Let’s Give Mothers the Help They Really Need
(Scroll down for this months Q&A)
While I believe parenting, whether done primarily by a mother or a father, is indeed the hardest and most important job anyone will ever undertake, I do not think that society as a whole gives parenting more than lip service. On Mother’s Day we give mothers that pat on the back, a card and maybe some flowers fulfilling that obligation. If indeed we consider parenting to be a tough job, and we know that children make up our future, why do we not give parents every opportunity to do the job well?
We certainly consider doctoring a critically important job, hence the years of training necessary to do it. The same can be said of many jobs. We need education to drive a car, fly a plane, be a teacher, work in a bank, etc. But giving birth and raising a child to adulthood requires none at all. We place so little value on the job of mothering that most think a stay-at-home mom “doesn’t do anything”. The support other countries give to their mothers makes us look like a third world country.
Every mother out there, whether satisfied or dissatisfied with her parenting, will tell you how important it is to know what to do and how to do it—and how little time she has to do it in. From understanding child development and individual temperaments, to setting appropriate expectations for a child, to being able to translate child behavior so a parent doesn’t fly off the handle every time a child screams, “No,” a parent’s-day-in-and-day-out responses to children can be critical to the future of our society.
I will argue that every abhorrent and dysfunctional behavior that costs our society megabucks as well as lives can be traced back to how that person was raised. We can argue that we have been raising children from the beginning of time and there’s nothing to learn. “I was raised that way, and I turned out just fine.” Oh yeah? Exactly the evidence needed to argue for parenting education. None of us know what our potential would be had we been raised differently. Not to mention how changed our present day culture is from the one we were raised in, our parents and grandparents were raised in.
We don’t even understand behavior. We react to it at face value. If we like it, we reward it, and if we don’t, we punish it. Rarely do we look beneath the surface to see the emotional needs that provoke the behavior so our reactions do not explode out of our mouths and catastrophize dire forecasts of our child’s future.
Many mothers do better jobs than others, and many children are easier to raise than others. The fit of a mother and child’s temperaments often make the critical difference between raising a healthy child whose needs have been satisfied and an unhealthy child who desires external stimulants (often at the cost of society) to fulfill those needs. Many of our addictions, dependencies, physical and mental health issues have direct roots in parenting. And all of us who are parenting have roots deeply embedded in our childhoods that can derail our best intentions in a nano-second.
Isn’t it about time we celebrated Mother’s Day with the gift of valuing the job done by supporting parents with parenting classes in all communities, with maternal and paternal paid leave so new lives do not start out struggling, with huge tax credits for parents who chooses to stay home to raise or home-school children, with more flex time in work environments—with a general shift in societal attitudes. Would we get stuck in the quagmire of invasion of personal rights or would this save the government billions and help us raise a healthier society?
You might also like: Equal Pay for Mother’s? No One Could Afford It.
Questions and Answers
Poop Still an Issue
Q. My dilemma is a very bright 4.5 year old with a history of sensory issues who continues to poop in his pants. No poops in pants happen if I schedule bathroom visits into our day, but if I am negligent in getting him there it can happen up to four times a day. He says he cannot feel when he needs to go, and I have observed that he is a “fast pooper”. I am stepping back from the repair, having him put on the clean clothes himself after he cleans himself up. I used to reassure but I’m trying to stress the importance of pooping in the toilet. He starts kindergarten next year and I am starting to get scared he will still be soiling his pants. Help!
A. I know how endless this process feels. It sounds like you are handling it well by giving him the responsibility for cleaning himself and putting on clean clothes. I think you can continue to reassure him that he will have complete control of his body before long at the same time you are stressing the importance of using the toilet. It is important for you to be understanding that he just doesn’t have the control yet. Poop in his pants feels similar to poop in a diaper. But pee is fully absorbed by a diaper so wet underpants are far more unpleasant. I imagine things will change by the time kindergarten arrives and you might be surprised to see how well he handles his control there. This is not at all unusual so patience is paramount. Do not let kindergarten pressure you to pressure him. He needs to take his own time.
Worry Warts have High Expectations of Themselves
Q. My sweet, amazing 7-year-old daughter is absolutely miserable and beating herself up about really minor things that she feels guilty about. She wants me to write her teacher (1st grade) with little apologies. One thing did need discussing– looking at a friend’s paper and copying an answer for a math problem. But everything else is super minor–as in touching the classroom turtle’s tank when she had forgotten not to, or saying to me that she liked one kid better than another and then thinking she was the worst person in the world for thinking that (even though the she only told me). She is a kind, thoughtful child who is quick to make a special card for someone or donate her money to help some animal or project she’s heard about (she gave all of her saved money for an American Girl Doll to help Syrian refugees get baby carriers, for example).
A. Age six is typically the peak of developmental perfectionism. Adding this to a sensitive, emotional temperament can lead her to put high expectations on herself. She may be naturally nurturing and empathic. Model for her being relaxed, making mistakes, possibly lowering expectations of her behavior, and not being worried about her worry. Let go of any tendency to fix her problem. Admire how concerned and thoughtful she is but do not praise her. Keep things light and then add that the downside of that amount of concern or worry is being really hard on yourself. She can work toward the middle and do just fine. Share little things that worry you and what you do about it. Let her know that we all worry. Don’t tell her not to—that just compounds her worry. Worry can be helpful. When it gets in her way ask her to talk to it. Maybe she can personify it. “Sounds like your worry wart is concerned that your teacher is not going to be happy with you.” Ask her to talk to that part of her that thinks she’s a bad person and tell that part what she’d like it to know. Ask her if that part is helpful in any way. She might be able to eventually say, “Worry, thank you for showing up but I can handle this.”
The Need for Restorative Justice
Q. Recently a small group of upstanding high school seniors from my son’s school took a school trip to Italy. They went to a club, where they legally had one drink. One of the kids “snap chatted’ about the experience. When they returned, a classmate chided one of the students about it in class. These students have never done anything wrong, so being exposed, they decided to come forward and confess to their mistake as school rules of no drinking apply during class trips. The school punished them quite severely. One of them is the Valedictorian and is now not allowed to give her speech at graduation and is stripped of her National Honors Society membership, none of them are allowed to go to Washington DC for their senior class trip, all were suspended for 3 days of school, all athletes were thrown off their sports teams, etc. I feel there is a better approach to this situation, and would love your input. If you could advise the administration, what would you suggest? To work so hard for 4 years (esp. the Valedictorian), and have their high school experience end like this is upsetting to me as a bystander.
A. I share your outrage about these punishments. What I would suggest to the administration is to hold a restorative justice circle so all could explain why they thought it would be okay to have a drink and how they could make amends to the school knowing the rule that was broken. The circle should include all the students from the Italy trip, their parent/s, other students in the school community who wished to take part, and as many of the administration as would like to be present. Everyone should have a chance to say how they felt (there is a clear process for restorative justice circles) and how they were affected by the incident. Then the students would come up with a plan to make amends for breaking the rule. This would of course need to be agreed on by all. Punishments like these drive students and administrations further apart, break down trust, and encourage students to sneak ways of breaking rules and retaliate. If I were you, I would use this as a learning experience with your son to talk about what he thinks would be fair and just.
A mom shared her perception shift about her son from giving up, feeling only negative and hopeless toward him and herself, to being understanding, empathic and loving:
It was a total change of attitude from me. I now come from a place of peace and respect. I think of him as a boy in pain. I honour the power of the emotions that come up, his and mine. I talk about the things that I see happening and that I care about how he feels but I don’t want to be called stupid, etc. I don’t let anything go, I respond calmly. I deal with what is in front of me without projecting into the future. I am trusting that I am doing the best I can, that he is doing the best he can and that things will work out how they will. I remind myself and him that I am the parent and he is the child and it is my job to keep him safe. It is still early days of my change in attitude, but it is getting better. He is a much happier boy. I don’t really know why but I do feel like we are on the same team now and he must feel that. Sometimes it comes easily to me and sometimes it feels like it takes a monumental effort not to get angry but it is so much better. My lovely boy is chatting and answering my questions now, which is still surprising to me.