Alpha Mom » Marinka http://alphamom.com parenting and pregnancy opinions and information Fri, 24 Oct 2014 18:53:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 Alpha Mom Parenting Book Club: Rare Bird http://alphamom.com/parenting/rare-bird-book-club-discussion/ http://alphamom.com/parenting/rare-bird-book-club-discussion/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 15:51:46 +0000 http://alphamom.com/?p=34466 Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love by Anna Whitson-Donaldson. ]]>

I was very eager to read my friend Anna Whiston-Donaldson’s memoir, Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love, but I had my share of apprehension as well. It is, after all, a memoir of grief and loss, of a mother and a family losing a son, a brother, a nephew, a friend, in a horrible drowning accident. It is a story of mourning and keening and faith and love  and the unbroken bond between a mother and a son. I knew about Anna and Tim and Jack and Margaret from Anna’s blog, An Inch of Gray, and I knew how important Anna’s faith is to her and her family. Secretly, I planned to skip the parts of the book that I thought would be too religious for my taste.

Instead, I read every word of Rare Bird. Part of it is that Anna is a lyrical writer with gorgeous prose, but a bigger component to me is that the  discussion about faith is so personal, so non-judgmental and is so part of the fabric of who she is, that it was impossible for me to look away. In getting to know Anna’s family, faith is a cornerstone. It is woven into the fabric and is a natural part of the narrative. Learning about her only son, Jack, is a treat, every story, every memory is precious, not just to the family that loves him but to the reader who can now see him. Anna wants us to know that he was a real boy, not  a “two-dimensional paragon” and in writing about his caring, his humor, his “symmetry” and we do.  We get to see him through her eyes, and through his father’s and his sister’s, and that transforms us.

Alpha Mom Parenting Book Club: Rare Bird by Anna Whitson-DonaldsonIt is impossible not to relate to Anna, impossible not to really like her. Family is precious to her, “people were more important than money, things, or getting ahead,” memories are powerful. She is every-mom, busy, tired (sometimes grumpy), enjoying alone time reading on summer vacation, watching over her children. So when she takes us through that horrible day when her 12 year old son Jack went to play in the rain one September afternoon and did not come home, there is a resonance that extends beyond the written word. That is the power of parenthood, of a mother’s love.

“Should I scream and flail around? Why am I acting so calm? Am I mother or a robot?” Anna asks about the day of the tragedy. If there is a way for a parent to act when an unspeakable happens, no one knows what it is. But the notion that even when your world stops spinning, a person can be calm, normal, almost, is recognizable.

When one of Jack’s classmates tells her that sometimes she pretends that Jack is just in the bathroom, Anna understands. Because that makes more sense than his drowning. There is no making sense of a child’s death, of course.  “How could God possibly think it was a good idea to take Jack?” Anna’s heart is asking. And so is the reader.

Amid the mourning and heartbreak, Anna makes a promise to herself that she will not kill herself that day, that she will be there for her daughter. She worries about her marriage (“everyone’s heard that it’s hard for a marriage to survive the loss of a child. I don’t know the statistics and am in no rush to find out. Let’s just say that even this soon after Jack’s death, I’m aware the deathwatch for our marriage has begun.”) The devastation is thorough and when the signs of Jack’s presence appear, it is a comfort. Anna starts to understand what she had heard at funerals, “death ends a life not a relationship.”

She is still Jack’s mom. She is Jack’s mom forever. Her love for her son is not in the past, it endures. And that’s what makes Rare Bird such a poignant love story.

 

Questions for Discussion:

1. Anna writes, “I soon learn that prior closeness does not determine who will show up for you” explaining that some people who she previously had a casual relationship with show up for Anna’s family, whereas a close friend disappears from her life after Jack’s passing. Do you think this is a common phenomenon of closer friends pulling away?

2. Is Anna correct in thinking that it is not easy to be friends with a grieving mother? Have you ever stepped into that role and what was the experience like?

3. How do we make sense of a world that is unfair? Jack, a healthy young boy dying is a tragedy, nowhere near to fairness, and Anna recognizes that it is no more fair when a child is stricken with a terminal illness, or a child growing up in poverty in Afghanistan or Somalia. Life is filled with tragedy. How do we cope?

Please join us next month as we discuss The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg.

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Alpha Mom Book Club: The Blessing of a Skinned Knee http://alphamom.com/parenting/blessings-of-a-skinned-knee-book-club-discussion/ http://alphamom.com/parenting/blessings-of-a-skinned-knee-book-club-discussion/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 14:39:01 +0000 http://alphamom.com/?p=34117

I admit that I stayed away The Blessing Of A Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children by Wendy Mogel because I assumed, from the title, that it was an indictment of helicopter parenting. And as a Black Hawk relatively comfortable with the hovering, I did not particularly want to read how skinning knees, an accident wholly preventable if children wear knee pads at all times and also sit quietly and read, is essential to a happy  childhood and therefore life.

I may have judged the book by its cover. Fortunately, I finally read it.

Blessing of a Skinned Knee Book Group DiscussionThe author is a child psychologist who grew increasingly frustrated with her practice. When parents brought their children in for an evaluation, they were often disappointed to hear what Mogel considered to be “good news”. The good news—that their child is within normal limits was received by the parents with disappointment. If the child was basically fine, then there was nothing to fix- no diagnosis, no prescription, no problem to solve. The realization their child was, perhaps, ordinary, was shattering, partly because the daily life with their children was difficult. There were conflicts about food served at dinner time, increasing demands for material goods, lack of respect towards parents, bedtime battles. The children were uncooperative unless absolutely everything had been aligned for them—“protected from any sort of danger, relieved of pressure to perform or take responsibility, and sufficiently stimulated by having lots of fun things to do” at which point they became pleasant. Too bad life doesn’t work like that.

On a personal level, as Mogel became more immersed in Judaism, she found that its tenets spoke to child-rearing in the modern age.   The Blessing Of A Skinned Knee is an exploration of such application. Specifically, Mogel suggests that because Judaism sanctifies “the most mundane aspect of there here and now, it teaches us that there is greatness not just in geand and glorious achievements but in our small, everyday efforts and deeds.” Although I am Jewish (and even yeshiva educated) I had no idea that the three main principles of Jewish life are moderation, celebration and sanctification. Mogel’s application of those principles to child-rearing is quite effective.

One of the most appealing aspects of Mogel’s book is that it is so smart and well-written that one doesn’t have to be Jewish or have any sort of religious affiliation to subscribe to her methods.

For example, the concept of bigdei kodesh refers to the holy clothing of the high priests, which was meant to elevate them and to give them a status that was distinct and higher than that of everyone else. Translated to parenting, Mogel posits that parents need to elevate their status as being above that of their children, with signs and symbols. This does not come naturally to many modern parents—we (I am definitely including myself in this grouping) see our homes and families as budding democracies, where our children’s thoughts and ideas and preferences are given weight. So much weight sometimes that there is no sense of hierarchy and everything – from mealtime to bedtime to toothbrushing in between becomes a negotiation.

According to Judaism, the purpose of raising ethical children is to “ensure that there will be people here to honor God after we are gone”. Child-rearing, then, is less focused on making the kids feel good and more about making them into good people, part of the larger community. That’s a tall order for those of us focused on rugged individualism.

One of my favorite take-aways from the book was a reminder: “Your child is not your masterpiece. According to Jewish thought, your child is not even truly ‘yours’…[Our children] are a precious loan, and each one has a unique path toward serving God. Our job is to help them find out what that is.” This is so even though I am not a religious person so I do not talk about serving God within our family. However, the idea that our children do not belong to us, and have a higher purpose than to achieve across the board for achievement’s sake, is very appealing. Because after all, it’s less about bragging rights and collecting awards, and more about being a contributing member of society, whether it be based on a religion or other ways.

Mogel gives parents a break. We do not need to be extraordinary. We do not need to change everything into a “teachable moment.” It’s ok for our kids to be in a bad mood without cross-examining them as to why with the hope of getting to the root of the problem and solving it. It’s ok to let the kids play in the dirt, without turning it into a science lesson. It’s ok to be a person.

The approach to disrespectful children is contextualized. The Fifth Commandment, the one about honoring your parents is there because God knew that it didn’t come naturally to children. Knew that children are not going to respect their parents unless it is commanded. Mogel urges the parents to examine their attitude towards their children (“…your children don’t need two more tall friends…[t]hey have their own friends all of whom are cooler than you”) and towards their own parents. Do we treat them with respect? Or do they get lost in the shuffle of daily life and achievements?

Mogel reminds us that feelings often follow behavior. That is, rather than wait for your child to feel gratitude and express it, she encourages parents to incorporate expressions of gratitude into daily life, so that children will start to feel them. The idea is that parents should work on changing their children’s behavior, not their mood. If your kid is upset, that does not give him license to be rude. Which, as a member of society, is an important lesson to learn early and often.

But sometimes Mogel misses the mark. For example, she encourages “overcoming shyness,” by teaching children to do things such as smile and “tolerate small talk with grace” (something with which I am still struggling). The question remains—is shyness something that children, or anyone for that matter, needs to overcome? Should the pursuit of raising self-reliant children be so strong as to suppress the child’s natural personality? Or is there room for some individualism?

 

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION:

  1. Many parents feel uncomfortable with the “because I said so” response to their children’s “why” pleadings. Part of it is that parents believe that children should have a voice and are uncomfortable with the “because I said so” approach their parents adapted. Now we are learning that less explanation and negotiation is better for both the parent and the child. Is there a way to be respectful towards our children while making it clear that the parent’s rules govern?
  2. Mogel notes that “the current trend in parenting is to shield children from emotional or physical discomfort.” Do you find this to be true in your experience? Do you think it is harmful? How should parents handle their children’s emotional and/or physical discomfort?
  3. Do you think Mogel is correct in her perception that many parents believe “a diagnosable problem is better than normal, natural limitation”? Many parents cannot accept that their child is “ordinary” in certain respects. Why is “ordinary” so derogatory? Can we accept the concept of “good enough” for our children? Is the advice “have a little less ambition for yourself and your children…disappoint your kids with …essential mediocrity” sacrilegious?

 

Please join us in September when we will read and discuss Rare Bird by Anna Whiston-Donaldson.

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Alpha Mom Book Club: Brainstorm http://alphamom.com/parenting/big-kid/brainstorm-book-by-daniel-siegel-discussion/ http://alphamom.com/parenting/big-kid/brainstorm-book-by-daniel-siegel-discussion/#comments Tue, 15 Jul 2014 14:51:03 +0000 http://alphamom.com/?p=33574 Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain by Daniel J. Siegel. Book club questions included.]]>

Alpha Mom book club logoI was so excited to read Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. that I momentarily forgot that I hate self-help books. In my defense, though, in addition to having a subtitle, Brainstorm also boasts a supertitle, “An Inside-Out Guide to the Emerging Adolescent Mind, Ages 12-24”, so I was distracted by the excitement of what lay ahead. I have two teenagers, after all, so the prospect of figuring out what the hell was going on was appealing. And I was even willing to wade through the over-written and cliché-littered opus to get at it. (Seriously, where was the editor on this: “Sara’s tears slowly welled from her reddened eyes and trickled down her cheeks”?)

And Brainstorm does offer some interesting insight. Siegel dispels the common myths of adolescence—that “raging hormones” cause teens to lose their minds and that it is a time of immaturity and the teens need to grow up. Siegel sees the time of adolescence as a period during which children can thrive, rather than just survive. Siegel’s view that adolescence “is an essential time of emotional intensity, social engagement and creativity” is solace to a parent who has wondered why her teen loses track of time when he’s out with friends and doesn’t just return the texts that his mother is lovingly sending him, with an increased sense of alarm.

(Book Group Review and Discussion) Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of The Teenage Brain by Daniel Siegel, MDThe changes in adolescence, the period that Siegel considers to last from 12 to 24, or long enough for most parents to lose their own minds, is characterized by four qualities—novelty seeking, social engagement, increased emotional intensity and creative exploration. Siegel believes that teens who focus on their peers to the exclusion of adults, engage in riskier behavior. Great news, teens need us! And Siegel suggests that as parents our challenge is to help our children find ways to “push life’s boundaries” without incurring assuming unnecessary risk. And that is where Brainstorm, like many self-help books, falls apart for me. Siegel recommends “authoritative parenting” that is “filled with warmth, limit setting and honoring of autonomy in age-appropriate ways” which all sounds good, except if you’re facing the problem of living in the real world and not being Mary Poppins.

Siegel’s response to this, and other challenges of adolescence, is “Mindsight” a word that he invented that is comprised of three skills: insight, empathy, and integration. I must confess that all the Mindsight chapters read like complete mumbo jumbo to me, with the exception of the section that reminded me of the meditation session at Integral Yoga downtown. But for all the science talk, there are few studies and statistics to back up Siegel’s claims cited, leaving a void.

And then there are passages like this: “Research suggests that risky behaviors in adolescence have less to do with hormonal imbalances that with changes in our brain’s dopamine reward system combined with the cortical architecture that supports hyperrational decision-making creating the positive bias that is dominant during the teenage years.”

WHAT?

Oh, don’t worry if you didn’t get that, because Siegel explains hyperrationality by using the example of Russian roulette. (Although for some reason Siegel suggests that the winner gets $6 million dollars). The chances of “winning” are good, according to hyperrationality, and the risks are minimized. This confuses the issue further, of course, because there is nothing rational about Russian roulette. Most people would agree that a “game” where one of the possible outcomes is suicide, is many things, including risky and stupid, but not a rational one, no matter how much cash is at stake.

For all the problems I had with Brainstorm: the repetition, lack of science, poor writing and editing, and a bizarre section about attachment disorders that is littered with truisms, there were nuggets that I walked away with. One was from Mr. Rogers—the power of “Name it to tame it” (giving a name to an emotion to keep it manageable) and the reminder that teens pushing away from their parents does not mean that they are shutting them out entirely. Also, being reminded that this period in our children’s lives is, for all its mysteries and frustrations, nevertheless normal and important, makes it more bearable.

Questions for discussion:

  1. Siegel states that “[t]he key for both generations is to be open to what is unfolding, to honor the person an adolescent is becoming through all of the many unpredictable stages and experiences this time entails.” How can parents do that while simultaneously setting limits to their adolescent’s behavior?
  1. Did you find the Mindsight exercises helpful?
  1. In the substance use section, Siegel explores different approaches to dealing with teen use of drugs and alcohol, from total banning to permitting the adolescent to experiment in a safe environment. Do you think it’s possible for parents to permit drug and underage alcohol use in the home without compromising their children’s well-being and ceding parenting authority?

 

Please join us in August when we read and discuss The Blessing Of A Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel.

 

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Alpha Mom Book Club: David and Goliath http://alphamom.com/parenting/david-and-goliath-book-club-discussion-review/ http://alphamom.com/parenting/david-and-goliath-book-club-discussion-review/#comments Fri, 06 Jun 2014 20:45:20 +0000 http://alphamom.com/?p=32800

Alpha Mom book club logoAlthough I host the Alpha Mom parenting book discussion group, the truth is that I do not often read non-fiction for pleasure. I enjoy a good story, I like dialogue, I love plot twists. So I was surprised that I raced through Maxwell Gladwell’s David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants in a record-breaking, medal-earning sprint.  But maybe I shouldn’t have been. After all, the book has plenty of plot twists, some snappy dialogue and it’s one hell of a story. Or actually, many stories of people who should have been bested in battle and yet, weren’t.

The premise is simple—Gladwell looks at what happens when ordinary people confront giants. The giants are literal (Goliath) and metaphorical (challenges such as dyslexia, surviving the childhood death of a parent, living during the London Blitz, and the conflict in Northern Ireland.) Gladwell’s conclusions are the type of stunning that are often followed by a “well, of course. That makes sense!” Challenges are good for us. Surviving a bombing intact showed the people of London that they were not really afraid. It’s the whole “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” which absolutely has its place on a throw pillow, but how many  of us parents want to rear our children like that?

Although Gladwell devotes a significant portion of the book to discussing the Civil Rights Movement, during which the underdogs had achieved success at least in part through resorting to trickery, and other historical battles in which the traditionally weaker party as victorious, it is the analysis of the more traditional parenting issues that I found the most significant.

Alpha Mom Parenting Book Club: David and GoliathOrdinary people do surprisingly well when faced with adversity. At times they even flourish. “[T]he act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty,” Gladwell writes and of course it makes sense.  Strife often leads to resolution, to progress. Heartache fuels art. Something that is seen as a traditional disability, an undesirable trait, encourages thinking outside the box and can produce revolutionary results.

Gladwell’s question, posed early on: “Why do we automatically assume that someone who is smaller or poorer or less skilled is necessarily at a disadvantage?” seems ridiculous at first blush. We assume it because it is true. Because it is harder to be poorer and less-skilled. Because it is better to have more resources and a higher education. That is just common sense. And unfortunately it is also wrong.

Through a series of anecdotes, we see a man identified by Gladwell as “one of the most powerful people in Hollywood”, whose family growing up struggled financially and who was motivated to succeed now has the kind of money that has made it unnecessary for his own children to seek out work. They are millionaires many times over, they will never have to work for a living but the tradeoff for that financial security is that they are not motivated. “People are ruined by challenged economic lives. But they’re ruined by wealth as well because they lose their ambition and they lose their pride and they lose their sense of self-worth.” That is not unimportant. And I think most parents understand the necessity of not giving their children everything that they want, of encouraging aspiration. But it is the way that Gladwell exalts the benefits of not having that makes it seem less like a struggle and more like a sound parenting choice.

There’s a question of “would you wish dyslexia on your child?” The statistics are staggering—frustration with reading can lead to low self-esteem and higher rates of depression, and according to Gladwell, children with dyslexia are more likely to end up in the juvenile system. And that is not even addressing the heartbreak of having a child who struggles academically. Yet Gladwell recognizes dyslexia as a “desirable difficulty”—citing a study that estimates that approximately a third of successful entrepreneurs are dyslexic, including David Boies, Charles Schwab, the founder of JetBlue, and the founder of Kinko’s. Gladwell proposes two possible explanations for this. The first, which I was immediately drawn to, was that these are all talented people who succeeded despite the challenge of dyslexia. The second, which Gladwell advocates, is that the success came at least in part because of the dyslexia.  Because knowing their difficulties with reading, some of these people were forced to develop skillsets to compensate for it. There are instances of someone becoming an excellent listener and having  incredible memory. This is valuable because, as Gladwell explains, “what is learned out of necessity is more powerful that the learning that comes easily.”

And that is both comforting and inspiring when our children are struggling.

Questions for Discussion:

1.Gladwell notes that “Virtually everywhere in the world, parents and policymakers take it for granted that smaller classes are better classes.”  Is his argument that class size can be too small convincing? Aren’t the dangers of over-crowded classrooms worse than of those with too few students?

2.Gladwell discusses the dangers of being a Little Fish in the Big Pond and explains the fallacy of attending the best university. Does this ring true? Would you encourage your children to attend a less well-known, prestigious school so that they could potentially have a greater chance of success?

3.  David and Goliath explores the concepts of Advantages of Disadvantage, Desirable Difficulty and the Limits of Power.  How applicable are his theories to modern parenting? Are the examples of extraordinary success that he documents about people succeeding despite and because of their challenges cherry-picked and is he overlooking the struggle and devastation that others so challenged endure?

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Please join us in July, when we discuss Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D.

 

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Alpha Mom Book Club: All Joy and No Fun http://alphamom.com/parenting/all-joy-and-no-fun-book-discussion/ http://alphamom.com/parenting/all-joy-and-no-fun-book-discussion/#comments Tue, 13 May 2014 15:44:26 +0000 http://alphamom.com/?p=32556

Alpha Mom book club logoAbout a third of the way through Jennifer Senior’s All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, I started to fear for the human race.  Because the research has been coming in and the news for parents is bleak. Why would anyone choose to have children in the face of such raw data? Wouldn’t we all be better off with a cat or a dozen?

Newflash: Having kids is tough. The sleepless nights compromise a new parent’s sanity, leaving the poor sap to operate with similar capacity as a drunk driver, parents report lower levels of happiness and satisfaction than non-parents; they have more frustration, face economic stress (Senior cites a report indicating in all 50 states it cost parents more to put two kids in daycare than it did to pay their rent), ranking take care of their children low on the list of activities that give them pleasure (one study of women in Texas ranked child care behind watching TV and housework). Oh, and the monotony and repetition of childcare translates to boredom. After all, there are only so many My Little Pony skits a parent could participate in before wondering if her kid had a career in CIA enhanced interrogation technique development.

All Joy And No Fun Book Group DiscussionSenior weaves through the studies, noting observations that children make you miserable, they strain your marriage, alienate you from your spouse and destroy your sex life. Adding a generous helping of salt to these particular wounds are the facts that people are having children later—after they’ve been in the work force for a while, enjoying the freedom and autonomy of adulthood. They have the choice, contraceptive and otherwise, to defer childbearing. But it comes at a price. The taste of freedom gets snatched away; extended family lives farther away and are unable to help with childcare; people work longer and have less face to face time with friends and neighbors, leaving parents often stranded with their children.

And yet, despite all this, people continue to procreate. I assume, at least in part, because they haven’t read this book.

Oh, I know it doesn’t work that way. And I bet most parents, even those scoring “Dear Lord, just let my toddler nap!” on the questionnaires have an unquantifiable love and bond with their child.  One of my favorite takeaways from Senior is something she credits to sociologist Viviana Zelizer—“the modern child [is] “economically worthless but emotionally priceless.”

So it makes sense. We love our kids, we want what’s best for them, so we face the economic and emotional doom and gloom head on. Because when you love someone, you don’t  really have a choice.

By coincidence, I started reading Senior’s book just as I finished Nora Ephron’s essay “Parenting in Three Stages” in the I Feel Bad About My Neck collection.  In my view, Ephron can do no wrong, but when she states “when I gave birth to my children, which was not that long ago, there was almost no such thing as parenting as we know it today” she very correctly identifies a cultural shift from “just” being a mom or a dad to something quasi-professional that requires a gerund. It was a simpler time, she argues and she is convincing that parenting advances haven’t moved the pawn very far along the board.  Ephron observes that even though parenthood has been elevated to a sacrament; the results are the same. Kids will be kids, regardless of how hard we parent. They turn out the same, so we sort of need not bother.

It’s a writ large sentiment, but there’s something to it.

In All Joy and No Fun, Senior reminds us that modern parenting is a relatively new concept. Gone are the days when children contributed financially to their family’s households. The days of children being considered precious, dating only to the 19th century, are here to stay.  Parents are expected to entertain children now, to play with them; rather than send them away like in the good old days to find their own playthings.  “The moment children stopped working for adults, everyone became confused about who was in charge,” Senior claims and witnessing any number of playground and even dinner table encounters, it’s hard to dispute.

And that’s before they get to adolescence. The term “teenager” is a relatively new construct as well, Senior explains, appearing first in the 1940s. The modern teenager is both dependent on the parents and rebellious, a frightening combination. Marriages and relationships falter during a child’s adolescence. Parents are brought to their knees.

The news isn’t better on the domestic division of labor, either.  Fathers are definitely more involved, but there seems to be no model for the level of involvement. All the couples that Senior observes and interviews are likable, but I was ready to get on bended knee and propose to Clint. Both he and Angie work and they relieve each other with childcare. Whereas Angie has the familiar ache of feeling guilty for the time that she is at work, and therefore she actively parents when she’s with her kids; Clint has a more laid back approach. He is present and his kids are safe in his care, but he has no issues letting them watch TV. He does not have to parent every minute, he can let the kids be. Would Angie be judged if she did that? Or is that judgment internalized?

All Joy and No Fun provides a sweeping look at a multitude of studies on all aspects of parenting but the most interesting observation, for me, came from a British psychoanalyst Adam Phillips: that it is unrealistic for parents to expect their children to be happy. Even if they pour everything into them, time, money, effort. Phillips writes: “happiness is not something one can ask of a child. Children, I think, suffer- in a way that adults don’t always realize- under the pressure their parents put on them to be happy, which is the pressure not to make their parents unhappy, or more unhappy than they already are.”

Which is significant. Do we parent the way we do because we want to achieve a specific goal? Most parents want their children to have opportunities they never had and to be happier. To achieve this goal, to ensure their children’s happiness, they will forego their own, which has the unfortunate effect of hoping that the children will be happy enough for all of them. The parents’ interpersonal relationships suffer, they are stretched financially, they try to shelter their kids from as much of the unpleasant stuff as they can, they are at their children’s service.  This does not make the parents happy but the realization that it puts undue pressure on their children needs to be examined.

But what of the joy of parenthood? There is joy in seeing our children just be, practice their violin, interact with each other, the passive moments during which we do not actively parent. Having children is not all happiness, but it captures one of the emotions that makes us feel “transcendentally human.”

Some of the joy in parenting is the connection that we feel to our children. That connection is part of the reason why statistically parents are less likely statistically to commit suicide than non-parents. Senior quotes Robin Simon: “parents have ties that bind; earthly reasons to keep going.”

“Kids may complicate our lives,” Senior observes, “But they also make them simpler. Children’s needs are so overwhelming, and their dependence on us so absolute, that it’s impossible to misread our moral obligation to them…There’s something deeply satisfying about that.”

I, for one, am no longer worried about the continuation of the species.

Questions for discussion:

  1. What aspects of All Joy and No Fun rang particularly true for you? Was there anything that seemed inapplicable to your own life and parenting methods?
  2. Have we as a society done a disservice to children by taking away the demand that they work and contribute to the family economic unit?
  3. Are children aware of the power that they wield within the family unit? Is this a positive or a negative development?
  4. What do you think is the future of parenting? Will the pendulum swing the other way and will parents become more laid back, practicing benign neglect and expecting more of their children? Or will the hands-on, child-centric parenting model here to stay?

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Please join us in June when we discuss Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.

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Alpha Mom Book Club: Someone Could Get Hurt http://alphamom.com/parenting/someone-could-get-hurt-book-discussion-review/ http://alphamom.com/parenting/someone-could-get-hurt-book-discussion-review/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 01:44:32 +0000 http://alphamom.com/?p=32215

Alpha Mom book club logoMy name is Marinka and this is my debut hosting the Alpha Mom Book Club. As you probably know, the first selection under my watch is Drew Magary’s Someone Could Get Hurt: A Memoir of Twenty-First-Century Parenthood.  I love humor, memoirs and writing about parenting, so I picked it, hoping that this would be a light-hearted and  good choice.

And it was. Magary has a deft touch, writing about his life as a husband and dad of three young children, two of whom seem to have the all-too-familiar bouts of toddler Satanic possession. The youngest child  had to have life-saving surgery shortly after birth that involved disembowelment, OMG. He refers to his children as “boy” and “girl”– keeping us at arm’s length and letting us feel that his children, and our own, are all members of the same tribe. Demanding at times, absolutely unreasonable and uncontrollable and unbearable (to list just a few “un”s), but also the source from which we draw breath. As parents, we are at their disposal, even though there are definite times (such as when our own parents are observing) when we need our progeny to bend to our wills and shut the hell up if for no other reason than to make us,  the parents, not seem completely incompetent.  Every parent has been there. We’ve all felt the need to save face.

"Someone Could Get Hurt" Book Club Discussion and ReviewBut it is possible that Magary has been there more than most. Or that he writes about it  more candidly. There was a time that his daughter erupted during Gymboree class, drawing the attention and disapproval of the mothers of the other (well-behaved) children in the class. Or the time his daughter kept saying Faka to him and laughing maniacally. Or the time that his three year old son absolutely insisted on going to a pool designated for older kids, despite the lifeguard’s admonitions. And then peed in the corner, because of course he did.

At his best, Magary voices what many parents have thought during their dark hours. When his infant daughter cries inconsolably in her crib, he thinks “Go ahead, shake that baby. Maybe shaking it gets all the tears out!” Personally, I don’t remember having that particular thought, but I certainly hoped my kids would just STFU at various points in their infancy. Not quiet the image of the Madonna cuddling her Gerber baby, all love and maternal patience, but I’m guessing it’s representative of the modern parenting experience.  We are busy, we are exhausted, we want to sleep at night. It’s really not that much to ask. We are human beings, we have needs. It doesn’t mean that we don’t love our children, it just means that we need them to go to sleep/be quiet/stop torturing us. There’s a certain pleasure in reading about someone who had it worse.

I thought that reading Someone Could Get Hurt would be  a mixture of schadenfreude and recognition. And there are absolute elements of that, sure. As a parent of a 12 and a 15 year old, it was impossible to read the book and not remember both the “who can pretend to be more asleep” battles with their co-parent during the middle of the night feedings and the blind rage at  designers who seem to have masterminded playgrounds for maximum frustration.

It absolutely took me back to the days of scheming for some time away from the kids. Magary claims that “for every hour a mother gets to herself,  a father will demand five times that amount for drinking with friends and acting like an immature dipshit.” And if that is true, and I suspect it may be, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were the basis for a new type of parenting revolution.  Gender wage disparity is a fact of life in this county, and will be for a long time to come. But perhaps we can have more parity in the time-away-from-childcare department?  Magary doesn’t shy away from his mistakes and unfortunately, some are hard to gloss over. There is the time that he is arrested for a DUI. “I loved the feeling of the car zooming along when I was buzzed,” he writes and although I am certain that it is unfortunately relatable to many, it is also horrifying. He admits to having a couple of drinks and driving with his wife in the car, and with his children.  It was irresponsible, he admits but it “softened my temper when they were kicking my seat.” He drank at children’s birthday parties and playdates because alcohol made the stories of renovations that parents regale each other with go down easier.

Because of his arrest, Magary’s license was suspended, leaving the entire burden of getting the family of then four around on his wife. “A parent that can’t drive isn’t a parent at all,” he states of his incapacity and that is certainly one way to look at it. On the other hand, a parent who can’t drive is head and shoulders above the one who drives drunk.  Magary got lucky. No one got hurt as a result of his actions, so perhaps the levity around subject isn’t misplaced. But for me, it colored who he is.

As parents, we childproof our children’s lives, look to avert the dangers around them, do our darnest to make sure they do not get hurt. Driving around intoxicated with them, goes against that grain. The question becomes, how can you be scared that your children will get hurt, if you’re in the driver’s seat?

But maybe that’s what parenting is. Luck. Driving drunk did not hurt his children but the third child being born seven weeks premature, intestinal malrotation certainly did. Because that’s how life works, apparently. Having children means that you can’t control the pain, can’t predict it and often can’t stop it.

For all the humor and the irreverence and the lice (start itching now), the longevity of the book is in the tenderness. When he and his daughter go for a long walk, when she plays Sleeping Beauty with him, and when he learns that his youngest son’s operation was a success. “Before this, I never knew that joy and misery could merge into a single emotion,” he writes, “that you could cry for ten-minute stretches while feeling simultaneously overjoyed and horrified.” Because joy and horror are pretty much what parenthood is about. Along with sleeplessness, of course.

As I read Someone Could Get Hurt, some themes stayed with me, and I would love to get your take on them:

1. As parents we’ve all had frustrating moments with our children, when we thought things that we probably would not share with the authorities, absent representation by counsel. Does Magary verbalizing those thoughts move the parenting narrative forward or is it shocking and upsetting to read such things?

2. Can you relate to Magary’s marital experience of pretending to be asleep so that the spouse can take care of the night feeding?

3. What did you think about Magary’s DUI and the way he wrote about it? Did he minimize what happened or did he learn his lesson? Does his use of humor in that chapter undermine the message or reinforce it?

*****

Also, join us again on May 12, 2014, when we discuss All Joy and No Fun by Jen Senior. We’re very excited to read this parenting book which examines the effects of children on their parents.

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