Untamed book club
This is your captain speaking, and on behalf of the crew I’d like to welcome you aboard this Karma Airlines flight. Today we’ll be taking off from New Mommy and flying to our destination, Advanced Parenting. Our flight time will seem interminable, although it’s really only a few years. We’ll reach a cruising altitude of 9,000 feet, which is not high enough for your parachute to fully open should you choose to exit the plane before we reach our destination. I suggest that you buckle up because we will definitely encounter some turbulence. Please turn off your electronic devices as we taxi to the runway; don’t panic, you will be able to reconnect as soon as we are in the air. Once again, thank you for choosing to take this exciting journey with us. Flight attendants, start serving the freaking peanuts!
Doesn’t that seem like the speech you should hear when you sign on to become a parent?
This section of the book really grabbed my attention.
I am in this space right now, as my husband and I grapple with the future of our relationship. This marriage has been difficult for more than two decades, due in large part to my husband’s alcoholism. He is sober now, with 20 months of dry days to his credit. But it took an act of emotional terrorism by me to jumpstart that outcome. It seems that it always takes an outlandish display of emotion to motivate my husband and my son (my boys) into action, and in the meantime, I’m just trying to serve the freaking peanuts.
I learned a long time ago that both my boys were looking to me for guidance about how to feel. Like a flight attendant, I put on a smile and calmly took care of their needs, gliding down the aisle with my cart of snacks and drinks, picking up trash and making everything neat and tidy in my wake. Once they were comforted and reassured that everything was okay, I would disappear into the lavatory while they were otherwise occupied and have a breakdown or throw a temper tantrum.
The parenting memo was delivered to me along with the baby, but I was too busy to read it carefully, so I just skimmed it for highlights. Hmm, shield child from uncomfortable situations and emotions; fix whatever goes wrong; give participation trophy just for showing up. Even without the time to delve fully into the content of the memo I realized that was bullshit and I simply disregarded it. Except the part about fixing stuff because I am an excellent fixer. Pro Tip: Volunteering in the classroom and/or the PTA is an excellent strategy for not only keeping a close eye on your little darling, but also for subtly currying favor for your kid with the teacher who might otherwise be inclined to fail them in math.
I fought the good fight with electronics, and my son didn’t get a phone until he was 13. He is now 21, and it feels as though we’ve lost him in the electronic void. Prior to COVID his waking hours were filled by the fairly even distribution of eating, skateboarding, school, job, Snapchat, and auto maintenance. The aforementioned activities all contained some form of socialization, as it was unthinkable to do any of them alone. Lockdown has changed all that, and he now spends his time solo, trapped in the house with his parental units unless he is at work. His vocational school program is closed, the skate parks are closed, and Snapchat is boring because no one is allowed out to do anything interesting. Fortunately he works in the auto industry so he gets that need fulfilled, but when he’s home he’s either watching YouTube on his phone or playing Grand Theft Auto on Playstation. I miss my bright-eyed, skateboard crazy kid just as Glennon missed her boy. But mine is officially now a man, so my parenting license has expired.
On page 167 Glennon says, “I’ve taught you that home is where you spend your leftover energy, out there is where you give your best. I need to course-correct…you are not showing respect to the people inside your home. If you don’t get that right, nothing you do out there will matter much.” YES. YES. YES. That, my sisters, is my current challenge. With the last tiny bit of influence I have left, I hope to teach my son that the people he lives with deserve the best of him, not just whatever is leftover at the end of the day. And it’s a lesson that I hope to teach myself as well.
In the interim, I’ll just keep serving the freaking peanuts.
Reminder: No book club entry for the week of Thanksgiving. We'll be back on December 3.
Also, I received a request from Sue to consider hosting a zoom for book club members to meet live. Absolutely! I'd love to, and think it's a great idea. There's so much to discuss. Stay posted for more information to come!
I’m trying to remember what my memo was when I had children. I think it was I’m going to protect you, love you, make you happy, parent differently then my parents, and give you what I never received.
I changed some of my parenting skills. I never said “If you don’t stop crying, I’ll give something to really cry about.” I never told my boys to go pick their belt for punishment and when I did something wrong, I apologized to them. When I grew up, I remember asking if I could take ballet lessons, NO We had a beautiful baby grand piano and I asked can I take lessons? NO. So when my son asked if he could play the saxophone in elementary school, I said yes. When my other son wanted to be a pitcher and wanted pitching lessons, I said yes. My son played saxophone through college and had a blast. My other son changed sports and played football instead. He had fun in both sports.
On page 159 Glennon writes, “I make a lot of mistakes parenting you. But I only know they are mistakes in retrospect. I’ve never made a decision for you that I know, in real time, is wrong for you. Until now.” For some reason tears came to my eyes and I had to ask myself what did I do wrong? (I was not the perfect parent I know). Smart phones were not around when my kids were growing up, though video games were starting up. In the beginning we would limit their playing time but as time went on, we let them play for hours because that’s what seemed to make them happy
What I didn’t do was let them be bored. They are out of the house now and basically doing great. They are not always happy but they are human. I hope they keep the positives of their childhood and change what didn’t work for them.
My challenge is I need to allow myself to be bored as Glennon writes “Right after the itchy boredom is self-discovery and we have to hang in there long enough without bailing.”
Kelly I love the passage you site on p167! For me, it wasn’t just about my sons living in our home with their left over energy—it was how they treated themselves,and my husband and me—like we were the carpet—something to walk on as they maneuvered their way in and out of the house. Never stopping to ask my husband or me how we’re doing, or even each other. As though the people they lived with were worse than slime. So I asked them separately, do you realize that the people who love you unconditionally, will always have your back, don’t really need to let you live hear, you treat worse than a cashier you don’t know at the market?
When they moved back a year ago, I allowed it. So I decided to to call us all out on this. Express authentic concern and be your best self with those who are working at trying to be their best self with you. This did resonate with them and we are having more impromptu conversations together.
Everyone needs to buy into this as both meaningful and respectful—including my husband and me.
I never got a memo—I read the “What To Expect” series, which was interesting but not an ideal fit for my experience as a mother-to-be, or as a new Mom.
Early on, there were many scary decisions to make, and I kept thinking among the books I read that there must be missing chapters. Now that my sons are young adults they’ll share decisions I made that they believe were mistakes and I listen without judgement. I’ll explain the truth about options “at that time” and tell them that I take full responsibility for them. If they disagree I’m okay with that. Each decision I made unselfishly for my love for them. I made the best decisions at that time. “I hope you understand” we had to figure out some answers as we went along. Life isn’t easy, or tidy, or 1 size fits all.
During my entire childhood, I took it for granted that I would never have children because I'd never take the chance that a child of mine would have problems similar to those of my brother. I wasn't trying to save a prospective child from a hard life. I was saving myself from the struggle of raising that child. But somewhere between high school graduation and college graduation, instinct kicked in, and yes, I wanted kids someday. Beyond that, I didn't give it too much thought, not even when I first got married.
With the advancement of genetic testing, I eventually realized there might be an answer to my big question: Is whatever is wrong with my brother my potential child's fate? My husband and I weren't ready to have kids yet, but this would indeed be important information to know.
My brother wasn't living with my parents anymore and was semi-independent. My parents were still involved with my brother's medical appointments, so I let them know I planned to take him to the UCLA Genetics Clinic to have him, and myself, evaluated, regarding his mental deficits and whether they were inheritable or not. I was just informing my parents, not asking for their permission. But, wow… they absolutely forbid me to do this. As if I didn't have a right to know! My parents' reaction was not to be grateful that science could perhaps ease my mind and perhaps lead to a healthy grandchild for them. No. Their reasoning was they would not allow my brother to feel bad about himself by my attempt to figure out what was wrong with him so that I didn't have a child like him.
I was so insulted! They'd given my brother too much credit for putting the pieces together. And they hadn't given me enough credit in how I'd handle things. They won that battle but I wasn't giving up. I didn't like going against my parents' wishes, but I had kowtowed to them all of my life.
So, when they soon thereafter told me they were going on vacation to Italy for a couple weeks, I called up the Genetic Clinic and booked an appointment for a pair of siblings. After the appointment, I took my brother out to lunch and then dropped him off at his apartment. The thrill of the day for my brother was going out to lunch. Several weeks later, I got a call from a geneticist. No genetic abnormalities! Phew!
The memo I eventually got about being a new mom was that I'd be the happiest mom on Earth. I was so wrong. Sure, there were fun parts. But… I was going stir-crazy playing with a fussy baby who wasn't interested in chillin' on his own for any length of time. So when he was 18 months old, I went back to work for Walt Disney Imagineering, doing the same job I'd been doing before I'd quit to become a full-time mom, only this time as a part-time independent contractor. It turned out to be a wonderful decision for me and my family! Still, overall, parenting was the hardest job I ever had.
And, guess what? My parents found out about the trip to the genetics clinic. How? My dad received my brother's medical insurance paperwork! I'd never considered that issue. My parents weren't too upset. Yes, I'd gone behind their backs, but my brother had never mentioned anything about the doctor visit to them. No harm, no foul. So after asking me to explain why they'd received an insurance form, their next question was, "So what did the doctor find out?"
I almost didn't want to tell them, given the stink they'd made about the situation. My brother was almost 30 years old at the time. The last diagnosis they'd received about his intellectual state, "mentally retarded", was when he was a toddler. "David had arrested hydrocephalus," I told them.
I don't know about you ladies, but from what I've heard, grandparenting is the way to go! lol
I honor and respect the strength you had going to the doctor's without parent approval.
Being a grandparent is the best!!! You can love on them and then give them back to their parents.
Susan I had a similar experience. My brother had undiagnosed Aspergers. My mother went to shrinks and doctors told my folks he’d grow out of “it”: the strange gesticulations, the monotone vocal expressions, always out of sink with the conversation. At the age of 11 he tested a genius IQ and the shrink suggested going to MENSA meetings might be a good release from the torment and bullying he experienced at school. Then the movie Rain Main was released. My mother, sister, and I were the last to leave the theatre. My brother was much more high functioning than Raymond, but this was the only other person we had seen that resembled characteristics similar to my brother. Funny thing is that I never thought about my brother when I got pregnant. I was concerned about TS. I was 32 when I got pregnant, so I had genetic counseling. I think out kids are many generations of our DNA, and I call how they come out “the blender effect”. Unlike when our brothers were young, there are many resources today for kids who are developmentally different.
Yup—I’ve also seen that grandparents are the way to go!
Faithe, it's so strange to think of how not all that long ago, autism and Aspergers weren't identifiable conditions. I went to Sri Lanka for 3 weeks in 2010 with a friend who was born there. Her family members were lovely, warm and wonderful hosts. My friend had a nephew there who was in his mid-teens and he had so many signs of being autistic. Yet, his parents and teachers saw him as a problem child and he was pulled/kicked out of school. They though he just had anger issues or some such nonsense. He didn't talk much or at all, and seemed docile to me. He didn't congregate with the family. It was hard to watch him navigate life alone, not seeming to have a good support system. Once we got back stateside, I told my friend that her nephew seemed to be autistic. She agreed but said that in Sri Lanka, that wasn't something they knew about or recognized.
And by the way, being gay wasn't recognized there either, at least at that time. No one was gay there, so they said. It was obviously something that was so unacceptable that no one would admit to it. In fact, one of the distant cousins actually was gay (how they knew this I don't know), married a woman because that's the only way he could survive in that society. He didn't want to have sex with his wife, so she suspected he was gay. Yet, getting divorced was taboo, so she stayed with him. Divorcing him would mean she'd remain single forever because no other man would want to marry a divorcee.
I have had such a life of privilege. I worked hard (and am still working hard) to live my most authentic life. It's one thing to be on the quest and know you are moving forward with only yourself to hold you back. It's quite another thing to know who you are but society holds you back.
Kelly, thank you for your post. I could really relate to the story you shared about your son. My kids are younger, but are definitely in that technology void, especially since the pandemic. I love the frame that Glennon discusses about how we need to give our best effort to those inside our home, not the leftovers.
Sadly, I do not think I have modeled this very well, so it is something I need to work on so that my kids can follow my lead. They do look to us to know how to understand the world and what to do. It is kind of scary because I know I am not always teaching them what they need to see. But like most things, being aware of this is the first step.
Yes, Lisa! Getting comfortable with myself being bored is big. And not eating away the boredom or scrolling through my phone or thinking about how I should be productive…It's exhausting!
My kids are still young. I was affected by the growth of Pinterest. There were so many crafts I could do with my kids and activities I could create…and…that was exhausting too.
I got some advice from a friend of mine who already has grown children and she told me that I should let my kids be bored. I don't need to be interacting with them or entertaining them every second. It was great advice and I am so grateful for it.
For my son, I said "Yes" to skateboarding, even though every nerve in my body said, "This will end in the emergency room!"
To my complete astonishment and unending pleasure, that never happened. And while my son's friends ended up with casts, boots, and wrist braces, he pretty much had nothing more than bruises. That makes me glad that for once I didn't listen to the overprotective mommy voice in my head, and the voices of other mommies who asked incredulously, "You're going to let him do that?"
Not only did I let him do that, but I put thousands of miles on my car driving to skateparks all over southern California (you'd be surprised how many there are!)
And I'm glad I did it. Now that he is technically an adult, I won't have the opportunity to show that kind of all-in devotion very often, and I'm glad that I was able to give him that gift.
Hang in there, Melanie. We are parenting in a different world than when we were parented. The external rules have changed, but the internal rules – like imparting values, teaching kindness, learning to be resourceful – are still the same. Focus on those and you will be truly successful!!!
Wonderful comment Lisa, thank you. I'm with you in terms of having a kid who we never let be bored. My half sister is 16 years older than I am, so I was basically an only child. I was alone a lot and don't remember feeling bored or unhappy about that. Yes, I wished I had a sibling, but that didn't change the fact that I knew how to entertain myself…with my records, drawing, reading, watching TV etc. But my daughter did express being bored and I jumped to try to alleviate her uncomfortable feelings, to fix things, almost all the time. Ugh! Now, she has trouble with "down" time, although she is often stressed out. Has a hard time finding a balance or just letting herself be quiet. We parents certainly don't do everything right..but I think it's a pretty big deal that we are able to consciously change some habits our parents did with us to make things better for our kids. We are all a work in progress!
Yes Faithe! Isn't it awesome when our kids become old enough to start sharing our mistakes with us. And I mean that non-jokingly. My daughter has started doing the same and although it can be very hard to hear it is also healing for them and for us to be able to say what went into the process so they can learn about both sides of the equation.
Good for you, Mel! Yes. I don't remember my mom memo saying that the entire endeavor will be EXHAUSTING…unless I learn how to take care of myself! Glad someone helped you get that part of the message!
Exactly, Mel. The minute you awaken is the minute things start to change. You are already changing the situation for you and your family for the better by doing this learning. One step at a time. XO
Sue, thank you for sharing. I didn't know this part of your story about the testing. How frustrating and infuriating it must have been for you when once again your parents stood in the way of you being able to take the best care of yourself! And good for you, doing what you needed to and getting the information you needed so you could move forward making the best decisions for you and your family. Damn. There are just soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo many shades of grey. But look at all of us, doing this work and re-coloring our images to make the most of them.
Faithe – your experience gives me hope! I am planning to broach this subject at Thanksgiving dinner since it will just be the three of us this year. And I plan to do it without blame. More like, hey you guys, we need to stick together and lift up one another. Make our home the sanctuary where we love to be. Where we bring the best of us, not the rest of us. Now that would really be something to be thankful for!
Gosh, Sue. Such true and good points you make here. How sad it is when for whatever reason young persons are left on their own to navigate when support and guidance might make a world of difference. Times here are definitely not perfect, but you are SURE right about our privileges.
Wow, Susan, that was a gutsy move!
And you know what was even gutsier? YOU WROTE YOUR OWN MEMO! You gave yourself permission to move into the future without fear. That is spectacular!
Great post Kelly, thank you! And thank you for sharing about where you are with your marriage and your son. Every time I do one of these books clubs, and just about everything else I do, I'm constantly reminded in stark reality how (different, yes) but more similar our lives are in terms of struggle. That image pops to mind of the ice berg with an arrow pointing to the top little bit with the words, "What we know about peoples experiences." YES! And, for us women, the bravery we show every day just getting up and living our lives. Whatever form that bravery takes. Goodness gracious. We are all amazing. My husband has been sober for many years now. It takes a long and a lot of honesty and healing to accept and let go of difficult past experiences. I'm sending you love for the experiences the two of you will have together and separately moving forward as you figure things out.
I was so struck by Glennon's whole section on boys. My step-son was already a teenager when I moved in. And with the pain of his mother's death, we weren't in a place where I felt I could make suggestions or comment on anything. But I never drilled down into thinking about the difficulties of raising sons in today's age in the way Glennon points out. I swear to God sometimes I REALLY do think it's a miracle any of us make it through this life as intact as we are!
What I think will most stay with me is the "after itchy boredom comes self-discovery. Maybe that is the push and pull of it..little bits of knowledge and then time to accept and reflect, maybe even get a little bored before we move forward. SO powerful to remember to allow OURSELVES to be bored too sometimes. Huh. Who'd a thunk?
Wow, Kelly! I hadn't thought about it like that. Yes, I guess I did write my own memo! : )
This whole section resonated bigly with me.
"We don't control the turbulence or tragedy that happens to our families….we decide only the response…whether we will be the one who jumps ship or the one who stays…Parenthood is serving the peanuts amid turbulence." (p139).
I've tried so hard of late to be intentional. My daughter is home from Chicago and my usual tactic is 'ready, fire, aim' about stupid stuff and big stuff. So the other day instead of retreating after a tiff, I went in and just sat on the floor and we hugged and I said nothing. That's all she wanted. To be allowed to feel crappy about stuff , validated and heard. Apparently, my parenting memo was to fix and repair , lather -rinse-repeat. This was the first time I just listened and didn't opine.
During out talk, the expression that stuck with me is "I know you love me no matter what" My big hearted girl is afraid of disappointing me. (spoiler alert -this comes up later ) This time I told her that it's her duty to herself to disappoint someone else – "as many people as it takes to avoid disappointing yourself…especially me." (p.158)
No more cream cheese parenting for me. (p 163)