Thursday, October 14, 2010

Every Girl Deserves a Father

7 years ago this week, I stood in the hallway of a church in a long, flowing white dress.  Its train was carefully jeweled with pearls and tiny roses, each sewn carefully by hand.  My blonde hair had been bundled on top of my head, while my ringlets gently kissed the back of my neck as they brushed from side to side.  A pearled tiara held in place a veil, which flowed gracefully down my back, tied on each side by ribbon.  My hands held the most beautiful flowers I could imagine, white water lilies, nestled in ivy and baby's breath.  My bride's maids stood in front of me, their yellow and green shimmering dresses I had carefully chosen.

My father stood by my side.  In his shadow,  I looked up at this giant's towering frame, wondering if my husband would ever become the man I saw my father become.  I felt secure with my father's arm in mine.  I knew I was loved, and always would be, by this man I still called, "Daddy."  Then it hit me.

I was walking into the unknown, about to be bound to a man I barely knew!  I forgot the two years I had spent learning to love with Kevin, and suddenly I felt as though I were at the precipice of a cliff.  My heart began to race, panic set in, and I started to uncontrollably cry.  This was moments before I was to enter the chapel.  It was all wrong!  I was supposed to marry in the Temple, not a church.  I was supposed to marry a dancer who loved poetry!  Kevin hated poetry!  He worked with his hands, not his feet!  Worst of all, I had seen Kevin get angry, and I didn't like what I saw.  I had seen myself get angry, and I knew he wouldn't like what he would see.  I turned to look at my father, pleading silently, what should I do?

My dad looked through my fear to my heart, and smiled warmly.  He kissed my head, and said gently, "I know.  It's okay.  You're doing the right thing."  He placed his enormous hand on the small of my back, and led me into the room of the church.  We walked an eternity, the 300 or so pairs of eyes were all warm and loving to me.  I hung subtly to Daddy's arm, a rock, firmly lifting my own.  Each step toward the front of the church calmed a few more of my fears.  I was walking into a warm embrace.  I looked only briefly at my mother, I was afraid she would make me cry.  But I could feel my parents smiling at me.  I could feel their love and support.  I knew that no matter what, they would help me in this next phase of my life.  When my father let go, the thought occurred to me, "I could run now, and no one would stop me."  But I stayed, because as I looked into the kind eyes of my soon-to-be husband, I could feel my father's confidence, and I knew that I could love, because first, I was loved.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Seeing the Children With Our Own 'I's'

Some time ago, I wrote about my feelings of Attachment Parenting.  "Let me be clear," I had said, "I am not a fan of Attachment Parenting."  I wrote that I tried it with my oldest child, it was a disaster, and I would not wish to make the same mistake again.  I truly felt like I had learned something, and I did not wish to revisit it.  

To be completely honest, however, I hadn't actually looked into the program myself, only heard about it from others.  I based my practice of the program on conversations I had, some for and some against the practice.  I practiced only a watered down version of the program, trying to apply only the outward appearances of it without actually getting to the deeper roots of the beliefs.  I don't believe it was laziness, it was more about anxiety.  I had so much information coming in from so many sources, it was overwhelming!  I think many new parents have been there. 

With parenting magazines, books, chat rooms, blogs, and random advice from family, and hundreds of friends and strangers lolling about my head, how could I find space to utilize the most important parenting tools I owned --my 'I's?

Inspiration, Intuition and Instinct. 

Where did I go wrong??

1 Kings 19: 11 And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lordbut the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:
  12 And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
  13 And it was so, when Elijah heard it...

I laugh now (and sometimes shudder) at the things I used to say about raising kids--talking about them as though they were horses or dogs and just as trainable.  Books like Back In Control, authors like Dr. Spock, and most parenting magazine articles, all approach kids as though they were a different species.  We begin to separate ourselves from our children as we follow these kinds of trends.  Our natural love for them begins to take a back burner, along with the God-given inspiration and intuition we desperately need, as a subtle wish for perfection, control, pleasing others, and for parenting to be EASY take over.

It doesn't happen all at once, but gradually and steadily, the need for order begins to trump the need to connect with the children.  Parenting books and magazines, most of them, are constant, unchanging and predictable, unlike our children.  So for the anxious new parent, they are particularly tantalizing.  

As our children challenge us more, we cling to these philosophies of control and forced obedience more.  We keep looking for EASY.  We keep wondering when our children will be perfectly behaved like so-n-so's kids.  We wet our pillows and wonder why this isn't working the way it promised to.  If we are convinced enough, we will begin to blame the children for these teachings of the world not working.  "If she weren't so strong-willed!"  “Why won't the kids just listen??”

To thine own self be true...”

I remember telling my husband early on that I didn't think it was right to let a child cry themselves to sleep. I said, “It seems cruel, and I can see that causing insecurity, not confidence.” But parenting books, mommy chat rooms, and well meaning family and friends told me the opposite. Eventually, because I couldn't control my toddler, and more importantly, my own anxiety, I became convinced that my first instinct was wrong.

Naturally my husband was confused when I changed tunes, and told him we now had to follow the trend of C.I.O. (Cry It Out.) “This way of 'Sleep Training,'” I told him, “will teach the children to comfort themselves. They have to learn that they are okay even if we're not with them.” I was informed that my daughter who clung to me did so because she was “insecure.” I was now conviced that confidence was just around the corner for our little one as long as we didn't 'give in.'

Just an insert: ARE your little children okay if not supervised by a loving adult?? Is a 2-yr-old ready to be left on their own? Why should they NEED to learn something that is absolutely not true??

Second: is that actually what they learn as they cry alone in the dark? How can you control what conclusions their little minds will draw? Is it not just as possible that the child will instead draw the conclusion that he or she is not loved, is not valued, is not safe from abandonment, or an infinite number of other possibilities?
(YES, I did go in and check on them, and tell them I was still here, they were safe, yadda yadda yadda. It is not about me not following the program correctly. I still walked away from them as they cried, and they still reached for me as I pulled myself away from them, and went to the hallway and wept—creating unnatural physical and emotional barriers between us.)

As my children grew, my daughter with whom I first followed a watered down version of attachment parenting, then turned around completely and followed C.I.O the most rigidly, was the most insecure. She was afraid to try things, she hid behind my legs constantly, she was afraid of strangers, she had no confidence in her abilities at all. I thought that if she didn't cry when I left her, that was confidence. That's what I was told. She stopped crying when I left her, and I swelled with temporary pride.  Now we were free to go out and leave her with a sitter, plop her in her bed and walk away... AHH. Life was so EASY!  We had a short period of time, about a year and a half, when we thought we were the BEST PARENTS EVER! Our child was submissive and broken. See? She'll do anything we make her do!

But it wasn't confidence that she had learned, it was hopelessness. She had done everything in her power to re-attach, and was pushed away at every turn. Eventually she just gave up. When I was really frank with myself, I could see that her resting self, as in when she wasn't being entertained, cheered, or distracted, was sad and mellow.

Kaylee was 19 months old when my second child was born. By then she had been broken. I followed my first instincts once again with my newborn baby. Once again, I felt I should keep my baby close, breastfeed, and let him sleep in our room. He was next to our bed in his crib, with it pushed all the way up to the bed and the side let down. I wanted quick access to him, and to be able to hear him breathe all night. This continued with him for over a year.

Meanwhile, I was doing the opposite with my daughter as I tried to force this toddler to grow up, and not NEED me anymore. I was completely conflicted.

Kaylee's rage started manifesting about a year later. She began fighting us in other ways she COULD control. Suddenly eating was a battle, potty-training was a nightmare, getting dressed, shopping, and any other aspect of life where I needed her cooperation. Now it was WE who were frightened! Who was this child that had once been so mellow?? Where was all this anger coming from?? I wasn't ready to look at what I had done, so I just started losing it all:

I lost my temper. I lost my composure. I lost my self respect and self control. Worst of all, I lost the confidence of my little children.

I KNEW something was wrong. But I didn't know what! What had I done wrong? The whole world couldn't be wrong about parenting, I thought. So many sources agreed! I decided it must have been that first instinct to attach that had been wrong. I began to gradually push my son away as well, so he wouldn't be as “insecure” as my daughter was. I had lost my confidence in my own instincts completely.  Naturally my son began to express and harbor hurt and rage as well.

My greatest moment as a mom was when I threw out the books and magazines.  My family took a sharp turn for the better when I emptied my mind of everything I thought I knew, and EVERYTHING I had been told, and listened FIRST to the still small voice.  THEN that voice directed me to the information I needed to validate and expound on what I already felt was right.

A wise source will inspire you to follow your own intuition on behalf of your children, and most of all, seek out personal inspiration. I have since found several tools to help me in my path that help my I's grow stronger, not weaker. (Celebrate Calm, Attachment Parenting -the real version-, Scream-Free Parenting by Hal Runkel, Take Your Time by Easwaran, to name just a few. Not to mention scriptures, prayer, church, The Ensign, church websites and talks, and so many other religious sources that offer peace, assurance, and guidance.)

I continue to have struggles with my kids, because of course, we're not perfect. There are many days I get discouraged, but never, ever do I feel confused. I do not say any more, “I just don't know what else to do!”
I am not yanked around by every new parenting trend I hear about. My kids are not subjected to Super Nanny, “Let's fix the kids” or other quick-fix attempts at changing their outward behavior. We know where we're going, and how we're getting there. Even the children are invested and know about our parenting goals, because they are not parenting, but family goals. We have personal boundaries that guide us—that have become the cushioned boarders of our family life--that keep us on a narrow path. We no longer wander from one experimentation to another as our kids take on the role of the lab rats.

Now, if I do experiment, I make myself the lab rat. But I do not do anything unless the still small voice tells me it is good.

I was once told by the Lord in a blessing, “Follow no advice, not even that of your parents, if the Holy Spirit does not prompt you to do so.” I ignored that admonition when my anxiety took over. When my anxiety was under control, and I was back in the driver's seat, I could finally listen to that most wise counsel.

In order for me to truly change directions--to take that first step of letting go of what I thought I had leaned about parenting, I had to turn to my God. I didn't know what to do, but I knew I needed help. I knew that I was on a path I didn't like. The Lord let me know that I was leaning on my own understanding completely, and was making a mess of my family because of it. His spirit led me to see things through HIS eyes. It was really hard at first, I must have cried for weeks on end, ashamed, embarrassed, and humbled. But gradually, it became easier to humble myself and let go of my need for power and control, and finally let HIM be my navigator!

It didn't change all at once! That's not how real change works. But now looking back, I can see how far the Lord has brought us. I praise and give thanks to Him over and over again. I write this, hoping that someone somewhere will read it, and not make the same mistakes I did. Make your own mistakes, not mine, (as my mother often says!)

Adendum: What I un-learned , learned, and re-learned by watching my third child:

Real confidence in a child is not manifested by not crying when you walk away. If they are not crying when you walk away, it does not mean they are confident. Shyness does not equal insecurity. A need to connect and remain connected to parents does not signal insecurity. A desire for comfort and consistent affection from parents is not insecurity.

Confidence is:
knowing that no matter what happens, you are loved
knowing it's okay to try and fail, and try again
knowing where to turn and receive comfort when you are afraid, lonely, hurting, or sad
knowing you are safe
knowing that some GOOD things in your life are certain and unchanging

Confidence is manifested when:
A child is willing to try, fail, and try again.
A child is able to progress by teaching themselves as well as learning from others.
A child's resting self, (when not stimulated, entertained, or distracted,) is joyful.
A child knows how to express and receive love, first with family members, then others gradually.
A child uses the above knowledge to propel themselves ahead in their development
A child can be flexible and adapt whithout being broken
A child trusts you and believes you will keep your promises

Confidence is gained by:
Creating an environment that teaches the above, with consistent patience and love
Abolishing anxiety and fear
Trusting and believing the Lord every minute of every day