The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

On Mom's Weary Shoulders

I'm in the studio now, creating the new "Hero's Journey: Life Mastery for the 21st Century" course. It's been fascinating trying to "thread the needle," soliciting advice on the most important aspect of my teaching, combining that external input with my own instinct about the greatest contribution I can make at this point in my life. Sort of new territory thinking this way. I've always tried to be of service, but it was more indirect. My primary goal with my writing was to entertain and express myself, and hopefully do some good along the way. This is different: specifically culling the endless lectures, coaching, writing, blogging, etc. and seeing what people responded to the most. Looking at the 101 board and seeing which of the lessons hit hardest. And most importantly, which ones were most GENERATIVE. In other words, which ones enabled people to teach themselves? Each other?

That last is so critically important. I cannot be too emphatic about the need to share the external aspect of your journey with at least one other person. One person who will look at your plans and actions and give you feedback. This person should be at least as "'together" as you overall, and if possible, MORE successful than you in the critical arena where you most need improvement. If you need to improve your love life, associate with people in happy relationships. Improve your body, associate with people who have physical discipline and vibrancy. Improve your income, associate with people who make more money than you, doing something they love.

These people exist. If you cannot find them, the problem is you, not the world. For some reason you are wearing blinders, not letting yourself see the possibilities. Probably, this is because in order for you to change, you would have to give up deeply cherished beliefs, or forgive people who have wronged you, or face the lies you have used to protect you from your own folly. In other words, to protect yourself from ego-death. I'm warning you: you're going to dead-end if you do this. Your concept of self is so much smaller than who you really are. It is sleeping in a Procrustian bed, cutting off green shoots of new potential to fit an image you may have formed in childhood.

It is tragic to see it: people who have not changed in years or decades. They are the walking dead. Avoid them, or absorb their toxins, I kid you not.

And how can you recruit friends who have more than you? Offer them love, support, honest affection and the very best you have. The truth is that someone who gives 99% of what they are is fascinating to someone who only gives 80%--even if that 80% is of a bigger "loaf"--greater innate potential. If you actually put all you are, all you have, everything you've got into your life, the energy created is intoxicating to others. That level of engagement with life is hypnotic, and people love being around it, even if your results in the external world are not equivalent to theirs. Also, that person with greater understanding of money might need help with their physical. Or their relationships. Or with balance. You can find something to offer, sincerely.


Bless Dan Moran. What a terrific guy he is. He suggested the following phrase for use with Jason: "I will love you forever." I've tried it, and watched his eyes light up. Now I ask him, from several different directions, "How long will I love you?" And he enthusiastically answers: "forever and ever!" The last few days, his behavior has definitely improved in every way. I do believe that he was afraid we might take him back to the "baby store." How he got that notion I do not know or care. I just love the little guy so much.

Someone suggested, facetiously I hope, that more pain would "help" Jason snap out of this. That would be true if he can clearly see and feel the proper behavior--in other words, knows exactly what to do and is just too comfortable to do it. In that case, more pain (spanking, etc.) would move him in the direction of pleasure, so that he would be able to learn, on a neurological level, how to increase his pleasure in life.

Nice theory, and it works...IF he sees a clear path to improving his behavior, and thereby ending the pain and gaining pleasure. A nice positive spiral of self-possession, pride, and parental approval can follow. IF he sees the path.

But...what happens if (as I believe strongly) he is quite confused about that path? About his own emotions? Spanking then would throw him into a negative spiral of feeling helpless, hopeless, worthless, and panicked. Whatever fear he has of being "not enough" would intensify, leading to greater fear of abandonment ("if I'm not perfect, Daddy will not love me.") I see nothing good to come from that, and much, much that is bad.

This is the reason why clear goals and the plans for their accomplishment are so important. If you don't see the reward, if you don't see a clear path to that reward--even if the path is hard--you become paralyzed. It is like being in a burning house, surrounded by smoke. Better to just crouch in the closet and shiver. Without hope, we die just feet from the waterhole. We drown just feet from the shore. As long as we can see the goal, and believe it is possible to reach it, we can keep going through all kinds of hell.

The job of corporal punishment is to communicate directly with the nervous system. It works. The problem is that whatever the parent is feeling is communicated in the action. And parents are human. What parent out there hasn't felt that their lives would be easier if they had no children? Has not struggled to prevent our own fear and frustration from corrupting the flow of loving energy? Hit a child when you yourself are angry, fearful, resentful...and you are damaging that child's sense of self. Deeply. It's a delicate dance, and I understand why many people take the "you should never hit a child" attitude. I disagree with this, but can tell you, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the day Nicki gained enough logical facility that I could actually explain myself to her was one of the happiest days of my life. Until that point, if I saw her sticking a fork in a light socket, the easiest way to communicate to her was by giving her a little pain to prevent a larger, more damaging one.

But I had to be very, very careful that I myself was not angry when I did it. Completely wrong message. And that's the wrong message if the parent is healthy, but upset. What if the parent is damaged, as so many of us are? Do you have any idea how tempting it is to take out our feelings of helplessness on someone who is more helpless than we? How tempting it is to feel powerful by manipulating and controlling the powerless? This is one of the core sicknesses of humanity. And knowing that, it is better to side with the "don't hit" people whenever possible. I've never met a human being who didn't lie to themselves about their motivations, who had processed all of their negative emotions, who could stay totally in the moment, every moment, all the time.

And our children are so precious, and so vulnerable. Love us so much, and so desperately. Whether we deserve it or not. They are an opportunity to experience pure love, the closest thing to a spiritual experience many of us ever have. The potential to corrupt that with pain and use our children as a dumping ground for our own frustrations and simply too great.

I remember my own mother's terrible frustrations, her sense that having children...and dark-skinned children at that (she was pretty much a Quadroon) had screwed her life up. And said it to our faces. By some miracle, by the age of ten I had already realized that there was a difference between the signal and the noise, and didn't take it personally when she cursed at us in a rage, or beat us. She couldn't help herself. She was doing the best she could.

I can do better. And I will. Period. I love my mother, and have the obligation to stand upon her shoulders, weary as they may have been, and see further than she could.

And what I see is love.


Anonymous said...

>I've tried it, and watched his eyes light up. Now I ask him, from several different directions, "How long will I love you?" And he enthusiastically answers: "forever and ever!" <

That is really wonderful. I've got to remember that.

Mike R.

Anonymous said...

>I've tried it, and watched his eyes light up. Now I ask him, from several different directions, "How long will I love you?" And he enthusiastically answers: "forever and ever!" <

Great idea! I'm going to try that too!

Daniel Keys Moran said...

:-) You're pretty terrific yourself.

The only comment I'd add is that when I use it I drop the "will" ... it might be ungrammatical, but it changes it from a statement of intent to a statement of what is. When my now-14 year old stepson was about 4 I said, "I will love you forever," and he said (immediately), "No you won't," and without even thinking about it I said, "I do. I love you forever right now," and that got him over it and we had a hug, and he was better. And I stopped using the "I will" phrasing. "I love you forever."

Ernessa T. Carter said...

I was saying the other day that I find it somewhat illogical that singles rarely ask happily married people for advice. They usually go to their other single friends for advice and then if one of those single friends gets married than they're considered "other" and no longer sought out for advice, b/c they don't "get it." My BFF married early and I sought her advice throughout all of my courtships, and I think that's why I'm happily married today.

I don't believe in hitting for the same reason that I didn't believe in credit when I was poor. I knew I didn't have enough real money to handle a credit card, and in general, I know I don't have enough patience with myself or others to incorporate hitting into my child-rearing routine.

Also, my mother was one of the few black women I knew who didn't believe in hitting, and I believe my sister and myself to be shining examples of what can happen when you use "clever punishments" as opposed to "hitting" to get the behavior you desire.

We were terrific teenagers and I think that was because we learned early to talk out our problems with our mother and that hitting just wasn't okay for her or for us.

Anonymous said...

Pretty interesting blog you've got here. Thanks for it. I like such topics and everything connected to them. I would like to read a bit more on that blog soon.

LaVeda H. Mason said...

" I do believe that he was afraid we might take him back to the "baby store." How he got that notion I do not know or care. "

You may want to do some gentle probing and find out where he got that bit of stray negative programming; Jason may be dealing with someone who was taught this, and passing it on to him from their own pain.

Sometimes too, adults use this kind of thing to frighten a child into compliance; many times, people who should know better say things without thinking. And, unfortunately, there are also people [yes, who work with children] who confuse verbal abuse with discipline [!!!].

When you have an idea where this programming comes from, you can let Jason know that people sometimes say or do things that may hurt his feelings or scare him, but it has nothing to do with him or his value... thereby building his 'shields' against other, more insidious negative programming that he may encounter when he is not around you.

And that you love him forever.

LaVeda H. Mason said...

~~I've tried it, and watched his eyes light up. Now I ask him, from several different directions, "How long will I love you?" And he enthusiastically answers: "forever and ever!"~~

This is wonderful! I tell each of my children that they are my favorite __ year old [whatever their age is at the time]... and I ask them all the time, "Who's my favorite __year old?!?" And they respond with"ME!!"

Sometimes I 'play' with it, and say, "Is it Mrs. Such and So?" [Who is WAY over the age in question], or is it "So and So?" [Who is also __ years old]... they giggle at the older person's being my favorite little one, and confidently dismiss the other same-age child's 'claim' on my affections.

I will be adding this to my childrens' love talk... because it's absolutely true, AND they need to hear it, as often as I can say it.


Amen!! Conveying the emotion is more important than pleasing the 'grammar police'. It's a more accurate statement too, in my opinion.

LaVeda H. Mason said...

Follow up report:

I started doing this with my children, and I thought you'd like to hear what happened...

The other night, my youngest one climbed into bed with me. Still mostly asleep, I asked her:

Me: Who's my favorite 5 year old?
Child: Me.
Me: Are you sure?
Child: Yes. [yawns]

Me: How long do I love you?
Child: Couple of weeks... ?

After I finished laughing, I 'corrected' her answer, and now she always gets it right... even when she's half asleep... thanks for a great idea, guys!!