Welcome to the Common Sense Department

Welcome to the Common Sense Department

Keep your mind open at all times. If you lack common sense of your own, please proceed in an orderly fashion to the nearest balcony and someone will be waiting to assist you over the edge.

All monitors should remain in the upright position and you should remain seated for the duration of the tour. If you have questions or comments, please direct them to the Author at the conclusion of the tour.

Strap in and hold on. It is bound to be a hell of a trip.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Parenting...

It has been quite some time since I have written anything on this blog, and mainly it has a lot to do with the fact that I have been busy working on the things in my life that can't be fixed by leaving an opinion on the internet.  Part of that has been a serious re-evaluation of my own parenting style, as well as, confronting the demons left from my childhood.

I realize now that while I thought I was doing a wonderful job of raising my girls, and in many ways I was, I sucked at a lot of other parts of parenting.  I was too lax in my approach to keeping up with appointments and too ready to take a break whenever given the chance.  Two of the many demons of my own past.

My parents were nothing if not inconsistent in their approach to modern medicine.  Their excuse?  They had been avid members of an ex-catholic, turned non-denominational christian church that honestly, was catholic in every way that mattered except for name.

The church preached a reliance on the laying-of-hands approach to illnesses, the power of prayer and the evil of modern medicine along with a number of other very backwards philosophies on life and religion in general.  Women were expected to wear only skirts or dresses, we were never allowed to wear pants or shorts and all skirts/dresses must be below knee-length, preferably ankle-floor length.  We were also expected to wear head coverings while in church.

In stark contrast, men weren't allowed to wear anything that covered their heads while in the church and were expected to wear their "Sunday Best".  Members of the church were expected to have large families as the church promoted the idea that they were "re-populating the earth with true Christian believers".  I come from a family of eight children.

I am also one of the children from a family of sexual abuse.  I was not the victim in the sense that I was not sexually abused, but I was rather the victim of a later broken family when things came to a head and exploded, years after the church disbanded.  I found out at the tender age of 13 that my parents were getting a divorce, that the man I had known as my father, someone I looked up to, was nothing more than a sick pedophile and my perfect little family was no more.

Up until that point, I had prided myself on the fact that, while all the rest of my classmates were from broken homes, I had a complete family.  That all quickly changed and the damage inflicted upon my family didn't end there.  My mother had been a victim herself from her own father and had somehow followed the stereotype that women will choose a man like their father.  I never understood that.

Oddly, looking back on things, I realized that even though it was the most painful experience I had in my young life up to that point, I had somehow knew that there was something wrong.  I looked up to my father as a child, yes, but that didn't stop the deep-in-the-pit-of-my-stomach feeling that something was wrong with the man I looked up to that happened whenever he got too physically close to me.  I don't know for sure if he did ever abuse me in that fashion as I don't remember.  Maybe thats for the best.

I do know that I have always gotten that feeling around certain men, men who I usually find out later have been convicted of some sort of criminal sexual conduct or should have been.  I don't know how to rightly  describe the feeling, but some of it is nausea, the beginnings of the fight or flight response, the urge to get away from them, a feeling of utter disgust, the want to hurt them, to cut off the offending body part, to burn out their eyes, to torture them in unspeakable ways.  Why do I feel that?  I don't know, nor am I sure that I should question where it comes from as it has quite a beneficial effect.  It's my own personal "Pedophile Radar".

It hasn't exactly saved me from being abused by a different sort of human animal though.  I have had my share of sexual abuse and rape.

Apparently, when I was no older than a year, the issue of what my father had done to my older half-sister came out.  My parents were still a part of that horrible church at the time.  You can probably guess from my animosity towards the church what happened, but I will tell you anyway.

The pastor told my sister that regardless of what my father had done to her, that she needed to forgive him as he was the father that "God" had brought into her life and as such, he deserved her respect.  She was not to undermine his authority in the household with the other children and she was never to speak of what happened to any of us as that would breed disrespect in the home.

He told my mother that she had no grounds for divorce.  That if she did anyway, that "God" would no longer hear her prayers and she would go to "Hell" when she died.  He used the most effective way to get obedience out of her as my mother is a "God-fearing woman".

So, my mother stayed with my father, having four more children with him before working up the courage to divorce him.  To this day, I have never quite been able to forgive her for staying with him all those years, putting the rest of us at risk because she was too afraid of the "Wrath of God" to be a real parent.  Don't get me wrong, I don't regret my siblings and I don't wish that they had never been born.  What I regret is that by staying and having my other siblings, my mother opened the door for unbearable pain to be inflicted upon us all.

Her parenting style left much to be desired.  With each of us, she became more lenient in her discipline, so none of us had the same set of rules.  My younger siblings progressively got away with more and more, while more and more was expected of me and my older siblings.

At the age of 13, because my older siblings were so much older than me and for the most part, no longer lived with us, my younger sister, 11, and I became the second moms to our younger siblings.  Our mother had to work 3 part-time jobs to make ends meet, having five children at home and a mortgage to pay, even with the help of child support, so from then on, it was child raising child in our home.

That was where I learned the "drill sergeant" style of parenting that I have today.  Due to the lack of an adult parent's presence in the home, the younger kids rebelled a lot and I was forced to be very strict in order to get anything accomplished.  But due to my age, it also bred into me a want to escape the pressure of parenthood, the need to take a break in order to get back in touch with myself and feel like a teenager again.

In the beginning of my own journey as a parent, I of course, was young, naive, even given the experience of parenting I had while still a young teen, and I was surprisingly disconnected from the want to around my child even though I loved her very much.  I was easily overwhelmed by the other aspects of parenting, beyond the day-to-day struggles I had previously experienced, such as setting doctors appointments, keeping up to date with shots, keeping the house clean by myself and the myriad of other parenting stuff I hadn't before experienced.

I was 19, going on 20, but I might as well have been 13 when it came to knowing what to do to raise my own child.  The first months of parenthood were fraught with postpartum depression, frustration and a feeling of inadequacy.  My daughter was one of the tough cases, a baby whose sensory perceptions were easily overloaded by my distraught emotional levels which proceeded to become a vicious cycle.  My emotional issues upset her, which in turn felt like my baby was rejecting me, so it made the depression worsen.

Then at the tender age of 4 months old, she started having temper tantrums like none I had ever seen before and no one believed me until they were witness to it, not even my mother whose only comment was, "Well, it looks like you have your work cut out for you,".  These temper tantrums lasted until she was around 4 years old,, right about the time that I found out I was pregnant with her sister.

I was hard on my daughter during those four years.  I was the "drill sergeant" parent who tolerated no deviation from what I instructed her to do.  She obeyed or was disciplined.  I don't believe that I was abusive, at least not physically, but I do remember saying things in the heat of anger to her that no parent should say to a child.  I never allowed her to be spanked more than three times for any one thing she did wrong and spanking was always reserved as the last resort.  I did time-outs, took things away and lectured her.

When I did say things to her that I regretted saying, I was strong enough to apologize to her about it and explain that people say and do a lot of things out of anger that they don't mean.  It wasn't until she was around two years old though that I was able to see that my strict parenting style needed to be balanced with a lot of love and affection.  I thought I was giving her enough, but I realized that she was afraid of angering me so much that getting her to cuddle was a struggle.

So, I started making time to just sit with her and talk, to read stories to her and sing to and with her even if it wasn't bedtime.  To take days off from work where we just spent time doing things together, like going out to dinner at a restaurant, just the two of us.  Going shopping together, where I would let her pick out an outfit for herself, since I was usually so strict on how she had to dress, that everything had to match.  I was still controlling the options, mind you, but she felt like she had more freedom and that was what made the difference.

I can't tell you how many times, for each of my daughters, I tried to find help from outside sources for new ideas and ways to deal with situations, to better my parenting approach to discipline over the years.  All of it came to nothing, and it wasn't because I didn't try.  I realized slowly that the reason none of it worked was because none of those people had experience raising MY children.  My girls were different and what worked for other kids, didn't work with them.

Trail and error proved to me that while I still have a lot to learn about following through with the bull crap of appointments and being consistent in my house-keeping, my form of parenting works with my children.  An equal balance of high standards, lots of rules, no tolerance for misbehavior and lots of encouragement, love and support goes a long way with my kids.  I am not afraid to discipline them, but I also temper that with large doses of love and affection.

And when it comes down to it, isn't that what parenting is about?  So what that I don't take them to the doctor if they aren't sick for some stupid physical exam that is just going to tell me what I already know, that they are healthy and happy.  And so what if my house is a mess?  I don't have dried on food molding in the sink.  I have just never been good at putting the laundry away once its washed and dried.  I hate folding it because it takes time away from what I enjoy in life.

My mother says I don't pay enough attention to my kids because sometimes I like to take a break and re-balance myself so I don't feel so overwhelmed and prone to snapping at my kids when they haven't really done anything wrong.  She thinks that parenting is about over-immersing yourself in your kids, but I don't remember that being what she did when I was young.  Maybe thats what she wished she could have done, but its not what works for me.  My children adapt pretty easily to new circumstances because I have always expected them to.

I don't allow them to hang on to fears, I make them confront them, but I don't let them do it alone.  I let them know that I am right there, that I would never let anything hurt them, that I am always there if they need advice or encouragement, but I don't let them run to me and hide behind me just because something is unfamiliar.  They are expected to do well in school, but I don't have unrealistic expectations in that either.  They are expected to try, and really try their best, but if they still don't understand it, I don't berate them for it.  They have become good students because they want to succeed as much as I want them to.

They know that if they don't understand something, I will make every effort to help them understand it, including getting them tutoring and extra help if they need it.  They realize that they are capable of so much more because they are getting the balance between the high expectations and the caring, understanding parent.  They know that in order to succeed truly, all they have to do is try.  It's the whole, "if you don't succeed, then try and try again," approach.

It works wonders.  So does praising them for their efforts, while at the same time, showing them that the best reward is the payoff of succeeding at their goals.  I am not an expert, nor do I claim to have all my own ducks in a row when it comes to parenting, but I do find my style of parenting to be a hell of a lot more effective and less detrimental to a child than the other popular beliefs.

First you have the "American Parenting" approach of building self-confidence by giving in to your child's whims and wants, barely any discipline and an absent state of parenting.  Then you have the extremists like the "Tiger Mother" who demands nothing short of perfection, and doles out severe punishments and sometimes, even abuse to acquire those results from their children.  Neither are right, but neither of them are entirely wrong.

The "Tiger Mothers" need to drop all the abuse, reverse psychology and negative re-enforcement, and add instead encouragement, understanding and lots of love.  The "American Parents" need to stop the over-indulgence of their children, they need to add the discipline that has been sorely missing and actually step up to the plate as parents by no longer using the absent parent approach.  It is possible, though difficult, in today's society to be a "present parent" even as a single one.  It's all in whether or not they really care enough to be the teachers, monitors and enforcers in their children's lives.  Most of them don't because it's just easier not to, then blame it on society or video games or anything else except themselves.

Parents here in America rely too greatly on the old saying, "It takes a village to raise a child,".  No, it doesn't.  Not really anyway.  It takes "present parents" who are willing to guide their children through life and correct their mistakes.  The only aspect "the village" should play in raising our children is in enforcing and encouraging the decisions made by the parents, being proper role models to the kids and assisting the parents through emotional support.  "The village" is the child's family, not society, not some video game used to babysit, and not the cellphone, not their friend's parents, no one else except those who can be trusted.

Wake up America!  It's been proven in scientific educational tests that the parenting style Americans have been practicing for years isn't working.  Our children are under-educated and their self-confidence is delusional.  They need real self-confidence gained only through accomplishing goals and instilled through encouragement from their parents, not hollow self-confidence based on that "every child is special" shit.  They need rules, they need expectations, they need goals, they need discipline, and they need parents who show love in more ways than just letting them get the newest toy out on the shelf!  They need constructive love, love that guides and supports, encourages, but also doesn't tolerate misbehavior, that pushes for results because it is good for children to have direction.

When are people ever going to learn?

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