Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"How Not to Raise a Child"

"If I was paid to do this job, I would have been fired a long time ago!"

Yes, that was me, berating myself last night after being disrespected by my beautiful children just one more time than my fragile mommy-ego could handle. I felt I had no control over my household, my children were not kind to one another, they had absolutely no sense of responsibility, they were being greedy and selfish and naughty and it was ALL MY FAULT! To quote my yester-self, "I have had one job to do for the last decade, and that's to raise responsible, respectful, kind, loving and considerate children... and well, look at them. I have failed entirely." This into the loving arms of my husband who told me, essentially, to get a grip.

So, okay, maybe I was overreacting. If you know my kids, I hope you think so, too. They are generally compassionate kids, respectful to adults (inside of whom they did not gestate for nine months), smart, funny, and good. So why then do I often feel like I have completely messed them up for life by any one of my choice parenting blunders: lack of self-control when in the toy store/candy shop/ice cream shop/Target/grocery store/garage sale/etc; lack of discipline; lack of followthrough on meager disciplinary action; letting my emotions stomp all over my (Parenting with Love and) logic; not making my daughter do her Rainbow Word Cards every night so now she has to be in remedial reading group; yelling (hopefully the windows were closed) when I should have counted to ten. Oh, those of you who thought I was a good mom.... LOL!

I am. I am a good mom. But I am realizing that we (this generation of moms and dads) have been ruined by all the parenting textbooks that paint a simple step-by-step picture of how to do a perfect job. When I first taught Montessori Parent-Infant classes, I let parents know that the Montessori Method was absolutey the best way to raise your perfect gem of a baby. Then after I had my own little gem, I taught parents to trust their instinct and modify any technique to suit their needs.

Now I feel like I've just thrown all textbooks into the toilet with dead fish (who, incidentally, doesn't like chocolate milk). My dad used to have a saying (yes another one): "I love you so much that I want other people to like you." THAT's what I'm talkin' about. I want to raise my kids well enough that they succeed in the outside world... success in the important areas, like confidence and compassion, et cetera ad infinitum. But according to the last "textbook" I read (1-2-3 Magic... about three years ago) I am doing very little correctly. I have made too many mistakes to possibly pass Parenting 101. Huh, this from the Class of '95's Most Likely to Succeed!?

So, here's what I'm thinking. I am not the worste mom in the world. In fact, I'm probably not screwing my kids up too badly (I can only hope). I just have a really high false standard that some teeny-weeny-beeny voice in the back of my brain is telling me I must live up to or face dire consequences. That teeny-weeny-beeny voice is the voice of my mom-conscience, who has retained every morsel of parenting advice and every outline of every method ever read on microphish in the library of Momness located inconveniently between my adrenal gland and my heartstrings (open 24 hours for those late night emergency guilt-trips). So, in order to get TWBVoice fired (or at least temporarily laid off), the one working in my subconscience and perhaps all TWBV's in other POOVOB's (Parents Occasionally On the Verge Of Breakdown), too... I thought it might be a good idea to write my own parenting handbook.

I will call it, "How Not to Raise a Child" A compliation of short stories illustrating several POOVOB's most regretful parenting catastrophes. A book designed for us to read and realize that, even though I just told my daughter she was grounded and then let her friend come over because it was easier than having to play makeover all night with her myself, I'm not the worste parent in the world.

If this project sounds interesting to you, and you yourself are a POOVOB with an interesting story about childrearing that will make ME feel better about MYSELF, please let me know. I seriously want to get together, hear your story, jot down notes and publish it for the world to see. (Of course, your anonymity will be honored). E-mail or call me. If you are a close enough friend, or if I haven't changed my Facebook privacy settings, you will have my information.

And remember, before yelling, count to ten out loud. Then instead of shouting profanities, shout "Ready or not, here I come!" After a while you will give up looking for the little buggers, and you'll forget all about what you were angry for in the first place!

*Note: some of the scenarios that were depicted in this post as being me (the ones that repulse you or seem completely out of character for me) were entirely made up for dramatic purposes.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Long Walk Home- Does a change in school culture point to a lack of core values?

It seems like every time I turn around lately someone else is talking about bullying in middle and high schools! Kids are being tripped in hallways and slammed against lockers. The words "gay" and "fag" are used as taunts. Girls are teased for not using sexual lingo or wearing their clothes too tight around their necks or too loose around their curves. Kids are ostracized for being poor, uncool, too smart, too dumb, too pimply, weak or ugly.

The response in schools is a desperate attempt to educate kids about the effects of bullying, and to crack down on the offenders. While these attempt are well-intentioned, I think they are cracking down on what seems to me to be a symptom of something much more ominous than locker-slamming, towel-snapping, foulmouthed arrogant bullies.

When my father was in the Peace Corps he was stationed in a tiny village on a small island in Micronesia. My dad has many stories about his experience living there, from eating fish eyes and doughnuts with flies in them, to killing spiders in his hut with a machete. But one story comes to mind right now. He told me about discipline in the schools in the village of Palou. If a child disobeyed in school, or was disrespectful, they were told that they would be walked home by the principle after school. That child would immediately start quaking in his seat, unable to focus on anything for the rest of the day... because he was prepared for the longest walk home of his life.

When the principle and the child arrived at the home, the parents would come to their door. The principle would gravely tell the parents that their child had spit on the floor at school, or mocked the teacher, or pushed a classmate. The parents would then step outside their hut to be whipped!

Now, don't go crazy. I am in no way in favor of public flogging, or private for that matter. However, this story illustrates how in this tiny village they believe it's the parent's responsibility was to raise a respectful child. If you fail, it's not the child's fault, it's yours!

So why do we, living in this progressive country, detatch ourselves from our child's actions and remain in the background of their moral upbringing? Why must they, alone, bare the consquence of an immoral act? It's like we raise them up through age five, then once they're off to school for seven hours a day, it's like, "Whew, now someone else can handle this!" Now, understand that I'm not talking about a particular "we," but more like a generalization of the masses. There are a percentage of us that are still taking responsibility for our children, who constantly work on their developing characters. However, I feel like a growing part of "the masses" send their children off to school, and when they do so, they immediately release all responsibility for not just education, but also socialization and character-building, to the public institution.

Why? Why is this okay? The schools are trying desperately to institute education and discipline policies to combat what seems to me a deeper issue of lack of integral values that are necessary for a peaceful society: love, compassion, understanding, justice, honesty. Did the kids just check these at the door when they scanned their security card in the lobby of Dead President High? Or did they never have these values to begin with? And honestly, why does it become the school's responsibility to raise children? Schools are for learning geometry, history, math, language, arts, science... NOT for learning how to be in the world. That is a parent's job, and if they are not doing it, then dammit, they should be flogged by the principle (hypothetically speaking, of course).

I am not going to pretend that I am a perfect parent. My children have their own socialization issues. But I am addressing them full force, always reinforcing the values I feel are most important (honesty and compassion). One of my children has been on the locker side of the shove for several years. The school continues to battle bullying with "friendship keys" and counselling... for HIM! NO. I want to talk to the parents of the kid who framed my son for writing "fuck" on the bathroom wall, who called him names, who made him cry. I want to know why that child is lacking in important human values. I want that parent to say that they are addressing the situation. I want that child to say he/she is sorry they hurt my child. No-one is taking responsibility... except the schools (some schools do a better job than others), and even then they are only combatting the results (a bully). Who is addressing the fact that a child doesn't have enough compassion to care about another student, to be intentionally mean to one of his peers?

Lately (I'd say all within the past ten days) I have read a blog post, watched a movie, seen two news reports, and had a converstaion with a distraught mom, all focused on bullying and the tumultuous social climate in the higher grades in public school. It probably happens in private school, too, so I'm not playing favorites. It makes me ask myself, if it takes a village to raise a child, do I want it to be that village? That's not a village, it's like "Lord of the Flies!" And I'm sorry, if you think posting "Bully Free Zone" on the cafeteria wall, handing out flyers with keys to being a good friend, and giving detention to the trippers and name-callers is going to cure the problem, I think you are delusional about the depth of the issue.

Maybe the school principles need to walk some children home.