice doctor who came while Jonah was alive told Dawn and Harry, "You will make mistakes. But you won't do anything wrong."

    I wish I'd heard that 40 years ago!

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  3. I have been thinking a lot about the fact that I really just want my kids to be good and kind. It seems like a parenting trend these days to mold children into "accomplished" people, to reward precociousness over kindness, to reinforce manipulative, insincere behavior. It's tempting to get caught up in that trend, and then to panic because you don't have your kid enrolled in piano lessons at age 3, and you aren't giving them private Latin lessons, and they don't give hugs and kisses and climb onto people's laps on demand. But you gotta stay true to what you believe. Plus, like you said, it's not about you, it's about them. There are certain things you should "force" your kids to do, and certain things you really shouldn't and can't. I am saying all of this as I sit on the couch while my kids play computer games, so take all of what I just said with a grain of salt. I am operating at an extremely diminished capacity right now. Oh, but some day I am sure I will miss being 9 months pregnant with 3 kids....

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  4. I think likable kids is a great description. I don't have the money or resources to raise superstars. I just want good, solid, well mannered, NICE kids. (And I will keep on making them take piano from me until I'm dead or their 18, but given my piano skills, they are in no danger of becoming virtuosos.) I'm lucky that so far (fingers crossed) they are all really smart too, so I feel like we got that one thrown in as a freebie that I had nothing to do with but can take parenting credit for. (Although the jury is still out on the 2 year old. He keeps licking stuff up off of the floor. Gross.)

    Sometimes I think that if I had more money I would probably put my kids in too many things and put too much pressure on them. So I guess it's good that the decision has been taken away from me.

    I can't read the essay because I don't have a NY Times login. I should look around and see if I need to pay for one or if I can just create one, but I'm lazy.

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  5. I think about this a lot as well.

    Even though I am cherishing this time with my last baby, there are times (last night) that, like you, I just cried because she was inconsolable and I am ill and exhausted. I know I will miss her being a baby, but right now I am also glad she's not a newborn.

    Yesterday, as I was driving home, I saw a woman out running who has a star soccer player son. Although I enjoy sports (sometimes) it's not important to me that my kids be good at them or even like them. I couldn't give a fig. But it's clearly important to her. That got me thinking about what we each think is most important when we raise kids. I liked this post a lot.

    (I want to raise workers with independent thought and compassionate hearts.)

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  6. I liked this post...alot. It spoke to my place in life right now and not to get all "emo" on you, but it made me cry a little. Thank you for reminding me that in the end "being nice" is most important anyway. My sweet 4 year old is everything and MORE of what you wrote in your first paragraph and my heart loved you more because you made me feel "not alone" by writing it out loud. Whether your intention was such or not- Thank you just the same. I want nice "likable" children too. Luckily even on "hard" days- I know deep down that I have that wish already- it's just a slow (and sometimes painful) work in progress. If I was giving out awards- you would win one today. You may not have "family band"- but you should feel very accomplished just the same.... ;)

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  7. Beautiful and brilliant post. There is nothing more disheartening when you are literally doing everything by the book and saying constant prayers of self-control and patience (help me not to throw them across the church gym right now. please help me : ) and their still hellians. sigh. I think about parenting a lot too, how scary, hard and wonderful it is. And I love your conclusion of having likable kids and all that that entails. I think I'll adopt that as my motto, thanks.

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  8. @TheOneTrueSue and anybody else that has trouble with the NYTimes link -- if you google "Notes from a Dragon Mom" and click on the link, it should get you around the login page.

    Kacy -- I loved this post.

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  9. Thanks, Christian, for the way to get to the essay. It is very much like what we have just been through with sweet baby Jonah. And Harry noted at the funeral service, when he spoke about the lessons Jonah taught us, that loving a child is the most important thing you ever do for your child. In the grand scheme of things, it is really the only thing that makes a difference. After all, "God loved us, so he sent his Son."

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  10. I'm sitting here on my lunch hour trying not to sob. Thanks for that link. People tell me that at Hal's funeral I said I have no regrets. I don't remember thinking it or saying it but apparently I did. This comforts me. I love my children with a passion that cannot be articulated--Dragon Mom status is a heartbreaking powerful thing that, once earned, is never lost. Fire is the perfect metaphor. In Proverbs is says, "The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold: but the Lord trieth the hearts."

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  11. I think about parenting too much. And I love posts like this because I am always asking people about their thoughts on this exact subject. So thank you.

    What I am encountering right now which is driving me crazy is that people are sooooo "judgey" about colleges. Where is your daughter applying? Where does she want to go? And you know that they are making assumptions.

    When all I want to say is that I don't care if my daughter only gets into PoDunk Technical School as long as she is happy in her career and life and continues to be a good person. But no one wants to hear that.

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  12. Rebecca3:18 PM

    What a beautiful post. Made me teary... and everyone at work wonder why I'm teary. Very sweet. I love your family and every single one of your wonderful children.

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  13. Thank you for putting into words the thoughts that run circles in my mind each day.

    I've often told my kids I do not want them to be popular. I want them to be good and funny (I really like funny people). As my oldest two have entered teenage-dom the pressures from other parents, teachers and peers is so intense in relation to being accomplished. It's like if they are not the star soccer player/lead in the school play/4.0 student, then they are seen as totally ho hum. It is driving me bonkers and I often avoid talking to fellow mothers of teenagers about much of anything that has to do with our kids. The comparison discussions infuriate me.

    Thanks for being a voice of reason.

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  14. even though i don't have kids i always like to hear what other people have to say about their lessons learned in parenting. i guess the lesson i have to learn is "forget everything you've heard about parenting." anyway, i do not know your kids very well/at all but i know you and christian and if they have inherited your traits then they are probably really awesome.

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  15. I love this post so much.

    I want more about this topic. Your children are likable children, so it makes this essay even more meaningful to me. (Although, one of my life dreams is for Ben to hug me and kiss me on the cheek unsolicited, so don't try to take that away from me)

    So much of being "accomplished" is luck and being in the right place at the right time, and not necessarily dependent on talent or drive. It is also "in comparison" to others, which can sometimes take away the "likable" part.

    It isn't about you as a parent, it's about them (like Carly said) and that may mean giving up expectations that you have (good or bad) and sometimes it may make you APPEAR to be not a stellar/awesome/amazing parent, but it doesn't mean you aren't.

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  16. Kacy, every time I read your blog it makes me wish you were in my neighborhood so I could bring you brownies and talk books and how much we unabashedly love TV.

    You make me laugh about parenting. Maybe my generation is worse than other or perhaps people have always been so intense about parenting but it stresses me out.

    I too just want to raise likeable people. Emotionally healthy, spiritually strong, socially adept, confident likable people.

    I also thought this part of your post was pure brilliance "I think about parenting everyday. Sometimes I think about it with great reflection and purpose. Sometimes I think about just surviving it with a modicum of dignity."...seeing as how yesterday was one of my worse parenting days on record that last part of about just trying to survive with my dignity hit home.

    Keep blogging. Love it.

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  17. I loved this post and the article. Whenever I'm discouraged because I haven't made Jonah practice the piano for 6 months (his teacher (me) is super lazy and unmotivated), and he can't hold a two-sided conversation with the neighbor next door and I'm super frustrated, I just remember something that I heard on Oprah (RIP, Oprah Winfrey). Someone said that the best thing about their mom was that, when they entered the room, her eyes would light up. And that's stuck with me. Because there are so many things that I'm NOT doing well as a parent, but I know that when they walk in the room, my eyes light up. They know that I'm their biggest fan. And sometimes having this small success as a mother is what gets me through the day.

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  18. I love your thoughts on parenting. Keep them coming! Sometimes its the small victories that count. This week I had one twin smash a dozen eggs outside on the playset, pour salad dressing in a cup-carry it upstairs, and pour it on her sisters bed (!?) and eat half a stick of butter that I was defrosting for cookies -when she wasn't having tantrums. Since she's still alive to wreak havoc another day, and I did retain some dignity in the process- Its all good! She is lovely and likeable and a hellion. What can you do? Like you said, its all THEM!

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  19. You do have likeable kids. I think Ben is my favorite. Thanks for sharing the dragon mom essay

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  20. Here's a little story. I took Ethan to a film audition after some lady approached us on the street. I thought maybe it would be a fun experience for him since he enjoys acting in the plays that I direct. In the waiting room at the audition, there was another little boy who was about 7 or 8 who was super loud and going on and on obnoxiously about how lame his mother was, right in front of his mother. People were laughing and the mother sat quietly, rolling her eyes, and I died a little inside. I looked at Ethan and he was looking at me, horrified. That kid probably got the part. He is"accomplished," I guess. But if being accomplished means being rewarded for being obnoxious and disrespectful, I want no part of it. We left that audition and I will never take any of my kids to another one. Not worth it.

    All I want is for my kids to be respectful and compassionate. Good to know I'm not alone.

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  21. I think you are so right about the likeable. I want them to be confident in their abilities and not be afraid to do things that mean they are "different" from everyone else. So little about who we are as adults depends on what "skills we got as kids. Carry on with the excellent blogging.

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  22. I loved this post. I've kind of wondered if something was wrong with me that I couldn't care less about how accomplished my kids are - likeable ALL the way! I love it when someone articulates my thoughts for me, especially when they do it so well.

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  23. One of your best.

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  24. I do not miss tantrums and monstrous behavior and do not believe I ever will. I am sure I will miss snuggles and crack-me-up commentary on the world but I already shamelessly borrow friends' kids for that anyway. I actively avoid telling moms of young kids they will miss "these days." I think my goal is similar to yours, sometimes expressed as having the kids you'd be happy to have in your tent at camp/in your seminary class/at the service project. I want them to be respectful, helpful, and have a good enough attitude. Me too! We are all definitely a work in progress. I got to camp with 3 sisters one year (they have an awesome mom) and saw the progression in action.

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  25. Thank you for writing this. Parenting takes up most of my brain and most of my heart and makes me happy and sad at the same time. You've captured it.

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  26. My eldest is mostly angelic but also challenging for a short stretch regularly, and you described that reoccuring anomaly that is so perfectly.

    And I would be raging over anyone getting all up in her grill if she was shy in delivering a line! AH!

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  27. I'm glad you wrote this. I just read BATTLE HYMN OF A TIGER MOTHER and what you wrote is what I feel in response to Amy Chua.

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  28. Awesome. So well said. I too have kids who won't look adults in the eye or say "hi" to their uncle who they see about twice a week, because they are too shy. But I love the idea of working on making them likeable. That is an admirable quality. You have your husband are very likeable, so I think you are on the right track.

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  29. My children are likeable.

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  30. So true, especially the one about me.

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