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Archive for the ‘parenting’ Category

Nothing intelligent to be said

Whenever parents gather, conversation, advice sharing on raising children is inescapable. Should you breast feed and for how long. Not at all is scandalously negligent and doing so when the child can stand up, unbutton its mother’s shirt just plain scandalous. (There are none so judgemental as those with expertise on breast-feeding!)

And what about dealing with aggression, the child that plays just a little too hard, gets just a bit too physically annoyed when the other child takes the ball. How to discipline?  Are time outs effective? What about a good hard slap or constant and patient reasoning. What is the aim of discipline? Communicating value systems, leading the child into reflection and/or just plain expression of consequences of breach of parenting will?

And then the challenges really kick in at puberty. How to encourage empathy and open-mindedness? How much to share about sex? How directive should one be about religion or lack thereof? When to allow the boy and girl child dem to go to the club? What about driving? Should they be allowed to drive unaccompanied so soon after certification?  What to do if you suspect smoking (weed that is)? In all of those matters when children will come up with the all encompassing offence/defence “everybody’s doing it”, parents must be at their rational, authoritative best.

The parents around us have gone through all of this with generally a good bit of intelligent reasoning, even when making mistakes because of the raw reflex to keep seeing our children as new-borns.  We focus on indicators of maturity, balancing  levels of oversight and supervision with assessment of risks, all the while knowing that we cannot helicopter, that children must be protected from harms but must also be allowed to make mistakes, pile on experience for wisdom to grow and for the skills of self-protecting decision-making to develop.

But now we are at another parenting milestone. When do you allow the adult child to sleep with her or his partner under your roof????  When they are not married that is.

And so I have been doing some anecdotal research. And there are identifiable camps. Those who are practical. Better the young people have access to a safe space and not at a  look out or lonely road, prey to criminals.  Then there are the worldly sophisticates, perhaps the same as those without children. “What’s the issue? You mad or what?”

 And those who cannot abide the fracturing of the injunction against pre-marital sex, doh mind that there must be less than ten people in the history of Caribbean humanity who managed to avoid having sex before saying I do. And those who are more likely to accept sexual relationships in their home if the relationship is long-term, with clear expressions of commitment.

And finally my favorite category, like my boy, father of my children. Unreasoning, unapologetic. There is nothing intelligent to be said on this, he asserts, defiantly. The answer is no! as he covers his ears and sings loudly. I know he is being a bit old-man caricaturish, for effect. But the truth is, there is that part of him that is squeamish about evidence that his adult children are also sexual beings.

I am squeamish too, I confess.

So what then are the principles? I would say the first is that we should expect from adult children the same that we expect from any adult coming to our homes. That we must expect that adult children  will be sexually (and hopefully discreetly) expressive. And that parental intrusion  must be minimal except if you see your child getting in harm’s way. Yes, a slippery slope for sure into intrusiveness and constant advise.

But all of that is rational when what we may be dealing with are sex taboos, the inner feeling that of something somewhat tawdry about sex. And to know that our adult children are  active, right in the same house with us, seems……urggggg. No way.

Why then would marriage make that feeling of discomfort disappear? An actual question. Is sex within marriage more sanitised because it is related culturally to reproduction (social and biological) more so than to pleasure? And how are those ideologies relevant to the Caribbean where more children are in fact born outside marital unions than within?

And finally I wonder now if  this close-mindedness is less about taboos than about a certain  visceral reluctance to accept this definitive indicator of adulthood?

What do you think?

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The last three weeks, watching from the side and from distances, both geographic and emotional, I saw Douglas and his siblings struggle real hard with the idea of losing Leonard. Molly, their mother having died in 1999, they closed ranks around Leonard, loving and caring for him with devotion.

Not that he needed much caring in any everyday sense. Rather, until three weeks ago, at the age of 85, he lived fiercely independently, driving his car, dwiveeing with Kerry, his brother-in-law, making ole talk with all along his travels, going to daily mass, feeding his birds, watering the plants, following his routine of children visits.

And then abruptly, he fell out of wellness. He may have been ready for the next stage, believing, no, knowing and expecting that he would see Molly again. But his children were not. They held on tight, willing him back to equilibrium and to more days, months and years with them. It was not to be. But what a gift of time of family love.

I still have my parents, both. So I am not qualified to say too much about the nature of this loss. Yet it seems that where there has been expressed love, connection, fulfilment and of course many years of living well, the loss is less pained, even though acutely felt. And so it was with Leonard who was deeply enveloped in family. From his own siblings, to his children, with his Corbie in laws and many nieces and nephews. He was a family man and a wife lover.

Parenting when done with wise dedication gives children a huge sense of security, a platform for future achievement. With Leonard, his children had the sense that he could fix things. And even though life’s problems become more complex, overtake the range of parental competencies, that feeling of someone who can make things better endures.

Very loyal, he let us his daughters and sons in law know that we had struck real good luck to be in the lives of his children. It was a running joke. Except this was truly how he  felt. His children were special and precious to him, but more so, as a matter of general fact. And we better take care of them.

 This is how life is structured, with death at the end of the one way road. There is no retreating, retracing of steps, re-living of life. Just the inexorable march of time and bodily decline. How to live out this allotment with minimal angst and regret is the challenge. Leonard knew what mattered to him. And he gave and received graciously, expressed love and appreciation for others.  He was quietly self-assured, not one for insecurities, for preening, bragging, or denigrating others.

He enjoyed his time of life. And the people around him experienced that joy.

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Raising children right

Who knows how to do that? And who will say that they know how to do it, while in the middle of the challenge, before we know if the bread still in the oven has risen, is tasty and nutritious?

Turns out that Tiger Mother, Amy Chua, has that surety and self-belief. She has written a self-affirming book (Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother) on her style of parenting, even while her children are still adolescents and it has provoked a storm of response, some outrage, but also I sense, insecurity. Could she be right? Am I too lax? Will my children be uncompetitive against the progeny of someone so driven to cerebral accomplishment.

Most parents have a niggling sense of inadequacy.  Or not so niggling, but rather full-blown. Am I seeing the clues to personality and character? Am I interpreting the clues correctly? What am I missing? What am I exaggerating? Should I be more directive? Am I too involved?

Whenever two or more parents are gathered, no matter what age the children are (until they reach parenting nirvana, that being independent and accomplished adulthood) parenting conversations will not be denied. Parents (or is it mostly mothers?) seek reassurance, feedback; that things that trouble in their gold beads are the norm for the age, or for the gender or for the situation in question and not a sign of a miscreant in the  making.

Tiger Mother’s central thesis is that children need discipline, need strict, and uncompromising exhortation if they are to achieve. And all of this she associates with the Chinese culture.  Her point is that high levels of achievement can only be attained by practice, by repetition, by standard-setting. And she goes to extremes to ensure her children achieve; motivating them sometimes with insults, with harsh censure, with punishing repercussions for under-performance. She rejects sub-standards, demonstrated, for example, in her giving back a home-made birthday card because it did not show enough thought or effort. Tough love this.

Raising four children myself,  I have few insights on how to do it. Well, it is still a work in progress, isn’t it? Also there are many other influences on children besides parents. There is alchemy to child development, a mixture of DNA, personality traits, body chemistry and socialising influences. Recent sociological and neurological studies show that for adolescents, the most powerful influence is the peer group, which is why parents are so concerned with whom their children make friends.

I have friends who are innately wise parents, but, rather uncharitably and enviously, I conclude that this good parenting is a fortuitous by-product of personality. If you are by nature patient, curious, humourous and engaged, you definitely have a leg up on parenting. Not me. I have strong streak of impatience and judgementalism, so I meander and muddle through, sometimes doing a good enough job, sometimes missing the mark.

One conclusion that I have arrived at is that good parenting is related to timing. You have to put in the time. And that is face time with children over a range of activities, (not just academics) as well as thinking time. Yet, the best parents have boundaries, know when they must stay out, give children the space and opportunity to make the mistakes, take the consequences and get the life lesson.

And of course, practice and aging help. Woe to first children.

 

 

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Hot in the streets

When he was  a little fella, I took Aschille, suffering with a cold,  to the barber to cut his hair. (I know..idiotic parenting). As the barber took what seemed even to me like hours to complete the task, Aschille remained stoic, silent. Cut complete and not well done, I looked at Aschille looking at himself in the car mirror. Hot tears coursing down his face, he gave vent to all that pent-up frustration: “And look at me, I look like a Jackass!”.

I think of that story often, as Aschille bothers me in the way only a mother can be bothered and foolishly fixated by the hair decisions of her young man son. He has no interest in the barber shop, letting the hair grow and grow, uncombed. He is indifferent to how he looks though he says, in tongue-in-cheek response to indiscreet questions by mother and aunties, that the style is “hot in the streets”.

I am trying not to sweat the hair stuff. But the awful truth is that I have fallen into many a parenting, generational gap cliché, concerned about hair length, hem lines, neck lines… the superficial things. Except that they are not so superficial, not really.

These trivialities make parents anxious because we so deeply wish for our children to be intentional at all times. And what that means, is to live  and be in a way that takes them closer to that good life we want for them. So we keep on connecting their experience dots, satisfied with those that take them more directly to the wished for destination (productive, independent and contented living) and anxious about those  dots that take them into cul-de-sacs or detours.

I know, it is all nonsense, my hair desires. I should give it up. After all, it is the meandering road that is the most interesting. And as Aschille assures me, uncombed hair is ‘hot in the streets’.

 

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