YOU CAN'T COME TO MY BIRTHDAY
You're not my best friend.
You're not my best friend anymore!
You can't come to my birthday party.
You can't play with us.
don't like you... we don't want to play with you!
Come on girls. Let's go.
There's something smelly here! (Meaningful
look at the victim)
if not millions of women remember extremely painful experiences from as early as
their preschool years, to their elementary school years, and often with the
greatest trauma in the middle school or high school years. Certainly, hundreds of women I have spoken to in trainings
agree! Often, when people talk about bullying they think in terms of physical
attacks and confrontations typical of male bullying.
Sometimes, people fool themselves into thinking that girls don't bully.
Girls definitely can and do bully. However,
they tend to bully in different style than boys.
bullying style tends to follow the style of male social dynamics.
Much of the male social interactions are based on the struggle for a
place in the hierarchy of the group -- being the "king of the hill",
being the best, having the most, and being the alpha male.
Physical aggression and domination, often in competitions, establish the
hierarchy. In arguably more
functional and healthy male groups, the hierarchy is established with a place
for each member of the group: there is an alpha, a beta, and subsequently lower
ranked members. There may be
ongoing struggles to maintain rank or to ascend the hierarchy.
However, there is a place for each member, and each member is more or
less respected and valued. A member
who is low in the hierarchy is still a member of the team, and his contribution
to the group is still appreciated. Self-esteem
can still be developed. A boy low
on the hierarchy who shows competence or is successful in some status-gaining
process will be respected and ascend the hierarchy.
In the healthiest groups, all members promote and celebrate the increased
competence of any member of the group. Wouldn't
that be wonderful if it were always true?
in the bully dynamic, there is tremendous energy to purposefully keep other
people down -- to keep them victims. Self-esteem
(and his place in the hierarchy) for a member is based on the respect of the
others in the group for his relative competence.
However, the bully's self-esteem is based on putting down or destroying
the self-esteem of others. Rather than respect, fear is what the bully gains.
The aggressiveness to show competence and establish hierarchy in more
functional male groups is distorted to become the need to destroy others for a
sense of status for the bully. The
bully in the normal hierarchy is actually at or near the bottom socially.
Unable to be respected or liked, the bully settles for being feared.
Aggression becomes intimidation. Competition
for a place in the hierarchy becomes bullying for an illusion of power and
control. The physical aggression
and competition expressed in games and sports becomes the physical and
hurtful exploitation, intimidation, and domination of bullying.
"Winning" has to include destroying others emotionally and
psychologically. Later, we will talk about the subculture of bullies where
there is a hierarchy of bullies as well.
DON'T LIKE YOU…!!
social dynamic for girls and women tend to have a different cultural framework
than for boys and men. Whereas, the
hierarchy is the foundation to the culture of boys and men, inclusion in and
consequently, exclusion from the group is a key to the culture of girls and
women traditionally. The lesser
power women have held traditionally, has moved women to turn to each other for
social interaction and support. The
training of men to become "warriors" resulted in men becoming
emotionally unavailable to women. Women
turned to each other to fulfill emotional needs that might have otherwise been
met with their male partners. As
men held the greater power in their communities because of the physical
difference between men and women, women could not overtly assert power and
control in the same manner as men. Their
influence by necessity had to be more covert – that is, through men or through
the community of women. We will
expound these theories in the next chapter.
relationship between women in female groups becomes the determining factor in
social status. Intimacy between
members of the group is seen as the greatest value.
Sharing their feelings and fears with one another becomes a way to bond
together (even in the supermarket checkout line with total strangers!) -- to
bond together counter their relatively less powerful position as opposed to men.
Being included in a group was critical to the emotional and psychological
survival of a woman (especially if her male partner with the emotionally
unavailable due to his "warriors" training or football season).
As a result, exclusion from the group of was tantamount to being
emotionally set adrift or abandoned in the wilderness.
The bullying style of girls and women becomes about "relational
aggression." Hurting others by damaging or manipulating their
relationships becomes the way to bully. Spreading
rumors, negative gossip, telling others to stop liking someone, withdrawal of
friendship, social exclusion, and the silent treatment become the methods to
keep each other in line, to assert status, and to build self-esteem for the
and preschool teachers see this beginning as early as three or four years of
age: "You're not my best friend."
"You're not my best friend anymore!" "You can't come to my birthday party."
"You can't play with us."
"We don't like you.. we don't want to play with
you!" Little girls are
devastated. Fortunately, most
children are resilient and with the correct feedback from the adults, the
hurtful behavior can be stopped. Unfortunately, some parents and teachers feel that they
cannot tell children who should be their friends.
However adults definitely do need to tell children that they cannot be
cruel in choosing friends or in excluding non-friends.
Children and adults with a sense of social responsibility and empathy
will make their choices and follow-through in appropriate (kind) ways.
However, there are those who will purposely (or carelessly) be hurtful as
they make their choices… who will make sure the excluded person feels the
ostracizing deeply and is isolated without recourse… who will even delight in
the pain that the excluded feels.
DO YOU MEAN… "WE?"
I was running preschool programs, sometimes a little girl (let's call her Kelli)
would try to gather her little covey of girls and purposefully exclude another
girl by saying, "Let's go. We
don't like Joanie." The three
other little girls would probably go along with Kelli.
They were held under the influence of Kelli strong personality… perhaps
intimidated by her aggressiveness. Kelli
was relishing her domination of the three girls and of Joanie.
Her self-esteem was bolstered by this cruel dynamic.
There are times when adults clearly recognize that a behavior is vicious
and harmful: a stick poked towards the eye or a vulgarity putting someone down.
And, at such times, adults will usually act strongly and affirmatively to
set a clear boundary and an appropriate consequence.
However, sometimes adults disable themselves in failing to recognizing
such an act by Kelli as being as vicious and damaging (if not more so and longer
term), and fail to act as strongly and as affirmatively as would be appropriate.
stepped in immediately, "Kelli, you are on time out.
You're trying to hurt Joanie on purpose. No one is allowed to hurt others on purpose at our school.
Sit down here." The
basic rules of the community (family, class, school, society) are enforced—you
may be a part of the community only if you not harm yourself, others, or the
process of the community. Letting
Kelli indulge and be rewarded (with status or power) from this act, would
set up Kelli to continue to bully others in the future.
This would lead to a dismal future for her (and her future victims). Then I asked Kelli and her gang, "What do you mean… 'we?'
You girls trying to be mean to Joanie too?
Do you need to be on timeout for being mean on purpose to Joanie
too!?" At this, I invariably
hear a chorus of, "Oh no! We
like Joanie!!" I would then
respond, "Oh you do? Then why
don't you take Joanie and go play together?"
"OK! Come on, Joanie…
let's play!" And off they
would go… leaving Kelli behind on timeout, BUSTED!!
Her attempt at bullying through exclusion has been met with a clear
boundary and consequence from the adults, and also been turned around into a
positive cultural model for the children. Too
often, kids like Kelli are allowed to succeed in bullying and intimidating other
children to do her cruel bidding. It
is up to adults to make sure this social experimentation turns out negatively
for the budding bully. As girls get
older and move into pre-adolescence and adolescence, it becomes more difficult
to intervene in this dynamic. This
is why it is so important to be vigilant when they are younger…especially if
you are the parent of a girl with a strong personality.
WORSE OF BOTH
is a person (seen primarily in the male groups) called the Reactive Bully, an
ineffective aggressor who has anything but a strong personality who gets the
worse of being both the bully and the victim.
He is an ineffective bully who is unable to be socially successful with
other children. This person ends up
stuck socializing with the other bullies but is not able to handle the
aggression of the other bullies effectively.
He gets angry very easily and will escalate relatively minor conflicts
into aggressive situations. However,
since he hangs out with bullies, as he escalates the interaction into a
confrontation, the more aggressive and intimidating alpha bullies provoke,
threaten, and intimidate him. He is
unable to calm himself once conflict begins.
He often becomes more unsuccessfully aggressive.
He gets overwhelmed and is forced to back down.
He becomes their victim. As he backs down, he tends to whine (even cry)
and complain overtly and sullenly to himself.
his temperament and male macho bravado brings him to confront and then back down
over and over, he becomes fun to tease… he is extremely entertaining for the
other bullies to provoke over and over. As
he is teased and bullied by more powerful bullies, his sense of powerlessness
and resentment grows. Unable
to assert himself successfully among the bullies, he becomes more likely to
assert himself with others. With
adults, he becomes more likely than ever to be oppositional and defiant…
perhaps, passive aggressively. With
other children, he can become increasingly dangerous as he looks to intimidate
them in order to find some way to build up his highly fragile insecure
self-esteem. No one likes this
bully. He becomes the least liked
individual in the entire social group. He
gets both the highly negative social consequences of the bully (anti-social
behavior, poor academics, crime, and so forth) and the internalized negative
consequences of the victim (anxiety and depression).
does the ineffective aggressor come to be?
The major characteristic of the reactive aggressor is their highly
volatile and easy to provoke emotions. Such
an individual has not ever learned how to regulate his/her emotions relative to
social demands. This is one of the
primary (if not the primary) points of the current emphasis on developing
Social-Emotional Intelligence in children.
Psychologist Gary W. Kraemer's research on monkeys reared either with
their mothers, or by humans and later with monkey peers only, suggests there is
a strong caretaker nurturing component that may also affect brain chemistry.
Kraemer feels good or poor caregiving changes the chemistry of the brain,
which affects social emotional behavior. "To
the degree that caregivers are unpredictable, random, and asynchronous, then
social behavior is not likely to internally regulated."
Basically, I interpret this to mean that children need stable and
consistent nurturing and discipline… especially temperamentally challenging
children. Parents, sometimes
because of their own trials and challenges are unable to consistently monitor
and regulate… to teach their children how to successfully manage their own
emotions and needs in social contexts. Left
on their own, the more emotionally subdued children can become depressed.
On the other hand, left on their own and immersed in their emotional
turmoil with their emotional reactivity, some of the other kids become the
reactive bullies. Good versus poor parenting again is the key to healthy and
is a fascinating theory that both explains and frees us from historical,
societal, and cultural gender stereotypes.
I believe it is essential in the development of self-esteem to recognize
the origins of the gender stereotypes. Children
are often asked to live up to confining cultural gender stereotypes that are
personally inauthentic. This can
break down self-esteem.
30%- ORIGINS OF MALE-FEMALE DIFFERENCES And
Modern Changes and Challenges
LITTLE GENDER QUIZ
For American men, from childhood, many are encouraged to do what the most?
For American women?
have the most or be the best
C) have close friends
D) serve community needs
What way do American women prefer to get presents? What way do American
men tend to give presents?
A) one large expensive
present every few months
B) small inexpensive
presents every week or so
C) a few meaningful
presents spread over a year
What do most American women want from men when they complain about a problem at
work? What do men tend to do?
try to help their wives find a solution to the problem
B) let their wives
know that they feel sorry for them
C) they let their
wives know that they feel their feelings
When an American man is depressed, who is he least likely to go to for
reassurance? For a woman, who is she most likely to go to?
A) spouse, partner, or
B) father, brother, or
other male relative
C) a male friend
D) a female friend
E) sister, mother, or
other female relative
F) all of the above
the answers obvious to you? Stepping
aside from “political correctness”, and acknowledging the powerful
cultural/social forces we (and our children) experience are the first steps to
improving equal opportunities for all. And,
for relieving our children from limitations to their humanity based on archaic
gender stereotypes. Fortunately,
many people are actively promoting children to explore the totality of their
potentials without restriction by gender. However,
the questions above tend to have a “juicy” aspect to them since they do
bring up seemingly relevant stereotypes. Yet,
there are many people who clearly have transcended them and live lives according
to their own authenticity. In the
last article, I discussed the differences between male and female bullying
styles. These differences come from
the stereotypes. The stereotypes
came from historical, anthropological, and socio-economic realities in the
world. Moreover, the world has
changed in ways that has facilitated major changes in gender roles and portend
eventual even greater gender equality in the future.
I will present a fascinating theory that offers explanations for gender
differences historically and implies the change society is currently undergoing
for boys and girls, men and women. But
first, the “answers” to the questions!
(Made you wait!)
BOONE, CUSTER, JOHN WAYNE, LEWIS and CLARK, J.P. MORGAN, ROCKY, SUPERMAN,
MUHAMMAD ALI, MICHAEL JORDAN…
For men, be the best or have the most (B); for women, have lots of
For women, getting many presents (B); for men, giving a big expensive
American history, aggressive selfish acquisition and goals of preeminence have
historically fostered creativity and growth- opening frontiers of space, energy,
resources, and power (as well as other less positive consequences).
Since much of male culture fosters having the most and being the best
(the king of the hill, “he has the most toys, wins!”), men who are
culturally egocentric will assume others including their wives, have the same
values. As a result, a man may be
prone to giving the expensive gift as symbolic of the degree of affection he
feels for his female partner. This
large or expensive present creates credit
for the next three months, and covers the debt
from the last three months when he hadn't done anything (been a jerk!)!!
Men who have trained to emotionally disconnected, to be emotionally
stoic, and/or especially to avoid gentle expressions, which create
vulnerability, often fail to consistently give messages of worth and incur
significant emotional debt. When he
realizes that he has been negligent in making continual messages of worth and
valuing, he attempts to compensate for it in a type of bottom line accounting.
A big gesture, the more expensive and grandiose the better, brings the
affection quotient back into the black- or so he believes.
However, his wife or girlfriend who may do her accounting differently-
focusing instead on the number of days in the red and existing with a
deprivation of worthiness, may have loss trust in his emotional reliability.
And subsequently, may spurn his attempts to give the love she wishes.
every gift or action of attention is a confirmation of your worth to the giver,
how often do you want such messages? All
the time, of course!! Girls and women in American culture are usually socialized
to provide intimacy and rapport for each other (“You’re my best friend”). Letting each other know that their feelings are understood
and appreciated creates a strong bond among girls and women.
This search for emotional support from other females is in part due to
the emotional unavailability of boys and men socialized to avoid the gentle
emotions… emotions contra-indicated to the warrior mentality.
In addition, girls and women tend express the same messages of worth to
boys and men, filling the males’ needs for esteem… that is until the females
become sick and tired of not getting reciprocal messages.
Then, watch out!
Women want empathy (C); Men try to problem solve (A)
help from another person is considered by some individuals as assuming an
inferior hierarchal position. An
insecure person or a person trapped unwillingly in a lesser power position, may
resent others assuming a higher hierarchal position.
This may be too painfully familiar to some women in their relationships
with their male partners (trained to be the best).
When a woman complains and her husband assumes the problem solving
position, it may stir up resentment that adds to her previous upset.
Having someone feel sorry for you (sympathy) can be experienced as being
pitied as less competent or powerful. On
the other hand, empathy (a feeling with) fundamentally assumes a relationship of
equity. From a psychological
perspective, receiving acknowledgement of ones vulnerable feelings translate to
validating of ones inherent worth. This
serves intimacy and camaraderie, which is essential for “having lots of
boys and men are usually socialized to be problem solvers.
With a stereotypical division of labor with the man being the warrior,
hunter, and specifically, the provider; and the woman being the child caregiver
and domestic laborer, male love is expressed in providing and problem solving,
while female love is expressed in overt acts of nurturing and care giving: hugs,
verbal phrase, empathy. Being a
proper boy or man, unfortunately entails shutting down what is presented as
"sissy" emotions and behaviors- the very emotions and behaviors
required for intimacy. Often, women
(and men often too) become frustrated at men’s difficulties being in close
relationships of emotional vulnerability. “But
I can fix the toilet!”
For men, no way, not another guy! (C); For women, anyone! (F)
to someone for reassurance when depressed means allowing oneself to expose ones
vulnerability. Exposing yourself to another may be dangerous.
He may be your rival having been socialized to being the best, which
includes being better than you. He
may use the vulnerability you have revealed for a competitive an advantage in
some battle of acquisition or dominance- for a job or a girlfriend for example. I have observed this with elementary school boys (and in
adult men in sports) who will taunt and humiliate another male who dares to
admit he likes a girl or enjoys "sissy" games or toys.
The response from the humiliated would often be to attempt to shame the
accuser by attacking some vulnerability of his… to get back
This would happen among individuals who were otherwise good friends.
As the dis'n continues, the contestants utilize even more humiliating
attacks, until they came to physical blows, or one loses and drops in status-
the best has been established. Being
“tough” and suffering silently becomes the only option.
Remember in an earlier article, the little boy hit in the face by a
soccer ball who was told by his father that he was ok?
Basic man training.
out is normal in female socialization- intimate mates or partners also qualify.
By offering ones vulnerable feelings, one implicitly honors the other
person as worthy of trust- that is the other person is a good trustworthy
person. "Because you are
worthy of my trust, I can offer you my vulnerability and trust you to honor
it." When someone offers you
his or her vulnerability and you honor it, and you reciprocate by
offering your own vulnerability, then true intimacy and connectiveness is
achieved. Girls and women are
trained to do this to build relationships.
It is also a compensatory method to gain power and influence through the
group in a culturally gender skewed power dynamic.
Which is why girls bond through group inclusion and bully through
exclusion from the group.
"VIKING" THEORY OF GENDER DIFFERENCES
there is significant growth from these stereotypes, there is a ring of lingering
truth to them as well. Left
unexamined, they are strictly stereotypes not about how things have been
but also about how they are
or must be. Boys and
girls, men and women are not doomed to live out these stereotypes, nor are they
less masculine or less feminine if they do not.
The stereotypes have validity because they come from people dealing with
particular historical survival realities. However,
as current and evolving societal realities have created new parameters for
survival, to an ever evolving degree, we are being freed from the stereotypes.
The following theory is derived primarily from Jonathan Kramer, Ph.D. and
Diane Dunaway in "Why Men Don't Get Enough Sex and Women Don't Get Enough
Love," Simon and Schuster, 1990.
is believed that over six thousand years ago, men and women lived fairly
egalitarian lives (Fred & Wilma Flintstone pretty equal?).
The physical difference between men and women necessitated by the woman's
physiology required to bear children results in an approximately 30% lesser
strength in women compared to men of approximately the same size.
This difference in physical strength was not great enough to define- to
skew the power relationship between men and women. While there could be significant role differences because of
the strength differences, survival for the family and the community still
depended primarily on cooperation between mates.
The males greater physical strength (primarily upper body) was an
advantage, but in of itself insufficient to meet the physical demands of
survival of the family and of the community.
Cooperation- a pooling of both male and female strengths was necessary
for survival given the lack of labor saving technology: to farm, hunt, gather,
build, and so forth. Subsequently
for survival, there was a more egalitarian balance of power between men and
woman. Finding a cooperative,
mutually dependent individual to be your mate for both men and women was the key
to survival. Survival was tenuous
and any lack of cooperation between mates further jeopardized the family (and
all changed, however, with the advent of the marauding peoples such as the
Vikings, the Kurgans, Tartars, Mongols, and Zulus.
Instead of based on hunting, fishing, gathering, agriculture, or
commerce, these peoples’ economy was based on attacking and plundering other
communities resources. As a result,
the survival of the family and of the communities became based not on
cooperation between mates, but upon having strong powerful men who could fight
off the raiders. The relationship
between men and women skewed fundamentally at this point.
Women's survival became dependent on being attached to a physically
powerful man. Failure to
attract such men would endanger the women's security.
consequences of this societal change continue to the present.
The multi-billion dollar cosmetics and fashion industry, the beauty
pageants, and so forth are the current manifestations of a continued premium
upon females making themselves attractive to potential mates.
Little girls such as Jon Benet Ramsey are taught from childhood to
accentuate physical beauty. Going to college to major in "finding a
husband" defines a woman's success/survival not on her own intelligence or
skills but upon connecting with a powerful male (doctors and lawyers
addition, male members of the community who fight off the marauders must be
socialized to accentuate the traits of violence and warfare and to minimize or
eliminate contrary traits. Thus
physical prowess and intellectual dexterity are encouraged.
Anger and a disconnection from gentle feelings- nurturing feelings,
sensitivity, and empathy is promoted. “No
pain, no gain,” “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Male
stoicism serves warfare. Unfortunately it also disserves intimacy between male
and female mates- a continued problem in modern America.
As a couples therapist, I see this dynamic harm many relationships.
Love remains a basic emotion, but when combined with anger and the
violence promoted in "manhood" games and the disconnection from
gentle feelings results in a continued modern social phenomenon- domestic
violence. A man beating and even
killing the one he loves is all too common in our society.
are other theories including those biological theories that serve to explain
gender differences. This
provocative theory based primarily on the 30% difference in physical strength
between the average man and woman explains traditional gender differences.
However, changes in technology have virtually eliminated the 30%
difference in strength. Arguably,
there is not a single occupation (aside from those directly related to
physically bearing children) that the physical difference between men and women
still continue to exclude women. Advances
in technology have continually served to remove physical strength as a criteria
for work: power tools replacing hand tools; weapons of destruction (including
mass destruction) replacing physical combat; forklifts, bulldozers, trucks, and
the like replacing back breaking physical labor alone; electronic means of
communication such as mass media and computers replacing the Pony Express!
With these technological advances, the economic dependence of women upon
male partners diminished as women manipulate the tools of work efficiently and
effectively. In addition, legal,
financial, academic, and other advances in societal protections and access
(arguably also consequences of technological progress) further reduce or
eliminate dependence on a “warrior” male partner.
Your girls can do anything! And,
your boys better get used to it!
& UNPRECEDENTED CHALLENGES
remains significant societal and cultural resistance to these changes…
individuals and groups who advocate “traditional” roles for males and
females and find the evolution of gender roles uncomfortable or even immoral.
There has always been evolution of gender and other roles over time as
technological advances affect society and culture.
However, the speed and intensity of technological advances the past fifty
to hundred years is unprecedented in human history.
Simply put, as a society we are not prepared or experienced to adapt so
quickly… literally in the span of years to decades versus in the span of
hundreds or thousands of years! A case can be made that the advances in the past fifty years
have exceeded all advances prior in human history, creating unprecedented
challenges to us all. One example
is the expected lifespan of individuals being in the mid-thirties during
medieval times, to about 47 years at the beginning of the 1900’s, to about
76-77 years at the beginning of the new millennium.
This challenges us to find new ways to deal with gender dynamics, the
elderly who live longer than ever before, and with teenagers who are
teenagers for longer than ever before!
Traditional responses often come up short because these are often new
non-traditional challenges never experienced before. So, you mean we have to make it up as we go!?
Yup! Sometimes traditional
responses work, sometimes they need to be adapted, and sometimes, new approaches
are needed. (Darn, you were hoping
for an easy answer!). Adding to parent’s challenges is the evolution of
adolescence, which now lasts longer than ever before and it often starts
earlier than ever before. Wow, does
that sound like fun for parents!
EXTRA 7-10 YEARS OF ADOLESCENCE… WHAT FUN!
Such a long time… I can remember how proud I was when he was born… such
promise… such potential. Seventeen years ago. (sigh).
High school almost over. About
time for our “Golden Years”… travel, time to play… Money to
travel! Money to play! In a
couple of months, Nate will be off to college.
Yeah, some tuition to pay but he’ll be working too.
All grown up now…
What happened!? You need WHAT?
Ok, ok, we’ll be there in three hours.
Just stay there. Ok, three
What have you been doing for the last six months?
What were you thinking? Ok…
What happens now? On probation for
one semester…? Two semesters
another year) How
much do you need? How much!? How
Whew! Had my doubts.
Made it. He looks good in a
cap and gown. So grown up.
months A.G.- After Graduation)
Uh huh… uh huh. Well, sometimes
it takes time to find the right job. No,
if you take the job at the café, you won’t have time to job hunt.
Uh huh… uh huh… your apartment? Uh…
uh… uh huh… your room? Sure,
until you get on your feet. However
long it takes. Uh huh… sure it’s ok, Nate.
two… three… four years later…oh my!)
Such a long time… I can remember how proud I was when he graduated…
such promise… such potential. Eight
years ago. (sigh). Ever going to be
over? “Golden Years?” (sigh)…
look forward to the day they can “launch” their children into adulthood.
Unfortunately, to their surprise, launching takes more than they
thought… or, many of their “launched” adult children often land right back
home! The time frame of childhood
and of adolescence has changed significantly over the past century.
Did you know that there was not any such thing as adolescence a bit more
than a century ago? Lucky parents, you say?
Major changes in our society have lead to some fundamental changes in the
structure of the family, including changes in the basic mission of the family
and of childhood.
FAMILY- THE SOCIO-ECONOMIC UNIT FOR SURVIVAL
basic socio-economic unit for survival
for Americans (especially middle-class and higher class) is the nuclear
family for modern U.S. history (early or mid-twentieth century on).
Abundant natural resources well exploited by the American economic system
has allowed many American families to survive and even flourish as nuclear
families. In fact, that even
individuals could survive economically without significant family ties.
Thinking of your own welfare or only
of the nuclear family became more possible (and frequent) with this affluence.
Going against the wishes or traditions of the parents of the adults or
the in-laws, or matriarchs or patriarchs became possible and permissible, since
doing so would not place the nuclear family in as much significant jeopardy as
it would have before the last century.
In most other societies (including American history up to the
twentieth century), the basic socio-economic unit for survival has always been
the multi-generational extended family.
Individuals and nuclear families were hard pressed to and usually could
not survive without the physical, economic, financial, and political support of
their multi-generational extended families.
A few years ago, when I was
working with Cambodian parents in San Francisco, I asked them, "Who did you
turn to when you were still in Cambodia, when you needed money? food? job
opportunities? medical help? educational opportunities? help with security
issues? influence with institutions?"
The answer to all these questions was the family- but not the nuclear
family, but the multi-generational extended family.
Rich Uncle Jimmy… Auntie May… Cousin Lee and Kim… Great-uncle
Benny… When I asked them who they turned to in the United States, they
answered, "the bank, the food program, vocational agencies, Medi-cal and
County Hospitals, the public school system, the police, advocacy and community
agencies. They responded more like
Americans. Probably were getting
into credit card debt too!
The availability of
multi-generational extended families has been rendered impractical through
immigration and migration that have often spread families hundreds if not
thousands of miles apart. The
Cambodian parents revealed, that prior to immigration, they and their ancestors
had lived for generations within a twenty-five mile radius.
The extended family had always been available.
However, with immigration they had to turn to new social structures.
Head Start, day treatment programs, community medical clinics, country
clubs, food banks, self-help groups, gangs, the public schools, and other places
of gathering and social service programs can be seen as modern American
society's attempts to replace the functioning of the lost multi-generational
extended families. The loss of the
availability of the extended family is often a new reality for many native-born
Americans as well, as greater social and physical mobility has spread Americans
often hundreds and thousands of miles away from their extended families within
CHILDREN DIDN’T USE TO DO
in earlier societies did not do “chores” (maybe your kids won’t do
chores, but that’s a different issue!). Chores
for modern American kids are often symbolic experiences with minor functional
significance to train them in values and practices that will serve them when
they become independent adults. In
prior times, children did not do “chores”… they did real work!
Work that was critical to the survival and well being of the family.
Mainstream American culture can encourage individuation,
since the individual can survive and even flourish by him/herself in American
society economically (however with potential negative emotional, psychological,
and social consequences). Children
often interpret individuation as independence, which leads to ever earlier
preparations for adulthood. In
other words, starting adolescence earlier than ever.
A restlessness develops towards leaving the family as soon as possible,
and individuation becomes an unfortunate ego-centrism and selfishness.
In most other societies and in other eras, taking care of family or
community first was how one took care of oneself, since only the family or
community could provide security. The
family (usually the extended family) was primarily an economic unit.
Families had family businesses or family work.
In feudal times, class distinctions restricted families even more to
their hereditary work as serfs, merchants, soldiers, etc.
When the family is primarily an economic unit, then each of its members
is a worker in the family economy. As
soon as a child is able to contribute to the family work at 3 or 4 years, he or
she begins to work. As the child
reaches full physical capacity (usually between 12 to 15 years), then he or she
is expected to perform all the work of an adult.
Work was essentially physical work.
Advanced academic or intellectual development, finding and reaching one's
potential are often counter-indicated to taking on ones physical role in the
family work force. Taking care of
oneself first with further intellectual development could result in the
disintegration of the family and self-destruction, since individuals
could not survive alone.
with the richness of American economics and the development of adolescence, it
became possible for individual self-interest not to be automatically
against the best interests of the family. The
American nuclear family in a flourishing economy can obtain enough economic
resources through the work of a single parent (or with the spouse in the two
income family) so that the family is no longer primarily an economic unit, but
rather a child development unit. The
family as a child development unit, does not require its children to participate
in income or subsistence production, but can focus on creating advanced economic
and social opportunities for its children through a nurturing developmental
process involving intellectual, psychological, emotional, and social
stimulation, advanced education, accrued experiences, and gradual increases in
responsibilities. Since the family
is not dependent on every child’s work for the family's survival, it can
promote the individuation of one, some, or all (depending on the overall
resources of the family) of its children- thus promotes the success of the
family not only in the present but also for successive generations. You can see this expressed when a child who hasn’t done his
or her chores for the night, but also has a project due for school is often
allowed to skip doing the chores and do the school work.
Or, when a parent tells a child that his or her “job” is to be a kid,
or to go to school. In other words,
to develop more fully and freely.
communities or in families, where there is significantly inferior resources,
rights, or access for individuals, the family, and the community, then there is
often a group culture to deny the individual to promote the entire group.
Sacrifice of the low-resource group for the individual is frowned up (and
dually deadly). In contrast,
affluent and secure families and communities can promote its individual members
to meet their own needs—to meet their potential. “Find yourself.” “Do your own thing.” However, in
economically and politically disenfranchised communities, each member often is
given the responsibility of the entire community to carry in his or her affairs.
Jackie Robinson, for example, carried the burden of representing all
African-Americans as he became the first African-American to play major league
baseball. He had to subjugate his personal needs and face intense overt
racism in order to promote the needs of his community.
CHILDHOOD- THE EMERGENCE OF ADOLESCENCE
are considered among other animals, the highest and most intelligent form of
life. Brain size and functioning
and adaptability distinguish mammals. Two
differences are very significant: the longer period of gestation, the relative
helplessness of mammal infants, and
a longer period of maturation to reach full adult functioning both
physically and cognitively while under parental care and training.
Many other species in other genus bear young that are functionally
miniature adults who are able to fend for themselves immediately.
Among mammals, humans have the longest period of childhood. From the helpless dependent infant, the human child,
historically up until the last century or so, developed over 12 to 15 years to
full adult capacities.
changes in primarily (or initially) European and European-American society have
redefined childhood's length. In
less technologically advanced times (prior to the late 1800's in Europe and
America) or societies (many Third World countries or specific
communities/regions), adult functioning was largely defined by physical
development- the physical capacity of females to bear children starting at 12 to
15 years of age, and of males to perform the demanding gross motor tasks of
agricultural and low technology life at 13 to 16 years of age.
as technological advances (electricity, guns, gas, coal, and steam powered
machinery for example) began to relieve or lessen the physical demands of work
and survival, then cognitive function has become more and more critical to work
and survival. Cognitive
"strength" replaced physical strength as the key to survival and
success in society. Delayed
adulthood and a longer childhood where intellectual functioning can be developed
more and more fully lead to the here-to-fore unknown developmental period of
adolescence. During adolescence,
while physical development is relatively completed, psychological, social, and
intellectual development enters into advanced, highly challenging, and intense
growth. At 12-14 years of age, most
individuals are relatively physically mature and emotionally, psychologically,
socially, and cognitively able to do basic physical work (fully qualified to be
an hamburger flipper!). However, as
society changed in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, more technologically
challenging work required more sophisticated workers.
most successful individuals and communities in the current technological society
are not those with the greatest physical prowess, but those with the most
advanced and sophisticated psychosocial and intellectual functioning.
European-Americans or middle and upper class Americans with historically
greater access to technological advantages have gained greater access to higher
education as well. Adolescence as a
period for advanced development, first was created for 14-18 year old children
(childhood was extended about 4-5 years) to gain an high school education (now
qualified to be the assistant manager of the hamburger flippers!).
This happened in the late 1800’s and the development era of adolescence
was conceptualized for the first time in history. Graduating from high school
was considered one’s entry into adulthood for first half of the twentieth
century. However as society became
even more complicated, an even higher level of training and sophistication
became required for high adult functioning.
High school was no longer considered enough and now training or education
became extended to ideally include four years of college (now qualified to the
manager of the hamburger flippers!). And
eventually higher training (graduate school… extended internships) into the
mid-twenties. Full adult functioning is currently largely delayed until at
least the mid-twenties. Childhood,
already extended 4-5 years to include adolescence the previous century, has had
to be extended again in the late twentieth century another 7-10 years in
America. Adolescence more than
doubled in length! Or, childhood
doubled in length! No wonder the
kids get antsy!
hardships can preclude a family from allowing children to have an adolescence
(especially an extended adolescence into the mid-twenties).
The sacrifice of giving up education and advanced intellectual training
becomes necessary for the current survival of the family; the children
(adolescent or young adult) must work now.
Present expenditures of time and energy for present needs eliminate
investing in potential future gain. It
often takes great sacrifice and hardship to turn the family into a child
development unit. Education as a
gift of the time to develop to the children is often unarticulated, especially
during adolescence and late adolescence (a.k.a. as young adulthood, from 18 to
25 years old). Are you willing and
able to give this gift to your children? Do
they understand it as a gift? How
can they understand it as a gift unless you can articulate it? Or, do they see
it as a denial of their independence… their adult independence (remember, for
most of history, they were adults at about 13 years old)?
And, what if they are unable to understand or accept the gift of time?
A gift can only be given if it is received.
For some parents, that may mean letting their “independent”
adolescents/young adults stumble into the adult world with limited preparation.
Hopefully, those of you with younger children will prepare them … and
yourselves for their “long” childhood… their extended adolescence.
CARE OF YOURSELF…FIRST!
Watching Joey’s favorite show now (sigh).
Well, at least it’s not too violent… or too little kiddie!
Kaitlin’s show before that was ok.
Sure would have liked to watch that movie on HBO… I missed it at the
theaters. Think Joey had me take him to his movie with his buddy
the first time I tried to see it, and Kaitlin really, really, REALLY had to see
that teen true love/lost soul movie the other time I was going to see it (sigh).
We had rented the video on a Friday night, but I never got to watch it.
Kaitlin watched her movie first, and then Joey put on his movie.
Then the next day, Joey watched his second video first.
Then we had dinner at grandma’s. Then
Kaitlin put on her other video on Sunday. I
was going to watch my video after they went to bed, but then Joey tells me that
he supposed to bring treats for a party at school AND Kaitlin would just DIE if
her top weren’t ironed so she can wear it the next day. So, back to the salt mines (sigh).
By the time I finished baking the cupcakes and ironing her top it was too
late to watch my video… and it was due back the next morning.
Well, at least, these cookies I made (double chocolate w/ double
chocolate chips! SuperYUM!) are
going to taste good. What? There’s only one cookie left? It’s the LAST COOKIE!?
Joey wants it? Kaitlin
wants it? It’s the LAST
COOKIE!! I’m eating it!
I shopped for the ingredients! I
baked the cookies! I baked three dozen cookies! They ate the first
35 cookies! It’s the
LAST COOKIE!! I’M
EATING THE LAST COOKIE!!
might rub you the wrong way as a caring dedicated parent- self-sacrifice is for
martyrs and for insecure people. The
underlying message of self-sacrifice is that everyone else and their needs are
more important than oneself and ones own needs.
You are worse than useless to your child if you do not take care of
yourself first. You become a negative model of placing oneself second to
others. Your child will model you,
and consider him/herself less worthwhile than others as well. I used a similar story to this as a metaphor in a training of
preschool teachers, almost all of them women, saying “sometimes, when
there’s only one cookie left, I eat it!”
Interestingly, during the break, I overheard one of the women in the
hallway saying, “I could never do that to my children!”
I was fascinated by what she meant by “that.”
What was the horrific thing that she would be doing to her children?
I am sure that her children are very well loved, nurtured, and their
needs attended to. I was not
as confident that her needs were similarly attended to. In an earlier article, I expounded at more length on children
whose needs are immediately and constantly raised to the highest priority over
everyone else’s needs. The
consequence of this was the creation of tyrants who demanded to be serviced by
hand and foot; and, who would go into self-righteous outrage when disappointed.
They would experience the disappointment as betrayal and feel absolutely
entitled to severely punish the “perpetrator,” i.e., his/her parent.
That is a real danger to “never” doing “that” to your child.
Unfortunately, in our society, the requirement for parents (most
especially, mothers) to care for children has been distorted to mean that
parents (especially, mothers) must sacrifice their own needs… sometimes, in
total. It is important to remember
that the parenting role includes not only loving, nurturing, and providing for
needs, but also presenting models of how to function as healthy individuals, and
in healthy relationships.
YOUR OWN MASK FIRST
happens when you don’t take care of yourself first?
A mother to a developmentally delayed teenage boy told me how this became
very clear to her on an airplane trip. As
she and her son settled into their seats, the stewardess began the usual safety
instructions: seat belts, emergency exits, and so forth.
The mother had heard these instructions dozens of times. However, this time as the stewardess began explaining the
oxygen masks, she heard for the first time, its deeper meaning. “If you are
sitting next to a young child or someone who needs help, place and secure your
own mask first; and then help the other person with his or her mask.”
She repeated to herself, “secure your own mask first…”
Of course, her instinct was to
take care of her son first. But
what if her son got scared and struggled with her… if the oxygen mask didn’t
go on right away? Then the mother
would have been without oxygen and liable to be unable to function.
It became obvious to her, that if you don’t take care of your own
oxygen mask and can’t breathe, you couldn’t help your child?
“Yourself… first.” She
said it was so clear, how can you help someone else if you aren’t ok yourself.
Years of struggle to support her son and advocate for him had given her
experience being worn out and depleted. When
at times over the years, she had been too tired or too stressed, she had been
less able to care for her son. “Yourself…
first.” If she didn’t take care
of her own needs, how could she have the ability and wherewithal to come to her
my life, both personally and professionally, I try to take care of myself first.
Once as I was speaking on this, a woman interjected, “Oh, you can do
that because you’re a man!” She had an excellent point.
In our society, men are more acculturated to being independent and taking
care of their own needs. In the
extreme stereotype, some men take care of their own needs so selfishly
(“taking care of #1”), that other people’s, including their families’
needs fall by the wayside. On the
other hand, women are more acculturated to place their needs secondary to the
needs of the family—specifically, the children’s needs and often the
husband’s needs. Unfortunately,
sometimes this means that the wife/mother has placed her children and her
husband at the top of the list (along with relatives, friends, work), and with
herself falling to the bottom of the list. Sometimes, functionally, she is not
on the list at all! She may even
suffer great emotional, spiritual, and physical harm as a result.
It is important for all parents to balance their own needs with that of
the others in the family. Do you
want your children to grow up to be either of the following examples?
& PRINCESSES & PREY
parents take care of their children first without regard to their own needs. The
unfortunate model or message children can get is that they are supposed to be
treated like princes or princesses. Not
only will such children act like tyrants within their homes, but also outside of
the homes, they will demand and expect similar treatment. They will expect
others to defer to them, to deny personal needs in other to serve them. And,
will be either devastated that others won’t automatically kowtow to them, or
will be outraged and feel completely self-righteous and entitled to punish the
punishing them, will then be surprised that they won’t be forgiving and still
open to further relationships. As
much as you may love your children, in the real world people won’t love
them the same way. They won’t be
so caring, so forgiving or accepting. They
will often be judgmental, and even vengeful.
Is it any wonder that being accused of being “stuck up” or a “prima
donna” remains a major indicator of social success or failure?
the other hand, children may assume the model of deference and second class
citizenship that you have modeled. They
may also believe and behave as if they don’t matter… that their needs are
not important… that they exist only to serve someone else.
They become easy prey for the predators in the world.
In asserting my worth to my own children (eating the last cookie!), I am
modeling to them that there is a balance between caring for others and caring
for oneself. If I am truly and
totally self-sacrificing, I am not important enough to have needs, to feel good,
to have joy. I do not want to teach
my children to be egocentrically selfish, but at the same time, I do not want to
teach them to be martyrs. You know
what happens to martyrs? They DIE!!
But on the other hand, they get to suffer a lot first!
There are many people (including those who grew up to become parents!)
that live as martyrs, especially to their children.
Historical figures that suffered and died as martyrs did so to serve
great causes- causes that often could not otherwise be served except in that
fashion. The “great cause” of
raising a child is NOT well served through the martyrdom of parents.
Your behavior teaches. What
does your child learn? Your child
learns that everyone else (or someone else) is so much more important than
him/her… that everyone else’s (or someone else’s) minor desire or whim is
always more important than your child’s fundamental needs.
Then he/she becomes highly vulnerable to innumerable predators that will
be glad to exploit him/her. Your
desire to watch something more intellectually stimulating on television after
spending hours working and then doing household chores is more
important than your child’s desire to watch a third (or is it a fourth?)
Pokeman videotape! Eat the last
cookie! Buy the kind YOU like!
Watch the movie YOU want! Shop
the store YOU like! Eat at the
restaurant YOU like… with CLOTH tablecloths and napkins… and no clowns!!
THE PARENT YOU WANT TO BE
is a method to this madness, however. It
is not just about the balance between taking care of children and taking care of
yourself. If you are at your best because you take care of yourself,
then you are much more likely to be your best at being who you want to be- your
Ideal Self. And, for a normal
conscientious adult with children, his/her Ideal Self includes being the best
father or mother, he/she can be. Invariably,
when are you at your worse with your children?
When you are depleted emotionally, physically, intellectually, and
spiritually. When you have
not taken care of yourself!
Immersed in the family stress of an aging grandma in a convalescent
home… distracted by pressures from work… deadbeat tired from long days and
evenings and short sleep… discouraged doing meaningless unfulfilling work, you
become less tolerant, less understanding, more touchy.
And, much more likely to be the ogre of a parent you hate to be to your
child. And, the more you are emotionally, physically,
intellectually, and spiritually healthy, the more likely you will be the kind of
parent wish to be.
FROM THE PERSONAL TWILIGHT ZONE
first three blocks or parts to the foundation: knowing yourself, being a model
of self-love, and taking care of yourself first, really have to do with you and
you getting YOURSELF AND YOUR SELF-ESTEEM TOGETHER FIRST.
In any system (a family), the most powerful members of the system (in a
family, the parents) have the greatest influence on the well being of the
system/family as a whole and of each individual member.
An effective parent is similar to the child standing in the middle of the
seesaw at the pivot point. He/she
can adjust his/her weight one direction or the other to compensate for any
imbalances on the ends. He/she can
significantly neutralize or augment any instability or energy in the seesaw
dynamics (bouncing wild kids!). His/her
ability to be “centered”- that is, emotionally, physically, intellectually,
and spiritually healthy defines his/her availability to meet the needs of the
children and the family as the dynamics of the family fluctuate (from stress,
economic demands, changes…). On
the other hand, a parent may become quite unavailable and unable to meet these
needs due to personal challenges and disruptions (including alcoholism, drugs,
stress, physical disabilities, and so forth).
Instead of counter-balancing the destabilizing effects on individuals and
the family from outside and also, developmental challenges, the ineffective
and/or unavailable parent further destabilizes the individuals and the family
with his/her own behavior. Similar
to a kid jumping around on top of the seesaw (jumping on and off, as well), such
a parent destabilizes the child’s foundation of self-esteem.
Such a parent is fundamentally disabled and/or distorted in building
his/her child’s self-esteem because he/she HAS NOT TAKEN CARE OF HIM/HERSELF.
Many people, who have had difficult lives and feel low self-esteem, seek
to take care of that by not taking care of themselves, but by taking care of
others. Many human services
professionals do this. Many parents
do this. Neither group can truly
take care of others or their children to the degree and effectiveness they
desire because of their own unresolved personal issues.
What’s the best thing you can do for your child?
Take care of yourself, first!!
do you do this? What do you need to
do? Get out of your PERSONAL TWILIGHT ZONE where your buttons are getting
pushed. The Twilight Zone was
always a place where things were never what they appeared to be; where what was
supposed to happen never did, or did in some distorted manner. Each person has a personal Twilight Zone born and nurtured
during his/her childhood vulnerability. Protecting
your child from YOUR anxious experiences, giving them what YOU didn’t get,
nurturing in your child the pain YOU felt… whether or not your child is
actually anxious, even wants or lacks what you want to give, or feel any pain,
especially your pain. I have worked
with many loving parents who projected their anxieties, losses, traumas,
stresses, and pains onto their children, and then inflicted “loving”
smothering pressure onto them. Is
your child that fragile that he/she cannot tolerate a minor disappointment?
Often times, a parent projects into his/her child his/her own unresolved
issues of vulnerability from his/her childhood.
Unconsciously, he/she may be feeling/thinking “Mom didn’t show me
that she cared about me. She
didn’t let me do anything… that hurt a lot.
I’m still hurt and angry at her for this. I have to let my child do
these things, because I don’t want her/him to suffer as I did… I don’t
want her/him to be angry at me like I was at my mother.
I could never do that to my children!”
Yet, upon examination by any set of criteria, by any halfway objective
person, this usually is anything but a fragile child.
Sometimes the frailty is an internalized pain from old issues. A mother, who as a young woman became permanently estranged
from her own mother, had lived twenty years with a deep painful loss.
Currently, she lived in terror and anxiety that the parent/teen conflicts
she had with her daughter had would result in them becoming estranged as well.
When I helped her examine her Twilight Zone, she was able to articulate
this fear and how it increased the tension of interacting with her daughter.
When I asked her daughter, “When you argue with your mother, do you
worry that your relationship as a daughter and mother will be destroyed?” With
a look of absolute surprise, she replied, “Of course not.
It’s just about the stuff… ya know, chores and curfews and grades and
stuff.” Her mother also had a look of surprise… and immense relief!
It was just about “stuff”- not about losing her!
With that, she was able to relax and go ahead and do her mother thing
(including taking care of herself) without fearing losing her daughter. They had
been both freed from the mother’s personal Twilight Zone.
Often, your personal Twilight Zone will prevent you from taking care of
yourself. Taking care of your
personal Twilight Zone is taking care of yourself.
And you will be then the most able to take care of your child.
& THEN SEPARATE
Wow! What a busy week! So much going on at work.
I think I got home late almost every night. Missed a lot of practices and lessons… and Julie’s play
too. She was really disappointed.
I was really disappointed. I’ve been pretty good about being there for them.
Not that it’s hard… hanging with the kids is so great.
And, that overnight trip on Thursday.
Missed a couple of bedtime stories too… and a goodnight kiss or two.
I sure missed the kids. But I gotta do what I gotta do. And, yep…there’s the yard, and the door that needs
fixing… and the regular housecleaning. But
I stayed up late and got up early and got that under control. Whew! It’s
Saturday morning and I’m here and I’m
playtime! Tickle them rascals awake… sleepy, then giggly hugs.
This is the best. Kids are the best. Whatcha
wanna do? Play tag? Go to the park?
Play a game? Draw together?
Can’t catch me! Oh yeah?
Watch this! Wow… here we
go! Huh? What? Where you going?
Whatcha doing? Going with
who? Allison next door? When?
Now? But... but… You’re
going? But… but, I… but,
KNOWING & LOVING & TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF
you are able to truly know yourself (including your hang-ups, temperament, and
ghosts) and can love and take care of yourself then you can follow through on
the fourth part of the foundation of building Self-Esteem in your child.
You can be EMOTIONALLY AND PHYSICALLY AVAILABLE.
You cannot be available
if you are still overwhelmed in your confusion about who and what you are, your
self-hatred, and your sense of being not taken care of.
Your energies are depleted in dealing with this in your emotional and
psychological Twilight Zone. A very
loving dad was trying so hard to do what was right for his young son.
However, with the divorce from his wife (his son’s mom) still fresh in
his mind, he had the hardest time being available for his son.
His pain from the divorce was intense, and as much as he knew that his
son was suffering too, his own pain made it difficult for him to focus on his
son’s needs. And, because of the
deep loss that he suffered from his own parents divorce (and his father
subsequent abandonment of him and the family), whenever he experienced his
son’s distress, he would project onto him the unresolved rejection and loss
issues that he still had not fully resolved.
He was consumed with debilitating guilt whenever his son expressed
missing his mother (or missing him when staying with her).
He would then try so hard to distract him from the hurt (in reality,
distract himself from his own loss and guilt).
His son who was very in tune to his dad’s pain would sometimes suppress
his own distress, and try to be “good” for dad by comforting him.
Only when the dad was able to understand his own deep loss, resolve his
guilt for the divorce (he had tried for years to make the marriage work), and
then take care of himself, was he able to be the foundation of stability and
security for his son. He was then
able to emotionally and physically available to him.
count, you matter. You found out (or didn’t find out) that you really mattered
with the quality of attention, care, and availability from your adult
caregivers. Your child needs
to know that for you, he/she really counts and matters too. He/she gets that basic psychological and emotional security
from your being emotionally and physically available to him/her.
If you are available, then he/she knows he/she counts.
If you are not available for whatever reason, then he/she thinks he/she
doesn't count. Numerous
studies have found that the most important variable for whether or not a boy or
a girl has positive or negative outcomes in adult life, including alcohol and
drug use, early sexual experiences, academic accomplishments, criminal behavior,
and financial success is the presence of an emotionally available father
figure or not. This is not to
deny the importance of mother figures, but that mother figures are more commonly
present given the cultural traditions of parenting.
Mothers being emotionally available and present are more of a given in
most societies, while fathers are much less a given.
In many societies, if the father is economically present (that is, a good
provider), that is considered adequate. Emotional
availability is not required culturally. In
some cases, emotional connectiveness to the children by the father may even be
discouraged. In the history of
human society and the evolution of gender roles (discussed in an earlier
article, V.3.7, From 30%- Origins of Male Female Differences), boys and
men were training to be emotionally detached in order to be the warriors and
hunters of the community. However,
society especially in the United States has evolved significantly, that this
emotional detachment has had major negative consequences to the Self-Esteem of
children (and of men!).
CHILDREN WAIT UNTIL YOU’RE ON THE PHONE TO NEED YOU
all parents have had this same experience.
You spend hours in the same room or the next room with your children.
For hours they play happily with little or no need for your attention or
help. Then the telephone rings.
“Hi… Oh hi Lisa! How are you?” As
you start to settle into your chair for a nice conversation with a dear friend,
within seconds comes the cry, “Mommy! (or Daddy!) I can’t find my toy!” or
“I’m hungry!” or “I need
help!” Aaargh! Why now?
How come when I can give them all the attention they need, they DON’T
want it? And, the second I’m on
the phone and can’t give them the attention, they suddenly want it…
desperately?! The answer is in the
difference between attention and availability.
They don’t necessarily want or need your attention.
For the most part, they’re fine on their own.
That’s why they virtually ignore you up until the phone rings. What
they want is your availability! Up
until the phone rang, you were available. With
the security that you were available to them if they had any needs, they were
able to continue to play and explore with a sense of safety and comfort-
“Mommy or Daddy is here for me if I need them.”
Therefore there was no need to grab your attention to confirm your
availability. Once you were
pulled away… once your availability was drawn away by the telephone, then the
security they had was endangered. And, then they felt compelled to re-check your availability
to them… not compelled to get your attention per se. Of course, as you try to continue your conversation with Lisa
and try to quickly put off their demands, they feel even more anxious because
YOU AREN’T AVAILABLE! They will
become more aggressive and demanding of you until you either lose your temper or
give up your adult moment.
can you do? Remember when your
baby-toddler was just beginning to crawl or walk away from you in social
situations? First, he/she would
cling to you until finally the sense of security and his/her curiosity grew.
Then, he/she would wander off a few feet, only to return back to you…
“Are you still here for me? Is it
ok? Am I ok?” would be the
message of his/her look into your eyes. You’d
smile and say, “It’s ok. I’m
still here. I’m watching.” And,
he/she would go off again- perhaps a bit farther this time.
And, return again to check in again, “Still here?
Still watching?” Your smile and caress would confirm your continued
availability. “Go ahead, I’m watching. I won’t go away.”
Encouraged, he/she would wander off again.
Over and over, this dynamic would repeat itself until secure in your
availability, he/she would go off and not need or even think of you unless there
was a crisis of some sort. And, if
there was a crisis… a boo-boo, a loud noise, you’d fly across the room to
comfort and reassure him/her, “Mommy (or Daddy) is still available for
baby!!” Eventually, with the
experiences of availability confirmed, the confidence of your child grows for
him/her to become ever more securely independent.
but what about the phone call? Since
you know that they don’t necessarily want your attention, but instead are
checking on your availability, you can do one of two things: one, you give them
your availability non-verbally, or two you can offer and assert a contract
of availability. Especially
with younger children, all you may need to do, as you continue your
conversation, is to look them in the eyes, give them a smile, make the quiet
gesture with your finger to your mouth, and pull them to your lap or side in
a hug. In doing so, you have
given them your availability through affectionate touch.
Many children will rest comfortably and contentedly on your lap or
leaning against your hip for a ten to twenty minute conversation.
On the other hand, if this is not practical or does not satisfy your
children, then you can offer them the contract of availability… to be
exercised shortly. Excusing
yourself for a moment from the caller (you can do this, you know!) and
covering the mouthpiece with your hand, you can say, “I need to talk on the
phone for a bit. When I’m done, I
can do that for you (or answer your questions).”
The contract of availability puts a boundary or a time frame in the near
future. There is often no
compelling reason for the children’s needs or demands to be met immediately. Waiting won’t kill them!
This honors their needs, but also asserts the adult’s need to have
adult moments (i.e. an adult conversation with another adult!).
This also reconfirms the adult’s availability without making the adult
have to jump when the children asks him/her to jump.
Following through after the phone call is essential of course.
In addition, you should add, “And, if I forget after I finish the phone
call, be sure to remind me to do that…. OK?”
By saying this, the adult empowers the children to enforce the
contract of availability (because many times, we do forget!).
The “OK?” at the end of the statement, seeks the affirmation that the
contract has been understood and accepted.
Many children will accept this without difficulty; they have been heard,
the availability has been confirmed, and they have been empowered.
If on the other hand, children still insist on their demands be met
immediately, then the adult can be clear and confident that they have been
appropriate and reasonable about boundaries and respect, and feel perfectly OK
about kicking the children out of the room!
Or, punishing them for refusing to be reasonable and acting like entitled
little tyrants! “Yes, I’m
available. No, I’m NOT at your
beck and call. Yes, I’m your
parent. No, I’m not your servant!
Yes, you count. No, you don’t matter so much that I don’t count!”
A ME AND THERE’S A YOU!
there is a “me” as well as a “you”, then you, as a parent can be
emotionally available and still be able to define and keep your and your child's
boundaries distinct. This is
part of how you give him/her his/her chance to have power and control in their
young lives. When your children are
able to run off and play with their neighborhood buddies (that is, separate), it
meant that they are secure enough in their own resiliency and secure that
you can be… that you still are available if truly needed.
They are confident enough that they can handle most issues on their own,
and that you are available to aid in those that they cannot handle.
Of course, it can be lonely when they separate, but it is a healthy
loneliness! By separating, you
allow your child to feel stress and to deal with it (successfully).
This is empowerment rather than rescuing. It is through experience with anxiety (anticipatory anxiety)
that the child learns how to cope with it in a healthy manner.
On the other side, while remaining available, you must also separate from
your children. Are you proud of your children’s accomplishments?
Of course! But is your
Self-Esteem primarily or completely dependent on their accomplishments?
That is dangerous. Your
Self-Esteem needs to be from your own ability to have the power & control,
the ideal & real self, the respect & love, and sense of competence you
desire as expressed in your accomplishments and who you are in your family and
community. If your Self-Esteem
rises and falls with your child’s Little League batting average or his/her
grade point average, then you have not successfully separated from them.
Of course, a major part of your Self-Esteem will normally be based on
being the kind of parent you seek to be, which will be expressed in the kind of
person your child has become. However,
the quality of your child is not the same as the quantity of awards and
performance your child accrues.
Do not get enmeshed with each other.
Respect and teach respect of each other boundaries.
When you invade your child's boundaries by being overly invested in
him/her emotionally, by being demanding, and by judging, you are being
abusive. When you allow your
child to invade your boundaries, you are teaching him/her it is OK to abuse
essence of abuse is the invasion of boundaries (sexual
abuse is the crossing of the line that asserts the right to not have one’s
sexuality accessed without permission… which a child developmentally cannot
give; physical abuse is the crossing of the line that asserts a persons right
not to hurt; emotional abuse is the crossing of the line that asserts the right
to love oneself). Children
desperately need boundaries. It is terrifying to exist without clear ones; thus
the need to continually test for them when they are not consistent.
The first and most influential
boundaries that children experience are the boundaries between themselves and
their parents. A clear boundary between
parents and children IS nurturing! To
be available yet separate is healthy.
you are able to know, love, and take care of yourself, and be emotionally and
physically available, then you can get further out of your Twilight Zone and
learn how to the last two keys to building the foundation of Self-Esteem, and
are just about ready to foster your children’s Self-Esteem.