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If children are really to be treated as equals at their core we have to re-think many of our parenting practices. In order to explore this possibility I have introduced the model of See-Saw Parenting as explained in my book Family Entanglement. It is a model in which both parties must participate to balance the seesaw and enjoy the back-and-forth motion that it provides. It is based on the idea all people—parents and children alike–come to this earth with a unique presence, a special essence, and that, at that basic core, all people are equal. As such they are, from their birth onward, equally deserving of mutual respect and dignity.
What would this sort of parenting look like? It would certainly raise some difficult questions. How can we treat children as equals when they are small and undeveloped and lacking in knowledge and experience? “Parents have to be in charge,” we say or children will run amok. But if we remember our history those same arguments have been used again and again to justify the lower status of slaves, women, racial and ethnic out groups, or differing sexual orientations. Those individuals were seen as lacking the capability or wisdom to take care of themselves, much less rule or make decisions for society at large. In the case of children those considerations are largely accurate: they can’t vote; they can’t drive or support themselves; as babies they can’t even talk or feed themselves. So how can we treat them as equals?
Can it be done? What do you think? How would you do it? Can parents really treat a three-year-old as an equal when he bops his little brother on the head just to get a toy? What about a teenager who spends far more time researching her nail polish than she does her term paper? What about a baby who presents you with a dirty diaper on a daily basis?
I believe it is a question worth answering and next week I will give the answer that I have formulated.
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My mother was a difficult lady—an engine running without oil. Her pain was constant and obvious to all who knew her well and tried to love her. But she was tenacious in her attempts to love and in her dedication to her family. She fought hard for her life. She didn’t want to leave us, and even at the last she feared for our well-being. If it was within her power, she would come to say good-by before she left. She would reassure us, as all devoted mothers would, that she might be far away, but that she would never really leave us.
In truth we never quite leave one another. Like the neutrons, protons, and electrons that make up our universe, we remain entangled, bound by mysterious forces that extend eternally across time and space. Parents grow old, and children become parents, trying to understand and forgive the mistakes their parents have made. Our commonalities are our imperfections and our imperfect love.
And sometimes when circumstances are aligned, we are privileged to see into another dimension. In those moments, we are witness to the pure essence of our loved ones. We comprehend their glory—what might have been possible for them in a better world. We join hands with those who have gone before, accepting their weaknesses along with our own, and try to forge a lighted path for those who walk behind us. We take delight in the promise of that greater dimension—a realm where hope is bright, love is strong, and time goes on forever.
I have come to the end of my book: Family Entanglement: Unraveling the Knots and Finding Joy in the Parent/Child Journey. I am going to continue with a once weekly post from other writing on the topics of women, mothers, parenting and non-verbal communication. I will be referring to passages from the book and also to professional writing that I have done on similar topics. All will have to do with building strong and loving relationships with children, parents, spouses and others. I hope the readers of this blog will continue the journey. I want to dialogue about these issues and look forward to hearing from all.
I was privileged to hold my mother in my arms when she died. Knowing how ill she was, Aaron had come from college to visit her and spend the weekend. He had always had a special bond with her, born in part by the uncommon physical energy and stamina that each of them possessed. On that last day of her life, they communicated, grandmother and grandson. Aaron talked, and she seemed to be listening, or, at least aware of him. He told her of college and the plans he was making. He spoke of playing basketball and studying Spanish. He would spend time in her room, then go out into the living room to read or watch television. Between Aaron, my sister, the caregivers, and me, there had been someone with her continuously throughout the day.
Late in the evening, she seemed to be sleeping, so we all went out and started watching the Miss America Pageant on TV. After about twenty minutes, the caregiver went in to check on her. She came out and started looking rather frantically for my mother’s pain medication. I raced into the bedroom and saw Mom apparently in pain and gasping for air. She had already instructed us not to call an ambulance, so I asked the caregiver to call hospice and my sister, who lived nearby.
I was surprised when Aaron hurried into the room because I had not asked him to do so. I grabbed my mother around the shoulders to try to help her and asked Aaron to say a prayer that she might be able to stay until my sister could get there. He did so, placing his hands on her head. But then, on his own, he asked that she would not be scared and that someone would be there to meet her so that she wouldn’t have to be alone. She died during that prayer.
Both he and I were holding her when her spirit passed. We talked later and found that we had simultaneously felt the searing heat that left her body at that moment. It was about 11:00 at night. We called my sister, who had returned home after sitting all day with my mother. It was 2:00 a.m. by the time the funeral director had removed the body and everyone had left. Aaron and I sat down to have a glass of milk, and I suggested that we have a prayer before we went to bed. We did so and said no more about it.
The next day Aaron inquired if I remembered the prayer we had said before going to bed. I realized that I had not given it a moment’s thought since then, but when he asked me, the experience came back with incredible clarity. As I had recited it, it seemed as though Aaron and I were transported to another place. We sat in a circle of faces, unknown except for that of my mother, and were immersed in a love that was as palpable as being submerged in a tub of warm water. We had remained there an infinite time, and then the experience was gone—totally forgotten until Aaron asked me about it. It provided us with an undeniable certainty when we most needed it, that our mother and grandmother live on.
In the next few weeks, I had vivid dreams about my mother. In one of the dreams, she was sitting on my bed smiling broadly, a happy smile that I had not seen in the years that she had been sick. In another dream she was flying, and I was trying to keep up with her. We were shopping and looking for grape juice, among other things. I had to ask her not to go so fast. My little mother’s broken wings were fixed.
When I talked to Aaron by phone after he returned to college, he sounded upset. He grumbled a bit when I asked him what was wrong, then said he had had a dream about Grandma. In the dream he was lying in the top bunk of his dorm room, taking a daytime nap. He heard the door open and thought his roommate had come back. But he looked up, and it was Grandma. She waved at him and motioned him to follow. He went out into the hall and watched her push the silver bar on the door to the stairs and go. She came back and went out the door again and then was gone. She had come to say good-by to her dear grandson.