Ok, I will admit it. I am using an inflammatory title. But bare with me for a minute. I haven’t read her book yet but in reading the hype about Jessica Valenti’s new book, Why Have Kids? I was struck by something she said in an interview for Babble and that AskMoxie honed in on and to be frank, it kind of took my breath away.
Parenting or Motherhood, to be exact, is not the hardest job in the world because IT IS NOT A JOB AT ALL. Yes, you and I could argue until we are blue in the face, and with two young sons, the amount of laundry, dishes, tantrums and wear and tear on my physical body far exceeds that of my job as psychotherapist or in my prior work in corporate America. I wonder sometimes if “JOB” helps parents feel valued by the workforce. Or maybe because relating with a child is hard to stomach so by calling it a job we get some reprieve and can feel supported in treating ourselves, other parents and our kids as objects, tasks and jobs. We can focus our attentions on the tasks rather than the feelings.
I know, I know, I making all this hub bub about the word job aren’t I? Will you do me a favor and try something? Close your eyes and if you are a parent, conjure up the sweetest image of your child’s face and if you are not a parent, any child you feel a connection with. Now, as you see their face, imagine looking at them and relating to them as a job. You might even imagine saying to them, “You are part of my job” just to magnify your experience.
Now, from this place of “parenting is a job” imagine this child throwing a knock down drag ’em out tantrum. What impulses come up inside of you? I know what comes up inside of me from the “JOB mind”. I am annoyed and I want the tantrum to be over immediately and if others are around, I feel embarrassed. So I shift all my energies up into my left brain, the problem solving part of the brain, and scan for the fastest most “psychologically healthy” way to respond to this tantrum. I might even logically deduce that I was “off routine” so I am the cause of the tantrum and blame myself as well. Alternatively, I am mad, mad as hell at the inconvenience of this tantrum and I might even act out my anger. Do you notice what is happening here?
How many people are in my mind right now? Answer: 1. Me and my parenting knowledge and the tantrum taking place in front of me and whatever reactions I am having to the tantrum. I am not in a two person system which is psychobabble for “I am not relating to my kid, I am doing a job”. Trust me, I am not getting on my high horse. No finger wagging here to parents who do this. I am guilty.
I am, however, deeply curious about what might stand in the way of a heart centered relationship with our kids. My guess is the answer is larger than just psychological and probably it cannot be separated from the socio political and I know Ms. Valenti addresses those latter aspects in her book.
Time for another experiment. You with me? Close your eyes and bring to mind the face of your very best friend. Got it? Ok, now imagine them having a knock down drag ’em out melt down in front of you – screaming, crying, coming undone. What happens inside? What are you inclined to do? I know for me I immediately feel concerned, I want to help, I want to lean towards them with care and curiosity and I am stirred up inside, a little frightened and sad for them. How many people am I holding in my mind? 2; My friend and myself.
See, I wonder sometimes if we might psychologically obsess about the job of parenting because it helps us distance from the hardest aspect of parenting – it is a relationship of the most profound sort. We are called on to dig deep and be relational in ways we might not have ever learned how to do and we get deeply stirred up, troubled and we may even have to grow out of some old ways of relating or face old losses from our past. If you think about it, we are being called to be in relationship to ourselves in ways we have never been before. To deeply empathize with a child who is having a temper tantrum and the rage, grief, anger and confusion that is wrapped up in this experience this little human being is just learning to have, we have to be willing to feel some of that angst and metabolize it for him or her. Kishi Fuller, several months ago, covered a similar topic in her own unique voice.
And her sentiment is worth repeating – Are there aspects of parenting that feel easier to bare if we merely think of it as a job and not as a relationship? Relating is something we start learning how to do in infancy. We have styles of loving we have no choice but to come to terms with through the course of parenting. No excavation necessary – our history pops up and smacks us in the face when we become a parent, like it or not. For some, not a problem, for others it can send them into an emotional tailspin. This is a good time to seek out support from a friend, sharing group, therapy, spiritual/church organization, or your own nurturing family, if you have one.
Hands down, one of the best books I have read on the inner work required to be in “Right Relationship” to your child, is Dan Siegel’s Parenting from the Inside Out. But you know what is funny? I saw Dan speak a few years back and he shared the difficulty he had getting the book published. No one wanted to publish a book about the inner work the parent faces in preparing to have a good relationship with their child. Most publishers were interested in grabbing hold of parents’ fear of screwing up their kid….the parents who had bought off on the idea that parenting was a job. So they fed off fear to sell more books. Again, fear that is about the parent, not about the child – that one person relationship thing again.
Someone asked me, when I told them about this blog, if this meant I thought parenting books were a waste of time. No. They are not a waste of time. I have gained a lot from some parenting books about how to stay in the relational flow with my sons and not treat them as tasks. Check out Aha! Parenting website for a reference point for this kind of parent child connecting or our resources page for other parenting resources.
Collectively, I see a movement towards parenting from a heart centered place. In the San Francisco Bay Area I see many marvelous parents developing flexible, nuanced, complex and loving relationships with their children. I feel blessed to live in a community with so many conscious parents and I know that even for them, this relationship with their children has a profound impact on them and they get sucked into pulling away relationally too.
So to wrap up my entry, I have no bullet points, no tips…just an invitation: next time you are with your kids – feel the difference between doing and relating. I spent the weekend deeply in that intentional space and felt blessed to witness two pretty amazing sons and a pretty amazing mama: very complex and very cool and all doing our best to connect.