Tag Archives: social roles

Out of The Trap

A mother I worked with once shared with me how guilty she felt about not been able to spend enough time with her new born and with her oldest child. She was also afraid she was beginning to resent her children. “I want to hold him, but I cannot… I don’t want him to start a bad habit of wanting to be held every time he cries… I need a break… I am a terrible mother. How could I say I need a break… how could I resent my children?… I shouldn’t even think that…”  Through her teary eyes, I saw a mother who loves her children deeply, and at the same time overwhelmed in her attempt to get her parenting job done.

Is it any easier for me who cares for other people’s children?  No, actually, it is not any easier.

“J.J. is crying. Hsiao-Ling fix it”. J.J’s two-year-old sister said to me with a frown. J.J. has been crying for ten minutes since I put him down for a nap. God knows, I really wanted to “fix” it. Hold him, rock him, give him a pacifier. Just do whatever I can to “fix” his cry so my heart could stop flinching. “It’s OK (who am I kidding, right?). J.J. is having a hard time going nite-nite. Let’s wait for another 5 minutes.”  Five minutes has gone by, and J.J. was still crying. “Fix it, Hsiao-Ling, fix it!!” Now the sister is starting to cry.  As I tip-toed to J.J.’s bedroom, he “magically” stopped crying. Whew!!

You would not believe the thoughts that went through my head during that didn’t-seem-to-end-5-minutes: I should go in there… no, I can’t… he just want some attention… if I go in there, I might spoil the baby… but just this one time… it’s ridiculous that I will spoil babies if I pick them up every time they cry… what if he doesn’t stop crying… I am going to ruin his life… is it time yet… I should know what to do…

Yes, I “should” have known, as a Professional Nanny, as someone who is trained in child development, and work with children most of my life, I should know better, right?

I am trapped in the “shoulds” and the “shouldn’ts”, can you tell? I am “shoulding” myself all over…

What I should know is what the experts say about caring for babies, and raising children: do this, don’t do that; follow these tips, but not those. Of course, some instructions work, and some don’t. Regardless how effective they are, as a parent (or a caregiver), this is probably always in the back of your mind, “Is this the right thing to do?/Am I doing the RIGHT thing?/Am I doing enough?” (Though, I am not a parent, but I experience this with my father every time when I speak with him on the phone).

What if, the overwhelming, the frustration, and the upset of being parents is caused by traditional notions of what it is to be a parent (Ah, the trap of shoulds, and shouldn’t)? And what if, it is those notions, beliefs, ideas and points of view, not children’s behaviors, shape – often negatively – our experience of being parents?

My friend’s daughter, S, just turned seventeen. When she was four, she wondered off while her mother, M, was in the Best Buy store. M was panic at first, then became frustrated. “How could she do this TO me? I just told her to stay next to me… why can’t she just listen?”  By this time, M was upset, and mad. She thought, “I am going to teach her a lesson.” M slowly walked towards to the exit door as if she was going to leave. Just as M walked by a cashier counter, she saw S!!  S thought her mother was walking out, she cried, “Mommy! Mommy!”  As they both settled back in the car, M found herself telling S how scared and worried she was, and S should never do that again. M even drove to Walmart, and pointed out the “Missing Children” poster–doing all of it, to teach a four-year-old, and hoping she would understand what she had done. S did not say a word, just sobbing. Suddenly, M realized a distance was created between them. She stopped talking, looked into Sarah’s eyes, immediately, she knew S did not mean to misbehave. M asked S, “I really don’t know what to do right now. How could I be with you now that would make a difference?” (Mind you S was only four years old at the time) S looked at her Mommy, quietly said, “Unconditional love would make a difference now.”

The nature of the default roles and responsibilities of parents is often the driving force in relating to children, which is so automatic that we don’t know that we don’t know it limits us in relating to children as human beings. Trap, isn’t it?

The possible way (I say) out of the trap is to realize you are trapped, and that you are trapped in the trap that you are in. This realization could be the key to experience peace, freedom, and ease in the roles of being parents.


Do You Have Any Children, Ma’am?

This question used to annoy me because what’s not being said is “If you don’t have one, you will not understand”, or “You will know when you have one, so wait till you have one, then you can say whatever you want.”  Basically, shut your mouth, and keep all the advice to yourself unless you are a parent yourself. 

I thought I was no longer hooked by that question till last week when two police officers came to my door because I reported our upstairs neighbor. The toddler had been crying for thirteen hours straight (Yes, you read it right, 13 hours) with thumping and yells. I finally called 911 and Child Protective Services.  Is it because I could not tolerate children’s crying, or tantrums? No, not at all. I have been in situations that tantrums lasted for more than an hour (or days—yup, the adult-style usually lasts longer, don’t you think?).  It was the strident noises with the child’s howling that had me concerned. I was concerned for the child’s and the parent’s safety and well-being. 

“Do you have any children Ma’am?” That was the question the police officers asked me after I told them what happened. Apparently, the police officers thought I was not being understandable—I would have IF I had any children. Explain to me, though, how could anyone being understandable, and not alarmed when heard a human crying for 13 hours straight (unless you are in a traditional Chinese funereal that hires people to cry for 24 hours)? “That is what toddlers do. They throw tantrums, you know, and the parent had to yell to stop the child”, the police officers stated.  

Really? Does that make it reasonable for anyone to yell because they are children?  

I started to think about the stuff that we, as adults, would say or do to children just because “they are children” (or “they are my children”). Don’t jump into the conclusion that I would not understand because I don’t have any children. What if, what’s driving the parent-child relationship is not the biological factor, but the ROLE?  As my friend, Robert Gold, a father of two, responded to an interview, How to teach your child respect,

“In the roles we take, what is being created isn’t respect, it is the roles …the “I” as a parent have something to teach “you” the child … “I know what is best!”  If you can hear yourself in this, then you are being the role, “parent”, and not being in relationship with your child, being an equal, not as a friend, rather someone who is deeply committed to the interests of another human being who happens to be young”. 

Regardless of the biological element, it is the roles that enforce us to say or do to a child, and we don’t even realize it.  What I love about Robert’s statement is that I don’t have to be a parent (to be in a role) to relate to a child, and I am moved by the possibility of relating to a human being free from the constraint of roles. 

Robert continued in his reply,

“My oldest son was probably around 8 or 9 years old.  We were over at a friend’s house and a sports event was on the TV. I was offered a beer.  I opened it, took a sip and Barrett (my eldest son) said, “Dad, you are driving!  You can’t drink and drive!” I looked at my son and started to have a conversation that we weren’t leaving for several hours. He shook his head, “Dad, you are not supposed to drink and drive!”  At which point, I took my beer, with only one sip taken, emptied it in the sink and threw it in the trash. 

Could I have had a conversation that the effects of alcohol wear off in one hour?  Sure I could.  Could I have said, oh don’t worry about it, you don’t understand what alcohol is? I could have had many conversations, all of which would have been in the role of “I am the parent and you are the child”, etc.  Instead, the beer wasn’t important.  My son telling me what I should or shouldn’t do was respected, regardless of the accuracy of his concern.  What happened was I respected his point of view.  I am not sure if I looked ahead in the future [that moment] to see how my actions would influence him in the future, maybe … [just because] as creating the opportunity of being related to my son, I often looked at how every conversation shapes his reality.  Did I have that foresight, maybe, but even if I didn’t, I respected his concerns. 

Move ahead ten years … Neither of my sons drive if they have been drinking.  In fact, the whole community of parents wanted/want my sons to be friends with their sons and daughters so that they can rely on them to be designated drivers.  How do they know?  They just do!  My youngest refrains from drinking, just so he can take care of his friends.  I didn’t have a conversation with him about drinking and driving, and yet, he, just like his brother, is sought after as a great influence by other parents. 

Did I plan on my sons becoming role models?  Of course not.  There is just something available when they have been dealt with in a primary relationship as a human being, equal in what is important to them.  Free from the constraint of being treated as a second class citizen, with nothing to rebel against”. 

Next time, when someone asks me, “Do you have any children, Ma’am?” I would be gleefully answer, “No”.  

What would your life be like when you honor and respect another human being from being IN relationship, rather than from the roles that you are?