Is facing them refreshing? Healthy? One of those Hey, look at that elephant in the room! sort of things?
That’s what I’m going for here.
And let’s see if you agree with me, and whether you’ve got some you’d like to add.
I’m home from the beach but continuing my internal voyage back to my own formative years, which were the 1970’s.
I was a natural-born feminist, and Gloria Steinem’s words resonated.
A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.
Or my favorite:
Some of us are becoming the men we wanted to marry.
My son Matt periodically “nukes” the hard drive on his computer; he backs up the files he wants to keep and then wipes out all the garbage.
Jill Bolte Taylor, the brain scientist who suffered a stroke at age 37, felt enormous relief upon having her left brain hemisphere obliterated:
37 years of baggage wiped out!
(She explains this and more in her amazing TED talk)
I’ve been here at the beach for the past several days now, and on Day One I was fixated by the sight of the ocean wiping the sand clean, smoothing it, erasing all the bumps and flaws. I thought about the parts of Me I don’t like, the character traits I’m not happy with, all the negative and ungenerous and callous habits and attitudes I’ve developed.
It seems that their 14-year-old son is mostly uncommunicative, mumbling, avoids them, sits in silence at the dinner table, stays in his room…except for the moments when he explodes in rage. He yells and curses at them, and then stomps off to his room and slams the door.
I told them what I knew about rage: that it “kindles,” it feeds on itself and becomes an ingrained reflex that becomes harder and harder to unlearn. I advised them to talk with a counselor.
Since then I’ve been imagining: What might this young man be so enraged about?
So here I am at LisSurMer, the most idyllic place in the world…and I’m thinking about anger.
Parents (and I!) are shocked by their teens’ explosions. And it feels specific, directed precisely toward the parent.
I sat with a 9th-grade girl, drilling her for an algebra test; the mom walked through the room and said something benign, along the lines of Please remember to fold your laundry….and the girl rose out of her chair as if possessed, eyes blazing, snarled F**K YOU at her mom while very energetically and expressively giving her mother the finger.
The mom shrank back and silently retreated up the stairs.
And the girl sat down and smiled apologetically, a look on her face like Hey, these things happen, as if I had witnessed a sneezing fit. She shrugged and returned to her algebra.
“Packing” in this case means “throw a sweater and some books in the trunk,” because LisSurMer is a place to be casual, comfortable and private.
Every walk I took this week, I had to keep reminding myself to ENJOY THE SPRINGTIME. I live in a beautiful New England town of antique houses, rolling hills, white churches and nature preserves. Through my window as I write this, I see a blaze of yellow forsythia rising behind the red barn.
I already live in a beautiful, serene place…and yet I am struggling right now to appreciate it!
So what does this have to do with parenting?
Men often give the appearance of not-hearing. They seem to ignore or tune out unpleasant messages.
But I suspect they hear every word…and take it very much to heart.
John Gottman calls the tuning-out “stone-walling.” Apparently men’s physiological reactions to criticism are much more extreme than are women’s. When a man is berated, his blood pressure soars and his adrenaline pumps. His ability to reason and respond shut down.
I did a talk last month on parent-child dynamics, and of course we talked a great deal about Amy Chua’s view that “Chinese mothers are superior” because they set high standards, don’t coddle, and don’t allow their kids to waste time on valueless pursuits such as school plays and sleep-over parties.
So I guess I was a Teddy Bear Mother, but I did all of the above and still produced two extremely successful, multi-talented, now-grown kids. And here are my favorite parenting books: