So Tell Me ... What's The Weather Like on YOUR Planet?

01 December, 2009

Listening

And here is my response to The Adult Privilege Checklist, now.

When my mother was up visiting, she had a lot of commentary, as she will do, and one of the things she said was something scornful about Inappropriate Parent-Child Relationships, specifically that my father wanted to "give me a vote" in how family things were conducted.

I have no idea if he did this. I have no idea if she is correct that this fell into the weird dynamic he had with his mother. I have no memory of any such thing, but I don't believe I necessarily would have.

What I remember, though, is that I always felt that my father took my opinions seriously, even when he disagreed or thought that I was uninformed or not able to think things through. And I know that she thought that this was inappropriate, was "treating me like an adult", as opposed to treating me like, as I thought at the time, a person.

It frustrated me no end as a child to not be treated as a person. To know that my input was dismissable solely because of my age. I carried that resentment into my teen years, and it got sharper and more bitter when I saw adults doing things that I had never been idiot enough to do and still figuring that they knew better than me.

(I came to some sort of political consciousness during the Reagan Administration. One afternoon I drew Federal budget pie charts with made-up numbers, trying to figure out where I thought the money could go, because I was sure that I could make the budget work right. I never knew where to find the figures; if I had had the internet back then, I would probably have gone looking so I could make it work. This was naive - but it also came with this intense need to be taken seriously in my contributions, and a need to think deeply about those things that entered my awareness. Also, I was a weird, weird kid.)

I've settled into being a sort of attachment-parenty mum, and I think that's settled into the whole 'listening' thing that was what I wanted as a child. It's hard, when Little Foot wants to be held all the time, or when she's fussy and I can't figure out what's wrong, or whatever else, but I can't bear for her to feel unheard. I recognise that she didn't ask to be here, or to have a wet diaper, or to be maybe-probably-teething, or any of the other indignities of infancy, and that she has definite opinions about the world. (One of the latest appears to be "Cats are fascinating!")

And we talk a lot of theory about what's best for Little Foot. She's four months old and we talk about schooling already, and I wonder if I could bear homeschooling/unschooling/whatever her without going mad from the sheer pressure of parenthood (and look at my spiritual teacher/mentor, who likewise was not sure she could do this, but took up homeschooling her special-needs child because the school system could not serve him well). There's a maternity-and-childhood consignment store, and the gelfling (my husbands' wife) has commented we can bring kids there and say, "You get to pick one piece of clothing" or whatever, and everything is under ten bucks, and that addresses parts of the whole nonconsensuality of clothing thing. I plot out how best to raise her without my twitchinesses around food, whether it's possible to raise a child more socially ept than I am granted that I don't have skills to convey to her, and similar. I think about how to feed her, how to nurture her, how to make sure she's aware of her own self-possession. I remember the story of the little girl who snapped "SAFEWORD!" when people wouldn't stop tickling her, and think about how to teach that.

I cuddle her when she cries, which is not often, as we try to be attentive to her needs and she spends much time curled up with one parent or another. My lion currently has her downstairs bouncing on the exercise ball because she wouldn't go down to sleep and I took her last night; earlier I heard her laughing and burbling as my liege read his flash cards for school out loud to her (and apparently she was grabbing them out of his hands and putting them down in the 'done' pile, having figured out that the cards go from the pile on the left to the pile on the right in the game that Da was playing). As she grows older, she will grow broader opinions, she will think about politics and the world, she will be frustrated by, among other things, department stores and counters that are too tall to see over and shopkeepers who look past her when she has a question (to remember particularly persistent things from my own childhood).

There's a lot I can't plan for, because I don't know what she will have to say once she gets words to say it in. (Or signs. I've been doing intermittent bits of babysigns at her, though she's still too young to get it, just so there's context for her to get it from when she hits the right cognitive stage.) And I have to accept that, and remember that my first job as mama is to listen, not to force her into the space that is convenient for me to allocate.

She tells me what she needs, when I pay attention. The trick will be not breaking that.

9 comments:

Cathy said...

She tells me what she needs, when I pay attention. The trick will be not breaking that.

*Applauds*

I'm having issues with the present and past of not being heard by my mom, so seeing this makes me really happy. Thanks for sharing it.

Vieva said...

That checklist made me twitch a bit, though.

YES we need to listen to our children, ABSOLUTELY. I will never argue that. And we need to take them seriously - they are people. In fact, they turn into their own people surprisingly early - I was NOT expecting personality as early as my swuggy started showing it!

That said - they are also CHILDREN. Yes adults have greater privilege in the world. Part of that is because we (hopefully) have a better sense of what the hell is going on out there. Children are people, but they are people with less of a sense of what is going on, less of a sense of consequence .....

I think I'm arguing against the checklist more than you here. Or maybe just the attitude of "children are people" when it forgets also that "children are children" and cannot be treated EXACTLY the same as adults - that doing so is a disservice to them.

As a good mother, I have to listen - but I also have to set down rules. Even if they're not rules my swuggy likes. Even if they're "mean". I need to listen - but so does he. After all, sooner or later he's going to be turned loose into the big bad world - and I need to prepare him for THAT, too. And the world isn't going to listen unless he learns how to speak in a way people will hear.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

You're missing the point of the checklist there, honestly. The checklist isn't about things that We Must Fix at all, or even about things that are wrong to do.

They're just things that are there.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Expanding on the thought: because some of those are things that are not going to change, for whatever reason, we need to be able to explain why that is, as part of the job of listening: to hear the frustration properly requires being able to answer it.

"You need to get this shot to keep you from getting sick" beats hell out of "You need to get this shot because I said so."

Eve said...

This made me think about my own childhood. My abusive father would always invalidate my opinions and wants by saying, "I'm the parent, you're the child. I have more experience than you, so therefore I'm right and you're wrong." No matter what the issue at hand was. I'm sure it didn't help that he's very mentally ill (PTSD, and probably schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, paranoia, and/or narcissistic personality disorder) and has significant brain damage from a nasty car accident. He's beyond what you could called flawed.

Anyway, the degree to which he invalidated my thoughts on the basis of age really drives home how important it is to listen to our children and treat them like people.

Ailbhe said...

One of the most frightening things about motherhood to me is the power I wield - and have to wield. It's my job to decide when using my power over my children is right, and when it is not right.

I am often terrified that I will get it wrong. Sometimes, I do.

mamacrow said...

brilliant post, loved it.

it's NOT easy. i beat myself up a lot about shouting and getting it wrong...

However, I am good at apologising and trying again, and maybe in someways it's good they they learn that adults are faliable and get it wrong but the world dosn't fall in...

my mum is awesome and never ever shouted - i was at a friends for tea once and her parents had a really really minor stress, and I was petrified, utterly terrified.

So there are drawbacks to being perfect, I think I'm trying to say, in a very inarticulate way!

Eeeeka said...

"You need to get this shot to keep you from getting sick" beats hell out of "You need to get this shot because I said so."

Having just had this specific conversation (and will have to have it again), it's really really hard sometimes. It's hard to not say "because I said so" when you've just been asked "why" for the 47th time.

cheshire said...

you inspire me.