Friday, May 4, 2012

Why We Need A Mother's Movement - MT debrief pt 1

Last night my family watched the pilot of My So Called Life together -- an awkward yet apt show for family viewing post Michael-Thompson's Tuesday night talk.  In the show, 15 yr old Angela is needing to expand her sense of self and explore new friendships, much to the grief of her oldest friend.
Things were getting to me. Just how people are. How they always expect you to be a certain way. Even your best friend.   (This and all quotes from this site)
That expansion includes her relationship to her parents - at one point in the show, her bubble thoughts over dinner include:

Lately, I can't even look at my mother without wanting to stab her repeatedly. 
My daughter accidently says aloud that she knows that feeling (but quickly reassures me it isn't that often);  I remember that feeling in my own 12-year old self.  Angela goes on to acknowledge:
My dad and I used to be pretty tight. The sad truth is, my breasts have come between us. 
None of us say anything to that.

Angela is iconic and it is depressing that the show only lasted 1-season because I have much to learn from Angela's mother!  In the pilot she is uptight, earnest, loving, responsible, tight-lipped and totally unsure of what to do or say next.  She doesn't want to always be the "bad-guy" parent and yet totally wants some semblance of control and connection -- when she suggests family ice skating and one-by-one the members of her family peel off, I wanted to cry.  When Angela ends up in her bed, snuggled up and sleeping, I was a full blown mess. My kids left the tv room quickly.

This morning, I said to my spouse - -is there any way to be a good mother and not be like her?  It just so seems to be the role we're cast into, problematic as it is.

But I do think Michael Thompson provides a clue, not an "out" but an addendum -- anxiety management (aka Kripalu).  In both his workshop on parent-teacher communication and evening program on children's social development, Thompson noted that parent-anxiety fuels more of the problems facing kids than the kid-problems themselves.  He provided example after example of times that kids hit rough patches, had their feelings, sorted through some problem solving, got their revenge or made their apologies and moved on, while parents stayed stuck in the high-drama of the initial catalyzing event.  Much the same as a toddler looks to a parent to find out if they're really hurt after taking a spill, and we try to train ourselves in the "no big deal" kind of response to bumps and bruises, parents of older kids need to see some harrowing friendship challenges in a similar light.  It is normal for Angela to experiment with a new friend, hurt feelings though it causes.  It is even normal for Angela to sneak out to a keg party and have a good/bad time and feel confused.  As the police officer at the end of the episode notes, what she needs is a steadfast friend, and she has one in her neighbor.  Michael Thompson makes the same point -- with a good friend, most other experiences in the social pecking order can be absorbed and even character building.

Thompson argued that kids in elementary school are learning about what makes a good friend, and that most have mastered the developmental idea by the end of 9th grade. In fact, over 1/2 the audience had friendships remaining from their younger childhood and he points to that as evidence that children's friendships are not so different from those of adults.  Kids know what make good friendships (a post for another day) and Thompson argues that about 85% of kids naturally develop reasonable enough social skills that they have social resilience and that much of the remaining 15% can be taught skills for social development through school-based interventions (friendship training groups). Overall, his message is not to diminish the significance of genuine 1-1 bullying, but also not to conflate regular childhood meanness with a serious problem.

So, that brings us to yoga and activism.  As a parent who birthed my first child at what seemed to be the height of attachment parenting, I loved keeping my baby close (except when I didn't).  But the ideal of attachment parenting was actually about promoting later independence, yet that part is not spelled out with nearly the same intensity of instruction.  Now I'm trying to channel:  "keep calm and carry on." Worry becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy, giving kids the message that they are fragile, poor problem solvers, or that the world is simply too terrifying for them to live in.  Being too worried-about can feel claustrophobic - no one wants to be quite so precious.  So, in many ways Thompson's message is for worried parents to develop some mindfulness, some strategies for equilibrium and perspective, some distraction for ourselves so that we're not overly invested in micro-managing our children.

But, I can not help but think that we could also channel our individual worries for our individual children into some potent activism.  It is true that a heartbreaking crush is part of growing up; it doesn't have to be true that sexual harassment is part of everyday life in school.  It is true that sometimes school can feel maddening; we don't have to watch our schools decline for political reasons. It is true that teens worry about how they look to others; never the less, we can address the sexualization of childhood in the media.  It is true that kids can be picky eaters; that doesn't mean we shouldn't care about our future food supply.

My point is that our love for our individual children trumps all else, but sometimes they do need a bit less intensity of focus while children in general could use so much more attention from adults.

I'm curious what others took away from Michael Thompson's talk -- email me with guest posts ( or use the comments -- on Monday I'll post a challenge to his Brain Science on Sex Differences.