Friday, July 26, 2013

A Reminder About Trust

Recently my middle daughter was in a 6 woman production of Steel Magnolias. She played Annelle, and she was decidedly not type-cast in the role. On opening night she was feeling a bit anxious and she texted her sister asking that we sit where she wouldn't be able to see us. We asked another parent who had seen the dress rehearsal how far back we should sit to be safely lost in the darkness beyond the spotlights, as it was a small theater. The stage was floor level and the seats started on level with the stage. Fortunately our seats were in the 4th row, far enough up and back from the stage.

The second performance I went along to the theater, as I was helping with concession sales before the show and during intermission. However, my daughter had asked that I not watch the show. She wanted one performance where there weren't any family members in the audience. That request may seem a bit odd, but she wanted the freedom to play her character without us watching. Since her acting career is about her, and not about me, I was fine with that request. I brought along a sewing project and planned to sit out in the lobby area during the performance.

Several of the other mothers found out I wasn't going to watch the show because of my daughter's request. Each of them encouraged me to go sit up in the small balcony, assuring me that my daughter would never know. Having just met most of them, I simply smiled and said I was fine not watching the show. But I was thinking, "My daughter trusts me, I'm not going to betray that trust."

As I sat sewing during the show I considered my interactions with the other mothers; I thought about the behavior they were suggesting I model for my daughter. And I thought about the relationships most parents have with their teenagers. It's stereotypical teenage behavior for teens to do things and figure that their parents will never find out. It's a stereotypical teen peer pressure tactic to say, "Oh, come on, do it!  Your parents will never know."  And it's a stereotype for a reason, it happens. And some times it happens with disastrous, life altering, results. Other times it happens and the parents don't ever find out. When that's the case, and when that happens often enough, a chasm starts to build between the parent and the teen. Walls go up so parents won't have the opportunity to find out.

It goes both ways. When parents do things figuring their child will never find out: read a diary, view private on-line accounts, read private texts on a cellphone, and the child does find out, the damage to the parent/child relationship can be extreme.

If I don't want my child doing things that I've asked her not to do then why on earth would I do something she has specifically asked me not to do?

I want my daughter to know that if she asks me to do something, or not do something, because it is important to her, then I will honor that request if at all possible. And if I cannot honor her request for any reason then I will try to be honest with her about why that is, so that we can figure out a compromise or come to an understanding. In doing this I strengthen our relationship. And on those occasions when when I ask her to do or not do something because it is important to me, I hope our relationship is strong enough that she will consider my request and honor it, or be honest with me about why she isn't comfortable honoring it. Mutual trust means that we can communicate honestly, respectfully and without fear of damaging our relationship.

I wish I had had the courage to speak up while interacting with those moms. I wish I had said, "I can't do that. I won't betray my daughter's trust." But at least I know that I didn't give in to the parental peer pressure and I acted with integrity and my daughter's trust was not misplaced.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

What Is Me?

Lately, I have been struggling with "what is me."  Am I who I am in any given moment: cranky, groggy, brain foggy, tired, irritable and forgetful? Or, am I that person I think I am on a good day: thoughtful, considerate, smart, and sometimes even funny? If me on a bad day is still me, how do I learn to accept that? If every day is what I would consider "a bad day," how do I learn to accept that?

Right now I'm on 3 different medications - and I consider myself a person who doesn't go to the doctor or take medications! At the age of 45, with 2 different (possibly related, but maybe not) medical conditions, and the 3 medications, I never know what's the disease, what's the med's and what's my hormones - oh and what's just life with 3 kids, a chronically ill unemployed husband, and no money in the bank.

When I look in the mirror I don't see the body I am living in as me. The illness and med's have caused weight gain, particularly in areas where I don't usually gain it, but part of that also has to do with my age. I'm getting older, I've given birth three times, some things are just going to sag.

It's odd to feel so awkward in my own body, as if I need to explain to people who haven't known me for the past 25 years, which is everyone in my life except for the family members I grew up with, that I don't usually weigh this much, that this isn't really me, that the real me is somewhere, lost inside, but I'm not really sure how to connect with her.

But then I realized, this is how life is. From conception to decomposition, our bodies are ever changing. We are not static beings. We recognize this, commenting on how quickly a newborn becomes a walking toddler, how fast the years go as our small child blossoms into a teenager. But we also deny it, particularly from the time we turn 21 until some time in our 30's. For a decade and a half, we cling to the delusion that we are immortal, that we will always be young, strong and healthy. Unless some unfortunate event or illness wipes away those lies, and then we say, "But they are/were so isn't right." Psychology texts may tell you that teens deny their mortality, and that causes them to take risks and push boundaries. This may be true, but the desire for immortality doesn't end there.

Living with three girls, presently ages 12, 13, and 16, I have been reminded of how awkward growing up can be. Not that my girls are awkward, but that they have each had to adjust to their every evolving body. At times they have chosen to wear more clothes, to stay a bit more covered up, until they were more comfortable in their own skin, ready to move about in the world freely and with confidence once again. I have seen how societal norms and pressures have affected them. As smart, strong, aware young women, they know that pictures in magazines lie, that the narrow definition of beauty in movies, on TV, and along red carpets is as fictitious as the plot-lines. And yet they can't help but to compare themselves to that standard, to want to be "pretty," to wish that they were taller, smaller, or different in some way.

As I try to have compassion for this amazing person that I think I could be, trapped in body that doesn't quite feel like home, I am reminded of how much compassion we should have for our fellow human beings. The babies growing in teeth when they aren't capable of expression how much it hurts, the toddler who wants to run and play with the big kids but is thwarted by unsteady legs, the tween who isn't quite ready to grow up but whose body is on a path of rapid growth and development, the teen who is not at all sure they are ready to take their place in the adult world, but feels the pressures and expectations as they head toward their 18th birthday, as well as the teen who wants greater responsibility and freedom but is denied that because of  parents, laws, and their date of birth. On and on, until we reach what are called our "golden years."  Wow, who came up with that? Perhaps, more accurately, they could be called our rusting years. The stage in our journey to the grave where we once again have greater adjustments to who we are, as our bodies deteriorate, our memories fade, and we face just how mortal we have been all along.

So, what is me? This, this is me. Whomever I am in this moment, at this stage, in this place. I am only the sum of the best and the worst, my reactions, my desires, my disappointments, and how they come together and are manifested in my behavior, in the present moment.
And who is my child? They are the same as I am. And as I strive to love myself, just the way I am, I remember the importance of loving my children unconditionally, as they are right now, in whatever moment we find ourselves, with whatever behavior the sum of who they are is manifesting in that moment.

Some parenting experts will tell you that you should never tell a child that they are bad, but make it clear that their behavior is bad. I disagree. Our behaviors are the essence of who we are in any moment. That can be painful, as our behaviors may not live up to our ideal of who we are. But by tuning in to our own behaviors, reactions, and expressions of emotion, we can learn more about who we are in that moment, and what we need to do to take care of ourselves so that we can, perhaps, move closer to the ideal vision we hold of our-self. And in the same way, by tuning into the behaviors, reactions and expressions of emotion expressed by our children, we can learn more about what their needs are, how they are feeling, what it is that we can do to support them as they learn about themselves, who they are, and how to survive living in a body that is never going to stop changing, at least not in their lifetime.  

(My Halloween costume last fall: 
a celebrity trying to avoid the paparazzi.
And yes, there is all kinds of unintentional symbolism 
in my choice of costume.)