On this day, 16 years ago I gave birth to my oldest son Josiah. I won’t bore you with a long story here of my experiences as his mother. If you wish, you can read this post titled “My Shameful Parenting Story” or this post titled “Good Enough Parenting”….
I simply desire to create a post acknowledging the importance of this day, as well as the love & gratitude I feel for his presence in my life…
On this day, ten years ago, my youngest son Talan was born. Since he hates cake, we decided to be creative and make a donught cake instead. I love this young man with all my heart and cringe at how fast he is sprouting up. At over five feet tall, wearing men’s shoes, I know already he’s gonna be tall like his daddy.
What I marvel most about motherhood, is witnessing the gradual process of “becoming” that unfolds. My two boys are very unique, and with each one “they broke the mold”. My oldest was a little “heartbreaker”. At just over five pounds at birth, he was born with a serious heart defect and we almost lost him. Throughout all the heart surgeries and stresses, we’ve enjoyed watching him grow into the young man he is today. Now a healthy sixteen-year-old he’s looking forward to getting his first car and a job this summer.
In contrast, raising my youngest couldn’t be more different. Mind you, I can’t say I honestly love one of them more than the other. It’s just that my relationship with each of my boys is unique unto itself. Talan was fat and sassy at just under nine pounds. The normal and typical activities of caring for a healthy infant were a welcome change. Gone were the stresses of caring for a critically ill baby. Memories of a past miscarriage fresh in mind, I cherished every minute.
As they grew, temperament-based differences led highly varied parenting expereinces. My oldest Josiah, while sensitive and caring had a stubborn streak. He preferred to march to his own drum, and loved asking “why”. Seeking to form his own opinion, I’m proud to say he’s truly “his own person”.
In contrast, my Talan is the gentlest of souls. I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out that he’s an INFP personality like me. Our ability to understand one another is uncanny. From a very young age he’s been adept at picking up on how others are feeling. When he notices I’m down he gives me a hug and says “what’s wrong mommy”?
For this reason, I have to be careful about how I discipline him. He is so sensitive, that if I raise my voice or express too much frustration, this crushes his very soul. So eager to please, I have to set firm guidelines while communicating messages of “you’re better than that” and not “what’s wrong with you”.
Problems along the way, include his tendency to pick up on all my bad habits: stressing too much about failing perform up to a personal standard and an irrational fear of spiders. However, I gladly accept these minor issues, because raising him has been a truly healing experience…..
I love you “piglet”! Thank’s so much for being my son….
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.”
Berant, E., Mikulincer, M., & Victor, F. (2001). The association of mothers’ attachment style and their psychological reactions to the diagnosis of infant’s congenital heart disease. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 20(2), 208-232.
Fortune, B. V. (2012). Acculturation, intergenerational conflict, distress and stress in Filipino-American families. (Order No. 3535626, Regent University). and Theses. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.bellevue.edu:80/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1283231958?accountid=28125. (1283231958).
Grønning Dale, M.,T., Solberg, Ø., Holmstrøm, H., Landolt, M. A., Eskedal, L. T., & Vollrath I. E. (2013). Well-being in mothers of children with congenital heart defects: A 3-year follow-up. Quality of Life Research, 22(8), 2063-72.
Horner, T., Liberthson, R., & Jellinek, M. S. (2000). Psychosocial profile of adults with complexcongenital heart disease. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 75(1), 31-6.
Ingram, B.L. (2012). Clinical Case Formulations: Matching the Integrative Treatment Plan to the client. (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. ISBN: 978-1-118-03822-2
Pedersen, P. B., Crethar, H. C., & Carlson, J. (2008). Inclusive cultural empathy: Making relationships central in counseling and psychotherapy . American Psychological Association.
For anyone who wants to know what shame-based parenting looks like, this picture from my old journal would do splendidly. In this “I’m Fucked up & I’m Fucking up My Kids” journal entry, I review experiences with the mother of my son’s best friend from kindergarten through sixth grade. Over the course of time, as our boys grew close, we developed a friendship as well. However, our sons’ friendship took a slow turn in another direction around fourth grade. Her son was a very sensitive, sweet and creative child. My son had a rebellious streak, and liked “marching to the beat of his own drum”. Early experiences as a critically sick child, had left a lasting impact on his trajectory of physical and emotional development (more on this later). As cliques developed and rules of acceptable “in-group / out-group” behavior solidified, our boys stood out terribly. It was at this point that the bullying began. Rather than banning together, the relationship between our son’s became strained as they responded in highly divergent ways. At the core of their responses was a desire to understand the negative message they received from peers. My son’s rebellious streak and emotional immaturity caused him to react to this bullying by making behavioral statements that communicated to others: “I don’t care what you think”. In contrast, my son’s best friend was much like me. He was hurt terribly by the bullying, blamed my son the fact that they didn’t fit in and wanted nothing more than to be popular. As I reflect on it now, when digging deep beneath these divergent responses, you have kids who were both hurting. They just responded in equally maladaptive ways. My son managed to ostracize himself from others, while her son followed a trajectory similar to mine at that age.
The Turning Point…
In retrospect, things changed so gradually for our boys socially that I can’t point out a turning point. Prior to the bullying and ostracism, all classmates played together, and nobody was really excluded. Gradually, fewer and fewer neighborhood friends came over. By the time my son hit fifth grade, he only had his oldest best friend to play with. The comments became very vicious as one bully would throw homophobic insults their way. The bus rides home then became stages of physical torment. My son would come home crying saying somebody hit him or was calling him names. I found these experiences triggery in a way that words can’t describe. As a bullied child, I couldn’t help but wonder if “it was my fault”. Was I failing as a parent, due to my own ineptness at knowing how to make friends? After all, I was that girl with cooties, and nobody would play with me either. Was this a genetic predisposition for dorkiness, or had I taught it to him? Fortunately, I had a therapist to help me work through all this.
“I Don’t Want to Be Your Friend Anymore…”
By the time they were in sixth grade, the relationship between my son and his best friend was quite strained and tumultuous. Due to divergent coping methods they really rubbed each other the wrong way. One critical incident still sticks in my mind, as evidence their friendship was near its end. I feared for my son who described his worry about losing the only friend he had left. He relayed stories to me after school about how his friend would say “I don’t want to be your friend anymore”. He complained his best friend was more concerned about popularity. I contemplated moving him to another school, and had entered him in counseling at this time, to determine our best course of action. On one day, as I was picking up him up from school, I learned about an altercation in school between them. I asked them what happened, and my son refused to say anything, putting forth his best “tough guy” front. His friend said he wasn’t wanting to be Josiah’s friend anymore because he wanted to be popular. This triggery statement reminded me of a time long ago, and in many respects I was looking at a younger version of my own self. Wanting desperately to be accepted and belong, I simply wanted others to like me and make friends. I tried my best to understand what that involved and couldn’t see beyond it. The end goal became more empowering than considerations of how to meet it. Underlying this steely focus was a wealth of insecurity, and unresolved pain.
And Here Comes The “Shameful Parent”…
I struggled after this encounter. More than ever, I felt it was essential that we begin discussing our son’s crumbling friendship. Hoping to salvage his last childhood friendship, I saw a situation in which two kids who were struggling with similar issues, but responding to them differently. However, I was very perplexed around this time, by a series of mixed messages and passive-aggressive actions from his mother. I sat down with my therapist and asked her what she thought about the situation. I even attempted to outline an appropriate plan of action, in which I could begin discussing key issues (See pics).
As you might guess, things didn’t go exactly as I had hoped. I had been troubled by our own crumbling friendship for some time. As a bullied child, my last good friend was in sixth grade. Throughout the remainder of my childhood I was very lonely. Today, these early experiences have left me a missing piece in the puzzle of childhood development. I never learned how to make friends. From this mindset, I found my own perspective reflecting her son’s, I desperately sought acceptance. I wanted someone to be my friend.
Instead, our discussion revealed something else. Her own skewed perception of matters revealed an incomplete understanding, that left out critical components of the puzzle. Not fully understanding the depth of my son’s ostracism or pain, she insisted he had plenty of friends to play with and was dismissive of my concerns. Failing to understand the nature of the close relationship with my son and his unique needs (due to early shared traumas), she felt I allowed him to walk over me. She picked apart specific aspects of my parenting, no home cooked meals, stay up to late, too many electronics in the house. All things that can bring about that endless cycle of shame. Her burgeoning anger, seemed to underlie a desire that I change in the ways she felt was needed to fix the situation as she understood it. The nail on the head moment, came in dramatic scene, in which she only acknowledged my son’s problems, but failed to address her own son’s issues. My son was deserving what was happening, I am overreacting & I was to blame. The mother in me felt a well of anger building. A pang of old hurt soon followed, as I recall being a child much like her son. I had issues, I needed someone there, but somehow nobody was “willing” to see this.
The Dramatic Scene…
My memory of this incident is a blur, but was nonetheless quite traumatic for me in ways I can’t describe. Mind you, I’m a bullied child, raising a bullied child. This was a shame-inducing minefield, in which I blamed myself. No parent wants their children to suffer the worst of their own childhood experiences. As I attempted to discuss my concerns (as I delineated in a journal with my own therapist), her own emotions escalated. At some point, hoping to put an end to the conversation, she sat up suddenly from her chair and pointed at me as I was getting ready to leave:
“You’re Fucked Up and You’re Fucking Up Your Kids!!!”
My head grew hot, my hands were shaking as the full onslaught of her words hit me like knives. I walked up to her, threw pop in her face, and stormed out the door. As I drove away, she sent me this sickening message: “I’m sorry, I should have given a hug instead”. I drove directly to our school district’s administrative office, and requested an immediate transfer. I shuddered at the possibility of my son having to experience what it is like to have nobody to play with.
One good thing about leaving an “unhealthy” relationship is you know how to effectively cut out the baggage of your life. Whenever I find somebody who crosses a line like this, I cut off all contact immediately. I shared these experiences with my husband during his lunch hour, and my decision on the matter of our son. I hoped he could see beyond my emotions, to understand the gravity of his situation. As a bullied child with no friends, much of his self-esteem lie in a delicate balance. My husband was supportive of this plan, and our son moved to a new school.. Neither one of us has spoken to this family again.
After much time piddle-dinking with the many customizable features of my very first wordpress blog, I’m happy to announce to my five readers (as of this posting), that this blog is up and running. I’m so busy, between work and graduate school, it seems there’s little time to stop and breathe. Its the end of a very long day and I’m snuggling on the sofa with my eight year old boy while watching reruns of “The Amazing World of Gumball”.
Talan has officially approved of my blog and feels its “pretty enough now”. The one criticism he has had, is that I need orange robots for my website, because they’re cool. He wants cool pictures of orange robots. However, I have no desire to pay $10.00 for an orange robot picture. Therefore, he has found me a cool youtube video of an orange robot that he really likes…