"Smart, audacious and often hilarious. Takes everything you thought you knew about parenting and turns it on its ear." - Jennifer Jason Leigh

Did I go too far?

The launch of this blog happily coincided with a piece that ran on babble.com titled (by their editors) Are You Damaging Your Kid’s Self-Esteem? 3 things you should stop doing immediately.

The tone of the piece was a bit more hardcore than my usual self-deprecating, humor-laced nonetheless serious stuff so I was curious, and a bit nervous to see the response. Fortunately, I’m not like my husband John who has no stomach for criticism. He’s in the entertainment business (actor, writer, producer) which means he’s exposed to constant rejection and while he somehow handles it, he never ever reads reviews of his work because it takes him days to recover from even the slightest negative comment. He’s a people pleaser. He wants to be loved. He’s so sensitive in fact, he can’t even bear for me to read to him any of the negative comments that I’ve received on babble. “I’m sorry babe, I just can’t take anyone saying such awful things about you.” So since, I can’t share my thoughts with him, I’ll share them with you.

The responses can be broken into three categories:

  1. “This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.” It is “awful”, “pathetic” and “lame”  They categorically disagree with everything I had to say.
  2. The information and point of view is right on, but the tone is offensive and only puts the people I’m trying to reach on the defensive.
  3. Right on. They like my use of hyperbole for dramatic affect. They appreciate someone articulating how it felt for them as children to be forced to be affectionate, to eat food they didn’t want, to be over bundled in clothes and to be tortured by tickling.

Because the debate is taking place mainly on babble.com and on facebook pages (so far there have been 423 people who have posted it on their fb walls) I want to share some highlights and my thoughts.

Category 1: “This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”

“If I have to hug my mother-in-law, they have to hug her, too. Basic manners aren’t prostitution. I won’t let me children think their feelings are more important than someone else’s.”

and

“forcing” your child to be nice and hug their grandparents is in fact teaching them to consider another person’s feelings and how they’re affected by one’s actions. There are times when adults don’t feel like hugging someone..but we do it anyway, especially when it’s expected by the other person and we don’t want to cause hurt feelings. It’s all a part of common courtesy.

and

Sure, don’t force them to hug a stranger but their grandparents? As an adult do you not hug your Aunt or Cousin because you don’t like them very much or don’t feel love for them?

Me: While I think it’s great that these parents want to teach their children to be considerate of the feelings of others, unfortunately they want it at the expense of their own children’s feelings. Why are another’s feelings more important than theirs? And my biggest question is, if a boy wants to kiss a girl but she doesn’t want to, does she have to kiss him anyways so she won’t hurt his feelings? This happens all the time. I’m not saying forcing your kid to kiss Grandma WILL lead to this type of behavior, but I’m saying I wouldn’t be surprised to learn if it does contribute.

I’d say that 75% of the time my son doesn’t want to finish his food, it’s not because he’s full, it’s because he wants to get down and play. I don’t force him to clean his plate but I do force him to eat more than 3 tablespoons a day because I am an f-ing good mom and won’t let my child starve.

Me: My question to this mother are: How are you so certain he isn’t full? Also, how do you decide upon how much more food to force feed him? And finally, do you truly believe if you don’t force your kid to eat more, he’ll starve?

Category 2: Like the information, hate the judgment.

It’s not the information, so much as the tone that it’s delivered in, that I object to. It’s perfectly fine to share your experiences as a mother, it’s another thing entirely to position yourself as an authority, and to judge others. Magda Gerber, (whose ideas you are espousing) never came from a judgmental place- she had a profound understanding and empathy for how difficult a job parenting and caring for young children is, and she endeavored to provide parents with understanding, support, and information that would make parenting easier and more enjoyable, while enabling them to connect with, and care for their their babies in respectful ways…”

and

“to effectively spread good ideas, it helps when they are packaged in a form that goes down well with the readers.”

[readers] want inspiration, not judgment. And, as you probably know, parents are an extremely sensitive lot.

Me: I’m torn. It would be great if we all could be so calm in the face of what we think are very serious matters. And admittedly I’m prone to getting worked up and can speak out strong in a way that turns off the very people I’m trying to reach. So I’ll take these comments to heart and reconsider my approach. I know people respond better to people who can share their own foibles (of which I have plenty, and likely one is speaking my mind strongly) and perhaps as I have done in other essays on my site, I’ll amp that up.

That said… I never positioned myself as an expert. My observations are those of a mother, albeit one particularly sensitive to a child’s point of view. The title (which is the editor’s) asks if you’re damaging your kid’s esteem. In the piece I only espouse my opinion and draw my own conclusions. I also don’t mention Magda Gerber so I’m not saying she’d think these things. I do! Yes, my point of view has been dramatically influenced by her, but I’m not the restrained, calm person she was. I do know, however, that at times Gerber herself did use strong language like when she equated a high chair to a jail. To me, this is a judgment. And in fact, her mentor Dr. Pikler’s first book was titled What Can Your Baby Do Already which pointedly called attention to a phrase parents said all the time that was not serving their children. In it Dr. Pikler pulled no punches when she said the results of the poor parenting she was seeing every day could be, “…catastrophic for the child’s later development, for her progress and her happiness in life.”

Also, the people who don’t like my tone feared I was turning off those who needed to hear the message. While it may be true in some, even many, cases, there were plenty of responses like this:

I really enjoyed reading it and wanted to know more about your thoughts on parenting so I clicked on the link to your website.  I am very interested to learn more about the RIE ideas and I have already put “Your Self Confident Baby” on hold at my library.  Looking forward to hearing more from you on your blog!

Category 3: “I love this. Perhaps the author uses strong language to make her points, but she’s right.”

“This article has nearly brought me to tears. I hated and feared being tickled as a child and still do as an adult. It reminds me of gasping for my breath while being suffocated and unable to communicate.”

and

“I was tortured in other ways, as well, chief among them tickling. Being held down against your will and having anything done to you is terrifying to a young child… to inflict torture, whether for someone else’s pleasure or with intention of engaging in play…to those of us who have been through it…it is criminal. Strong words, but those are the words we felt it to be and still do.”

“ one of the greatest gifts you can give your child is complete autonomy over her body. She decides if, when, to whom and how much affection she will give, period. Any pressure in this department, even where grandparents are concerned, damages a child’s autonomy and dignity. We should always honor and encourage children’s gut feelings about affection.

Me: I don’t want people to think that I’m in favor of children being rude. I think parents need to model the behavior they want their kids to have and then as they mature, encourage them to acknowledge others in a way that does not put in danger their core being.

I tend to agree with most of what you’re saying here. It’s about respecting them and not using blackmail – emotional or otherwise – to get what you want, and then expect them to turn into well adjusted adults

and

when i was a child i didnt like wearing coats, smothering sweaters, and layers of clothes when it was cold out i stripped all that crap off when my mom wasnt looking and let the storm drains take care of them. i wasnt cold i was boiling with all those unecessary layers that made it hard to move. and dont get me started on the tickling that is torture after a certain amount of time to the point you turn blue or red and cant breath.

One of my favorite responses is from a dad who had some concrete advice to offer parents who want to give their kids alternatives when faced with a situation of feeling the pressure to hug someone they don’t want to:

I think too many parents insist that their kids go and hug people regardless of if they want to hug anyone. Chris and I talked about the “hugging thing” and how as our daughter matures into a woman, she will need to learn polite ways of declining hugs and/or body contact that she did not solicit.

We both agreed that teaching her the “fist-bump” in place of an unwanted hug is the best way to go. She gets to smile and satisfy the person who is looking for body contact, while at the same time being cute and diffusing a potentially awkward situation. If the “hugger” gets offended, thats their problem. Not everyone wants to go around hugging people every day, for each occasion.

There you have it. Thanks for checking in. All comments welcome. I can take it!

 

6 Responses to “Did I go too far?”

  1. Nancy G. says:

    totally agree. my two girls, ages 12 and 8, are small and people are always touching them, etc. they are always battling to keep people out of there space, but my hubby and I tell them all the time they are “sovereign” over their bodies. our family respects their space, but it’s their playmates, and adults in our smal-town church who are the worst offenders. unfortunately my girls are quiet and polite, and people simply don’t pay attention to there wishes. it’s scary. wish more parents respected their kids bodies and self-awareness, because than those kids wouldn’t feel they have a right to impose on smaller kids.

  2. Elizabeth O'Connor says:

    Jennifer,
    Unfortunately, we are in the minority on this subject and I have always been an unwavering rebel against obligation. I find the push-back and defensive responses oddly appealing and confirmation that this is the more constructive way to raise healthy, self-aware and truly thoughtful human beings.
    Looking forward to seeing you and John!
    Best,
    Elizabeth

  3. Nancy says:

    I am loving this. As one of nine children, I know the Chinese water torture of being tickled…even into later years. I think it’s funny that it’s created so much buzz. I think you can now add child rearing as a dinner conversation that has become taboo in today’s society. Jennifer vs. Tiger Mom. I want to see the debate!

  4. gregg says:

    of course i’m not a parent, but i fell more in the category 2 camp. i realize that you were being provocative but if you’re trying to reach a wide audience and convert as many parents as possible (which i assume is your ultimate goal), then your tone is too over the top for most people.

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