Monday, June 7, 2010

mom in the mirror

Recently, I attended a parade with my daughters. My four-year-old, in an effort to signal her pleasure and excitement, pumped her fist into the air with a loud "woop!" I was delighted but also befuddled. To the best of my knowledge she doesn't even know who Arsenio Hall is. Look at this amazing creature unfolding herself in front of my eyes -- my non-projecting, open-environment, free-to-be you-and-me, eyes.

Then I began to notice something. Me ... fist pumping.

It seems every time I turned around that week, I was pumping my fist and wooping about something. Why? Beats the hell out of me; I didn't even know I was doing it. With this observation, a reckoning was ignited: I began to look at my daughter, and -- like a cartoon character on an island seeing their side-kick as a chicken wing -- saw only a mirror. And a bizarre face staring back at me.

Left: Random fist pump baby found on awesome site of fist pumps pics
I have since seen the good, the bad, and the ugly in this. All unedited. I am pleased both my girls seem gentle when holding baby dolls and they understand babies have fragile heads. Good news for society: careful newborn handlers being raised here. I am pleased they have exceptional manners. Even my 18-month-old says "yank you", "you're ehlcome", and "pleas." And her older sister could be Emily Post. She is truly kind, thoughtful and as sincere as they come (apple/tree).

However this could also be disturbing. I don't intend for this to be a forum for dissecting my daughters' inner lives, but let's just say that if we were a family on Saturday Night Live we would be depicted by a bunch of loud and easily upset actors in a skit named, "The Sensitivos". If my family were a band we would be called "The D-C Fives" (short for DEF-CON 5). Our terror alert status would be stuck at red. Our family symbol? An escalator. You get my point. I am not exactly glowing with pride about all the behaviors being reflected up in here.(apple/tree)

In spite of all this, I do still believe children are truly unique creatures, their own entities for which parents often take far too much credit and accept far too much blame. But living in this fun house of mirrors the past few weeks has also made me realize my actions are incredibly powerful.

So, I'm looking at the mom in the mirror and I am asking her to change her ways. Well some of them, I am totally keeping the fist pump.

What are you proud to have passed on to your offspring? Are you aware of your "flaws," and do you actively try to avoid the "pass-down"? If so, how? Please sir, please, how? That question is so not rhetorical but asked with the utmost sincerity by the front woman for the The D-C Fives. What is your take on the nature/nurture aspect of behaviors?

"The Sensitivos" would rival "The Coneheads" (right) in popularity and movie options.


  1. This may come as a shock to you, but I(we) come from a long line of anxiety filled people. Its a family business, if you will. :) So this is obviously my greatest threat of passing down poopiness to my children. I worry too much, I'm high strung, and anxiety takes over when I allow it. I have to make a CONSTANT, conscious effort to NOT be this way. Sometimes I let it win, and sometimes I kick the worry out of my head. When I start to feel like I'm losing control, I think about one of my favorite verses "God has not given us a spirit of fear. But power, love, and a SOUND MIND."

    The good stuff that my husband & I hope to pass on to our offspring? A sense of humor and kindness.

  2. I remember when my daughter was just 2 and I heard her say "I'm nervous." I turned to her and said, "You're two. You are not nervous." And then I went and yelled at her Dad, who used to say that. I told him to quit projecting your anxiety onto our daughter. Parenting is like that though. It is so fun to watch your children exhibit your better attributes!

  3. Taratart,
    good job because my neph is smart and funny.

    But then was she ever nervous for real? And if so how could you discern what was her "true" inner state and what was a product of repeated projection? I really want to reflect AND project appropriate things but it feels all mixed up to me right now. What is her because of her own uniqueness, what is her because I rant and rave in her environment, and what is her because she has got herself an heirloom set of high strung genes?

  4. Anna certainly has her share of control issues and anxiety. That is just genetics. But what I tried to do in light of the fact that I could see that happening, was to give her a different set of coping skills than her father and I had. Genetics are not destiny. We can modify our emotional attributes much in the way we curl and dye our hair. Mark and I refer to our less desirable characteristics as our character "DEFAULTS" rather than character defects. It is possible to adjust the defaults. When Anna appeared to be taking on some social anxiety characteristics we made her (and I mean kicking, screaming, crying, sobbing MADE her) do things that were deliberately uncomfortable. It did help and in junior high and high school she participated happily in extracurricular activities. As she gets older, I suspect she will struggle with these issues. I just try to remind her that there are ways to "get over" what you're feeling or at least mechanisms for coping so that you can reduce the negative impact on your life. Life is really just remembering that we only have control over OUR OWN actions. And parenting fits right in there.

  5. I am so fist pumping your writing right now. You make me smile, you make me think. Good stuff.

    We have the ongoing joke in our house that when the kids are good, they're my kids... otherwise, they're yours.

    Isaac suffers from anxiety as I did when I was little. This is something that God has begun to free me from in recent years, so it's especially heartbreaking to watch my kiddo go through the same thing, but know that this is his journey. I can share with him what has helped me, but it's his choice... light or dark. And I know only too well what a powerful force our emotions are. BUT, I know just as well, that our creator and ally is even more powerful. So I pray for him, I pray with him, and we take each episode as it comes.

    I have also had the experience of wondering where my kids pick something up, and right when I'm about to blame Sponge Bob, I realize they got it from me. I do that? Do I really say "whatever" that often? Yup. Reminds me of the 80s psa where the dad demands to know how the kid learned to smoke pot... "I learned it by watching you alright? I learned it by watching you. (sobs)"

    And once again Lesa, we seem to be in subject-sync... a few months back I wrote about the apple/tree...
    The gist is similar to what's been said in previous comments... yes, genetics plays a role... but in the end, I believe our attitudes and choices and willingness to let go of self-focus are really what's key.

  6. LOL, I LOVE that psa. Whenever I quote it, I get blank stares. For some reason the "this is your brain on drugs" had so much more cultural staying power.

    Anyway, I would love to hear more on the choice thing. I have so much conflict over this. Obviously, I believe in choice or the career move to therapist would make no sense. But seeing first hand the power of genes and environment and reflecting back on the shame of former clients just blows my mind-it's such powerful and formative stuff.

    People suffering with mental illness have such shame over their struggles b/c of the deeply embedded societal belief that w/ motivation they could get better, they could be making different choices, ergo they are choosing illness, etc, etc. A heaping helping of shame is never warranted in a good treatment plan!

    Of course, as Carrie mentioned genes are not destiny and we can work with them, even making them gifts of a sort. Super emotional becomes intuitive and responsive for example. Choosing to think of it as a choice is a choice, and an affirming one at that! I just wish there was some linguistic choice that described it in a way that paid homage to genes/environment and that was in no way shaming.

    I have now used the word "choice" so much it feels surreal. Choosy, choosy, choice-dom!

  7. You make a really good point and shaming anyone by trying to encourage them to live positively would never be my intention, but I could see how it could come across that way. It's certainly not as if one could snap their fingers and say "I choose to be better today," but I would hope that incrementally choosing light over dark in each situation to the degree possible may make a difference. It's hard to make blanket statements when there are so many potential variables. I believe that our true strength and power to overcome obstacles, genetic or otherwise, comes from God, so for me, trusting Him is really the first choosy, choosy, choice in Choice-dom. :)

  8. YES!!! Slow, tiny, incremental change! I love that. Then it isn't all so big and daunting as in "You are choosing to be THIS WAY." Baby steps as Richard Dryfus advised Bill Murray in that most famous movie about choice. That is really perfect because it gives someone tangible, concrete, measurable goals and isn't an indictment of their character. It's funny, I was so worried that I would lose skills while being away from work but I am constantly feeling the opposite. I have so much more insight and understanding that I will take back with me and be able to offer to my children. This was really valuable feedback-thank you!


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