Sunday, October 10, 2010

Gee Manee, Cricket -- Enough Already!

"If you are watching fanatically over the morality of your children you may yourself be not completely in order." - Janusz Korczak, How to Love a Child
When I wrote about my daughter's love of admonishing rule-breakers in "i always feel like someone is watching me" it was really just a funny anecdote to segue into an exploration of how I compulsively and harshly judge myself.

But then... I became hyper-aware of my daughter's obsession with rules. And I started to wonder if it was "normal." Not the preoccupation aspect; I got that. And by-the-bye, thank God for child development class or I would have totally pathologized that too. But rather, I became concerned she wasn't more able to apply the rules to herself. I was consumed with the thought that, despite my best efforts, she WASN'T GETTING IT.

Then I had the privilege to witness something. A moment of grace. A moment where I was caught so by surprise by the beautiful nature of my daughter's spirit, that finally and thankfully, my analytical brain was superseded long enough for me to GET IT.

In a nutshell, my kid witnessed one child running down another child. It was a brutal hit-and-run that left the girl crumpled and crying. My daughter was shaken to her core. She first listed all the rules that were violated. Then, she just kept talking about it; turning over what she had seen.
Photo: © 2009 Jupiterimages Corporation

I gasped. I goose-bumped. My daughter was not just concerned about the broken rule count ... she was concerned about these children. She felt care and concern for both of these kids; kids she doesn't know and will likely never see again.

Okay, so this is getting to be an awfully big nutshell but I was reminded of something pretty significant: my daughter cares very deeply for others. She is inherently empathetic with a sky-high emotional quotient (if I do say so myself). This "obsession" with rules is developmentally normal but her attention to the safety and well-being of others is also because she really cares.

And I was wrong, she isn't always forgetting the rules when it comes to her own behavior. Not even close. I was just so worried I wasn't seeing the fact that my kid is (mostly) well-behaved and compassionate. And when she momentarily forgets the rules, when she does grab from her sister or race out the door without telling me? That can probably be explained by the fact that she is 4. Not 40. So she is sometimes impulsive and forgetful. She sometimes wants something so badly she has a lapse.

<<< Suddenly this looks more flower-esque than weed-like

She doesn't look 40-- frankly she is on the small side and doesn't look a day over her 4 years. So why did I forget that?  Why did I not seek to explain or frame her behavior in a way that gave props to her beautiful nature? Why was I so ready to see evidence of botched parenting? What else does my compulsion for moral instruction leave me not seeing, or seeing wrongheadedly?

Has there ever been a time your own parenting agenda blinded you to what was really happening? Is there something true about your child that it took you a while to get?


  1. At over 40, I still have problems with rules. I hope it is because I am "inherently empathetic with a sky-high" EQ. Though it "can probably be explained by the fact that. . . ." I am "sometimes impulsive and forgetful" and "sometimes want something so badly" I have "a lapse."

    Wait, is this about me? (I'm also, clearly, self-centered!)

  2. Yes, you are so self-centered you actually forgot to answer the question. (and I am bossy, is this developmentally normal for almost 35?) I really want to hear from you on this because you have actually raised 2 kids to adulthood, and successful adulthood at that. Soooo, high eq lady, let's hear it-did you ever compulsively offer instruction or guidance in a misguided fashion?

  3. Well sometimes my kid bites me when I'm not paying enough attention to him. But then again, sometimes he bites me just to be a turd. haha! So eloquently stated, I know.

    That is really sweet about Anna. She has always had such a compassionate and beautiful spirit.

  4. I always have and still do compulsively offer instruction/and or guidance in a misguided fashion. (You must remember my evil barking of instructions?!?!? Barking is totally misguided.) And yet, while it happens less often, it is one of my character defaults. (My family uses "default" rather than "flaw" or "defect" because, truly, we tend to "default" to our original settings, both bad and good.)

    My grown (19 & 25 next month!) children will tell you that I am right about many things but my delivery is still poor. I do so delight in the fact that they both call me for advice.

    Parenting at its best, is a constant chore. But like put away, clean laundry or clean anything, so worth the effort. I think we only fail when we fail to offer input or if it is only and always overly critical input. (And not reading to them – total failure.) Now I always tell my kids “I love you and I’m proud of you”. It is because, at 15, Nathan said all I ever did was criticize him. It was the same thing I felt to be true of my own mother. It was really misguided instruction giving because no one, not even you guys I’m sure, has ever been more proud of their kids than I was at the time and am now.

    How’s that long winded, answer?

  5. Long winded is sort of my thang-I like it! The part about you criticizing Nathan was very touching. That aspect of your parenting kept him from seeing something about you--your pride, so you changed it. I think total inflexibility is failure. I am really trying to trust the process (and my kids) a little more and lay off. It is just hard because it IS such a constant effort,I have just confused constant offer with compulsive effort, if that makes sense.

    I never clean, but I am sure that was a good metaphor. Nothing speaks more to your efforts than adult children calling you. So many people get adult children avoiding them on the caller id. You MUST comment on each post so I can mine your wisdom. The thought of my adult children calling me warms the cockles of my heart. Long winded rules.

  6. What a great insight, Lesa! It's often so much easier to see the big, sore, oozing red thumb than the perfectly good other nine fingers.

    I struggle with middle ground on this one. It seems I'm either praising or expressing my disappointment in my son's choices for behavior. It feels very manic, but maybe that's because his behavior is sort of manic. Vivi, on the other hand is more even-keel. Once again, I feel blessed to realize that parenting is about a relationship with an individual child and an individual parent. And as we focus on the love within that unique relationship, I can only hope that the rule issues and over-correction/under-correction questions are trumped by an overwhelming sense that my kids know I'm nuts about them, no matter what transpires on a given day. Does that sound like a cop-out? :)

  7. I love the relationship description. The vast majority of exchanges should be relational. Whenever I am operating from an agenda there is so little opportunity for a true relational exchange. I am down right compulsive with instruction; agenda driven instruction. Sure they need feedback--but constant narration? Relational exchange over agenda driven "feedback". That is my new goal. I like the idea of focusing on the relationship and the love in said relationship. I am tired of not seeing truth and beauty because I so preoccupied with my parenting and getting it perfect (self focus even when parenting-it takes a real self focus to pull that off!)

  8. I don't have any kids, obviously, so I'm not sure how to make meaningful comments, but I like the way you use your children as a kind of unwitting Greek chorus--their reflections on their awkward negotiation of an unfamiliar world becomes a means of self-analysis for you. Strophe, antistrophe, epode, yada yada yada...and then it starts all over again.


  9. I like that you called it a greek chorus. Hopefully this play is more epic love story than Medea,(now there's a narcissistic crazy lady) however, I must make a note to stop doing that! Parenthood can be useful as a mirror for seeing oneself and one's behaviors but as with all meaningful relationships you sort of miss the point if you are always looking for a mirror and trying to check your hair and look for spinach in your teeth. Thanks for the grandiose analogy (predictably I loved it!).


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