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Posts Tagged ‘Child’

No kids? You really don’t want kids?

In aging, behavior, children, culture, domestic life, family, life, love, women on October 4, 2012 at 12:19 am
scream and shout

scream and shout (Photo credit: mdanys)

Really.

If there’s a default expectation for women, it’s Becoming A Mom.

Surely every one of us wants kids. Don’t we?

No, some of us do not.

I don’t have kids and never wanted to. Neither do either of my younger half-brothers. So, sadly — as those of us without kids often enjoy time spent with them — there are no children anywhere in our extended family, no nieces or nephews, no grandkids.

There’s a reason some women don’t want kids, but one we rarely discuss publicly.

Like me, some childfree women were parentified at an early age, pressed into premature service as the adult, the responsible one, the person who reluctantly but efficiently dealt with doctors and teachers and bankers and realtors and lawyers far too young — often because their parent(s) was/were mentally ill, and/or alcoholic or drug users and they had no other family to turn to.

This tends to make for lousy parenting, as your caregivers are often physically or emotionally absent or careless. Worse, they’re often exhaustingly selfish, needy, demanding, immature and insatiable.

Just like a baby.

Except that babies gurgle and coo and smell delicious and are charming as well as exhausting. They grow up and their needs change.

These sorts of parents rarely do. We often spend our childhoods and teen years and early adult years — the ones falsely glorified as a time of totally selfish independence and freedom — dreading the latest email or phone call signaling the next crisis. We may spend savings we barely have to repeatedly rush out and rescue our parent(s), as their own friends and even relatives burn out, give up and turn away.

So, by the time society expects us to start cooing lovingly over our own kids — as well as everyone else’s — you’re simply worn out. The whole idea of starting another job being someone’s caregiver and protector feels, as it is, overwhelming.

Nor do these sorts of parents want to baby-sit for you. Nor might you even trust them to do so, so the sort of automatic family support and love many people assume is normal and take for granted — and which makes parenthood look a lot more affordable and appealing — is never going to happen for us.

We rarely say this publicly because:

It’s not cool. If your Mom gets cancer or your Dad has a stroke, sure. People will be kind because they can relate. There are no pink ribbons for those of us carrying the weight of an alkie or a parent who’s in and out of mental hospitals.

These burdens are ugly and painful, and often only end when that parent dies or ends up in others’ professional care.

Non-mothers are often dismissed as selfish, cold, unloving bitches. Nice!

Non-mothers are pitied, their infertility assumed. It’s almost never seen as a deliberate choice.

Non-mothers are considered people who want nothing to do with children. Wrong!  Kids are fine, and often fun. I just don’t want the lifelong responsibility for one, or several.

Here’s an excerpt from Jessica Valenti’s new book about women fed up after having had kids:

In 2008, Nebraska decriminalized child abandonment. The move was part of a “safe haven” law designed to address increased rates of infanticide in the state. Like other safe haven laws, parents in Nebraska who felt unprepared to care for their babies could drop them off at a designated location without fear of arrest and prosecution. But legislators made a major logistical error: They failed to implement an age limitation for dropped-off children.

Within just weeks of the law passing, parents started dropping off their kids. But here’s the rub: None of them were infants. A couple of months in, 36 children had been left in state hospitals and police stations. Twenty-two of the children were over 13 years old. A 51-year-old grandmother dropped off a 12-year-old boy. One father dropped off his entire family — nine children from ages one to 17. Others drove from neighboring states to drop off their children once they heard that they could abandon them without repercussion.

The Nebraska state government, realizing the tremendous mistake it had made, held a special session of the legislature to rewrite the law in order to add an age limitation. Governor Dave Heineman said the change would “put the focus back on the original intent of these laws, which is saving newborn babies and exempting a parent from prosecution for child abandonment. It should also prevent those outside the state from bringing their children to Nebraska in an attempt to secure services.”

One father dropped off his entire family.

On November 21, 2008, the last day that the safe haven law was in effect for children of all ages, a mother from Yolo County, California, drove over 1,200 miles to the Kimball County Hospital in Nebraska where she left her 14-year-old son.

What happened in Nebraska raises the question: If there were no consequences, how many of us would give up our kids?

How do you feel about having kids?

Do you feel pressured to become a parent?

Does Boarding School Screw You Up For Life?

In aging, behavior, domestic life, family, life, women on February 2, 2012 at 12:03 am
English: Students at the Old Fort Lewis Indian...

Image via Wikipedia

I went off to boarding school at eight, the youngest girl there. I went off to summer camp, eight weeks at a stretch, at the same age. I saw my mother on weekends, my father (from whom she was divorced) whenever he was around, which was intermittent as he was a film-maker who often traveled far away for months for his work.

So, there you are, surrounded by a sea of strangers, whose rules and regulations — and kindness, compassion and goodwill — will make or break the rest of your childhood and/or adolescence.

Weird? Yes.

Formative? Definitely.

Here’s a recent editorial from The Guardian on sending young kids off to boarding school — considered perfectly normal behavior by some Britons:

So I want to try once more to begin a discussion about an issue we still refuse to examine: early boarding. It is as British as warm beer, green suburbs and pointless foreign wars. Despite or because of that we won’t talk about it. Those on the right will not defend these children as they will not criticise private schools. Those on the left won’t defend them, as they see them as privileged and therefore undeserving of concern. But children’s needs are universal; they know no such distinctions.

The UK Boarding Schools website lists 18 schools which take boarders from the age of eight, and 38 which take them from the age of seven. I expect such places have improved over the past 40 years; they could scarcely have got worse. Children are likely to have more contact with home; though one school I phoned last week told me that some of its pupils still see their parents only in the holidays. But the nature of boarding is only one of the forces that can harm these children. The other is the fact of boarding.

In a paper published last year in the British Journal of Psychotherapy, Dr Joy Schaverien identifies a set of symptoms common among early boarders that she calls boarding school syndrome. Her research suggests that the act of separation, regardless of what might follow it, “can cause profound developmental damage”, as “early rupture with home has a lasting influence on attachment patterns”.

When a child is brought up at home, the family adapts to accommodate it: growing up involves a constant negotiation between parents and children. But an institution cannot rebuild itself around one child. Instead, the child must adapt to the system. Combined with the sudden and repeated loss of parents, siblings, pets and toys, this causes the child to shut itself off from the need for intimacy. This can cause major problems in adulthood: depression, an inability to talk about or understand emotions, the urge to escape from or to destroy intimate relationships. These symptoms mostly affect early boarders: those who start when they are older are less likely to be harmed.

So true.

It sure ain’t Hogwarts, kids!

The very notion of daily, familial emotional intimacy — whaddya mean I’m supposed to share my feelings? Feelings?! — is as alien to me, even now, as Jupiter. It’s no accident I married a man who is very affectionate, grew up in a normal family with two sisters at home and easily says “I love you” a lot.

I have only one friend who also had this experience, a man a bit older, who has some very similar emotional patterns. At best, we can tough out almost anything without sniveling or whining. At worst, we come across as (and may well be!) cold, bossy, disconnected.

Some of what you learn:

You rarely cry. There’s no one to cry to. Bluntly stated, no one cares. There’s no one offering a comforting hug or a hand to hold if you’re anxious, ill, homesick or scared. You share a room with four to six other girls, some just as miserable, whose distant parents live even further away than yours, in Nassau or Caracas or North Bay.

You rarely share your feelings. No one in authority has the time or interest to sit with you. No one asks. “So, how was your day, sweetie?” They check your name on a list to make sure you are present. i.e. not missing, not a problem, not a liability. Your assigned room-mates? They might hate you, or use personal information against you. Best not to offer them any ammo.

A vicious tongue. Because you cannot fight physically and cannot leave and cannot find privacy from those who are making you crazy, you learn to wound verbally. Not pretty.

Television and radio are impossibly exotic treats. This was back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I got to watch television at school maybe once a week, with a bunch of other girls in the common room. I laughed really loudly — probably at a sitcom — and was admonished for not being ladylike. (You should hear how loudly I laugh today!)

Food and drink take on additional importance. Every meal, including snacks, is served on a schedule, in a pre-determined location. We were told each week at school what table to sit at. Between-meal hunger? Deal with it: sneak food out, keep some in your room. Tip: trying to carry oranges, apples or grapefruit in your baggy, saggy bloomers is not an effective strategy.

Privacy is the greatest luxury imaginable. Every waking hour, you’re surrounded by other people, some of whom you loathe and vice versa: in your bed, in the bathroom, in the dining hall, in the classroom, in classes and sports.

Your self-image is shaped by people who make judgments about you with incomplete information. I was asked to leave my boarding school after Grade 9 for being, (as I was that year), disobedient, rude and disruptive. But no one ever bothered, kindly and with genuine concern for me, to ask why. In high school, my nickname was the Ice Queen, so little emotion did I show. Go figure.

The upsides:

Self-reliance. Independence. A stiff upper lip. I know to make a bed, iron wool, tie a tie. (Part of our uniform.) Whistle with two fingers. Swear like a sailor. An excellent education with ferociously high standards. Tons of homework, as early as fourth grade. No boys to distract us. The automatic assumption that smart girls rule, that men are not to be deferred to simply because they expect it and the expectation that every girl is capable of, and will produce, excellence and leadership.

All good things!

Did you leave your family at an early age?

How did it affect you?

Is Being A Parent Truly That Miserable?

In behavior, parenting on July 11, 2010 at 2:37 pm
Sleep Like A Baby

Image by peasap via Flickr

The endless drama of modern urban parenthood continues as the blogosphere dissects a New York magazine article about why so many parents are miserable:

Somewhere along the line, having a baby has stopped being an inevitable part of the life cycle and started to be one of those things-to-do-before-you-die, like climbing Machu Picchu or running a marathon. Basic aspects of the mothering experience, like labor and breast-feeding, took on a spiritual significance. Now, as we prepare to make the many sacrifices necessary to become parents, we anticipate nothing less than enlightenment in return.

But being a parent isn’t about getting a happy ending. There is no ending. As soon as your child is born, the profound truth hits you: this is forever. And yet, if New York magazine is to be believed, modern parents never stop obsessing about whether they’re doing everything they can to make their children the most accomplished little people they can possibly be. It’s as if they’re expecting to cross a finish line any day and be showered with confetti. And in the meantime, they don’t realize that they’re missing out.

If you’re having a baby for reasons of self-gratification, of course you’re going to be miserable. Becoming a parent is less about enriching your life than it is about up-ending it entirely to make room for another human being. And that’s what Senior’s article is missing: the fact that children are people, and having a child is about forging a relationship. Take this quote from a sociologist Senior interviewed about why parents are so disgruntled: “Middle-class parents spend much more time talking to children, answering questions with questions, and treating each child’s thought as a special contribution. And this is very tiring work.” Funny, that doesn’t sound like work; that sounds like having a conversation. The true reward of parenting isn’t looking back with nostalgia, as Senior concludes; it’s getting to watch a baby turn into a fully realized person. It’s hearing the thoughts and opinions of somebody who didn’t exist until you brought them into the world. It’s a humbling, daunting, awesome experience — and it’s hard enough without the added pressure of making every moment enriching and significant.

I chose not to have kids, thereby placing myself — and my partner, who feels the same — into a distinct minority, about 20 percent of the population.

You won’t hear us hand-wringing endlessly about ohmygod, my career. I am so tired! It’s so hard! OMG! Or, the aging, ill distant parents — plus the career/job/school/whatever. A life decently lived is, de facto filled with responsibility to and for the health and happiness of other people, not just getting and spending.

Which can be hard and endless and filled with ambivalence, along with love — for work or your Mom. Not just your offspring.

You want kids? Have ‘em. You don’t want them — don’t.

But spare us the endless narcissism of questioning and second-guessing your reproductive choices.

Of course having and raising healthy, responsible children is a shitload of work.

Who told you otherwise?

Girls With Enemies Do Better

In behavior, education on May 19, 2010 at 4:34 pm

Interesting study cited in The New York Times:

In a series of recent experiments, a group of psychologists at the University of California, Los Angeles, recorded mutual dislike among 2,003 middle school students. Unlike previous studies on the same topic, these researchers also compared children who reciprocated a fellow classmate’s dislike with those who did not. Students who were not named at all on anyone’s blacklist were excluded from this analysis.

This comparison found that the girls who returned classmates’ hostility scored significantly higher on peers’ and teachers’ ratings of social competence. They were more popular and widely admired. The boys who did the same scored highly on teachers’ ratings of classroom behavior.

“You have several options, as I see it, when you become aware of someone else’s antipathy,” said Melissa Witkow, now at Willamette University in Oregon, the psychologist who led the study. “You could be extra nice, and that might be good. But it could also be awkward or disappointing, and a waste of time. You could choose to ignore the person. Or you can engage.”

She said the study suggested that “when someone dislikes you, it may be adaptive to dislike them back.”

I’ve blogged here about being bullied and how traumatic that was for me. But being disliked — which happens to all of us — is different from being bullied.

I was sent off to boarding school at eight and summer camp at the same age. An only child, I wasn’t used to being teased or fighting with siblings, so running into haters was a new experience. And, when you share a room for many months with four or six other girls — one or more of whom are nasty — you’ve got nowhere to run or hide. The closet? The bathroom?

I still remember a blonde girl named Stephanie and a dark-haired Kathy who were mean. Mean! But it was sort of fun to throw their energy right back at them. It’s not pleasant to discover not everyone likes you, but if they did, you’d probably be way too accommodating. Whenever Stephanie started sharpening her tongue, I was ready with a retort. I actually bit Kathy’s finger once, hard, when she was stupid enough to stick in my face and dare me to. She didn’t make that mistake twice.

Fighting for yourself — when not against a team of relentlessly toxic bullies — is a useful skill. Girls are too often taught to “be nice” when being tough, smart and ready and willing to defend yourself, verbally or even physically, is a better option. Like knowing how to cook or clean or change a tire, it’s a useful life skill.

As Mother's Day Draws Near, Remember The 'Other Mothers'

In behavior, women on May 6, 2010 at 4:03 pm
A poster with twelve flowers of different fami...

Image via Wikipedia

There are, even though we’re in a small minority — about 20 percent of American women — those of us who never bear or adopt and raise children.

For a variety of reasons, we did not become parents and have stayed outside the margins of life as most of you know it, or will know it, from that first sonogram to teething to colic to kindergarten and on down the line. We wonder who will plan or attend our funeral, choose a place to scatter our ashes, what to do with (if we have any left) our possessions and assets.

It’s an odd choice not to have kids, and many people assume we must hate kids (no) or be hideously materialistic and selfish (we do tend to have more disposable income as kids, as you know, cost money) or inflexible and OCD about our white linen sofas.

In fact, there are millions of women who give enormously to the world and yet, I think unfairly and sadly, who won’t be getting a card or flowers or breakfast in bed this weekend. They may be nuns or social workers or NGO workers or nurses or teachers whose love, compassion, skills and energy have nourished and touched hundreds, maybe thousands of other people’s children.

There are also young men, and women, whose own mothers didn’t do what most people expect them to — cherish and nurture their kids. They may be: addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, distracted by mental or chronic illness and repeated hospitalizations, or mired in a life of lousy choices and thereby emotionally and/or physically unavailable to their offspring.

If these youngsters are very lucky, they find — at 4 or 7 or 17 or 28 or 43 — what I call an “other mother”, someone with the time and energy and kindness, even if they have kids of their own, to envelop them in some of the love (and discipline) they lacked and needed to mature and to thrive. That might be a foster mother or a camp counselor or a minister or a neighbor or an aunt or a family friend, anyone who loved these kids and wanted them to succeed.

As we head into the frenzy of celebrating biological and adoptive mothers, I light a candle and say a thank-you to these OMs. We all benefit from their generosity.

When Your Child Needs A 'Rough Stone': Coping With Bullying, Sadness And Loss

In behavior, education on May 1, 2010 at 8:52 am
Image taken by me on March 5, 2007.

Image via Wikipedia

Fellow True/Slanter Bob Cook has been writing on school-based cruelty as well and something he said hit me hard — that comments on this (not here at T/S, interestingly) tend to sneer at anyone who finds bullying unacceptable. They insist it’s natural, normal, that “kids will be kids.”

Well, barracudas and piranhas will also shred your flesh, but that’s in their nature. It is the specific task of parents, teachers and other adult role models to ensure that the nastiest of children do not remain feral, vicious animals by not being told their behavior is wrong.

Those who shirk that duty, certainly while collecting pay and healthy pensions funded by our taxes, need to understand their responsibilities. If not, and a suicide is the result of such bullying, they must be criminally liable. Turning a blind eye, remaining passive, is not an option.

I am constantly shocked that bullying, (aka cruelty, abuse, unkindness), is so often described as simply a part of growing up, something we should all just “suck up” as part of becoming a Teflon-skinned adolescent or functioning adult. Great! Now we can all be cruel/wounded adults. There’s a terrific lesson.

There is no justification for deliberate acts of cruelty. Most important — and overlooked — there is no acceptable way to calibrate what is truly hurtful to someone else. This is the height of arrogance. Just because you or your kids could handle it (really?), doesn’t mean someone else has the emotional resources, or other sources of kindness and comfort or the powerful, necessary defense mechanisms to reframe their tormentors as pathetic scum.

Even the tiniest children can arrive at school — whether the bully or his/her victims — from a home already filled with toxicity: rage, alcoholism, drug abuse, incest, chronic poverty, terminal illness, madness. Kids are taught to keep their feelings private, to “be a man”, not to open up.

One of my favorite writers in the world, Susie Boyt, a columnist for the Financial Times, recently wrote a beautiful column suggesting a simple, elegant solution. Yet it is one that relies on a deep trust in others’ empathy. Is that possible?

A friend who counsels bereaved children told me recently about what she calls “rough stone” work. A child who has experienced a loss is given a rough stone and a smooth stone, and every day puts one of the stones on her teacher’s desk at school. The smooth stone means she is feeling all right; the rough stone means she is feeling bad, and is a sign that she may need a bit of extra attention, one-to-one time, cuddles, a place to cry quietly, or just general special treatment.

The child then learns, through being required to clock in emotionally, that her state of mind is of utmost concern to her teachers and her school. She can seek attention without feeling attention-seeking. There is a strong net of care that is discreet. No child wants to feel outlandish and unusual.

It makes me happy to know this system is in place in some of our schools because it was not always so. I have friends who lost a parent in early childhood and are amazed at the treatment they received. “No one ever, ever referred to the fact my father had died,” one friend still laments to this day. “They thought by mentioning it they would set me off, but I was left thinking I was the only person in the world who had noticed.”

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