Parenting for Covid-19

We act like we can’t stand our own children

What the hay? Everyone keeps meme-ing about giving teachers a jillion dollars and how hard it is to spend the day with their kids. What the, what?

One little afternoon with two kids is overwhelming that is because the kids spend so MUCH time everywhere else.

We take them to pre-K, then summer camp and then after school care and then, over and over, we take them somewhere else – not home.

Parenting has fundamentally changed in the last forty years and in some ways for the better. For purposes of this essay, we talk about how parenting has changed for the worse.

For the sanity of parents everywhere, some things should be decided on with caution. This new generation of parents seems determined to entertain their kids non-stop. This is a parenting mistake, a decision that is destined to make a failure.

There is well-documented value in boredom. Boredom is a basis for creativity and imagination.

What I really want to talk about is a philosophical difference in parenting. Forty years ago, when I brought my daughter home from the hospital, she was coming to a very busy house. She has two older brothers, a stepsister, dogs, and parents who were renovating and moving. We incorporated her right into the crowd. As a family, we want her well fed, happy and invested in our family routine. At three months old, she is going to lay around with us on the couch, listen to our discussions and otherwise be a part of an already active environment.

JB Collection

That is NOT the way that parents act today. Perhaps, out of their own feelings of neglect or because of the age-old promise to outdo our own parents; new parents today are acting quite differently.

First, before pregnancy, all must be perfect. Once all is perfect and the baby is born, the world begins rotating around the child. Everything hinges on whether the child is comfortable, feeling well, entertained (in a healthy way) and on and on and on. The parents continue to behave this way even with a second or third child. The world revolves around the child instead of the child becoming part of the world.

What just happened.

JB Collection

According to teachers I know today, every child has an allergy. Parents communicate this fact loudly and redundantly. There are no careless cookies and cupcakes at any grade school functions – oh no – that won’t happen without a lawsuit.

When my kids were in school, we all agreed with each other, that our own child was the best, the brightest and the most special. That doesn’t happen anymore. Now there is competition and it’s brutal. Parents set out to prove the specialness of their own child and it must be more special than your child. There is no universal agreement anymore, instead it’s “My child is better than yours.”

Because we (the 80s parent) were up close and personal in our child’s business, we could see their bad behavior for what it was: bad behavior. Today, people have a hard time seeing their own child’s bad behavior. Instead, they give reasons and righteousness for otherwise minor behavior problems. Of course this encourages more and bigger behavior problems. Again, you will see that the parent wishes to explain it all away, rather than “manning up” and taking the medicine that goes with the crime. Parents not only allow the bad behavior; they encourage it by trying to explain it away with reasons. “He doesn’t feel well and that girl made him mad.”

The 80s parent did not send children away in order to ensure constant entertainment. Kids had bicycles and found their own entertainment, usually with another pack of kids doing the same thing. While the boundaries seemed loose, the monitoring was not, parents spent the time getting to know all of what the kids were into.

Photo by Donald Giannatti on Unsplash

The 80s parents made mistakes. It was a time when we still believed authority (think Catholic priests) and we were betrayed by that authority. Perhaps that is why todays parents are hyper-vigilant, they want to make sure that these kinds of mistakes are not made again. For this I don’t blame them.

I don’t think we need to worry about entertaining kids 24/7. I think it’s ok for kids to be bored. The most important skill we need to develop with our kids is trusting communication. That is a skill that is timeless, and it is a relationship that won’t encourage selfishness and excuses in children. When kids behave badly, they need punishment (gasp). I’ve heard some parents say that nothing in the punishment realm seems to work to encourage discipline. If that is true, then keep pursuing resolution until you find it. If kids and parents need counseling and education so be it. It doesn’t mean that you have failed as a parent. “Man up” and figure it out. The best thing you can ever do is help your child understand consequences.

Self and other honesty encourages health and well-being in every relationship. That’s a sentence that all parents can buy into.

He Brought His Grief with Him

darya tryfanava on Unsplash

He brought his grief with him.  He apologized for interrupting me.  He was completely unconscious of his thoughts and emotions.  I think that he believed that if he could control the universe that is visible to him that he could ultimately control his universe.  He brought his grief with him.  It weighed heavily in the air and when he sat across from me I could feel my chest contract and the breathlessness followed.  My eyes teared up as if it was my own grief.  He told me that people did not understand.  I do not wish to feel his grief but it pervades the atmosphere like humidity, it is heavy and its weight is laying on all of the surfaces in my office.  The round conference table stands between us and I am grateful for its presence.  The conference table stands as an anchor to reality in a world where people die and spiritual things happen which have no physical explanation.

niklas kickl on Unsplash

He tells me again that “people do not understand, they think I am taking this too well.”  I am thinking to myself that I do not see how anyone could mistake this man’s grief.  How could anyone not see how heavily his grief lays upon all things?  As this man walks, his grief precedes him.  I am thinking that he apologizes for interrupting me, but he should apologize for bringing his grief with him.  As h e speaks to me, I feel his grief.  My eyes tear up.  Then I remember my own mother’s death, there are no specifics and no details, it is simply a matter of the grief.  He speaks to me some more and his words are not important.  Again I feel my eyes burning; it hurts to be near him.  I wish for him to go away.  I know that there are things that I may do to help him, but first he must go away.  I will help him when my intellect returns to replace my grief – my grief that is his grief.

Becoming Codependent

Baynard 9/2017

Codependence is usually portrayed as an extremely negative characteristic.  Most writing includes a lot of judgment and blame for the codependent.  It is as if codependents chose codependence.  They do not choose codependence any more than the addict chooses addiction.

Codependents come by their malady honestly.  It is a survival mechanism that doesn’t turn off when it is appropriate to do so.  Codependence is the lion protecting her young, the bear protecting his home. The beginning of codependence is somewhat subtle, while the end may scream dysfunction.  

Codependence often begins with the parent of a child who is either struggling or disabled in some way.  Think of the learning – disabled child in third grade who is being bullied because of her special needs.  Think of the child who is autistic and lacks an ability to make friends at school.  Think of a child with dyslexia who is being teased by peers because of his perceived inadequacy.  Think of a young teacher who does not know how to handle behavior problems and seems to send your child to the principal’s office every single day.  Think of the woman who is in an abusive relationship and often must protect her children from abuse from her partner.  Think of a blind child, who not only struggles because of sight, but is also unhappy and angry.

If the child or partner has suffered in life and the suffering has been repeated (think violence, or sexual abuse, or even PTSD from battle conditions) the codependent person develops a type of hypervigilance which is a defensive stance. 

These are all situations which breed a codependent personality style.  The parent becomes an uber protector who is hyper-vigilant about any perceived threat to the child’s happiness or health.  The hyper-vigilance often creates misinterpretation, as Jeb Kinnison states, regarding anxious attachment style: Hair-trigger misjudgments and mistakes are more likely with this group and can get them into trouble.  This is a facet of the codependent personality style; they often assume the worst about the world.  Again, they come by the fear honestly.  Bad things have happened to their family; they know that the world can be awful.  Protection is the number one goal of the codependent personality.  The codependent is usually protecting their child, their home, or their perception of being loved.

As life progresses, more and more time is swallowed by the child’s high level needs, or more and more time is swallowed by the partner’s high level needs.  The child or partner becomes the ‘focus in life’ for the codependent person. 

When I read articles about codependence, often the word control becomes synonymous with evil.  This is a mistake.  Our codependent person is trying to protect loved ones, albeit in an ultimately unhealthy manner.  Initially, the control is a good thing: necessary to protect one who is not skilled in self-protection.  It is only as time progresses that we see codependence deteriorate into an unhealthy habit.

Many years ago, I worked with parents of blind children.  They told me that during middle school, they (the parents) were instructed by teachers to stop accommodating the blind child.  The teachers urged parents to allow the child to navigate their home on their own.  “Let them get their own glass of milk” they said.  This is guidance away from codependence.  Not everyone gets an educated guide that will help them through the pitfalls of caring for others.

Admittedly codependence can run on too long.  By caring for others, an unwitting codependent may be communicating that the object person is unable to care for self.  For children, this can be damaging.  There are plenty of downsides to codependence, including the inability to maintain relationship boundaries.  On this issue, both parties will suffer.  No relationship boundaries result in the deprivation of personal space.  This can be harmful to healing.

As we learned in the treatment of addiction.  We do not heal when we blame, denigrate or otherwise put down people who are suffering.  It is no help to characterize codependence as evil.

Remember that codependence comes naturally, even though it is a malady and also because it is a malady, it should not be damned.

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