It’s never too late to be a loving parent to yourself, to your children–no matter how darn old you are or might feel. Got it? That means: invest in yourself now, you’re worth it. (That’s my Assertive Care parenting voice (well, it’s meant to be) which I learned from the book.)
I found out about Growing Up Again: Parenting Ourselves, Parenting Our Children (though it’s certainly been around) a couple of weeks ago through one of my Google Alerts. The book addresses so many of the questions a lot of you have (and I’ve sure had) who’re raising children. Immediately I thought, “The book I’ve been looking for.”
And, it was.
Once we’ve gobbled up all the ‘self-help’ and dysfunctional families and codependency books on the shelves at Barnes & Noble, we have every reason to head over to the Parenting category and begin again there for further insights and healing. (This book is categorized as “parenting,” rather than dysfunctional family issues, which is probably why I hadn’t discovered it earlier.) Through new parenting (newas my son’s only twenty months old) I’ve gained so many insights into the pain I acquired in childhood through observing my heart as I parent him–and by reading about child brain development and what a stressful childhood home can do to childrens’ development.
The book has these main sections -
- Nurture: the Gentle Side of Care
- Structure: the Firm Side of Care
- Overindulgence: Misguided Nurture
- Inadequate Structure
- Denial: the Glue That Keeps Us Stuck (best ever description of denial!)
- The Prenatal and Birth Experience
- Growing Up Again and Again
The book is so–readable. In a kind, intelligent, but perfectly straightforward way the authors discuss the how of being a loving parent and offer contrasts (unconditional vs. conditional parenting, for example), which show “good” and “bad” examples in a style that lets us as readers draw the obvious conclusions about what works (and why), what doesn’t work (and why), and see a brand new way of parenting that’s loving, lovingly firm, consistent, and feels good.
That last bit–”feels good.” That’s where it’s at for us, right? I mean, it’s simple: just do what feels good. Well…not simple. We were raised to distrust our gut instincts, not act on them. But we’re learning. And it’s especially important to begin to listen and act on what our gut is telling us, bit by bit, over and over–one action, one assertive, self-power fueled moment at a time. And we must do so no matter what seems to be at stake (things won’t actually fall apart if we speak our minds).
The charts in the book are a valuable–I examined all the charts before tucking into the text. They offer good/bad comparisons of different and contrasting styles of parenting behavior–from rigid to critical to non-negotiable, to negotiable, to marshallowy, to abandoning.
Here’s one example of Behavior Types from the many in the book:
Situation: Three-to-six year old child is eating candy.
RIGIDITY: Grabs candy from the child and says, “You may never have candy. It’s bad for you.”
CRITICISM: Frowns and says, “You little sneak. Where did you get the candy?”
NON-NEGOTIABLE RULES: Gently takes candy from child. Says lovingly, “I will offer you candy twice a week.”
NEGOTIABLE RULES: Says, “Grandpa always brings candy. Let’s decide when and how much of it you get to eat. I’ll help you store it. You may choose to give some to other people.”
MARSHMALLOWING: Says, “I can’t keep you out of the candy, can I? You’re my little Sweet Tooth.”
ABANDONMENT: No rules. Sweets always available. Parent’s don’t notice what child eats. Parents eat sweets instead of nutritious food.
In the Nurture section, the authors discuss various interactions and reactions to requests for care and support, categorizing them as:
Here’s an example of these in play from the book:
Situation: Wife asks husband for help with children.
ABUSE: Hits or ridicules wife when she asks for help.
CONDITIONAL CARE: Husband says, “I’ll help with the kids when you earn more money than I do.”
ASSERTIVE CARE: Says, “Children need care from dads.” Participates in all aspects of child care.
SUPPORTIVE CARE: Negotiates with wife about child care. Praises the quality of her care in front of the children.
OVERINDULGENCE: Gives expensive presents instead of helping.
NEGLECT: Works long hours, travels, spends long hours at the bars, sports, or civic organization; comes home late and leaves early.
You can see how rich and helpful the scenarios are at illustrating how many good and bad behaviors there are out there–and examples of positive care (the types with “CARE” at the end are the “good” ones.)
The authors don’t label their audience as “dysfunctional” or Adult Children, instead they use a broader, inclusive label: ”uneven parenting.” They explain, “…we refer to parenting that has been less than adequate as uneven, not as dysfunctional. If our families had not functioned, we would not possess many of the skills that we do have. Somehow our families were functional. Some parts of them worked. A negative label is a burden that doesn’t help anyone.” I like how these women think!
They go on to share these beliefs common to people who received uneven parenting:
I am not lovable
There is no way out
Nobody can tell me what to do or tell me what not to do
I don’t know what to do
I don’t know what is normal
I don’t know who I am
I don’t trust anyone but myself to be in control
Here’s the list we’re trying to get to:
There’s a way out
I’m open to advice
I know what to do
I know there’s no “normal”
I know who I am
I trust the universe, and myself
The authors discuss the valuable roles that Recognition, Certainty, and Stimulation play–and how to determine if any of those three “hungers” are out of balance between us and our child/ren.
Recognition — the hunger to be acknowledged. Look at me! See what I’m doing. Give me and what I’m doing recognition!
Certainty — the hunger for physical, social, and psychological systems that keep us safe and make life predictable. Who’s is charge here? Give me consistency and boundaries that make me feel calm, that I can rely on and trust, and help me safely grow and learn.
Stimulation — the hunger for the contact that’s vital to life. Let’s DO something. Give me physical contact, touch, variety in games, new experiences, and show me exciting and interesting things (safely, of course). No monotony please, my brain is growing!
We want to be better, we want to behave better. We had limited, “uneven” examples of parenting, and we’re accustomed to chaos (inner and/or outer, seen and/or unseen)!
It’s the book’s scenarios, charts, sample conversations, and graphics that I found most valuable. My single criticism of the charts is that readers would benefit from more explanatory notes on interpreting the charts (figure descriptions); it strikes me that the charts would be great jumping-off points for an in-person workshop but in a static book need a bit more explanation.
DON’T BEAT YOURSELF UP — LOOK FORWARD
Be hopeful, and think forward. Try not to think, “OMG I’ve messed up big-time, I’m a horrible parent.” Instead be proactive and kind with yourself. Try to realize, “I can make a change now that will matter a great deal to myself and my child/ren from today forward.” You can be that awesome of a role model for your kids–embodying positive change for them. Use your eyes (there are none on the backs of our heads) and look forward, only, as you can’t un-do what’s done, so let it be. (Or, by all means, do a kind and loving apology to people if you want to.) The key is to consider how you can put more healthy, consistent behaviors into practice going forward–from the here and now.
“Like every parent, I want nothing so much as my children’s well-being. I want it so badly I may actually succeed in turning myself into a contented and well-adjusted person, if only for my children’s sake.”
–Joyce Maynard (quote appears in book’s Chapter One)
Growing Up Again: Parenting Ourselves, Parenting Our Children, 2nd Edition by Clarke & Dawson (c) 1998 Hazelden. 978-1-56838-190-9. $16.95.
It’s definitely worth your while to check out the Hazelden books site, too, for their self-help books.
I ALSO WROTE THESE 2 PIECES ON PARENTING & GROWING UP: