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Tuesday, December 18, 2007


So the good news is that I’ve done of a great job of empowering my daughter to know what she wants and to ask for it. This was one of my goals as the mother of a daughter, and I’ve apparently accomplished it before her eleventh birthday. The bad news is that she is honing her skills negotiating with me, and she’s better at it than I am.

The issue of the day is still her Christmas gift. She’s given up on the iPhone, but has gotten stuck on the iPod nano. Everyday she brings it up and presents cogent counter-arguments to the reasons we’ve told her we’re not buying her one. To my concern that it will separate her from the family and to her father’s concern that those little earphones are bad for your hearing (It’s true. He did some research.), she responds that she won’t listen to it that much or play it that loudly. To our concerns about price, she responds that she only wants this one thing and finds us sales in the newspaper. To our argument that Christmas is not about material gifts, she responds that she knows and parrots back our little lecture about God in the world. So last night I reached the bottom of the argument barrel. I told her that I thought a little disappointment would be good for her soul. Predictably, she rolled her eyes.

Although it sounds lame to an almost eleven-year-old, I think that is truly a reason I won’t get her what she wants. A few other parents have suggested I’m silly, but I just ran into a child psychologist friend who totally agrees. A new member of my writer’s group, Tamar Chansky has written books on children and anxiety and is now writing one on freeing children from negative thinking. Part of what she deals with is teaching children to deal with disappointment with flexibility and resilience so they don’t fall apart every time they don’t get their way. Part of what they need, she argues, is the experience of bouncing back from disappointment, which they will never get if parents always try to shield them from it. When I told her about the iPod nano, she encouraged me to stand firm.

I find myself wondering if this is more of a problem in our middle class American world where my children really don’t have to go without very much. When I was a child I didn’t expect to get every latest thing on the market because I knew my parents couldn’t afford it. Certainly when I was in the Peace Corps in Botswana, my students were happy if they owned their own pen and a pair of shoes. In fact, my students seemed happy much of the time. Although their lives were far from perfect, I suspect they didn’t have near the levels of anxious children as our more materially affluent society.

I also think this is a spiritual dilemma that relates to the book I’m writing, The Wisdom to Know the Difference. (By the way, I don’t think I’ve mentioned here that I’ve found a publisher, Tarcher, which focuses on mind, body spirit issues!) On the one hand, I want my children to grow up trusting the universe, believing that their deepest needs will always be met. I want them to know that what they do matters. (For example, learning to ask for what you want clearly and with good counter-arguments when necessary does make you more likely to get what you want.) On the other hand, I want them to learn to accept that they won’t always get exactly what they want, and that’s OK. The trick is to figure out how to parent in ways that they learn both lessons.

Tamar mentioned the importance of knowing where you’re heading when you set your course. I have to keep reminding myself of the kind of adults I want my children to become, not just the kind of reactions I want on Christmas morning.

***Speaking of Christmas, I will be taking a vacation from blogging and probably won’t post again until early in the New Year. So have a blessed Christmas, Eid, or solstice to you all.


Anonymous How to Cope with Pain said...

I've been thinking about another take on this issue of raising kids in a material world. Specifically, about trying to incorporate a bit more of my daughter's viewpoint, even when I think I know what's best.

As Eileen knows, the Quaker perspective is that everyone has some piece of the truth. How do we honor that in our children - truly honor it?

An example would be with our daughter's interest in clothes, clothes and more clothes. (Pretty much the opposite of me, who was more of a tomboy. And now I wear a lot of hand-me-ups from my sister, to avoid shopping.) But why not let my daughter experience a bit more of what she thinks is best? She already knows my viewpoint. I feel I can honor that part of her more by being more flexible, rather than just saying 'no.'

In the context of my family, this has come up around other topics like processed foods and the environment. I'm experimenting with being a bit more flexible in these realms, to also see what I can learn from my family's different perspective.

5:45 PM  
Blogger Lone Star Ma said...

Very thought-provoking.

Congrats on the book!

6:47 PM  
Blogger Eileen Flanagan said...

Thanks for the comments. Sarah, you raise a good point, one that I do forget sometimes, though I did come to a similar realization about clothes a few years ago, when I finally heard how important it was to my daughter to be able to pick out her own style, instead of just inheriting hand-me-downs. In my own defense on the iPod thing, during the conversation last night neither of us could remember a Christmas where she didn't get what she wanted. While your are experimenting with being more flexible, I feel like I need to experiment with being more firm. It's so hard to find the right balance.

7:27 PM  
Blogger Lone Star Ma said...

It sure is.

8:47 PM  
Blogger naturalmom said...

I appreciate hearing about how you are handling this, and I appreciate Sarah's comments as well. It *is* so hard to strike the proper balance. As a parent with slightly younger children, I'm already pondering how to deal with allowing my children to dabble safely in the waters of the larger culture without drowning or becoming too negatively affected by the pollution out there. Eileen, Even now, I feel like I give in more often than I would like to, partly because I feel pressure from my OWN peers (other parents) to not be a stick-in-the-mud. You give me courage to be more firm.

5:26 PM  

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