Tag Archives: intimate parenting

The Meanie and the Mind of the Clock

Time and its invisible, arbitrary, relentless, uncaring structure is my go-to method for bullying my 5-year-old son, Avery. This was made crystal-clear to me on an otherwise ordinary Wednesday morning because Brendan and I chose to pay particular attention to a recurrent behavioral pattern of mine that loves to show up around transitions: the Meanie.

The Meanie is fucking mean and she doesn’t care. She’s mean because she wants to have impact, wants to be taken seriously, wants to have some control over how time is being spent. Or wasted, as the case may be. Change and its inevitable transitions are her nemesis because they are difficult enough to navigate among consenting adults who agree on the basic structure of time—but when a small child is involved?

A small child who also happens to be a master of the universe and general force of nature? A child who is wholly present to and engaged with whatever he’s doing, no matter what, and Mama why are you not watching me play this game right now? If you’ve spent any time around kids, you know exactly what I mean, right? They don’t WANT to change what they’re doing to transition and come do whatever we say “it’s time” to do.

What have I got that’s half so interesting as moving water and sand and half-rotten pears around between buckets to make yard soup with specially seasoned ants? Nothing; that’s what. Unless it’s candy or a power tool, then…maybe.

So, what’s one of the most contentious transitions a modern American family can experience? What gets my anxiety up and ensures the Meanie has a hot mess of compost to come plant herself in?

Getting everyone out of the house by 8:00 am so we can ride together to work and school.

I’m sure your family has a version of this. An episode of family drama that gets enacted over and over: constrained by time, fueled by a chronic low-grade state of exhaustion, and brought to a roiling boil by the addition of a child who wants what he wants and what he wants is to be neither helpful nor efficient. Apparently. Because getting dressed and leaving the house when you’d rather lounge about, eat raisins, and watch videos? Fuck. That. Am I right?

So. Wednesday morning. 7:43 am. I’d been having a pretty good morning; no major disturbances or disasters, my baseline wakefulness was above average. I later had no explanation for what was about to occur. I got triggered by something—maybe I was secretly harboring resentment over making lunches when it “wasn’t my job,” maybe I got anxious because I “should” have been at work already, catching up on project management homework. Probably both.

Thing about core patterns and their triggers is they sneak up on me and grab the wheel before I realize what’s happening. Because they’ve been here so long they’re really skilled at hiding in my blind spots and convincing me they don’t exist.

I remember feeling a surge of anxious energy in my chest and solar plexus, and suddenly I was in the Mind of the Clock. I noticed that Avery didn’t have his shoes on yet and was playing Legos on the front porch as I came out to stage bags for the trip downstairs to the car. The Meanie was poised and ready because if she holds one thing sacred it’s that The One Right Way to Transition is Quickly and Without Dawdling, Dilly-Dallying, or Farting Around.

“Avery, put your shoes on please; it’s time to get in the car.” (She likes to hide behind “manners.”)

*tick tock tick tock tick tock tick*

He doesn’t stop what he’s doing or respond in any way. To the Meanie, this is an open invitation to start Driving the Situation. Bring the shoes to him, put them down right next to him, and then stand there, hands on hips and say “Put your shoes on. Now.” I say this with the air of threat in my voice, the implication of consequences. After all, Time is on My Side. I’ve interrupted what he’s doing, forced myself into his reality, and am now applying pressure, using time as a crowbar.

Shoes finally on, I proceed down the stairs, focused on meeting my next milestone even though I can hear him calling me to “Wait, Mama! I want to go with you!” “Fuck no,” thinks the Meanie, “you had your chance to come with me two minutes ago and you wasted it!” But he keeps calling me and it sounds like he’s about to cry. Meanie hasn’t yet committed to a Scene on the Front Lawn, so I turn around and come back to stand at the bottom of the stairs. Where I project irritation and disbelief.

He stops halfway down the stairs to enact a critical point in a story I’m not even close to tracking. I’m standing there, seething, every second feeling like torture and failure. I am wasting time waiting for him, I think. I’m trapped. ALL I WANT TO DO IS MOVE FORWARD AT MY SPEED. WHY THE HELL IS HE SO SLOW?

About 30 seconds later (which honestly felt like WHOLE MINUTES) I hear myself say in the meanest way possible “I’m done here. I’m TIRED of waiting for you!” I turn away and walk toward the car. I hear him yell “MAMA NOOOO!” followed by little feet pounding on stairs. And then, because he’s upset and trying so hard to hurry and please me, he trips on the last step and falls down chest-first on the sidewalk. He explodes in tears.

Inside my head, Meanie says “He did that on purpose.” I roll my eyes dramatically and take a big, heaving breath because I am SO INCONVENIENCED and now I have to deal with comforting a child pulling manipulative bullshit tricks like falling down the stairs to get attention and thwart me in my need to Be Timely and Efficient.

I look up to the porch and there’s Brendan, watching the whole scene. He yells angrily, “What the hell are you doing?! He’s trying to fulfill your arbitrary demands and your anxiously pushing on him is making it worse! We aren’t even late yet—why are you being so MEAN?!” My whole body got tight and hot with shame, sadness, remorse, and unspent meanness. The Meanie just got seen. Big Time.

During the ride to work, she got contradicted big time because Brendan had the skill and presence to lovingly hold space for me and the pattern, and the beginning stages of my coming to see and understand what it was about. The Meanie is an adaptation I developed to deal with the fact that I was rushed through transitions as a child. Chronically.

I suspect you might have had a similar experience. The lifestyles and parenting approaches our society enforces don’t afford people the time or teach them the skills to respect one another during transitions. And since we don’t actually view children as full persons, we respect their space less. During transitions, even less. We have internalized the Mind of the Clock; the scheduled bells and report cards and compartmentalized activities have trained us to MOVE when “time is of the essence.”

Because undirected playtime looks a whole lot like “wasting time.” Moving slowly looks like “farting around” or “being defiant.” Being fully present in the moment means you aren’t aware of time, you aren’t “trying to get somewhere” because where you’re at is perfection. Children live in the present, so time is meaningless (and, frankly, stupid) to them. To adults who have already been indoctrinated, who have become a servant to alarms and schedules—at a core level, that fact is infuriating.

We didn’t get to be our full selves. We gave up our authenticity because preserving our parental attachments was more important. We didn’t really have a choice. The Meanie doesn’t want Avery to be his authentic full self. She wants him to adopt the ancestral pattern and help me bear the anxious weight of having traded away my divinely-inspired playtime. So that we could Hurry Up and Get Somewhere.

I’m finally beginning to see that Right Here is the most valuable thing we have. The Meanie is showing me how terrifying time is for her; how she thinks it means she has no control and will disappear. Because that was her lived experience; she had no control and her desires did disappear. My authentic self disappeared and it’s taken me almost 40 years to reclaim her.

I don’t want that for Avery, so in the search to find an alternate approach, I’m consciously giving up rushing him whenever possible. I’ve decided there are few things in the world worth my forcing him to choose between doing what inspires him, and pleasing me.

Context and Motivations Behind Intimate Parenting

Since I published my first post on intimate parenting last week, I’ve had a few opportunities to discuss my perspectives on Facebook. Usually with white, male, non-parents who presented almost universally as angry, offended, confused, or completely dismissive of what I have to say. Given that they are largely the product of a society determined to annihilate their ability to have authentic feelings or experience true intimacy with other humans, I’m not surprised by their upset and and disconnect. Their simmering rage and thinly-veiled hostility.

When I first began looking at gender issues, I believed that violence was a by-product of boyhood socialization. But after listening more closely to men and their families, I have come to believe that violence IS boyhood socialization. The way we “turn boys into men” is through injury: We sever them from their mothers, research tells us, far too early. We pull them away from their own expressiveness, from their feelings, from sensitivity to others. The very phrase “Be a man” means suck it up and keep going. Disconnection is not fallout from traditional masculinity. Disconnection IS masculinity.
–The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love by bell hooks

I’ve heard from angry white males who have no way to go back in time and reclaim what was stolen from them during childhood. Men stuck making the hard choice between looking at, acknowledging, believing, and then healing from their wounds—or maintaining their blind eye and forgetting it ever happened. A choice many people, perhaps even you, are intimately familiar with. The choice to continue believing that brutalizing children in the name of socializing them is a perfectly acceptable way to do business. The choice to continue believing that healthy intimacy with little boys will render them far too pussified for accepted masculine standards.

And so, in this context of choosing to heal from patriarchal-induced wounds and why one would ever want to take on arduous, terrifying work like that, I’m going to talk about some of the motivations and lived experiences that directly affect my choice to parent my son intimately. Because I certainly didn’t start from the premise that parenting was a divine calling, or that each of us possess a resonant field inside our bodies that seeks loving connection with other people, or that small bodies and feelings should be respected with the utmost care.

I am, after all, a child of patriarchy, too.

To love boys rightly we must value their inner lives enough to construct worlds, both private and public, where their right to wholeness can be consistently celebrated and affirmed, where their need to love and be loved can be fulfilled. –The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love

I never wanted kids, believing they were a horrid idea for numerous reasons. For starters, I had received wounds from my family of origin and didn’t want to perpetuate their warped worldview by foisting it on another human who had no choice in the matter. I also had many of the same complaints regarding children being uncivilized in public spaces that I’ve heard from the angry white males. Add to that, I worked in a children’s retail store where I daily had to deal with both unruly children and their clueless, checked-out parents. I basically loathed having to interact with them. But it was a small town and the only job I could find given my high school diploma education.

My no-kids stance persisted through the 15 years of my first marriage, where we were far too busy clubbing/partying and experimenting with polyamory to consider them a reasonable or desirable addition. THANK THE GODS. And then my marriage came to an end; I was 34 years old, barely knew who I was as a person, and had no idea what I was going to do with myself. Turns out it was an excellent time to start weekly psychotherapy.

Over many years of therapy, I came to understand that I hated children because I hated their perceived wholeness; that is, I resented the pieces of myself that had been sacrificed on the altar of fitting in, complying, and being a good girl. My abilities to intuitively trust, feel, and love had been disowned as a result of sexual abuse, emotional enmeshment, codependency, and being routinely shamed or manipulated by the adults in my life. Because that’s how we get civilized adults who mind their manners, acquiesce, and wait their turn to speak: we compress and “polish” them, conveniently forgetting how much it hurts to be rubbed that hard. How we eventually abandon parts of ourselves because of it.

It is now clear to me that our society hates children as much if not more than women. They are the most vulnerable among us, and we routinely enact violence upon them in the name of discipline, socialization, or because we are so sunk in our own re-stimulated childhood shame that we can’t protect them from our feelings. There has to be a better way. A way that doesn’t rely on abuse, shame, coercion, and fear. Because it’s crippling every single one of us, but our collective commitment to denial has us acting like we’re walking just fine.

Through my counseling, embodiment, and meditative work both solo with a therapist and in community with peers, I’ve come to understand how important authentic intimacy is to humans. How cultivating the ability to FEEL our feelings realistically and fluidly in the moment might be the most revolutionary, powerful work we take on. How it heals us; has healed me. I now know what it is to be seen, heard, and valued by other people who genuinely care about my well being. I know that this experience has helped me reclaim my identity and intuition.

I want my son to experience that from the start, for it to never be absent from his world. As a result, I reject the premise that in order to be accepted in our society a boy child must be circumcised, emotionally abandoned, shamed, and dominated. Because no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it, and detached disembodiment is a real problem. A problem I’m so committed to calling out and eradicating that I will suffer the personal discomfort of being judged and potentially ostracized by people who want to call me names, to laugh at the silly hippie lady, to discredit and minimize the power of love and intimacy.

I will continue to resist and contradict patriarchy’s violent, dogmatic lessons by choosing to parent him this way. Because I’ll be fucking goddamned if I stand by quietly and breed yet another misogynistic, entitled, white person without a second thought as to the sustainability of that choice. I believe our survival depends on our collective awakening to and rejection of violence. I believe that we must breed love and respect to survive; I really don’t see any other way out of this hemorrhaging empire we’ve constructed. I think we’ve hated ourselves long enough.

Mothers who ally themselves with patriarchy cannot love their sons rightly, for there will always come a moment when patriarchy will ask them to sacrifice their sons. –The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love

Guiding Him to Sleep

One of the ways my husband and I practice attachment parenting is to stay with Avery while he falls asleep. Primarily because we co-sleep, but also because transitions are difficult for most humans, and especially so for small children. This is one of the things that’s crystallized in Technicolor for me as I’ve gained my parenting legs: the devil is in the transitions—at least it is with Avery. It’s when all the other things I haven’t been paying attention to rise up and bite me in the ass. Things like sleep, food, exercise, and attention; if any of these resources are in short supply then our transitions will be rocky. Sometimes decidedly so.

I believe that waking up and going to sleep are the two most important transitions of the day. They are the bookends, the container, and they are powerful experiences for our bodies; one of the primary influences on our demeanor. Wake up crabby or tired or in pain? It’s gonna be a rough day. Heading to bed after fighting with your mate? Good luck getting to sleep and staying that way. You get me. And you know what’s unfortunate? We aren’t born knowing how to fall asleep under sub-optimal conditions; we require guidance to help us identify a method (usually through trial-and-error) that works for us, and even then it won’t work every time. As a small human, we’re at the mercy of our parents’ creativity or, more to the point, their ability to sit with their own distress.

Enter “sleep training.” Whenever I’ve encountered this broad set of ideas, it’s usually coupled with some barbaric practice like crying it out or leaving small children alone in a crib/bed to figure it out for themselves. I disagree with crying it out and abandonment because they’re abusive. Full stop. They also disrespect the child’s fundamental humanness. And they punish the child for not being able to do something efficiently that can be thrown off by myriad crappy things potentially occurring in the moment. Too tired. Sad. Hungry. Just not feeling right. You know: human things; not necessarily child things. This experience isn’t exclusively the domain of children and yet I perceive a society that punishes its children for acting badly during a transition I think we all know to be difficult.

The alone part of it I just don’t understand. Why is getting a child to sleep by himself considered such a coup? Certainly not because it’s better for the child. Because it’s better for the parent. It’s convenient for a child to go to sleep by themselves and not appear for 8-10 hours. It allows people to get things done; to study or do chores or spend time with their partner. And I think it does so at the expense of the child. Because what child under the age of 6 wouldn’t prefer the closeness of a warm body, a beating heart, and a loving voice? Our society has a serious obsession with kids going to and staying asleep by themselves. When many adults don’t expect themselves to do the same thing.

So. We stay with him until he falls asleep in a family bed. And I have to be honest; those 15 to 90 minutes during which he settles and then falls asleep have provided some of the richest, edgiest, most confrontational material for me to sit with. Seriously. The bedtime routine was where I finally grokked—right down to the core—that my feelings and desires are not the most important thing in the room. (Even though my husband tried to help me see it numerous times.) Obviously, this insight also has served me well when interacting with adult people. It’s a really hard thing to accept; crushing, actually, because I’ve spent a long time living with my feelings and trying to figure out what I want, and they both feel pretty damn important. They are; just not all the time.

I’ve also had to inspect my attachment to certain outcomes. Game Theory Mind says “Avery short-napped today, had a bike ride in the late afternoon, ate a big meal, and looks really sleepy right now as we read books. I bet he’ll go to sleep quickly tonight.” And with that thought, I exponentially increase my chance of being Wrong. Of course, now that I’ve arrived at a best logical outcome for this evening’s routine, I can’t let it go. I imagine what I might do with the 30-60 minutes of free time I just theoretically earned for myself, and I start to really enjoy how it looks. Bath? Chocolate? Watch a video with Brendan? Yes, all excellent options.

But someone has a better idea. Someone wants to climb out of bed or not lie still or chatter about the concrete mixer we saw in Georgetown. Someone wants more fresh water in his bottle. And then I start to get pissy; I want to be punitive and take away his toy or give him the silent treatment because DAMMIT you’re using up all my free time by NOT GOING TO SLEEP.

This is decidedly not the grounded, loving, cuddly bedtime experience I envision having. Not the mama I want to be. So, it all came to a head one night when I was being shitty in bed and ignoring him for not doing it my way, when the universe or my intuition or something poked me in the cortical stem and was like “Hey, asshole. He’s acting like this because he needs your guidance and your grounded attention. You’re mad at him for taking away something that wasn’t yours in the real, actual world. So, maybe there’s a better way to make this go faster than giving him the silent treatment, huh?”

Ouch. Fine. Whatever. So I counseled about it with Brendan, and my parenting/holistic peer counseling/embodied friends and got some feedback on how I could change what I brought to the room; how I could create the bedtime experience we both actually needed, let alone wanted.

I started by giving up my attachment to his going to sleep in a specific way, and that meant having to give up my expectation of getting “adult time” at night. Funny thing was, the time from 10:00-12:00 wasn’t being spent that well anyway; Brendan and I mostly sat on the couch watching videos after which I fought to stay awake, getting all jumpy and baby-necking like my Mom and my Grandmother always do and did. Instead, we started going to bed a lot earlier. I went downstairs with Avery assuming I wouldn’t come back upstairs, that I was going to bed for real. Teeth brushed, night guard in, jammies on. We’re snuggling down like cats, kid; bring it.

Two other hugely-positive (external) contributors: I started going to work an hour earlier so I could get home earlier; an effort to prevent kicking off his dreaded second wind at 7:00 pm. We now also adhere to a strict “no screen time after 6:00 pm” rule. This was a huge blow to me because the hour Avery and I spent watching videos in the evening had become my default Facebook time and I was loathe to give it up. He’s been pretty disappointed, too, because Pat and Mat, and Curious George. Duh. He now watches videos with Daddy earlier in the day, so it’s not a total loss and, on the plus side, he and I get to read a lot more books. I think the experience has provided an excellent lesson for both of us in letting go of attachment to routines that no longer serve or nourish.

Not surprisingly, everything changed. Suddenly, everyone is getting more sleep and that’s improved a lot of moods. Even better, now Avery and I are (mostly) having the bedtimes I had almost written off as unattainable. I’m more grounded and calm, knowing I can just relax my body and give into the sweet play and chatting he’s been craving. Instead of fighting it so I can go back upstairs and watch Game of Thrones. This is the naturally-occurring, organic wind-down period he needed; the one that I hadn’t realized I needed, too.

Bedtime has now become (mostly) a meditation for me; one where I trust my body’s need to relax and am reminded of how much I love that little guy. Instead of resenting him. It doesn’t always go “according to plan,” but he and I are learning to trust one another as I guide him to sleep.