This post touches upon the same subject matter from the last post, in which I share a triggery shame-laden parenting story of how my son repeats my own life history and this fact is then thrown in my face. Mind you it is at a point when I was already very vulnerable and trying to reach out to a friend. Instead she states the following:
While I’m sure not everybody has shame-based parenting stories this extreme, the efforts we put forth to raise our children on a daily basis, are laden with opinions from others that can produce this problematic emotion. In fact, everybody seems to have an opinion that there is a “right way”. There are those who feel stay-at-home mothers are best. There are those who feel working mothers are best. I’ve heard it all: We eat out to much, we have too many electronic devices, we stay up too late, they’re too rambunctious and “free thinking”. The list is endless. In fact, everyone has an opinion. Despite the fact that nobody has a window into my heart and soul and understands my struggles, it still hurts when I receive this criticism. Despite the fact that nobody knows my two boys like I do, I still question myself when people list the pragmatics of “good parenting” vs. “bad parenting”. For all these reasons, a concept from my course textbook: “Good Enough Parenting” (Ingram, 2012, p317), is worth examining closely here. It provides a useful and much-needed counterpoint.
“Good Enough Parenting suggests that parents need to be competent in necessary conditions, but they do not have to be perfect. In fact, to be perfect would result in more harm than benefits” (Ingram, 2012, p317) .
Its about who you’re “being” & not “what you’re doing”
In order to expound upon the whole this notion of good parenting, my textbook states that“It is not so much what the parents do that will influence the character of the child’s self, but who the parents are” (Ingram, 2012, p317). So how can we begin to examine “who we are being” with our children, and in what ways are we “falling short” of Toni Morrison’s ideal? In an effort to examine our relational capacities, my textbook describes two extreme relational patterns. In the “I-it relationship” (Ingram, 2012, p316), individuals fail to acknowledge the “personhood” of another. Instead people are possessions to own and control. The fulfillment of your own ego-based needs is always THE priority over all other things. My textbook provides a convenient example of this by citing a pivotal moment in the movie “Rebel Without a Cause”. When James Dean tells his parents of the death of his friend “Plato”, his mom’s first response is: “how could you do this to me?” (Ingram, 2012, p316). In contrast to this, the “I-thou relationship” (Ingram, 2012, p316), requires a relational maturity that includes growth beyond narcissism. An ability to acknowledge another person’s freedom and empathize with their perspective are requirements for this relationship. What follows are a few quick rules-of-thumb pertaining the Good-Enough-Parenting standard:
*Can you appreciate the uniqueness of your child’s experiences, acknowledge their thoughts and empathize with their feelings? Can you love them as they are without trying to change or fix a single thing? (Ingram, 2012)
*Can you appreciate the fact that parenting young children does not involve reciprocation? A parent’s gift is instead found in what is invested. The lasting impact this leaves upon our child’s soul, stands as a living testament of “who we have been”.
*Are you able to provide a child’s fluctuating needs for both autonomy and dependency? (Ingram, 2012). This delicate balance of support and letting go requires that we pay attention to a child’s needs while setting aside any ego-based insecurities.
*Can you provide “optimal frustration” (Ingram, 2012, p316) so a child can develop a sense of self-efficacy and emotional regulatory ability? Children need opportunities to succeed and fail based on their own effort, with us as a foundation to fall back upon.
When reading through this description of “good enough parenting”, it is becomes clear that the particulars of day-to-day experience, play a relatively minor role. Instead, an appreciation of what makes our children unique is critical. Utilizing this knowledge as a guide, we need to examine what is required from us. In other words, within each mother’s and child’s story is a unique set of concerns. I’ve learned over the years, to focus on my child’s developmental needs and inward toward my current psychological tool set and connect the dots. What are my concluding thoughts regarding others opinions?
To hell with what anyone else thinks!! What follows are two parenting stories to illustrate this point since nobody else walks in these shoes. One of these stories is mine and the other is about my mom.
Congenital Heart Disease – Developmental Considerations….
My son was born with a congenital heart defect and has had five surgeries thus far. While he is basically your typical well-adjusted teenage boy, he has been through quite a bit in his life. However, his entrance into our lives was marked by drama. At two months of age, he was diagnosed with a heart defect called “pulmonary atresia”, after going into “cardiogenic shock” at home. What follows is a quote from a research article, that describes succinctly my reactions to this news:
“Usually mothers do not grasp what they are told and they tend to react with denial and disbelief at the diagnosis. They may also experience high levels of distress and guilt feelings about their responsibility for the disease. These reactions may be aggravated in severe forms of CHD, in which mothers face the gloomy possibility that the infant may die or may not survive medical procedures” (Berant, et al, 2001, p. 210).
Not surprisingly, research consistently shows that parents of children with heart defects display higher degrees of stress and anxiety, (Gronning, et al, 2013). Associated with this anxiety and parental stress is a deterioration in overall well-being as well as higher rates of psychological problems and psychiatric diagnoses, (Gronning, et al, 2013). It is also worth noting that parents of children with secure attachments display greater comfort with closeness and are more effective in soothing their infants. This attachment style is a key resource in parents with CHD (congenital heart defect) children, and is inversely correlated with psychological distress (Berant, et al, 2001). Interestingly, the main coping method used in such cases is a distancing strategy that helps to set aside painful thoughts of uncontrollable threats (Berant, et al, 2001). This strategy is useful since it allows parents to develop a positive appraisal of their daily experiences raising a CHD child (Berant, et al, 2001).
In a study I found, 29 individuals ranging in age from 26-56 years with congenital heart defects were interviewed (Horner, et al, 2000). This article provided an interesting developmental life-summary and also showed that denial existed as a key coping strategy for CHD kids (Horner, et al, 2000). This isn’t surprising given previously cited research that also highlights denial as a key coping strategy for securely attached parents (Berant, et al, 2001). During early years, this denial strategy serves as a useful normalizing function, and coping tool for stressed parents. Nonetheless, as individuals progress from adolescence into adulthood the utility of this coping strategy begins to run its course. Unresolved losses and uncertain feelings about a future are often dealt with quietly (Horner, et al, 2000). Feelings of isolation and being ill prepared are found to be common complaints of CHD adult survivors (Horner, et al, 2000). What follows are bullet points which summarize key developmental considerations for CHD kids:
***CHD kids are unable to attend school on a regular basis and frequently excluded from many school activities due to health concerns. This results in delays in a child’s ability to develop key social skills, especially for boys who cannot participate in sports (Horner, et al, 2000)
***Parents of CHD kids, encouraged them to focus on areas they could excel at (Horner, et al, 2000, p34). Avoiding sports, CHD kids tend to be more academically focused and report greater difficulties in the area of dating (Horner, et al, 2000)
***Overwhelmingly, study participants with especially severe heart defects were found to be grateful for having survived into adulthood (Horner, et al, 2000, p34). In young adulthood, individuals with severe CHD’s often experience a deteriorating health and uncertain future that healthy young adults cannot conceive of or understand.
***Denial [as a coping strategy] obscures serious emotional distress as indicated by high rates of undiagnosed and untreated mood and anxiety disorders found in our patients…..The appearance of being happy deniers often covered underlying fears of decline and premature death, as well as loneliness, isolation, anxiety and depression. These feelings were particularly disabling if the individual was single, unemployed and isolated.” (Horner, et al, 2000, p37)
In light of all these developmental considerations, raising my son, has required me to address unique concerns that other healthy kids can’t understand. All in all, I would have to say the emotionality around this parenting experience might be like getting the emotions of parents in response to raising healthy kids and multiplying these feelings by a power of ten. Initially, news that your son has a defect and might not survive is devastating in ways I cannot describe. Hearing that your kid probably will never develop to experience “A” or “B” is is truly heartbreaking. In my case, memory of these experiences stands in stark contrast to what I’m witnessing. Watching him grow and flourish is an experience that produces gratitude that I cannot describe. The “over the moon feeling” of witnessing your child become that which was once conceived as impossible, produces a feeling of gratitude for life itself. I cherish my two boys for this reason, and tell them every single day that I love them. Check out this link written by a father: “To My Daughter With Down’s Syndrome On Her Wedding Day”.
Traversing the Cultural Gap in Parenting…
Now, before concluding this post, I’d like to share a brief snipped from a paper I wrote that touched upon my relationship with my own mother: “The singular most beneficial lesson throughout this course is the realization of how culture exists as an unseen paradigmatic influence in our lives. Definitive of our worldview, it represents a learned perspective that consists of instilled values, beliefs, and norms. Beyond these obvious influences, are less visible factors such as identity, emotion, and metacognition. This paper will provide a sociocultural perspective of empathy. Defined as an ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, empathy is a culturally relevant concept. Traditional perspectives of empathy are self-limiting, based on a perspective that is empirical and individualistic in orientation. In contrast, culturally inclusive empathy, (Pederson, et al, 2008), is a dynamic perspective that requires a merging of diverging viewpoints whereby we hold our own while acknowledging someone else’s and then bridge the gap through effective communication. In fact, this insight has been personally valuable in bridging a cultural gap between my mother and I, as described in the following quote:”
“To the Filipino, actions always speak louder than words, so instead of conveying love and fondness with words, parents will endure extended periods of separation and/or hold down two jobs so that they can send their children to the best schools, pay for lessons and activities, and provide material support and other opportunities. This is the way they express their affection, and children are expected to recognize and value it. If they do not express or show appreciation, parents might perceive them as lacking utang na loob –serious infraction of social mores.” (Fortune, 2012, p12).
“This quote manages to summarize a huge misunderstanding that existed between my mother and I throughout much of my childhood. As an American child, I failed to understand my Filipino mother’s expressions of love through action, (Fortune, 2012). Preferring to hear and witness outwardly visible affective indicators of her love, it was instead an unseen dedication to her duty as my mother. As I only am able to contextualize now, it seems the underlying the cultural gap between us, was the byproduct of a failure to acknowledge key differences among us. At the core of these differences were varied views of what it means to be a person in the world, and what perspective we are to take it in from.”