Updated: Feb 16, 2020
This is only my third blog post but, already, I woke up this morning wondering what I could write about. I'm not usually a big talker. I often err toward wondering how anyone could possibly be interested in what I have to say. These days, partly because of that, I've questioned whether hosting a blog is a good fit for me.
So, I looked for a distraction. My book club is reading "Storyworthy," by Matthew Dicks. I decided to watch a TEDx Youtube video of @matthewdicks telling a story. He's a captivating storyteller so, naturally, one video led to another and another.
While I was watching his video, "Speak Less. Expect More," (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sK2P2NEIXUE) a light bulb lit up in my head. I made a connection between Dicks' story and making space in our lives for art and creativity and I knew what I wanted to blog about today.
Like a good Jeopardy contestant would, I'll phrase the topic I landed on in the form of a question. If we could more often resist the urge to control the outcomes in our children's lives (or our co-worker's lives, etc.), how much time and mental energy could that free up for us to tap into our own creative genius?
In his talk, Dicks describes the moment he realizes, as a third-grade teacher, that he is not
the most important person in the classroom. He realizes that if he gives the third-graders assignments and then shuts up and lets them come up with solutions, they are capable of finding unexpected and ingenious ways to resolve their own problems. He becomes a better teacher and the children learn more simply because he expects more from them and less from himself.
As I listened, I immediately began to relate this idea to parenting. This is the polar opposite philosophy of what I thought, going into motherhood, would make me a good mom. What I naively imagined was that I would do everything differently from how may parents did it.
For me this meant things like being hyper-involved in every aspect of my children's lives. I would protect them from playground bullies; I would always have sage advice to give them when they didn't know what to do; I would help them with all their homework; I would set up a system for positive reinforcement that would motivate them to do chores; I would have freshly baked snacks ready when they came home from school; I would understand them and be empathetic and always available....
I wasn't aware that I was jumping on board the helicopter parent (HP) trend that was going strong at that time. (It seems like I've heard that helicopter parenting is a backlash to the more hands-off methods of the seventies and eighties. Maybe someone could enlighten me about this?)
In any case, I would describe a HP as someone who believes that no amount of parenting can possibly be too much. Through force of will and personality, they think they can and should manipulate the child and the child's surroundings to achieve what they, the HP, see as success.
I've learned that I am particularly poorly suited to be a helicopter parent. For me, at least, trying to parent that way is a recipe for overwhelm and mental breakdown.
By the time my fourth child was born, I was primed and ready to fall apart. Postpartum depression hit me hard. For me, PPD wasn't so much depression as it was an extreme anxiety that scared me more than anything else had ever done. I experienced distressing sensations in my body at all times and I slept very little. I had intrusive thoughts. I felt desperate and was afraid I was going crazy. Every worst-case scenario that popped into my head immediately became an inevitability in my mind.
After two or three months of what I'll call near insanity, I settled into spending hours every day in a la-z-boy chair, telling myself if I could just survive long enough, I would get better. If the baby needed a diaper or to be fed, I would change him or feed him. If my older kids needed food or if they were extra persistent in their demands, I would eventually work myself up to helping them or I would stubbornly ignore them until they left. I only did what seemed to be absolutely necessary. I had become the opposite of what I thought was a good parent and the guilt I felt about that was tremendous. All this lasted about seven years, although the first was definitely the hardest and it gradually eased up after that.
I still deal with guilt from that time. However, I've decided to shift my focus to the promising things I see happening with my kids that have little to do with me. Having to often fend for themselves, they've learned basic cooking skills. More and more, if they aren't happy about the house being dirty, they take it upon themselves to clean whatever it is that offends them. My older kids have learned money and time management through working part-time jobs. Recently I have been surprised that often all it takes is for me to ask my kids to do something and they actually do it. I seldom need to nag them. I can't even describe what a revelation this all is to me.
About four years ago, I started attending the support group "Recovery International." There's a founder's phrase we often quote that says something along the lines of "Sentimentalism is an exalted sense of duty for the group." Translation: Stop being a martyr.
If we believe our kids either can't or won't do anything without our help and that they are incapable of running their own lives, we both lose. They will most likely either rebel or they won't attempt to solve their own problems. We will become overwhelmed, bitter, dictatorial--any number or things--and lose our peace of mind in the process. We will waste our time and energy on things that really are beyond our control.
This is where I come back to my original question. If we could more often resist the urge to control the outcomes in our children's lives (or our co-worker's lives, etc.), how much time and mental energy could that free up for us to tap into our own creative energy?
Think, for example, about the time and energy we could put into resolving our kids fights, or punishing them for fighting, or lecturing them, or pleading with them. Short of making sure they don't kill each other, what role should we play?
I don't know if there is one right answer to how a parent should respond but I have always tried to remind myself that all siblings fight sometimes. It's perfectly normal. Also, I remind myself that by the time they've grown up, most siblings have become friends. So, really, how much is my correction really necessary and how much is it a waste of my time and energy? Could it be a better use of my time for me to focus on my own behavior in relationships so that I can be a good example?
It is so much more fruitful for me to correct my own behavior. What I'm left with when I remember to stop trying to control everyone else is more peace of mind and more time for things that I love. In my case, that means more time and energy for art and creativity.
I'd like to end with another question. It's a question I'll try to address another time. Could making creative time in our own lives benefit our children more than if we cut creative time out of our lives for their sake? I think it's a question worth thinking about.
Until next time.