Sunday, May 13, 2012

I’m going to let you in on a secret, passed down by generations of members of the ‘Mean Mothers Association’.  Many attempts have been made to convert non members, many attempts have failed.  We are the parents of children you sometimes say “oh I wish I had it that easy” (oh if only J ), the ones who slog their guts out at home instilling values and a strong moral compass only to score little points in the community of socially judgemental parenting, as apparently our children were blessed with the ‘easy’ gene during conception! We are also the ones who cancel appointments, leave early and make cirque de soleil look like a play in the park.

We are the ones you may not hear from days, weeks at a time.  We tend to bunker down, re-load and put in the hard yards when we can.  When we know better, we do better & sometimes basically we just don’t know, that is when we go underground & seek out more ‘mean mothers’ to bring up the rear and point us in the right direction. We are the “I don’t know how she could do that” ovaries brigade, the “I’m leaving now..bye” and we actually leave. We say what we mean and we mean what we say. We don’t buy into fads & labels for the sake of ‘keeping up’ & we wear the results, the tanties and the benefits; we hug lots, laugh more and love always.

So it’s time I let you in on a little secret. You cannot make a child change their behaviour.  Teacher’s, bless them, well actually not all of them, some of them, and know this to be true. There have been many attempts to rule the child with an iron fist, the slap of a ruler and the sting of a cane.  Yet a bit like the underground resistance movements of most wars, they can and will learn to fear you, yet it will do little to put them on the path you want them to be, even dreamed of, gossiped about and lied for; they’ll work out your weakness and play it to the hilt.  If you are an enabler you haven’t got a hope in hell, you’d better off surrendering.

Yes it’s true; you cannot make a child change their behaviour.  Yet....wait... you can change yourself.

That is it, really.  Presto, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!

It really comes down to physics, down to human nature and our capacity to adapt to our environment, cause and effect, yin and yang.   We learn to change and modify our behaviour in relation to what and who is happening around us.  Let’s not over read miracle cures into this, it is after all about positive change whilst growing healthy, happy, compassionate individuals into adults, it’s about hard work.  Think the Tasmanian devil in the Roadrunner cartoons, spinning out of control in a boxing ring! Now believe me if you step into that ring to shape up, you better have had your Wheaties & probably a few Valium or you’ll be eaten alive.  If you want to change your child, change yourself.  Stay out of the ring!

Oliver James take’s a humorous poke at parenting in his awesome read ‘They F*** you up” throws the cat amongst the child development theoretical pigeons suggesting it is not a nature vs nurture issue, it is not about genes and a lot more about environment and how this impacts on the development of the human being.

“It makes no sense at all for us to emerge from the womb predetermined to react to our particular bit of the world with specific personalities or talents or mental illnesses. It would be far more logical, in evolutionary terms, to be born flexible, wide open to the influence of parents and upbringing, because each family setting, each social class and each society requires a different response in order for the individual to thrive. The child must attract the interest and love of its parents, and genes could not anticipate the precise traits best suited for achieving this any more than they could prefigure the particular demands of class and culture — demands that can rapidly change, as the social trends of the last fifty years illustrate.”

Bursting your bubble? Then go on and read ‘Toxic parents’ and let Susan Forward assure you we can and we do screw it up.  It’s a hard reality pill to swallow, many throw it back up, some take it to the roof of their mouth & spit it back out once the coast is clear. I’m driving in the car, the light goes red before I need it to, “damn........” and double damn it’s a ‘P’ plater” followed by a few not so well chosen adjectives (how is it the light always goes red when you are in a hurry?).  Some weeks later, not in any rush at all, we come to a halt at the traffic lights & my little personal biological recording device strapped in the safety harness of the backseat, repeats word for word the previous weeks rant at the lights!

This is not about being perfect, it’s not about even getting it right.  There is no right and there is not perfect.  There is no one-way. It’s about coming to the realisation we do not stop evolving at 18, we do not have all the answers and whilst children are forced to be institutionalised into a flawed education system, we too need educating until the day our heart ceases to beat.  Only when we choose to use the fully developed frontal lobe you are entrusted with to find better ways to parent, will the magic appear. That is the miracle of the positive attitude, the positives find you.

It’s as basic as the old “don’t hit your brother” statement as the hand is raised and a stinging slap of an adult with bigger biceps than the child’s head, strikes the backside of 3 year old caught off guard. 
Now I’m definitely not advocating do as I do, do as I say.  Well actually yes do as I say mostly, the basics of respecting your parents, yet that is one confused child whose parents want them to have the highest scores in every class, yet spend every non-working moment in the recliner glued to a plasma or the “don’t fucking swear at me” statements........I can’t even go near that one!

It is about environment, it is about us, we are the environment; it is about what goes on around them & we have the keys to the vehicle. 

Have I raised my voice, damn right I have! Have I used a swear word! Yep and I drive a car, drink alcohol and carry the weight of all adult responsibilities, why? Because I’m an adult that is why! Now go to your room while I consider the consequences..... Oh sorry forgot I was talking with you all, having a momentary flashback.  That is right, you are the adult.  Negotiations are for politicians, police officers and business deals.  We are parents, we don’t negotiate.  We make the hard decisions, we follow through. We are far from perfect; we are still part of a process of evolving ourselves.  There is no instruction booklet and why? What person in their right mind has the time, the patience and the experience to write a booklet to tell all adults raising children exactly about your child; you’d need a new edition for every birth! Think of the paper!

In 1970 David & Phyllis York started the first ‘Tough Love’ group in the US .  Sadly for the Yorks, yet to the world’s benefit, it took many years for the Yorks (drug and alcohol specialists & family therapists) to see the writing on the wall for their daughter and it hit like a brick when she was arrested for armed robbery and incarcerated.  Finally they could see the private schools, riding lessons, giving, giving and giving, was not the way.  Only then did they realise their own limit and what they would and would not tolerate. What is ‘tough’ about the Tough Love set up, is it is not about emotions, it is not about getting in that ring, it’s about behaviour, changing yours and your child will change theirs.

Tough love is for tough parenting.  You cannot expect to look like Mr US and eat more junk food than your organs can process.  Parenting is no different.  You want results, you do the work.  It is hard, damn hard.  It will hurt, there will be tears (mostly yours) and there will be days when it would be so much easier to just make the bed for them, than to get out the drill, pull apart the bed, and put the mattress on the floor and a cardboard box for a wardrobe, yet if you had only documented how many times you repeated the request “if you don’t clean your room...” “if you don’t put away your clothes.....” you may as well have been speaking to a brick wall if you do not intend to follow through on the consquences.

I have to say I am privileged to be surrounded by amazing tough ‘mean’ mothers.  I coin the term ‘mean’ as referred to by a 5yr old when you’ve asked them to pack up their toys before moving to the next strike zone.  Amazing, courageous parents who by experience, instinct and skill know when to make the hard choices, to step back and step up and when enabling is out and responsibility is in.

Believe me, there is nothing more painful or soul wrenching to realise as a parent you don’t have all the answers.  Yet come on how should we know? If you want anything in life; career, sport, creativity etc, you need to learn it, practice it and continue to develop it.  Why is it with parenting so many people believe all the answers are in their ability to link a sperm and an egg and produce a human being? Then there are those who have not even experienced this little pleasure which even requires little effort J yet believe a few sensationalised dramas, magazine articles and talk back shows is enough to suffice.

Some of your answers could be found in the rise of the parenting program ‘World’s strictest parents’.  How could it possibly be all about genes? If  the child is born ‘bad’ ‘wild’ ‘disrespectful’, then how can you take the child out of the environment and into another, where there is no negotiating, there is logic and rationale thinking, there is consistent love & see rapid changes, to some successes even a different child. That is not my signature approval of the program, a sensationalised look at young people who turn themselves around only to be placed back in the same environment which hasn’t changed at all!

Life is all about choice & consequences.  It’s the reality.  You can live it or hide from it, you can embrace it or ignore it, whatever you choose, the consequences belong to you.  You want fitness, then start working out, you want a different life, then start doing the hard yards.  You want children who respect themselves, respect you and take responsibility for their actions, start making the hard choices, take off the yellow stripe, stand up and be the adult they need.

I am in awe of the friends and family who time and time again demonstrate this theory works.  The ones who not only use the word ‘no’, they know the tone, time and purpose of using it.  The ones who say ‘the buck stops with me, here, right now’ and they get on with it. The friends and family I love my children to spend time with. They can see the child in children, the young adult in the young person. Even with a diagnosis, they have the foresight to make the changes needed to give their child the best possible chance.

A few weeks ago a friend relayed a story of making a ‘York’ type choice, to draw the line in the sand. The bar was set and it followed with heartache, tears and worries (the parent of course!).  Yet three days later with her tail between her legs the child returned, with more respect for herself, her family and turned her life around.  It takes courage to make a stand as a parent, to have clear mind and purpose about what legacy you want to pass to your children.  It doesn’t mean it will work instantly, there are no quick fixes.

No one said it was easy (thanks Coldplay), no one is saying it will happen in 3 days, 3 years or when it will happen.  Yet if you give up, then you can’t be there to celebrate every change along the way. 

Professor Matt Sanders talks about parenting as having a information ‘vacuum’ and his Triple P Parenting programs as leading the way in providing solutions. In 1992 the Queensland University, now world renowned Triple P parenting education program was born and continues to provide both preventative and restorative educational programs to support parents in their quest for better parenting, in changing their own behaviour and therefore altering their child’s.

Neurologically the frontal lobe does not fully develop in males until the mid 20’s, the females in late teens. Yet I’ve lost track at how many times I hear parents talk about their expectations of their children and young persons and disappointed when “they just don’t get it”. It will take persistence, encouragement and constant reinforcement of the good values, morals and choices you make as a positive role model to your children before both of you ‘get it’.

As I said to a friend the other day why if you were male would you go to a gynaecologist, your brain is no different.  Why would you seek expert advice from someone who does not only specialise in human behaviour, they don't even specialise in children! Speak with your GP by all means, yet the are a 'generalist' practitioner, they are not a psychologist, a counsellor or psychiatrist.  If you need to talk children, go to a paediatrician, if you need to talk mental health, seek a mental health professional. Then to complicate matters I'm going to suggest go with your gut instinct.  Afterall every single professional, regardless of their field is a human being with their own judgements, experience and skill, some come from completely different theoretical foundations.  So it is likely you could see 5 of the same professionally qualified persons and all will have a completely unique approach.  One of the most widely unrecognised and mis-diagnosed neurological concerns with children is post traumatic stress.  Time and time ago children are being over medicated and serious, complex traumas go unattended when a misinformed specialist treats only the childs behaviour.  Those of you I know whose children have diagnosed medical conditions will know the behaviour is consistent in all domains.  Somehow too many professionals fail to ask this simple question.

Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, Director of the ‘Young and Well Cooperative Centre’ is a well known child and adolescent psychologist in Melbourne and author of the book ‘Princess Bitch face Syndrome’.  I listened to Dr Carr-Gregg speak on changing children’s behaviour in the home, on routine daily challenges and it was certainly a life changing moment for my children! Dr Carr-Gregg recalled a time when his children ignored his plea to pick up their mess in the kitchen, reduce mobile phone use, and complete chores (the list goes on). The strategies he chose included; putting the rubbish they ignored into their son’s bed (yes this one works!), why should others have to live in a mess only the young person was happy too! Mobile phones in freezers and restriction of rewards...yes no going out!

Yes some of these type of strategies and those described by ‘tough love’ parents like that for an adolescent girl who refused to get out of bed and continued slamming the bedroom door and locking it, so the mother took out her drill & removed the hinges and the door and when that didn’t work, decided to water her garden under her daughter’s window right at the same time she should have been out of bed! or the young adolescent male who strayed into drugs and commenced selling off his parents belongings to fuel his habit, until the parents packed up all their belongings, leaving only essentials and put it all into storage.  These parents are not enablers.  They love their children and they make the choice to change their behaviour in order to change their child’s.

I don’t have all the answers. I do know cuddles work wonders, saying love you every night heals wounds and being squished to the edge of the bed on a windy night are worth a smooth run house the next morning. I do know who we are tells our story, I am intrigued by human behaviour and how one can learn and predict a great deal about children by knowing their primary carers.  I do know the pain of losing a child and I appreciate every gift, every one, the hard ones, the challenges, the disagreements, the laughs, the mess, and the hugs. I don’t have an answer to fix your immediate needs, yet I have two ears, I like to listen and I have a wicked sense of humour (it’s a mean mother’s survival tool). I’m with you, on this journey of parenting, I’m learning, I’m educating myself, I’m allowing my children to teach me.

In the words of CG Jung above my desk at work and home “If there is anything that we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is something that could better be changed in ourselves”, the reminder to look in the mirror from time to time.

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