Archive for June, 2009

Just a Thriller

Caryn: So, this is weird. And sad. Since our fantab-u-oso fun time hosting the Mommy Revolution webinar Monday night, I’ve been meaning to start a post on realizing you’re not alone. Because, I think, one of the premier themes that came out of that night was that it’s just so great to feel like we’re not alone in our struggles or craziness or whatever. It’s what women were chatting about—and the feedback we got back afterward.

But alas, two things kept me from writing this earlier: 1. It’s summer vacation and I still haven’t figured out how to do anything with all three kids around me all the darned time (especially when it’s 95 degrees with 95% humidity and I’ve pretty much moved into our local pool).

And 2. (here’s the sad, weird part) Because every time I’d think, “it’s so good to know you aren’t alone,” I’d get Michael Jackson’s “You Are Not Alone” running through my head. Then, I’d picture the video—where he had that shortish haircut and slunk around with Lisa Marie Presley—and then I’d get to that sad place I always get to when I think about Michael Jackson and his life. And it was too hot to be sad this week.

So then, the other day, FINALLY, I had blocked out some time to work on this—and what do I discover as I sit down at my computer? He died! Michael Jackson is dead (of course, you know this by now). Argh. Sad. Sad. Sad…. Sad life. Sad death. The guy just makes me sad—and the sadness I feel for him comes straight out of the loneliness factor.

Any time I’ve ever read about him, that’s the resounding theme. He had a lonely childhood (okay, so I’m basing this one on the made-for-TV movie where he talks to that rat in the house in Gary)—not to mention an abusive one. He had a lonely superstardom (though it sounds like loneliness and superstardom go hand in hand more often than we’d think). I imagine his more recent years were just as lonely. (Do you think someone surrounded by love and care and concern for his welfare would allow him to subject himself to all that surgery?)

So anyway, I just thought as an homage to Michael Jackson—who, as weird as he was, happened to be an amazingly talented child and man, who kept me dancing and singing all through my childhood—I think we need to do a big Mommy Revolution push toward easing the loneliness of this life.

Even in our own feeling of being alone, we need to help another mom, dad, child, superstar, anybody feel less alone. How? You might take a queue from MJ: You can tell them, “I’ll be there…. Just look over your shoulder, honey!” Or, “You knock me off my feet now, babe…..” Or, “Mama say mama sa ma-ma moo sa…” Or whatever comes to mind.

It’s just that if you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make that change….

Carla: Caryn, it’s times like this when I love you more that I can possibly say. Only you could connect MJ and loneliness so beautifully and in a way that makes perfect sense. You make it seem as easy as 1-2-3, simple as do-re-mi.

MJ’s life is an example (albeit an extreme example) of what loneliness does to us. It turns us in on ourselves until we are no longer the people we used to be. I mean, the man was ill in every way a person can be ill and I think most of it had to do with the lack of true connections to other people.

So while none of us will ever live a life like that of the King of Pop (and thank God for that), I think he can serve as a reminder that what is best and brightest in us quickly becomes broken and dimmed when we don’t have meaningful relationships. Loneliness is a serious problem for parents and yet when we are willing to be vulnerable, to be honest about our struggles and joys and doubts and questions and hopes, we can find the connections we long for.

Shamone!

Fathers, Outages, Webinars…

Caryn: Happy Father’s Day from the Mommy Revolution, all ye Daddies out there! Didn’t want the day to go by without a little shout out. We SO appreciate the dads in our lives–and on this blog. (Talking to you, Steve!).

Of course, being the shameless self-promoters that we are, we also wanted to remind everyone who registered that our FREE Mommy Revolution webinar is tomorrow night. I would give the link again, but if you can believe it (and we really can’t), the webinar is actually FULL!!!!!!! I mean, technically, you might be able to squeeze in a last-minute registration, but the turn-out overwhelmed everyone and the powers-that-be actually asked us to pull back on the promotion. Crazy. 

But even if you can’t make tomorrow night’s debut webinar, we hope we can catch you again if we get to do another one of these babies. Though we can’t promise you future ones will be  free. Neither can we promise that half the content will have been scribbled out on paper in candle-light as it was this time, thanks to a multi-day power outage in the Rivadeneira’s neck of the woods.

Power outages aren’t much fun–especially when the temps hit 95 and HUMID as all heck—but it adds a bit to the Revolutionary flair to dash out notes and ideas in a sticky, dimly lit room. 

Anyway, hope to see you all tomorrow night! Well, actually we won’t be able to see you, but we’ll be able to read your questions. So please ask lots of them!

P.S. Congratulations to my brother and sister-in-law in the birth of their new boy.

Could Loneliness Be Good for You?

Carla: My dear friend Tim Keel posted something on his blog that got me thinking differently about the issue of loneliness. You can read Tim’s post here (and I encourage you to read all the links, especially this one).

If you’ve spent any time here at the Mommy Revolution, you know that loneliness is one of those issues that keeps coming up. It seems to ripple in to all kind of other conversations–jealousy, community, boredom, the mundane details of maternal life. It’s a subject we could look at from several angles. But I think this one, this idea that there might be something redemptive in the midst of loneliness, is worth digging into.

I find that loneliness is one of the most pervasive issues I face as a mom. The irony of course is that I’m rarely alone. I have company in the shower (and not the fun kind of company), in the bathroom, in my bed, at my desk, when I’m trying to make lunch or read or get dressed or water the plants. And yet most days I feel such a deep sense of loneliness it almost makes me crazy. It’s why I’m addicted to Facebook. It’s why I get excited when the mail comes. It’s why I blog. I am starved for some kind of connection with other people, the kind that’s rich and meaningful and intimate.

This feeling isn’t the result of being an at-home mom, either. I felt the same way when I worked. In fact in some ways it was worse then because I was surrounded with potential connections that, for various reasons, never quite turned into what I longed for.

But Tim’s post has me wondering what I could learn about myself in the midst of this loneliness. I don’t see it going anywhere anytime soon, but I do think that there might be a way to reconsider loneliness through the eyes of redemption. But I also know that I need some help from you smart women (and Steve), to help me figure out what that might look like.

So here’s what I want to know: What have you discovered about yourself, about God, about life, about anything, in the midst of loneliness?

Caryn: I’m seriously having a hard time responding here. After reading your entry and the links, I just want to curl up in some corner and cry. Lonliness is probably THE big issue of my life. The thing I wrestle with the most. The thing I worry about most for my kids.

But, alas, as you and your friend Tim and the other guy so beautifully shared, loneliness is also one of the biggest blessings. God has used it probably more than anything else to shape me into who he wants me to be. It’s almost weird, too, how he uses it. That it’s through times of desperate aloneless and the resulting deep introspection that has turned me less inward and more outward. God has used my own loneliness to soften me, to sharpen me, and to–as it’s been pointed out–connect with others.

And beyond a blessing it also certainly is a Muse. The least lonely years of my life (my early marriage, my work-in-an-office-career-years) were my least creative. I only wrote when I had to, and much prefered editing other people’s stuff because I just didn’t have any “juice” of my own. And that juice comes from loneliness—among other things. (FYI: this is not a sex reference. I’m not like you, Carla, with your little shower imagery up there…).

So, yes, I think loneliness can be very good. I now like it a little even—in certain circumstances—because I know it’s a gift of sorts. Something that if we allow God into, he can use and redeem and work with in so many ways.

Sorry. I seriously am feeling all emotional and the need to cry, but I have to run to a meeting. I do have a story about being at the pool today and feeling all lonely seeing the other moms talk, but maybe I’ll just comment that later.

Thank you for starting this one, Carla. I feel sad that you were lonely at a time when we worked together. I’m so glad, though, that out of our own crazy loneliness we could do this Revolution thing and make at least ourselves feel less lonely. We’re in this crazy together!! With all you Revolutionaries too!

Carla:  I’m sorry to make you almost cry Caryn. I think that there is, as the second link above says, a very fine line between the redemptive loneliness and the horrible loneliness that no one ought to have to live through. For me, the trick will be learning to tell the difference.

Spanking

Carla: So yesterday, one of my Facebook friends had the following status update: “taught the preschool Sunday school today. During prayers, one kid said ‘thank you God for today and please no more spankies with the wooden spoon.'”

That status broke my heart. Poor little bug! But what really started to get me stirred up were the responses to this status. Things like “at least he’s going to the right source. Only God can help us not be bad” and “if she’d said ‘sploon’ it was probably one of mine, LOL!” Other people gave a little virtual chuckle, others noted how cute that was.

Cute? A 4-year-old asking Jesus to make something painful stop is cute?!? I posted my own comment on how sad that prayer made me and that I hope Mom and Dad give the spoon a rest, but I seemed to be the only one who saw a problem rather than a charming anecdote.

Of course, I should know better. I know how a lot of Christian parents are about spanking. I know they truly believe it’s the godly way to discipline and that it’s actually a good thing that this little peanut wants it to stop because that’s how she will learn to be obedient to the authority of her parents and therefore God.

And let me also qualify the rant that is about to come thusly: I have several dear, lovely, beloved friends who are wonderful parents and who spank their kids. I don’t think parents who spank are evil or abusive or horrid. And while my husband and I don’t believe spanking is an effective form of discipline, we have each spanked exactly once. I gave my oldest daughter a single swat on the tush when she was about 6 because I was angry and fed up and lashed out at her in an instant of frustration. My husband spanked our son on an occasion when it seemed that nothing else was working; they both cried for a good 20 minutes when it was over.

That said, here’s why I think spanking ought to be the exception rather than the rule:

1) As a form of true discipline, it’s not very effective. It doesn’t teach a child anything except that her parents are in charge and she isn’t. I’m not sure that’s the most important lesson a child needs to learn–and most kids figure that out without someone hitting them. It might change behavior, but it doesn’t reinforce positive character formation, which is the point of discipline.

2) It ignores the reality of a child’s cognitive development. The little sweet pea praying for the spankings to stop? She’s not asking God to help her behave. She’s asking God to make her parents stop hurting her. She isn’t developmentally able to make the abstract connection that if she changes her behavior the spanking will stop. That’s because her parents most likely don’t spank her for a specific type of behavior but rather for a general set of behaviors that they believe to be disobedience. If a child is only spanked when she pinches the baby, then spanking might lead to her no longer pinching the baby. But if she’s spanked when she pinches the baby, when she paints the walls, when she refuses to put her shoes on, when she dumps all of mommy’s jewelry in the toilet, then in her mind there is no rhyme or reason to the spanking because each of those behaviors is the result of a specific set of emotions or thought processes in a child. She can’t connect one incident to the other because they don’t share any common motivation. She doesn’t know what motivates her to do what she does any more than most adults. I mean, when you yell at your child, how long does it take you to consider why you have done so? More than a few minutes I would guess.

3) It ignores the reality of a child’s behavioral development. Toddlers and preschoolers are certainly capable of being naughty. But most of the time they aren’t trying to misbehave. They are trying to learn, to figure out the world around them, to test out the rules and the expectations. The tantrums of a 2-year-old aren’t intended to drive you nuts. They are the result of the most explosive brain development a human being ever experiences. Toddlers and preschoolers live in a near-constant state of frustration. They want to do things their bodies can’t do very well–like run or walk or go up and down stairs or climb or ask for something by name or pronounce words in a way that you can understand. They want to taste and touch everything around them and they have no idea that when they pull on that pretty planter it will fall over. They aren’t all that sure that if they pull on it again it will fall over again. So they try, they test, the explore. Too often, I hear about parents spanking their children for being children, for going where they shouldn’t go or touching what they shouldn’t touch. It’s the equivalent of your boss smacking you on the head every time you asked a question. They are learning. Give them a break.

4) It works, but not for the reasons we think it does. Spanking doesn’t teach a child much of anything except how to avoid pain. Personally, I don’t want my kids to be motivated by fear of pain. I want them to be motivated by the desire to treat others with respect and care, to listen to their parents because we are part of a family and that’s how families work. I want to shape their hearts not just change their behavior. I’d rather raise kids who make mistakes for the right reasons than kids who do everything right for the wrong ones. I mean, if good behavior is the goal, there are far more effective ways to scare kids into it.

5) It is far more about the parents’ response than the child’s behavior. Spanking seems to be the punishment of choice when parents are tired, irritated, or out of ideas for how to deal with a child’s behavior. Believe me, there are days when I could smack my kids just for standing in the wrong place. But spanking them because I can’t come up with a better option seems, well, wrong. And…

6) There are better options, such as:

Helping children develop language skills–whether it’s early signing, simple words, other signals–makes a tremendous difference in their frustration level. Children have wants and needs and nothing is more frustrating for them than not being able to express those wants and needs to the people whose help they need to meet them. Give them the tools to express themselves and they will truly be happier.

Giving them emotional language. When you help a child identify what he’s feeling, you give him the ability to deal with those feelings in ways that don’t involve misbehavior. When a child seems frustrated, tell him you see his frustration, then help him figure out how to solve whatever the problem is. Of course this takes work, patience, and more effort than most of us have in us some days. But it’s what our kids need.

Giving them time and space to calm themselves. Being frustrated or irritable isn’t a punishable offense. It’s an emotional response to something. So when we give kids a comfy chair, a quiet corner, a calm setting where they can settle themselves, we help them learn how to work through their feelings in healthy, non-injurious ways. I know this sound super-flaky, but I swear it works. I have three strong-willed children and all three of them have used the “calm-down” chair since they were two. Sometimes I put them there, sometimes they put themselves there, sometimes I have to go there. But it seriously works wonders.

Okay. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. I mean, seriously, this thing kept me up last night, thinking about this precious baby asking Jesus for help, knowing that her parents would keep doing it and she would wonder why Jesus never heard her prayer. Dramatic? Yeah, but that’s what happens to me at 2 a.m.

Caryn: So, people, can you just join me in saying that the above is the reason Carla needs to write the definitive Christian Parenting book for our generation? Does she not need to be the new Dr. Spock?

Well said, Carla. And I’m impressed that you did this while you were supposed to be meeting that Dietrich Bonhoeffer deadline. Glad you have your priorities.

But back to the matter at hand…. It’s funny that you write this now because as I type I’m sitting on my front porch watching my mud-covered, only-in-a-diaper 2-year-old frolic in the front yard. I’m slightly panicked because he’s a street darter. Scares the heck out of me. And, as it so happens, just yesterday, I gave my second-ever spanking—in my seven years of motherhood.

We, too, are non-spankers (mostly, because my husband is really anti-spanking and I submitted…. PLUS the fact that I’d never hit a pet or horse or anything kind of carries over into how I feel about spanking kids). But yesterday after my son did his 4th in a row dash into the street, after I tried yelling “NO!” into his face and kind of giving him a firm grip thing three times. After “explaining” how a car could come along and make him “SPLAT” with a big loud hand-clap, he still gleefully ran into the street.

So I picked up my by and smacked his butt. Of course, he turned to me and smiled. And tried to run back into the street as soon as I put him down.

I always thought running into the street was the sort of “justified” spanking. When nothing else will do. But even here it does nothing. At least with my kids. I realized all kids are different–and that I’ve got three of the strongest-willed children on earth. Seriously, if we were spankers, we’d have to do it morning, noon, and night.

I do understand that perhaps with a different “‘type” of kid, the occasional swat might do wonders. It did “cure” my other son of jumping up and down in the bathtub back when he was 2, but I just don’t think it’s a good go-to discipline. Before it was just because of my instinct. Now, thanks to you, wise Carla, I’ve got some good reasons to back me up.

Of course, I still need a good way to keep my boy from running into the street (he did it again just two minutes ago—I caught him). I may need to look into shock collars. (KIDDING. Don’t use them for your dogs, either!!!!)

Carla: I am the new Dr. Spock! Does that mean someone younger than me will play me in the next movie? Oh, you mean the other Dr. Spock. Sorry.

I have another friend–the one I’m worried will read this and think I think ill of her when I totally don’t–who spanked her oldest son even though she swore she never would. He would have these huge, destructive tantrums and she just didn’t know what else to do. And I don’t blame her. I might very well have done the same thing.

As for your disobedient son who clearly has no respect for you or the Lord, I say you haul him in the house every time he makes a break for it. He doesn’t get to be outside unless he can stay out of the street. The other option is to walk over to the other side with him, satisfy his curiosity and see if he still feels the need to give it a go after that. I am full of advice, as you know, so message me if you really want a play-by-play on this.

Of course, we didn’t even bring up the whole misreading of “spare the rod” that makes this a theological issue for so many people. That’s because that justification for spanking is so ridiculously out of line with what that passage actually means that we’re not even giving it blog space. If someone has convinced you that this passage means you need to spank your kids to be a good Christian parent, they have seriously mislead you.