Imperfect Parenting

A favorite parenting book that I used extensively in my classes when I taught is “How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk,” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Later, the same authors put out a teen version of the book, “How to Talk So Teens Will Listen and Listen So Teens Will Talk,” which I bought and read. My first career was working with teens and was pleased to see that I’d done a few things right, not so much with my own teenagers, but with other people’s teens.

Striking to me is how communication can achieve discipline in ways former generations of parents never imagined. It wasn’t unusual in past years for parents to used corporeal punishment even with their teens for misbehavior of almost any kind: not doing chores, not honoring a curfew, doing poorly in school, being disrespectful, or leaving things around. Even for breaking rules that were never really articulated until after they were broken. Parents also used verbal abuse as a means to shame their children into compliance.

Such methods rarely achieved what parents wanted from their kids. Instead of kids learning responsibility, thye learned to shut up and comply when in the presence of their parents while sneaking around behind their backs. Many broke out in rebellion doing the opposite of what they knew their parents wanted them to do. They didn’t learn responsibility as hoped. Being accustomed to being told every little thing to do, many lacked the inner strength and self-esteem to do what needed to be done after they got out into the world.

All I have said, I have said before in former blogs. What I want to highlight today is that most parents, especially those in the more recent generations as child psychology was blossoming, tended to raise their later children differently. This is much to the dismay of the earlier kids who will tell their parents, “You are spoiling them,” when in fact, they learned from the older child what does not work. I like to say, kids are raising the parents while at the same time the parents are raising the kids.

If you are an oldest child, have a little mercy on your parents for their early ignorance…and yes it is ignorance since it was about incorrect information. If you are a parent who is conscious of the difference in your methods over the years, forgive yourself. You did the best you could with what you knew at the time.

As for the younger children, know that your parents probably made mistakes with you, too, just a different kind. No parents are perfect. You won’t be perfect at parenting either.

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Anger Erupts over Gun Control – Mine

I lost my cool over the guns issue yesterday. Family and friends were present. All points of view were coming out, some well informed, some not, some emotional, others much to calm for what was going on inside of me.

Finally, I blew up and started yelling. “I hate living here in this country where I worry about the safety of my children and grandchildren. This is the most violent country in the world. If I could go to some place safe in the world, away from here, and could take my loved ones with me, I would do it in a heartbeat.” There was a moment of silence. Then the talking resumed with a calmer tone. Someone threw out some statistics which she got off her phone and others listened with respect.

I don’t like losing control. When I do, I feels like I am feeding the lion instead of the lamb. This was not a calculated show. It was true anger getting the best of me. I wasn’t angry at those in the room, just at the reality of what is happening. They were only bringing the reality into the moment.

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Comfortable in my Years

“The first requirement (to becoming an Elder),” writes Thomas Moore, “is to be comfortable in your years.” Of all the requirements, I know this one I have fulfilled. Why do I know this? Just a couple of signs. I know longer consider my weight or size when determining my success in how I eat and exercise. I have one goal in mind: stay around as long as possible and be as able to serve while I stay around as I can.

Others, especially other women, don’t get it. I know because they will compliment me on my weight loss even though there has been none. I have been told that the skin on my face looks so young. I tell them that I use a special cream because it has sun screen in it and I don’t have to put the stuff on all day long…just once in the morning. When I went to Weight Watchers, people would say, “I am here because I want to be healthy”. Then they would get all giddy over a pound lost. They loved the little metals they got when they reached their goals. Forgive me or sounding critical but I know they are about looking good. They are young. That is what young people do. If they are my age, they are not Elders I guess.

But I don’t care. I have to force myself to care about how I dress, for goodness sake. I am not liberated enough to wear pants with paint on them to a wedding reception, but I am working on that.

I am more than comfortable in my years.

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My “Elder” Brother

Reading about elders this morning. I turned 73 in September and if there is a time when someone is to be considered an Elder, I think I have arrived. But I am not here alone. I look around at those I love who are in this same age bracket and I see a bunch of Elders.

Elders, says Thomas Moore in his article “7 Steps to Becoming an Elder” in Spirituality & Health magazine, grow into  their role, mostly without much consciousness. Most probably don’t even know who they are. He gave the example of his own father who, in his later years, enjoyed teaching young people about plumbing and water treatment. Moore said he never used the word Elder and didn’t think about what he was doing except passing on knowledge to kids. This passing on of knowledge concerning the technology of water treatment Moore calls “direct learning”. He said that there is also “indirect learning”. He said his father was also showing young children that an old man can find joy in his life’s work.

I was thinking about my brother Chuck this morning who is dealing with pancreatic cancer. He’s had some victories over the last two years, but there has been a steady loss as well. Loss of energy and loss of capacity to do the things he once loved. His world is getting smaller and smaller as he is tied to his treatment plan and as he faces one problem after another, problems that are often caused by the treatments rather than the disease.

But his wife tells me that Chuck still tries to show up to his grandsons sporting events. He likes to get out and eat at favorite restaurants whenever he can muster the energy. He still wants to see old friends. She said, “He doesn’t have much energy to talk but he likes being with them.” I am so inspired by this man. I am not yet in his shoes, but if I know that if I have to face a disease such as cancer, I will walk differently through it because of him.

My brother has been known to  speak wise words when we were together. His political opinions are well thought out, grounded in his own life experience as a union man and as a man who has payed attention to events that are now history. He payed attention, he learned and he is passing on what he learned to the younger generation. This is what Elders do. They teach with their words and with their actions.

We are close in age. Chuck is my older brother by 4 years. I may be an Elder myself, but I will never stop needing Elders in my life to guide me. It is a matter of grace that one Elder happens to be my brother.

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Good morning, Father

One of the members in a discussion group that I belong to is a Catholic priest. He isn’t the leader of the group, just one interested in the topic. I call him by his first name as do other members. He never wears his priestly garb so someone new coming in would not really know that he is a priest unless something is said like if his home were referred to as a rectory instead of a home. There is one woman who always refers to him as “Father”. After a few meetings, she apologized. “I was raised Catholic,” she said. “I can’t help it.” I suppose. My priest friend doesn’t seem to care what he is called, so we let it slide.

I don’t know why the rest of the folks don’t call the man “Father”but I do know that I don’t because of a conscious decision that I made years ago. I remember reading in the Bible the verse in Matthew’s gospel that said, “…you must not call anyone on earth ‘Father’, because you have only one Father in heaven.” It was a long time before I got over the father-calling habit. It is probably getting old that contributed most to my feeling free in this regard. Most priests are younger than I am and those my age or older don’t care.

The second reason is that I worked with priests professionally. Most of the ones I knew best were my bosses, in fact. Most of these, in fact, didn’t really deserve to be referred to by such a respectful title. It isn’t that they were bad people. I guess I would say they were not any holier or stainless as myself. They were my equals, in fact, when it came to the goodness or badness of being a human being. “We are all sinner,” it says somewhere else.

The third reason is that I like putting people down a peg. I get special pleasure when a person is haughty about their status. So much pleasure, in fact, that you might begin to question my character. Truthfully, I think it is good for them. It is not good for anyone to feel superior to others and people who really care about them will be sure to remind them of that fact. One priest I worked for, the only one who came close to deserving the title was said to be humble because he had a sister who went out of her way to remind him that he was just an ordinary guy and shame on him if he ever forgets it. So, I call priests by their first names as a form of service to them. We are all equal and it does their souls good to remember that.

I avoid other titles that set people apart, as well. I usually don’t refer to a college teacher as “Professor” to their face once I get to know their names. I try to replace the word “Doctor” with a person’s name especially when I see them outside of their professional role. It may seem naughty to some, but I claim that the right to do what I want in this regard.

A fourth reason I resist using titles is that I believe in living out life in the world as one wants the world to be. If you want a world that is peaceful, be at peace with those around you. If you want a world in which people don’t judge one another for their color or place of origin, use words that honor them as individuals with hopes and dreams much like your own.

I dream of a world in which everyone is equal. For me that means choosing words that are equalizers, that lift the lowly and bring down the haughty. Most often it is simply the name they were given when as they came into the world, the one moment when all are equal.

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The Bones of the Yurt

This morning I read an article by Leah Lamb in Spirituality & Health, “Find the Good in Good Grief”. As challenging as the title of her article is, I was even more challenged by one of her section titles: “The Honor of Burden.”

Leah spent two years studying with Stephen Jenkinson. The legend is that this spiritual teacher “has sat with over a thousand people as they died, while working as director of palliative care at Toronto’s Sinai Hospital”. Startled herself by Jenkenson’s idea that a burden is somehow an honor, he told her the following story about the experience of constructing a yurt from Mongolia:

“One of the characteristics (of these structures) is that they don’t screw, nail, or fasten together. It is a very rickety affair when you put up the bones of the thing, which can be unnerving; you wonder how it could be safe and not collapse on people. But once you put the felt (which can weigh hundreds of pounds) on top, it instantly firms into place. It’s the burden that gives it the capacity to carry. The ability to carry is only the principle. It’s the power of the weight resting upon something that confirms its capacity to carry.”

My first thought and the author’s was about community engagement as they share together in reaching out to those in need. No material burden is too great when people get together and share their material resources and talents. But I think there is another kind of burden sharing that is more familiar to me as I reflect on my own life.

Psalm 38 is a desperate prayer by a person whose burden is a sickness of the soul: “I am in great pain…my whole body is diseased because of my sins. I am drowning in the flood of my sins; they are a burden too heavy to bear…O Lord, you know my longing: for you to hear all my groans. My heart is pounding, my strength is gone…my neighbors will not come near me because of my sores…even my family keeps away from me…I trust you, O Lord…I confess my sins; they fill me with anxiety.”

And Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke because I am gentle and humble in spirit, and you will find rest. for the yoke I will give you is easy, and the load I put on you is light.” (Matthew 11:28)

I think of those who are able to handle the pain and confession of those whose souls are sick due to guilt, addiction, depression, loneliness, discouragement, and fear. These are the ones not afraid to step into another’s pain to listen and counsel and share their own stories. The story of the yurt building tells me that these people can do what they do because, whether others are there with them as they do their work or not, they are indeed supported by others. They themselves have been broken and healed again. Or they have known the relief of just being listened to because someone listened to them. They have been held by the hand as they walked the walk out of the clutches of an addiction or through a difficult loss. These are the bones, as Jenkinson says, that stand firm when the heavy burden is placed upon them. We are the holders of those most difficult of burdens that no one of us has the strength to or balance to hold alone.

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The Cows Were Out This Morning

A cow greeted me this morning as I walked out. She had a loud hefty moo for a woman. Definitely alto. Or even base. There are two women in the choir that sing with the bases. I would not call them cows. They wouldn’t understand that I was complementing them.

Cows represents nurturing others as they offer their milk and sacrifice as they give their meat. I thought how pleasurable it is to give milk, so much so that it causes pain when there is no one to receive it. The cow seems to need to be needed. As a cow of the human variety, I can relate to that.

I always can tell when cows need to give their milk in the morning when I hear a chorus of cows and their lowing is higher pitched than usual and angry sounding. “The farmer slept in,” I think.

The cow doesn’t think about the meat offering. She just goes about her daily affairs not even aware that her end will come. Sacrifice for her is part of life and she isn’t likely to let thoughts of it ruin her joy of munching grass and watching the neighbors walk by.

I have seen cows, Polish cows anyway, dance to polka music. They do it with a calm swaying motion and don’t seem to get all out of breath like I do when I do my native dance. I think a cow would think me foolish for exhausting myself like that.

I love it when the creatures come by to tell me their secrets. They say, “This is what the Creator of us all wants of you…to do as I do.”


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