Saturday, April 12, 2014

Part II: "Mommies are people," people with feelings

Part I here covered why I don't feel guilty about parenting while online.

Part II: Why I don't think expressing anger or frustration as a parent is a terrible thing.

I appear to be in the minority: see Exhibit A and Exhibit B.  Many of my feelings about this topic come from my own upbringing.  My parents were both raised in traditionally dysfunctional working-class families and parented with strong doses of shame, guilt, and physical punishment.  They wanted to raise me in a radically different way.  They understood that small children don't act out because they are bad, but because they can't control their feelings and impulses.  I was raised in a home with very little negative feedback of any sort, and very little shame, guilt, or fear.  B and I parent in much the same way, but I do yell more.  And when I'm yelling, I'm not yelling any version of "you are bad," what I'm yelling is about me, "I'm angry," "that hurts me," "I don't want to hear screaming."

Thing 1 that I gleaned from my childhood: just because you raise your child in a positive emotional environment, where negative emotions are not freely expressed, does not mean that your child will grow up to be a calm, peaceful person with perfect emotional regulation.  Temperament is shaped by many factors beyond parenting.  My peaceful childhood was one factor is shaping the compassionate, empathetic, self-righteous, sometimes volatile, stubborn, and physically and emotionally self-protective person I am today. I am unconvinced by the argument that if parents present a calm emotional exterior to their kids, then those kids will grow up to be calm, emotionally controlled adults.

I also don't think that calmness and emotional control is my goal for myself or my child.  I have a loving relationship with my parents, but not a fully honest one because emotions of sadness and anger are so painful for them.  I hope that with LB, I'll be able to preserve the good parts of my parents parenting, while also having a more emotionally authentic relationship.  I think it's good to model a range of emotions, including negative ones.  I want LB to know that it's okay to be angry, and it's okay if someone is angry at her.  People get angry, then they work it out and find a solution.

Anger, and the ability to squawk about stuff can be powerful tools for self-protection.  If I yell at LB, it's usually because she has been screaming for an extended period about something I can't fix, or she has (usually inadvertently) kicked, punched, pinched, or headbutted me.  I don't like that, and I say so-loudly.  And, even if it scares LB, I would rather model a world in which women yell: "NO! NO HITTING THAT HURTS ME!" than a world in which women accept that pain is the price of love.

I don't want to raise LB to be "Alyosha the Pot." (I'm trying to think of some other famous pacifists I wouldn't want LB to be like, but MLK was smart enough to travel with a shotgun in his trunk, and Gandhi was a master strategist, "resist not evil" was a tactic of power, not an effacement of self).  When LB is faced with a mean classmate or a mean friend or (God-forbid) and abusive partner, I don't want her to push her anger away, or turn the other cheek (for more), I want her to own it.   I want both her instinct and her training to teach her to yell, "NO, YOU DON'T TREAT ME THAT WAY!"

We already practice, encouraging a mild-mannered girl to say "NO, DON'T DO THAT," and "NO HITTING, THAT'S RUDE."  And I model, "NO, THAT HURTS MY BODY!" Like those authors of the no-yelling articles, I do think life is a process of learning emotional regulation and self control, but it seems to me that the authors are telling readers (mothers, women) to suppress and avoid feelings of anger and frustration, rather than owning those emotions, using them, coming to know them.  Knowing one's own emotions well enough to understand the difference between useful (even righteous) anger and out of control or unproductive anger.  In my own experience, that later type of anger is the result of sorrow, disappointment, or an untenable life situation, and requires attention and help.  Allowing ourselves to feel anger can help us see it, know it, know if it is a useful emotion, a normal byproduct of a tiring life, or something more serious.

Perhaps because I'm a child of the '70s who watched my parents work through various kinds of CR and therapy to find their emotions, I find it very strange and retrograde that we have come back to a play where being a good mother-and so by extension a good woman-means significantly limiting our emotional lives.  That makes me angry.


  1. I've read both parts, and I think there is a benefit to the middle ground between the extremes (and it seems to me that that's what you are advocating) ie, it is one thing to have a life and for your child to see you having that life and for them not always to be the center of the universe - but it's quite another to spend 19 hours a day playing candy crush, including while on the playground. It's one thing to say how you feel (and even yell it) but quite another to yell disparaging things at your child.

    For what it's worth, I don't think yelling is the end of the world (and certainly not as you describe, where you are mad and loud but also yelling your own feelings about yourself) but I do think that yelling for the purpose of scaring a child or making them feel bad sends a bad message. And I think that lots of adults haven't figured out how to yell to be angry versus yelling to hurt others - and whether it's better in those situations of actual verbal abuse to tell parents to STFU (and take a walk, take a break, etc.) depends quite a bit on family and personality dynamics.

  2. Blogger ate my comment.

    When I see these articles circulating among people I know, it's always preaching to the choir. I don't actually know what goes on in other people's homes, but all the people I know seem like pretty good parents. In that context, it doesn't seem like the point is to get serious screamers to stop (which would be good) it seems like encouragement for good parents to be perfect parents. Perfection just bothers me.

  3. That's fair. There definitely isn't enough focus on "good enough" parenting and how much "good enough" parenting can accomplish, especially in some circles. Having read a variety of books and articles about parenting, particularly those with an attachment focus, it takes about .04 seconds to feel like a parenting failure who damaged your child irreparably because you let them cry it out. The other contributing factor is when folks do take some kind of stand publicly - ie posting articles and noting "I'll only feed my child organic vegetarian cuisine that traveled no more than 50 miles from farm to table" and then feel like failures because of the impossible standards they've managed to set for themselves on top of the impossible standard articles.

    And that's without mentioning the rampant privilege inherent in so much of the parenting advice.