Last week, my seventeen year-old son broke his toe playing frisbee. Suddenly he was home, on the couch, instead of at school or at work or out with friends; and he wanted our connection and support. I treasured the time, but I also resented it; and I’m not sure why.
Maybe it’s because he takes so much for granted already that to be asked anything else is outlandish.
Maybe it’s because the last time we needed him–when my husband and I were simultaneously struck down by the flu–he abandoned us; after we spent days and nights tenderly caring for him and his brother.
Both of these points are valid, and that’s where I want to focus, even though I can tell that this isn’t the whole story. The body doesn’t lie. And mine has been screaming.
So I show up. Here. On this blog. And listen:
I feel angry.
…and more than my own anger, I sense my father’s rage, with me, at the same age.
What we fought about were bedtimes and laundry and who was the boss, but what we were really engaged in is the excruciating shedding of roles.
I must be shedding now too. My skin has been itchy for weeks. Maybe ever since my son decided upon a college.
But I don’t focus on that. I narrow in on his increasing lack of respect, contribution, consideration and caring.
“If you weren’t my son, I’d break up with you,” I say.
“Why?” he asks.
“Because I would never let another man treat me this way.”
“How do I treat you?”
And then I realize,
we aren’t living in the same world,
or speaking the same language,
or seeing the same things.
It’s not fair!
Fairness is where I get stuck. How is it fair that he sleeps here (all day), and eats here (some of the time) and relies on us and our provision in so many ways, but so easily dismisses what we need: like respect for our resources and time and patience by not using 6 towels in one week and leaving them scattered on his floor, wet, among candy wrappers and clothing and god knows what else, and then asks us to go look for something he left behind.
“Just don’t look in the bottom drawer, Mom.”
“It will be awkward.”
Ironically, he has chosen a college room-mate based on his tidiness: “I just can’t live with someone who is going to trash our place.” (This makes me want to cackle and curse him with the sloppiest room-mate on Earth.)
Oh, and last month, when he took OUR car to Canada, with his buddies, he cleaned it from top to bottom–BEFORE they left.
And work? He gives them 150%.
And even with a broken toe, he can’t miss his game this afternoon to pick up his brother so that I can go to the doctors for this excruciating pain on my right side, the pain that won’t let me bend forward or backward or even turn side to side; even though we dropped everything to help him with his… toe.
I get it. I do. I know he’s transferring all of his good nature, his passion, his consideration–to the world outside of his family; but does he have to be so cliché? I’ve parented out of the box; can’t he grow up out of it too?
He just called. He forgot his sneakers. Could I drop them off on my way to the doctor’s appointment (the one that I had to arrange alternative coverage for) so that he doesn’t have to wear his hikers to “watch” his game?
It does no good to point this out. I am in a one-sided relationship. Only he isn’t a bundle of joy gazing lovingly into my eyes like the sun rises and sets on me. Instead, I am the dark cloud who obstructs his obliviously sunny sky. Unless he needs something. Then he pours it on. And I feel like a door mat.
I leave the sneakers behind.
But if I really listen to the pain in my ribcage that made it hard to breath, there’s something more…
That evening, when he was home, in the living room, like he used to be, and he asked me to come over to the couch so that he could show me something on his computer; I sighed, put down my work, and shimmied in beside him, where he sat with his foot propped up with ice.
As he hit play, my attention narrowed, not on the screen, but to something else:
Our bodies, touching.
From shoulder to foot, I felt the heat of his body and mine; and in a flash, I remembered everything… the longing I felt for him to come into my life, the preciousness of his growth inside me, the tenderness with which I anticipated his needs, the day-to-day companionship of ours years together at home.
I felt a stabbing pain in my third eye as I returned my attention to the computer in front of me. My son was sharing a cover of one of our favorite songs, sung by a group of Norwegians with seventies haircuts:
While listening, I noticed that we raised our eyebrows at the same time, and then grinned at the same moments, and then turned toward each other, just as the voice of the last vocalist swept us away.
I always thought of this song as epic, as biblical, as archetypal–between a man and his true love. But today, I hear a mother’s story. And I feel the excruciating finality of what has been a soul-consuming journey…
Maybe there’s a god above
And all I ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you
And it’s not a cry you can hear at night,
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah
Motherhood is such holy work, and I fail, again and again, to keep the sacred front and center. I knew how to hold on, but I’m not sure how to let go; or at least how to do both at the same time.
But baby I’ve been here before
I’ve seen this room and I’ve walked this floor
You know, I used to live alone before I knew ya
And I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
And love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah
What do I do when that little boy, who held my hand and talked to me about life: “Where do faces go when we die? Does the sun know everything?” reappears beside me, with thick hairy legs, and a voice deeper than his father’s?
Well your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya
She tied you to her kitchen chair
And she broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
This is labor, I think. This is the ripping apart of two souls. Just as it was at birth.
There was a time
You let me know
What’s real and going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you?
The holy dark was moving to
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah
I remember the first time he moved in me, and how we became one, until he grew so large inside that he began to press under that same rib, until it hurt so badly that I could hardly breath, and I wanted him gone, and when he was, I grieved that he was no longer there.
Well I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
Well it goes like this:
The fourth, the fifth, the minor fall and the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
I love you, Lloyd. I’m so sad you’re gone. I can’t believe you’re still here. I don’t know how to live without you. I don’t know how to live with you. I don’t know how to let you go and love at the same time. But I’ll keep trying.
Kelly Salasin, Mothers Day 2013
The first time I ever yelled at my son was at our back door on our way out to preschool. I was pregnant, feeling awful, and my steady supply of patience had suddenly evaporated. It was downhill after that. My bubble as a “perfect parent” popped, again and again, particularly once I became a mother of two boys.
That said, I had a strong skill set for parenting. I had been the oldest of eight and an elementary school teacher by profession. In fact, I had been my son’s preschool teacher for 2 years until he fired me: “Mom, would you leave like the other Mom’s do?”
When I left the preschool the following year, I was given the job of coordinating an ongoing parenting workshop in our district. I was an eager participant as well. I explained that I held so much personal power in the home that I wanted to be sure my boys came into their own. The majority of the others complained that their children never listened to them.
“All I do is yell,” confided one mother.
I’ll never forget that admission because her sadness touched me, and I also wondered about it. Why did she yell? Didn’t she bring her boys up to listen to her? It takes persistence, but it can be done; and it’s much more effective and empowering than yelling.
It would be ten years before I realized that I had become that mother. It didn’t happen over night. It crept up on me, like a slow, growing fungus. Frustration played a part, fatigue did too, as did the diminishing return of being a perfect parent.
My oldest was 10 when the fungus picked up its pace. It was time for violin practice, and he not only balked, but refused. When I insisted, with accentuated volume, he had the audacity to leave. He ran out the door and hid behind his rock pile. My husband encouraged me not to follow him.
But when he returned, there were fireworks. I’ll never forget coming face to face with my own powerlessness as we yelled at each other at the top of the stairs; or the desperate absurdity of my next move: “I’m going break all your toys,”I said.
There was a long pause while we absorbed my threat, followed the expansion of our mouths into a smile, and then laughter.
It was time for my role as Commander in Chief to change; and to tell the truth, looking back now, seven years later, as my son rounds out the last semester of high school, I did a pretty good job with the transition. We still like each other; and even though the fireworks have increased over time, they are more frequently followed by understanding and acceptance and even… affection.
Lately, this emerging adult confides that my personal power is intimidating. That even though I listen and consider and even change my mind at times, I have such a commanding manner, that even when I’m giving, I can be taking away.
I resent this. I want everyone to find their own power. I don’t want to diminish mine just to make them comfortable. I’ve worked hard to claim this power in my life; it’s what enabled me to transcend a great deal of pain and to create the beautiful fulfilling life I have now –which includes a positive relationship with my teenager.
It seems a shame to be giving up my voice just when I’m coming into it as a middle-aged woman with dramatic hormonal surges of clarity, but I listen and consider and begin to shape a plan; because that’s how much I love these men–not only my husband and my teenager–but his younger brother, who at 12 is still a sensitive soul who can’t bear these heated arguments.
I know that the last handful of years has taken its toll on my youngest; and that by the time his brother is off to college, he’ll begin his own adolescence. Perhaps this second act will be less intense, simply because it’s no longer a complete unknown. Maybe it will feel as easy as it did when he was born and we had already endured the initiation into parenting so that we spent much of the time coasting. Maybe we’ll be more relax more this time around with a teenager, knowing that we didn’t totally fuck up the first one.
But you never know. Things can be going on swimmingly, and then a tidal wave comes out of nowhere. Like the day before last. When my oldest and I went head to head at breakfast and I banged my fist on the table like I’d seen my father do. My younger son resigned himself to leaving the room, while my husband rebuked us, again and again.
Growing up in what could be a volatile home, my husband was afraid of anger, and rarely expressed it. He was also the middle child, the peace maker, and so his first-born wife was infuriated each time he stood the middle ground instead of rolling up his sleeves to tackle the intensity of parenting a teenager. “I’m raising a man!” I’d rant with all my mid-life fury, challenging him to tell me what he was after.
This is how the intensity built on Sunday so that what started out as a typical disagreement between two parents and their son mutated into ongoing fireworks between husband and wife; only I was the only one launching anything of color. By the time my husband truly engaged, at the tail end of a tiring day, he was fully loaded–with pain. The pain from a lifetime of witnessing volatility, the pain of fear and powerlessness, and the frustration of facing my angst and anger without expressing his own or without being able to communicate how toxic the build up was for him.
The result was–chilling and sobering and a wakeup call–for both of us. His–to more fully explore the pain he never felt or flushed; Mine–to realize the impact that my own volatility might have on my family.
I decide to go on a diet. A volume diet. A power diet. I will not relinquish my hard-earned voice, but I will cultivate it on the inside so that my sons and my husband might have more space to cultivate their own.
I check the calendar and discover that “lent” begins tomorrow. What a coincidence! (I’m not even Catholic.)
So there it is, 40 days without raising my voice.
Kelly Salasin, February 12, 2013
With V-Day fast approaching and One Billion Rising on behalf of women, I join others the world in speaking out, but I never consider myself among the victims.
Those years of spanking, with the belt, on my naked bottom, over his lap–those were a legitimate act of parental discipline, right? And the time when I was a grown woman, home from college… and he hit me across the face with the back of his hand; not once, but three times; that wasn’t the kind of wrong where you press charges because I had mocked the authority of the man who provided for me, right?
When does standing up for yourself shift from disobedience to claiming ones rightful place in the world? And what earns that place?
Money or size?
And what about respect? How is that come by? Does it only flow in one direction? Who decides?
These are the questions I’ve asked myself as a woman, but up until now I’ve never realized that I was among those violated. Until my husband punched our door in the middle of a heated argument, and then kicked the wall beside the bed until the sheet rock collapsed on itself; then, I realized; this is about “them,” this is about all women.
My first thought was the children. My teenager remained safely behind his closed door while my 12 year old called out from his dreams. I rushed to his room and sat beside him until he settled back into a softer sleep.
Then I quickly returned to the bedroom, grabbed my things, and headed downstairs. I considered leaving, as I had in college when my father gave me the black eye, but where would I go and why would I go?
I made up a bed on the couch and put the phone beside me. The room was dark except for the glow of the wood stove so I could barely see my husband arrive at the bottom of the stairs.
“Don’t come any closer,” I said. “I’ll call the police. I mean it.”
He said my name desperately, unbelievably, before resigning himself to leave. I ached for his grief but I felt afraid of him at the same time. His outburst had triggered a lifetime of vulnerability and intimidation.
I wondered if I was to blame like I had been as a child… when I was bad; or as a young adult when I was disrespectful. I was reminded of what my in-laws once “joked” in a heated moment when they felt their son was victimized by my constant demands: “Maybe he takes you out back and beats the crap out of you.”
I tried to fall asleep, but I kept thinking about the wall, and about how that could have been me, and about how some woman somewhere was definitely being kicked across a floor while her children screamed. I was definitely not returning to that room until the wall was repaired.
When the floor creaked above me, I froze. When another tall figure appeared by the wood stove, I sprung upright, and reached for the phone, ready to dial.
It was my oldest son. He lay down beside me in a space that was smaller than a single bed even though our queen had been too close for his comfort for years on end. He wrapped his arm around me and took my hand in his.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
He stayed for an hour. We talked. About ourselves. About anger. About self-expression. About power. About helplessness. When I heard the floor creak again, I moved my hands through the blankets, but I couldn’t find the phone. My son asked what I was doing, and at first I said, “Nothing,” but then I attempted to explain the vulnerability that is unique to women.
He listened attentively and then apologized for not coming to me when he first heard his father’s outburst.
After he left, I lay there, softening, wishing for my mother, wanting the comfort of my husband. I suddenly understood how a violated woman might return to the lover who had abused her.
I remembered that my father once confided to me that he’d hit my mother “only a few times” when she was overly emotional. I was appalled; and couldn’t understand why she hadn’t stood up for herself or for me when he hit me. But we were both petite women, and he was towering. That and the fact that my mother was born only twenty years after women claimed the right to vote; and I would be ten before “marital rape” was a crime in every state. That kind of subjugation lives on covertly in the dynamic of the culture for generations.
My own husband is a kind, gentle man, not prone to anger, but he grew up in what could be a volatile home, as did his parents before him. Those legacies don’t just disappear. Not without attention. And consciousness. And courage.
I began to realize that the threat I felt was not so much about the man upstairs as it was about the position of women throughout time. My mind turned to all those who are terrorized the men in their lives–by lovers, fathers, brothers, husbands–in the past and in the present–and especially those among us who are too threatened to get help.
I woke the next morning, in my own bed, with a pounding skull, and a tight jaw, and a stiff neck. “This is trauma,” I thought. (And I hadn’t even been touched.)
I decided that our wall wouldn’t be repaired right away after all. That we would use it as a reminder of what is at stake. Particularly today as our lawmakers deliberate over VAWA: The Violence Against Women Act.
I am certain that whatever rights and protections are bestowed upon women are bestowed upon us all; just as whatever trauma is inflicted impacts us all.
Kelly Salasin, February 11, 2013
Scroll down for tips on prevention, inspection, treatment & follow up. (Share your own success in the comment section below.)
I thought we were hosting my sister and her new baby for Thanksgiving, but instead my son came home from school with… LICE! Our relatives checked into a hotel and we spent the holiday week giving thanks while picking, oiling and avoiding physical contact with loved ones. “Can I hug today?” my son asked each morning.
I’ve been terrified of lice for decades. I first read about them in The Thornbirds when little Maggie’s head was shaved; and later trembled as a teacher when my students lined up in front of the school nurse. But even when lice infested children sat beside me or when I had my own children, and we were all exposed–visiting company, best friends, classroom trips–we remained safe. Apparently, lice is not so easy to catch.
Still, I enacted my own preventative regime (see below) which was part science/part lucky charm. As the years passed, however, I grew laxed. My son grew his hair. His class grew infested.
He had been scratching for more than a week when something unidentifiable fell off my own head. “What is this?” I asked my husband. Neither of us could tell, but later that same day something else fell out, and I jumped into action.
When my son arrived home from school, I made him stop on porch so that I could examine him in the bright afternoon light. “I don’t have it, Mom,” he insisted, “They’ve already checked me at school.” He had been repeating this line for weeks and I had wanted to believe that his scalp was dry from the wood stove, but now I wasn’t giving up… until I found… something.
I searched and searched and searched until I spotted what might have been nits at the back of his head (those tiny, translucent, sesame-seed-sized eggs, attached to one side of hair shaft, like a cocoon, with an adhesive as strong as super-glue; See video below #1); but I couldn’t be sure. His hair was dirty-blonde, iridescent-ly so, which made identification almost impossible.
“Let’s go up to the bathroom,” I said, “and bring the standing lamp from the living room.” Under bright lights, I searched the same section of hair and thought I saw something moving. Twice? Three times?
We returned downstairs to search the internet for what to do next and found some fantastic resources which quickly transformed us into private investigators/scientists (instead of panicked victims.)
We returned to the bathroom armed with information and began the process of combing (see video below #2.) What I discovered? His head was a FACTORY. Dozens and dozens and dozens of live lice were virtually invisible moments before. (I’m itching just thinking about it. Aren’t you?)
After our initial outrage and disgust, we were curious. How were the lice able to set up such an impressive, covert operation? And why hadn’t my husband been infested given that he lays down with my son each night?
I decided not follow our school’s protocol for treatment given that they had failed to find or prevent lice from spreading (which probably had more to do with individual families and their ability to continue with the rigorous follow-up required. See video under #3). Instead I reached out to other families who had successfully treated (and prevented the return of lice), and I pieced together my own rigorous plan.
For obvious reasons, I chose not to use “pesticides” on my son’s scalp; particularly given the fact that reports indicate that lice have not only grown immune to them, but have evolved into “super-lice” in response to the chemicals. (See video under #3.)
In my exhaustive research to be sure we would eliminate lice from our home as safely and quickly as possible, I found the best of the best on the web.
In compassion for other families (and in the hope that you do not spread it to us again , I have compiled those resources and our own protocol here:
This video, from the excellent resource, Head Lice to Dead Lice, helps orient the family to what is in store–with a much needed sense of humor.
Part II of the video with the 5 Step Plan (Video under #3 below) is helpful for making sure you don’t re-infest your household after the initial removal.
This video from, The Hair Fairy, lends the whole picking process a doable, matter-of-fact-ness, instead of our own earth-shattering doom. We relied on their thorough combing process (with a nit comb and hair conditioner) during our first treatment and thereafter. I will use this again if ever I suspect head lice in the family. It’s how we found ours and it’s how we continued to ensure that we didn’t re-infest.
#3 Follow Up
Though lice can happen to anyone, it’s up to us to make sure we don’t re-infest our own households by not following through with the necessary treatment. This 5 Step Plan from Head Lice to Dead Lice takes you through the steps from treatment through follow-up–including letting others know. (Note: We chose olive oil and essential oils over pesticide– with successful results on an infested head.)
#4 Our Own Lice Treatment Plan
Here’s what we did from start to finish over a three-week period.
1) CHECKING: Checked head in natural light for nits, then under bright lights with a magnifying glass.
2) COMBING: Applied AMPLE conditioner (ours was tea tree) and used the combing process (See Video under #2) until we found: NOTHING. That first night this took many hours. We added conditioner as needed. Wiped bugs onto tissues and disposed of them. Washed the comb in hot, soapy water before successive comb-throughs and had our son repeat the process in the shower–using tea tree shampoo and conditioner (since we weren’t using the pesticide); and then did the combing process all over again; this time carefully searching each section of hair for any remaining nits (See Video #2.) Lastly we used a vinegar rinse (diluted) to help dislodge nits before combing again.
3) OIL: We doused our son’s hair in olive oil and applied diluted essential oils (eg. tea tree, lavender, rosemary, eucalyptus) before covering it with a shower cap and securing it with a t-shirt or bandana.
a. We vacuumed the entire house with special attention to beds, couches, chairs etc.b. We changed all the bed sheets and washed dirty ones in hot water along with any clothing worn recently.
c. We bagged up things we couldn’t wash: stuffed animals, decorative pillows, fancy coats, hats, scarves or we put them in the dryer for 20 minutes on high. (It was freezing outside that week, so we put all the bags on the porch.)
d. We covered the couch with a new sheet each day.
e. We repeated the vacuuming and washing/drying daily until there was no sign of lice/nits in the house.
f. The infested persons avoided bodily contact with others and with couches etc; and also wore a bandana until there was no sign of lice/nits on their head for 24 hours +.
5.) FAMILY: The entire family oiled up that first night and then every 4 nights after for 3 weeks (as per the 5 Step Treatment Plan–video #3), including checking/combing in the morning before the oil was washed out.
This is our family’s time-tested protocol for lice prevention (Note: If we had followed our own protocol during the recent lice epidemic at school we would not have spent Thanksgiving dealing with them!):
1) Coats, hats, scarves into dryer after school
2) Head blow dried after school
3) Hair gel/essential oils (diluted) applied to hair in the morning before school as a deterrent
EXTRA PROTECTION 4) *If it’s a particularly bad school infestation, we apply the olive oil overnight treatment and use a nit comb in the morning to check with a magnifying glass. (No matter what the result, our hair appreciates the conditioning.)
*Note: we also keep tea tree shampoo and conditioner (and other strong essential oils) on hand to use once a week or more regularly when lice is active in the school.
See video under #3 above for more prevention tips.
If you have your own successful tips for inspection, treatment, followup and prevention, please share them below. We have to rely on each other!!
There’s not much sibling rivalry in our home, and I’d like to take credit for that. With a ratio of 2:2, there’s “enough” parenting to go around so that our boys don’t have to compete much for the light of our attention.
But the truth is just as likely that there is a 5 year spread between our children and so they haven’t needed us in the same way at the same time over the years.
Our first-born seemed somewhat indifferent to the arrival of his brother; which is not to say that he didn’t welcome him into our lives, he did, but he just wasn’t a baby gaga kind of kid.
His younger brother, on the other hand, is. He’s begged for a sibling for years; but actually, he’d probably have the harder time sharing us. Whenever his father or I lavished attention on his younger cousins, he was jealous; but not so much of his independent older brother.
Recently, however, I witnessed a startling act of rivalry. Both boys came down with the flu during the Christmas vacation. The youngest first. And in his hours with high fever, he wanted to be on my body like he had as a child. I folded out the futon couch and created a movie theater bed to accommodate us.
As the days progressed, he became too grumpy for cuddling, but he still wanted someone close so I remained a body’s distance from him. When his big brother came stumbling down the stairs the next evening with a sore throat and a high fever of his own, I patted the place between us.
He hesitated; it had been years since he had wanted my bodily comfort; but then surprisingly, he moved to join me.
In that moment, my youngest was completely absorbed in the film we were watching, but as his big brother began to climb onto the futon, he slowly moved his leg across the bed so that it rested on mine–eliminating any space between us.
I chuckled at this dormant sign of rivalry and winked at my husband across the room, as I moved his leg and pulled my oldest beside me.
My stoic first-born had his own heartening display of subtle, sibling rivalry on the day his brother was born. Though he had long called us by our first names, “Casey” and “Kelly,” the moment his brother was born, we became his “Mommy” and “Daddy” ever more.
Recently, he’s been more transparent, saying to his blonde-haired, blue-eyed younger sibling: “You may not be taller, better looking or richer than me,” and then he adds with a smile: “Well, at least not all three.”
Kelly Salasin, January 2013
Adolescence is a period of rapid changes. Between the ages of 12 and 17, for example, a parent ages as much as 20 years.
So yes, I’m still talking about the Father who used Facebook (and a gun) to teach his daughter a lesson. This is my 5th post, in what has become a series–given all there is to reap from this incident and its reverberations around the world.
Although the use of a gun is central to my expressed concerns, I see this more as an issue of power, and more importantly–an issue of how we react when we feel: powerless.
I must confess that I’m biased. I pack a lot of personal power into my 5 foot 2, mama frame. As the oldest of 8, leadership came early. That combined with a love learning and children led me to teaching, where to no surprise, classroom management came easily. When I asked my sixth-grade students why they behaved so poorly for a colleague while behaving so well for me, one replied on behalf of the class, “We know you mean business, Ms. Salasin.”
Unfortunately, parenting a toddler was nothing like managing a classroom. I quickly found some wonderful mentors to guide me as a new parent. When my first-born approached double-digits however, things got”stickier”– climaxing on the day that he refused to practice his violin and dashed out of the house defiantly after I told him to stay.
I was beside myself with thoughts of crushing his will.
When we finally did pick up the “conversation” again, things quickly grew heated, and I actually threatened… to break his toys… before breaking into a smile, shocked at myself. (We both shared a belly laugh then at how ludicrous and desperate I had become.)
This was a turning point for me. I knew that my “rule” in the home had to be adapted in order to remained connected to this emerging man. I didn’t want to give up my personal power, but neither did I want him to grow up without his.
Another mentor appeared. This time with a practice: Non-Violent Communication (NVC). A parent group was formed, and I began studying and applying this subtle, but paradigm-shifting orientation toward power and needs. Most parents came because their kids wouldn’t listen; I came because I wanted to be sure that I listened.
Within months, my oldest was able to use NVC as a powerful tool for communicating what he needed. More often than not, he got what he wanted because he was able to connect to the depth of his needs and share them; and I wanted to respond. Equally instrumental, was his growing ability to understand my needs; and respond, accordingly.
Now this son is 16, and his younger brother is following in his footsteps–using communication that connects and relates. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have moments of frustration or that we don’t lash out from time to time; but we know how to rebound and reconnect; and we practice this every day; and it has truly been amazing–particularly in relationship with a young man who is getting ready to head off to college.
I feel proud. I feel proud that my boys have grown up witnessing and respecting the power of a woman; and I feel equally proud that they know how to understand and express their own needs from a place of strength–and connection.
In our home, each voice is respected. This doesn’t mean that I shirk my role as a parent to guide and teach my sons. I am a strong guide, and they don’t always like it; but they are accustomed to it.
At the same time, I work to help them develop the skills they need to leave me… and hopefully return someday–as a friend.
Powerlessness is a scary thing. It makes a powerful woman like me resort to the threat of breaking toys. It led a man in my community to take the life of another. Being present to powerlessness, without acting out, is the truest test of courage and love.
In desperation, we may think that we have no choice, but that’s not true. The exciting thing about needs is that they are not mutually exclusive. A teenager can have a need for autonomy; and a parent can have a need for respect; and both of these needs can met.
It’s only our strategies that are be in conflict, and with creativity and presence, strategies emerge that meet both needs.
I don’t mean to imply that there will be no conflict or pain, but that there is a way–in our homes and in our communities and our wider world–to respect the needs of ourselves and others–with strategies that support both.
The place to start is self-compassion. Had Mr. Jordan deeply connected to his feelings, he would have realized that he was sad and angry and frustrated. These feelings would have pointed to his needs for respect and consideration and even power; and in his connection to these needs, he would have felt compassion for himself in this challenging role of parenting a seemingly ungrateful child.
In the space between connecting with himself and later his daughter, he would have tended to his hurt in whatever way brought him peace. For me, it is yoga and a visit to my therapist and walk with a good friend on a country road. For someone else, it’s sailing or hunting or Tai Chi.
Fully connected with himself, Mr. Jordan would then be ready to explore his daughter’s needs–even in the face of her hurtful Facebook postings.
He might guess that his daughter was needing greater autonomy or that she might need a greater understanding of how the household roles were shared. He could respond to his daughter in a way that not only set limits but also engendered respect–not for his power–but for his feelings as a man and a parent.
I’m not saying that this is easy. As a parent of a teenager, I know how often my son needs a reality check about how the rest of us feel. I also know that this characteristic self-absorption is a necessary edge of adolescent development. Thus I endeavor to provide those reality checks without shame; whenever needed. That doesn’t mean I never get angry or use my anger to more strongly communicate my needs.
It is important to note here that there is an inherent imbalance in the parent-teen relationship. Teens make it their full time job to claim independence; while our role is only part-time. In this imbalance, we often resort quick to fixes: Shooting a laptop for instance. Videotaping it and putting it on Facebook. Or maybe something less dramatic, but equally disconnecting.
On the other side, parents hold a greater measure of basic power: the money, the home, the food, the clothes, the keys, and often size and strength (at least for fathers and daughters.)
Despite how many applaud Mr. Jordan’s definitive line in the sand, most have come to realize, through deeper reflection, that his display of power was one of helplessness and hurt, not one of instruction and love.
He made a mistake, one with great ramifications, but in doing so, he provided the rest of us with an opportunity to look at where we feel powerless, and what we do about it.
Kelly Salasin, February 16, 2012
Other posts on this topic:
I have a solution.
Not one that involves a gun or humiliation or intimidation. Instead, it’s a reality check. It works best with families who have healthy communication systems–where everyone has a “respected” voice. (Check out NVC.) And it also works best if you start this process around the age of 10 (so that it is ingrained in your child’s thinking before hormones take over
- Choose an area of the home that creates the most angst (the kitchen is a good place to start.) Make a list of every regular chore that goes into that area–not just the ones you ask the kids to do, but every single one that is done by Mom or Dad too. Don’t forget planning meals, shopping, budgeting, etc. etc.
- Print these out and cut the individual chores into something like a fortune cookie slip.
- Invite everyone to bring their favorite plate to their seat at the table. (A pizza goes along great with this activity and adds immeasurable good will.)
- Place the slips in the middle.
- Each person then “fills” her plate with whatever chore she does on a regular basis. In a matter of minutes, this is a real eye opener for the entire family.
- When all the slips are gone, each person takes a turn commenting on what he notices.
- Next, efforts are made to establish better balance: Perhaps Mom or Dad put a few of their chores back in the middle to be taken over by someone else. Perhaps Mom or Dad realizes that others are contributing a lot too. Definitely kids realize that they have it goooooooood.
- When all the strips have been re-distributed (and even traded for a more comfortable fit: ie. I’ll clean the toilets, if you take out the trash), then each plate can be used to create an individual or family chore list.
In our house (with boys 11 and 16), we now use one communal list in the kitchen (for the downstairs and meal contributions) and one upstairs. Each person is to make a proportionate contribution each day (eg. 12 chores for 4 people equal 3 chores daily.) On the weekend, we “house bless” (see the wonderful Fly Lady site for resources like this)–again with each person doing his/her share. Chores can be weighted due to the time or unpleasantness or you can streamline and make them all equal.
People still drag their feet about chores, they complain how hard they are (and I’m not just talking about the kids), but no one under 18 says it’s not fair; because the facts are right there; and if they still aren’t sure, we can do the plate activity again; at which mention they quickly get to work!
Note: this plan does require a regular administrator which in our house is typically me; but I don’t get too frustrated, because I add that responsibility to the list, and then I have less hands-on to do. (The kids are welcome to take over the administrator job if they want it, but so far no one has asked about that.)
Kelly Salasin, Valentines Day 2012
This post is my personal resolution of two previous posts on the Dad Who Used Facebook to Teach his Daughter a Lesson.
For Part II, click: Would Father Have Used Facebook and a Gun to Teach his SON a Lesson?