Friday, July 24, 2009

Teach your Children Well - By: A. Bear

If my mothering were to be symbolized by an animal, I’d definitely be a bear. The protective nature of the bear, anyway, not the bit about sleeping all winter or “you knowing” in the woods. I always thought to be over-protective was to be a good Mom. After all, my neuroses have served me well. Boy, would I have made a lousy bird. Pushing them out of a tree-top nest? Are you kidding me?

It took me a long time to understand that parenting isn’t just about protecting them from harm and pain—it’s about loving fiercely and teaching.

One of the many rewards of parenting is enjoying their babyhood. My first born, David, got picked up, still sleeping, and rested on my shoulder on my whim, whenever I wanted to feel his warm, sweet breath on my cheek, or mouth his doughy, dimpled hand; reveling in pure joy. Jonathan was 9 months old when I was going through my divorce. I kissed him so often his cheeks got chapped. He was my teddy bear, who comforted me through the angst and emotional turmoil of a dissolving marriage. He was slung on my hip so long, in fact, my friends joked that he and I were conjoined. Krista was just an infant when my Dad became terminal. For the first 5 months of her life, I rarely let her out of my arms. Those cuddles were Lesson 1: Love and to be Needed. And I did eventually put them down.

Discipline was always a desperate struggle for me. I never wanted to hurt their feelings or break their spirits. I always thought growling or giving them a dirty look would be deterrent enough for them not to repeat an offense. At some point though, I couldn’t make myself scary enough to intimidate them. When that happened, finding natural consequences for disobedience took some ingenuity. Future blog titles by my boys:

“She Took Us Women’s Clothes Shopping with her...as a Punishment” or

“What Does Scrubbing the Laundry Room Floor with a Toothbrush have to do with Backtalk?”

I also had “Discipliner’s Remorse.” I hope, by admitting that I might have overreacted...a tiny bit...when I made Jonathan eat mustard sardines when he told a big-fat-lie, that he came to learn Lesson 2: Forgiveness...and a taste for canned fish.

Co-parenting is crazy hard, even when you’re married. When our kids became adolescents, we fell back on our own upbringings to guide us. My husband, Fred, and I have clashed on this front like competing moose. We wanted the same thing from our teenagers, but he delivered the message through a tuba in the key of C, while mine was played by a piccolo in the key of B flat. Lesson 3: Harmony and cooperation isn’t easy--but it’s so worth the effort.

Although I’ve been known to question my religion, I cannot deny I love the concept. For me, although we may have biological bodies, inside each of us is a soul. For me, how that soul got there is divine and inexplicable. I want my kids to know being ‘alive’ means something more than just bio-chemistry and evolution. Even though we may not understand the reason we’re here, or our origin, I want to embrace the possibility—the wonder...of more. And to be thankful. I hope I was able to communicate Lesson 4: Reverence.

Witnessing you child fail is a tempting arena in which to protect. Unfortunately, for a soft, mother bear, it’s one of the best opportunities for them to learn. I’ve fought impossibly hard tugs to “make it all better” or give them something to take their mind off their disappointment, admittedly not always succeeding. My sons have had their hearts broken by girlfriends, some dreams fade and goals go unmet. My daughter worked for hours on a project today and it went miserably wrong. As much as I wanted to fix it, I let her cry, just cry, on my shoulder for a half an hour...and then... she figured out her own solution—which made her feel much better than if I’d waved a magic wand or taken her out for ice cream. Lesson 5: Heal thyself. But ice cream does solve many world problems.

Despite my best efforts to do everything for my children, they still became strong, insightful and clever anyway. Despite my “overbearance” (to further the bear metaphor), they still did things I told them not to...and learned. Thank goodness for their free-will and adventuresome spirits. I am renewing my vow as a parent, and shrugging off my overprotective lineage, by saying, “NO” to sharing unsolicited “If I were yous” with my now adult sons, and “NO” to discouraging my daughter from getting back on her death-ride scooter. Note to self: Didn’t need to add “death-ride” to previous vow.

But I can’t promise that I won’t be watching, from behind some tree, stifling the urge to charge at adversity for my kids, to fend off unhappiness or to take a bullet for them. Bears are loyal animals, you know.

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