Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Momiversity: The Collapse of Parenting

I picked up this book because a friend had mentioned it and because Leonard Sax is a well-known author of parenting books, and well, I'm kind of a parenting book junkie.

In this book that just came out this year, Sax, a family doctor, psychologist and father, tackles pretty much everything all at once. It was like a giant manifesto of his parenting philosophy and it felt like he was verbally vomiting all the things he wanted to tell the parents he saw during his decades of medical practice.

And I quite enjoyed it.

The first half of the book is dedicated to the most common "problems" he sees with kids today. The first is what he calls the "culture of disrespect". He kind of sounds like an old grandpa that starts every sentence with "In my day...[insert example of how kids never disrespected their elders or complained about working hard, etc.]"

His general point was that kids now care more about what their peers think than what their parents think. This he attributes to the dislocation of a child's primary attachment from parent to peers. He has observed this happening as early as 8 or 9 years old. "For the first time in history," Sax quotes another author saying, "young people are turning for instruction, modeling and guidance not to mothers, fathers, teachers, and other responsible adults but to people whom nature never intended to place in a parenting role--their own peers."

And how does this happen? Sax believes it's because many parents abdicate their roles as authorities over their children. Instead of taking their rightful role as limit-setter, giver of firm commands, and makers of the law, parents are misguided into thinking it's best to give their kids "independence" and let them choose their own values with which to guide themselves. Alternatively it may happen if the parent is simply afraid to anger the child and lose the child's affections.

The next "problem" he notes is kids being overweight. Again, the grandpa voice - in 1970 only 4 percent of American children 5 to 11 were obese. In 2008 almost 20 percent were obese.

The reasons for this are pretty cut and dry to Sax:
(1) kids eat too much junk,
(2) kids don't do enough physical activity (because screen time), and
(3) kids don't sleep enough

And underlying all of this is again, parent abdicating authority and not setting proper limits for their kids.

The next "problem" Sad addresses is why so many kids are on medication. Kids are being treated for bipolar disorder and ADHD at record rates and Sax has some compelling data to show that it is indeed an over-diagnosis that had its origins in faulty research data propagated by scientists that were financially incentivized by pharmaceutical companies.

Sax believes the real problem is excessive video-game playing, severe sleep deprivation, and again, permissive parenting that fails to set firm limits for behavior.

The last "problem" Sax addresses is why kids are so fragile. They seem to crumple at the mere touch of criticism. One failed quiz and some kids seem to despair of life itself. Sax attributes this to kids valuing the opinions of peers or their own self-constructed self-concept more than they care about the good regard of their parents and other adults. This creates a "cult of success" because success is the easiest way to impress your peers and yourself.

The solution? Kids need to feel secure in the unconditional acceptance of their parents, and obviously they need to respect their parent's opinions in the first place. Not the most satisfying answer to me, but at least it gives you somewhere to begin.

In the second half of the book Sax rolls out his 3-part solution to all of the problems facing kids today. And it's totally not what you'd expect.

Unlike the vast majority of parenting advice out there, Sax's solutions are a sucker-punch to the Kantian/Enlightenment categories we've all come to unconsciously accept in polite secular society. Instead of sticking with "scientific facts" in the acceptable public sphere of discourse, Sax reaches right into the private sphere of socially constructed "values". Sacred bleu!

Sax recommends that parents:
(1) Teach humility,
(2) Enjoy their kids, and
(3) Teach them the meaning of life


Most unscientific advice ever...but it has the ring of moral intuitive truth to it...but maybe that's just because it's borrowing constructs from a post-Judeo-Christian society...

Either way, this is how Sax proposes a parent does each of the 3 prescriptions:

(1) How to teach humility - give your kids menial chores to do. Strongly limit their time on social media to keep them out of a culture of self-absorption. And spend lots of time in nature so the vastness of creation can give your kid perspective of his relative smallness.

(2) How to enjoy your kids - Don't overschedule your kids in activities. Spend time doing fun stuff with them.

(3) How to teach kids the meaning of life - First, some parenting tenets to AVOID...

Do NOT have the mentality of the common American Dream - the point of life is to (1) work hard in school to get into a top college; (2) go to a top college to get a lucrative job; and (3) get a lucrative job to make a good living and thereby be happy.

Sax notes that all 3 of those assumptions are FALSE. Just because you work hard, doesn't mean you'll get into a good college. And just because you go to a good college doesn't mean you'll end up making high six figures. And just because you make high six figures doesn't mean you'll be happy and fulfilled at all.

Here's another common American tenet to avoid - making personal success the highest goal for your child. Life should not be about what you DO (accomplishments), but who you ARE (character).

So what is the point of everything? Why work hard in school? Why get good grades?

Sax offers these 3 reasons:
1. meaningful work
2. a person to love, and
3. a cause to embrace

Is that the secret sauce to human flourishing?

If so, our culture is really failing our kids.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Our First Date

A few weeks ago I had a mild panic attack as I considered how long it had been since I actually had some quality one-on-one time with Judah. A year ago? Over a year ago? Basically ever since Noah stopped napping.

At this rate, my panicked head calculated, he will become a teenager before I've had the chance to develop strong relational bonds with him, and then he'll prefer the company of his peers over mine, and I'll lose whatever influence I could've ever hoped to have had over him, and he'll fall down a pit of depression and addiction and/or video gaming and drugs! AAAAAAAAAHHHHH!

So after I got my heart rate back down to normal, I told the Spouse I wanted to institute special one-on-one times with the kids. We'll each take a kid once a week or so and hang out with them for about 2 hours. No chores. No errands. Just being together.

And so that's just what we did.

We told the kids about the upcoming "dates" and Judah especially was happily anticipating it. Just to see him looking forward to it so much made me feel already that (a) this was a good thing to do and (b) long over due.  Noah was like, meh, whatever.

Judah looks so happy to not have Noah around, ha!

I decided to take Judah hiking since he loves nature and becomes much more unguarded in the woods. We talked about school and he told me how everything was going well except that it was hard for him to find play mates during recess.

He asked why nobody wanted to play with him. Why some kids were popular but he was not. He shared how bad he feels when everyone walks back to class in groups of twos and threes while he faces the long walk of shame alone.

Once he asked his classmates to wait for him so that he could go back and get his water bottle but no one waited. He described that incident with a rhetorical flourish I will always remember with pride - Mommy, today, I felt like dust. Dust!

Great simile son!

I asked Judah what things I could do to make him feel more loved. He seems so different from my familiar toddler/preschooler who loved huggle snuggles and asked incessantly for me to play with him. He asks for so little now, I don't really know what he needs anymore.

But much to my surprise he replied, Hugs and kisses!

Well, I guess somethings don't change all that quickly. I guess what I interpreted as a diminished need for physical affection was really just a big kid feeling like his mom was too busy to sit and hug for awhile. Which wouldn't be wrong. But should be fixed.

After our walk, I let him chose where to eat and he predictably chose his favorite "restaurant" - Starbucks, and ordered his favorite "meal" - cream cheese and bagel and a chocolate croissant. Our kids are on the opposite of the low-carb diet, obviously.

The entire time, he was aglow in a way that I haven't seen for a long time. He was happy. Really, really happy. Beaming, actually.

And even after our date, the after-glow continued for several days. He was much more affectionate than usual and called me his "date-buddy" frequently. It's a little weird, but also very sweet.

I was surprised when sometime in the middle of our date, he did something he hadn't done for over a year--stooped down to pick a flower for me.

I thought we were done with that phase. The phase where he showers me with love scribbles and flowering weeds and loves me to the moon and back and needs lots of assurance that I feel the same way.

But no, we're not. And I'm so glad for it...and to have found that out before it was too late.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Momiversity: Your Six Year Old, Loving and Defiant

I picked up this book for obvious reasons - I have a six year old. But I didn't find it to be that helpful. It's full of very broad generalities that didn't really resonate with my observations of Judah and in the end I feel like I read about everything and nothing.

But I'm going to blog about it ANYWAY because otherwise it feels like I just wasted 5 hours of my life.

So...random snippets:

--"Five was lovable...early Six was handful...Six and a half can be truly gorgeous. What makes him so much fun? His lively intellectuality for one thing. Intellectual tasks are now a challenge. He loves to count for you, loves to say his ABCs..."

Uh, my THREE year old loves to count for me and say his ABC's. I really don't see how this just pertains to Six and a half year olds...

--"Five may think you're perfect. Seven won't be quite sure. But the Six and a half year old child likes you and you like him. No question. There is a warmth at this age quite unlike anything seen at most other ages."

Uh, what does that even mean? We like each other...okay...

--"Parents...looking back, remember their Six year old as argumentative, oppositional, violent, tantrumy, difficult. And then they think of Seven as silent, withdrawn, suspicious, complaining."

Uh, I remember my TWO year old as argumentative, oppositional, violent, tantrumy and difficult. Again, how does this really just pertain to 6 year olds? And wow, get ready for those moody 7 year olds!

One chapter of the book I did think was helpful, was regarding "Techniques" to handle your kid:

--Praise! If your kid is being a monster, a word of praise (however difficult to dig up) can work miracles in turning the ship around.

--Chances. If your kid blatantly resists your instruction, tell him he has 3 chances to comply. A face-saving way to preserve his autonomy and your authority.

--Counting. Let's see if you can do _____ before I count to 10. Judah responds really quickly to this because it sounds like a challenge - and he hates to lose challenges. But it also makes him surly because deep down he can't help but feel coerced, which truly he is.

--Bargain. If you do this, I'll give you that. The authors acknowledge this is basically bribing your kid to comply, and warns that it shouldn't always be used. But it works! I save my bribes, er, bargains, for only the most crucial and onerous tasks, which for Judah, is practicing his Chinese lessons.

--The remaining techniques - Give in, isolation, and ignoring - speak for themselves. In general, the authors counsel you to just let things go. Don't sweat the small stuff. Six year olds have atrocious table manners and zero awareness of the giant messes they make. Pick your battles.

My favorite part of the book, and the only one that made me glad to have read it, came at the Q&A part in the end. The authors reply to various letters sent in by parents and one of them addressed the biggest problem I've had with Judah ever since he was born - and something that exploited my greatest insecurity - feeling like I'm a bad mom because my kid doesn't think I love him.

I feel like I could've written this letter:

Dear Doctors:

My son, Frank, is Six and a half years old. He is a normal child in every way and is also a very good child...The problem is he says I don't love him. Even when he is just sitting around, all of a sudden he will say, "I love you but you don't love me." I tell him this is not true, but he insists it is...

The authors replied:

It is natural and reasonable (i.e., feeling that he is not loved as much as he loves) but you should not take it too seriously. You can talk with him about it to a certain extent. Tell him this is the way lots of children feel and that usually (and especially in his own case) it is not true. You do love him....

Chances are he just wants a little special reassurance....Going-to-bed time, with a Six year old, is a specially good time for a little snuggling and affectionate talk. In the daytime, when he makes his complaint just take him on your lap and talk about what a good little boy he is and how glad you are that you have him. Tell him how much you and his dad think of him....

Above all, try not to feel hurt that he talks this way. It is, with most children, just a part of growing up.

Thank you doctors! It's just such a relief to know I'm not the only one.