When I was about 13, my best friend at the time and I memorized every word of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence.” We wrote down the words by playing, pausing and rewinding a cassette tape, which we had recorded by placing the tape deck beside the radio. Yes, I’m that old.
“Sound of Silence” became “our” song and to this day I remember every word of it. The haunting words appealed to our dramatic teenage angst and supported our growing realization that life could be sad simply from living. We had lots of big questions with no answers but it didn’t matter because delving into the questions made us feel mature and acutely aware that we were no longer kids. The song comforted us as we transitioned from childhood into no man’s land of pre-adulthood. At that time I never thought about the lyricist’s life experience that lay beneath the words of the song. Today I think particularly about the first verse:
“Hello darkness, my old friend,
I’ve come to talk with you again”
I have lived with depression for most of my life and through the crests and valleys I understand how I must face this disease. This past year, I took on too much, got sick with a month long virus and together with the start of fall, I had the perfect storm for depression to pay me a visit. Depression, as reliable as ever, didn’t disappoint. At some point, when I was able, I shared with a new acquaintance the reason I had not responded to her email promptly – I called depression “my old friend.” With the best of intentions, because she is a lovely lady, she told me to never call depression my friend and that it is no part of me.
I have never felt the need to defend my perspective of my disease but here’s what I believe. Depression is a part of me – a big part. It has shaped the way I think about life, my family and my friends. I choose friends who accept me for all that I am, not for the best of me. It has made me a more empathetic person towards anyone suffering with anything, mental or physical. It has broadened my perspective of people, understanding that there is a place for everyone at life’s table. It has helped me be a better wife and parent (I hope) because I have become a good listener and kinder person.
I must make depression my friend or it will be my enemy and the more we hate something, the greater its power.
Depression is my old friend and I accept that it is a big part of me. It is not all of me, in the same way that people with other illnesses, mental or physical, don’t become their disease, so I don’t become mine. Acceptance, however, is key. Acceptance diminishes the impact of this disease immensely. With acceptance I lose shame. As a result, I can open up to new ideas and different ways to help myself. Most importantly, I can love myself.
So, depression, I will tend to you when you need me and when you are quiet I will keep you by my side in my warm, protective embrace, so that you can feel safe. I will not abandon you, my old friend.
At his wedding, my youngest son stood up to give his much anticipated speech. His reputation as a public speaker is well known and he didn’t disappoint. His two older brothers had spoken about his eccentricity and how, as much as they love him, he is the weirdest guy they know. Half way through his, on point, hilariously funny speech, he calmly addressed his brothers’ comments by walking to the centre of the dance floor, pulling down his pants and slowly mooning everyone, possibly performing the first ever groom-moon.
Along with many others, I gasped and I held my mouth, muffling the words – OMG. I can only describe what happened next as a piece of my life flashing before my eyes. I realized many things in a matter of seconds. Here they are:
I raised my kids to follow their truth, so put my money where my mouth is.
Just because I wouldn’t do it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.
This kind of humour makes him uniquely him and I love all of him.
Who cares what other people think.
My perception went from horrifying to hilarious in seconds and I laughed harder than anyone. Turned out the “moon” was hilarious to most and to those who weren’t amused – tough! I felt incredibly proud that I had raised a kid who could step away from the expected and be so okay with it. And seriously, is this any more risqué than string bikinis?
My quirky son is a paediatric resident and appreciates fully the frequent tragedy of life. He has more than his fair share of anxiety and holds onto a strong moral code, heading, each year, a Movember team – in great humorous spirit as his moustache growth is puny at best. His ability to find the fun in a life that so often feels overwhelmingly heavy is completely necessary so that when he has to, he can be his best.
Unlike others, I am privy to my son’s back-story. I don’t feel I have to explain to anyone why I am so proud of his “mooning” but I am doing so, as I believe the lesson to us all is to judge the actions of others less quickly and less harshly. My son would laugh at this last statement as one of the things he is fond of saying is “I judge people quickly and harshly with very little information!” Did I mention he’s hilarious?
Should parenting be about negotiation? The answer is yes and no. Much of our parenting direction comes from knowing who we are and what we want. Some of these things are up for discussion and some aren’t and it’s important to know what belongs where. For example, one of my “non-negotiables” was that my kids could never swear at me (they could swear, just not at me or my husband). Bedtimes were negotiable. I don’t care much for routine and I didn’t expect it from my kids. When parents don’t know what belongs where, it can result in unnecessary conflict. When we identify our non-negotiable expectations we are more likely to stick unwaveringly to them and kids sense that. Children push the boundaries when they think there is the tiniest bit of room for things to shift in their favour. They become surprisingly compliant when we really mean business, and that means consistency over time and between both parents (if applicable). It goes without saying that “non-negotiables” must reflect our behavior. You can’t have zero tolerance for swearing if you swear at others yourself. Walk your walk and talk your talk.
To know what’s non-negotiable for you, check in with your feelings. They are usually your best indicator. It can take some practice because we come into parenting with many pre-existing “non-negotiables,” usually from our parents, and often persist with those even when they don’t really belong to us. I was raised to never leave the house un-groomed and it took years of fighting about un-brushed hair and low-lying jeans to realize that I just didn’t care. I transferred this to the negotiable pile and my kids and I were much happier! I learned to ask the question, “Is this important to me or does it need to be examined?”
When I became a parent for the first time thirty years ago, I was focused on sleeping through the night, first colds, milestones and solid foods. I think it’s just as well that parents don’t get to see the whole journey at once. There may be far less children born if we did.
From the moment my children were born, I did everything in my power to ensure their happiness. For every unhappy situation that arose, I was right there to provide a solution. If they felt anxious about doing something, I would tell them they were wonderful and they could do anything. If they felt unloved by friends, I would make sure they knew how lovable they were. At every turn, I tried to take away their pain because I understood happiness to be the absence of emotional pain. This unrealistic perspective and my inevitable failure to control my children’s happiness left me feeling, on a regular basis, that I was falling short as a parent. I now understand that I was attempting to do the impossible. A person’s feelings belong to him or her, as do the experiences that produce those feelings. My children’s feelings were not mine to have, to face, or to deal with.
This new understanding forced me to recognize that my parenting perspective needed revision. Facing adversity, disappointment, envy, sadness, and fear are natural and inescapable emotional experiences in all our lives. A child not doing well on a test, being rejected by a friend, not being chosen for a team, losing a pet or loved one, or fearing monsters under the bed are all situations that most parents can identify with. At times like these it would feel counterintuitive as a loving parent to withhold comfort, and I’m not suggesting we do. Comfort and love are to parenting as air is to life. I would like to suggest, however, that we add another layer to our parenting realm that I believe can dramatically increase our children’s chances for both a happier childhood and a happier adult life.
Emotional pain exists for similar reasons that physical pain exists. If we heed our physical pain, we learn how to live away from danger and harm. Similarly, emotional pain, if addressed properly, can help us live harmoniously with ourselves and with others. To learn from our emotional pain we must face our feelings, understand them, and ultimately deal with them in healthy and productive ways.
Children who learn to deal with all their feelings, not only the happy ones, do themselves a great service. These are the children who will develop a strong sense of self and will be more able to stand up to bullying, develop leadership qualities, and have the determination and perseverance that will make them more successful in school, in relationships, and in their adult lives.
I have just had my third baby boy and my second child (3) has turned into someone I don’t even recognize. At first he was very upset about the baby and asked us to leave him at the hospital. When we came home, my husband and I had to be super watchful with him because he was rough with the new baby. This was so different to our oldest son (6), who was besotted with his new baby brother.
Now, two months later, he is much better with the baby but his behavior is impossible. He literally doesn’t listen to a thing we say. We may as well not be talking! What are we doing wrong?
It certainly sounds like your little one is struggling with having a new “baby” in the house. Take heart, you are not alone with this problem and there are many things that your husband and you can do to bring harmony back into your home!
You have done nothing wrong. The birth order of our children and its effects has received attention from parenting analysts all over the world. Entire books have been dedicated to this subject. You may want to check out some of these.
Keven Leman’s book “The Birth Order Book” is worth looking at. He has also written a children’s picture book called “My Middle Child, There’s No One Like You.” I find children’s stories a wonderful way to help them understand their feelings and to springboard further discussion about things that may be worrying them. Books can help children put their feelings into words that they may not have been able to do before.
Your three year old has had to, very abruptly, give up his previous status of “baby.” This is very difficult for him and he is doing everything he can to hold onto you your undivided attention. This often exhibits in “bad” behavior. The reality is that he is no longer the baby and your attention has become more divided. So what do you do? Make the times when he is not acting out really count. Even if you can’t reinforce something he is actively doing, compliment him generally. Say things like, “Mommy and Daddy are so lucky to have a boy like you. We love you this much.”
Try and avoid reinforcing him as a big brother unless he is doing something like passing you a diaper. Even in this situation, let him know that you love him for himself. So say something like, “Thank you for being such a great helper. Are you an amazing helper like this at school too?” When you are able, spend intensive “love” time with him. Extra hugs, kisses and “I love you’s” go a long way with a child who feels displaced. Also let him know that he may not be your youngest baby but he is still your baby. Bring out his baby books as a bedtime read.
Bad behavior should never be tolerated but you can use these times to connect positively with your child too. Parents generally know why a child is acting out. In this case, your little boy is feeling left out so before you discipline him for his “bad” behavior, let him know that you understand his perspective. This is more than reflecting his feelings; it is saying something to him that really lets him know that you get him. For example, if he throws a toy at his older brother while you are feeding the baby, you might say something like, “You’re mad because you want me to play with you and it makes you sad that I’m always feeding the baby. I can see that but you still can’t throw things at your brother because that could hurt him.”
This alone will often calm your child because children (and adults) like to be heard and understood. This doesn’t remove the need to discipline his bad behavior. If hysteria ensues with the discipline, reflect his perspective in the same way. For example, “I know this is really not what you want but when you thrown a toy at your brother you always get a time out.” Showing empathy to a child who is misbehaving does not eliminate discipline, it simply introduces another element that will impact is behavior more long-term. I hope this helps!
When my oldest son was about eleven, fear of his mortality hit him like a ton of bricks. I did what I believed any loving parent should or could do. I lay under those bricks with him, barely able to breathe. For weeks my husband and I tried to console him but to very little avail. I would hear his running feet as they charged from his room to ours and my heart would lurch at the anticipation of what lay ahead. The tears streaming down his face would mimic my own internal ones coursing through my veins.
Through the clouded vision of my racing heart, I would tell him that he was too young to worry about death and that it was a long, long way away. I assured him that we too were healthy and would live long lives. In summary, in trying to fix his feelings of anxiety, I lovingly lied.
Unable to cope, we turned to a psychologist for help who, after interviewing my son, my husband and I, told me quite bluntly that my son would be fine but that I had a problem. These words were unwelcome but needed. I understood for the first time that my children were truly separate from me. My son’s demons were not mine to have or deal with. I would like to say that I became a better parent there and then but I didn’t. However, a seed had been planted and slowly my thinking and the way I approached parenting, changed.
Eighteen years later, my daughter faces a similar anxiety but I am happy to say that she is dealing with a different parent. I no longer give placatory untruths but instead allow her to feel what she wants to. Sometimes, she cries for a long time and I give her my time, my love and my arms. With every sob, I feel her strength grow and prepare her to face other adversities that life will most surely provide her.
I let her know that I understand how fearful she is and I sometimes share my own fears and tell her about her brother’s. I don’t take away her feelings as these are the very tools she needs to grow into a healthy adult. When we listen to our feelings, especially the uncomfortable ones, they become our emotional compass. We learn that we can steer our way through life by making our feelings work for us and not against us. When we understand what we feel even in the most adverse situations, we can choose courage, persistence and acceptance over helplessness and its close partner in crime, free-floating anxiety.
“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college she attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt
Agreed. In particular, the power of the parent-child connection cannot be underestimated. You cannot get closer to home than this. Freud believed that our personality is mostly formed in the first five years of life. In some sense I believe he was right.
Attitudes, beliefs about ourselves and others, how we feel and how we think are powerfully formed in those first years. Ideas introduced in childhood are learned easily and form the foundations on which all other ideas are built. Healthy attitudes seeded in childhood become powerful lifelong habits. This is not to say that we can’t change throughout our lives. I believe we can but not with the same ease that we can learn things right from the start. It is like a golfer who has played for twenty years with a poor swing. He can correct it but it will take great determination and an extraordinary amount of time to do so.
Parenting doesn’t come with a handbook because it can’t. Each parenting experience depends on the individual needs of the child, the unique wholeness of the parent and the way the two interact and gel. So how do we make sure that we start our child out right?
Parenting is as complex as we are, multiplied by two. However, our child’s complexity is exactly where we need to focus. Value your child’s uniqueness. The most successful children are those who are allowed to be true to themselves, and are valued for this. When a child feels he has disappointed his parents, the resulting destruction to their self esteem can be enormous. Often parents realize after the damage is done that the disappointment they feel belongs to them and has never been about their child.
How can we steer clear of this parenting pitfall? I have a few ideas that may help.
Ask yourself the question: How much of this expectation belongs to me? Is this something I wished I had done?
When ask your child the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” don’t offer suggestions.
Create habitual thoughts like: My child has her own journey to travel. He or she is not me.
See your child as interesting and someone that you have to get to know.
Don’t let ego get in the way. If you allow it, you can learn from your child.
Don’t overly stress. We all, with no exceptions, make parenting mistakes. When love is at the core of parenting, mistakes are less earth-shattering, can be rectified and can be a lesson to both you and your child.
Bullying saddens me. With four children, the subject has been the focus of my attention many times over the past twenty-nine years. I have had to deal with bullying in the school, in the neighbourhood and as they got older, bullying in the workplace. When I watched the YouTube video of Karen Klein being bullied by a group of grade seven boys, I was both saddened and horrified. I suppose there are no rules about the direction that bullying can take.
I felt more distressed as I began reading the comments posted on this viral video. They included anger at the situation, anger at the boys, anger at the parents, wanting the boys to suffer for their crime and even wanting them to die. There were also those who used this as a platform for their own hatred and prejudices by commenting on the presumed ethnicity of the boys. And finally, there were those who felt that what had happened would and could never happen to them.
I don’t believe that this is a simple problem involving these boys, their parents and Karen Klein. I’m not saying the boys should not be held accountable for their actions and take responsibility for them. They should. Nor am I saying that their parents should not be doing some soul searching. They should. I’m saying that the problem extends further.
Responsibility also lies with those who respond to this situation with hatred, perhaps because deep inside of them they know that given the right circumstances they could do the same. Responsibility also lies with those who react with piety because it makes them feel better about themselves. Responsibility also lies with those parents who firmly believe that this could never happen with their children. This naivety is the fuel for ongoing bullying.
Responsibility also lies with those who feel good about themselves for being a part of a “non-bullying” campaign in schools but don’t realize that a campaign like this only works if the schools are vigilant and proactive because children bully in secret. Responsibility lies with those parents who teach their children to stay away from trouble and turn the other cheek. You are responsible. I am responsible.
There are only two questions that we should ask about this situation. What do I do to perpetuate this? What can I do to make it better?
There are two places where our children learn humanity – at home and at school.
Walk into a book store and look at the parenting section. There are a huge number of books to choose from. This is reflective of the many parents wanting to do better. There are many resources for parents and many parents who are enlightened regarding bullying and how to teach their children to not bully and to not become bullies.
However, from the age of three, in many cases, we entrust our children, for a large part of their lives, to schooling and many of us assume that schools are doing it right. But are they? Teachers can barely cope with getting through the curriculum of academic subjects. With the competitiveness between schools to perform, any spare time that they might have is spent aiming for higher academic achievement. It is no wonder that there is no room for educating our children in empathy, peer pressure, bullying or crowd mentality.
We no longer question the content within the curriculum of our schools for fear of being left behind. For many parents, the academic school curriculum is not enough. Their children spend time after their school day at extra “something” to put them further ahead. I think we should question this education model. I would rather my child know less about chemical compositions and more about being a decent human being. With all the research that has been done in the past few years on emotional intelligence we now know it can be taught and more importantly, children with higher emotional intelligence are more likely to be successful in all areas of their lives.
Why can’t all of this be it’s own subject at school? Let’s call it “Humanology.” In this class we can teach children to be empathic, rather than dealing with the fallout of bullying. We can teach them perseverance instead of punishing them for not working hard enough. We can teach them self-awareness, self-regulation and motivation. We can teach them that it is not our relationship with computers and books but with people that determines our success.
Our children rely on us to teach them, show them by example and let them know what they should focus on. Bullying is everyone’s problem. I’m sorry Karen Klein.
Hi, I'm Marsha, mother of four, grandmother of one (soon to be three). If anyone could be called an expert on my children it would be me, but I am certainly not an expert on your's. Parenting is a relationship, one that requires us to connect our unique personality with our child’s so that we can create the best possible environment for healthy development. This website offers ways to help parents make the most of this special relationship so that they can raise happy, emotionally intelligent and successful children.