Never Violence

I got sucked into an intense parenting conversation with my mother. She has talked occasionally about a colleague’s sister’s teenage son (perfectly clear, right? ;)), and about how his mother is going to send him to last-chance wilderness boot camp in a few weeks because he is mouthy and stays out all night. The mother and father of this kid have apparently been very strict his whole life, and now he curses at them, tells them he hates them, and won’t obey his curfew. I totally misread her point the first time she told me this: she was saying, How horrible for his parents. I was hearing: How horrible that his parents are doing this. I’ve read and heard accounts of people sending their kids to these programs and thought, Well, it’s hard to imagine what else they could do—but for a mouthy kid? A mouthy teenager? Of course we neither of us know the whole story, but based on our different understandings, we misunderstood one another.

For my mother, this means that I am judging her parenting. She didn’t send any of us away, but has told me many times that she considered sending me to military school because I was so depressed, and I have said that I’m glad that she didn’t, and I would have seen it as proof that she didn’t love me. I know as an adult that it wouldn’t have been that, of course, but as a teenager? I would have been certain, and heartbroken. It seems like a relevant fact that she never did sent me away, but she has apparently been needing to talk this out/set me straight, so while Mr. Book and Joey played with a cardboard tube (adorable), we talked about this without her persuading me to her point of view. She started to explain to me that parenting isn’t always simple, and sometimes you have to do hard things and be mean in order to help your kids, and I was saying that yes, I know that it is complicated, but I still value coming to these decisions from a place that prioritizes a warm and close relationship with my kids over their GPAs, and she felt as though I didn’t understand, and finally Mr. Book jumped in.

My mother was explaining that you want your kids to be successful, and you can’t stand to watch their actions close doors for them—I suggested that there will be doors open to them that you can’t possibly imagine, and while you can support your kids to succeed you can’t make them, and maybe their ideas of success aren’t the same as yours—and she was getting really exasperated. Mr. Book had been listening quietly, mostly focused on Joey, and he all of a sudden looked up at my mom and said, “We have different values than you do. We first off want our kids to be good people; we secondly want them to be happy; and everything else is a pretty distant third. We don’t prioritize success in the same way that you do, or think about it the same way.” My mom asked how you can make your kids be happy; he said that you can’t, you can’t make anyone be happy—but you can help. The conversation ended then.

I’m writing about the conversation because I’m still worrying it, chewing away at it and trying to figure out what happened. My mother has regrets, and that is what it is—I don’t hold my childhood against her, and I don’t bring it up with her. I know that we’re nowhere near the hardest parts of parenting yet, and am in that frustrating position of saying that while I know that I can’t know what it will be like, I think and I believe and I anticipate these various things. My mother kept asking me what I would do in this woman-I-don’t-know’s position, and I kept saying that I would really have to find myself in that position and figure it out—but I might see if he wanted to stay with relatives for awhile, I might let him drop out and look for work, I might ask him what he wanted and where he was going. Who can say? My mother worries that our decision not to hit our kids is a sign of some fatal parental weakness, and that we will be taken advantage of by horrible children; again, I suppose it’s too soon to rule that out for sure, but we don’t let Joey crawl around the floor in restaurants or make other peoples’ lives a burden to them. We have limits for him, but we don’t hit him when he crosses them—we just pick him up, explain, and redirect him. And my mother watches us, and worries.

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6 thoughts on “Never Violence

  1. This sounds somewhat similar to conversations I’ve had with my own mom although I think she and I are closer in philosophy than you two are. But she was sad when we sad we wouldn’t spank; she took it personally. She also worries like CRAZY about the homeschooling (especially because we unschool). But I’m with Mr. Book — good people with a true capacity for joy and all else is details.

    Noah has (so far) turned out to be such a good, kind and happy person that people who questioned us are starting to say, “You know, maybe you AREN’T crazy” although I’m prepared for that to change as he gets closer to college-aged and the academic pressure increases (this started at about 11 or 12 and gets worse every year) but that’s hard, too, because I don’t think my kids should have to justfiy my parenting choices. Also Noah takes after Brett — he just IS lovely although not spanking probably helped.

  2. I can’t imagine how hurtful it has been to hear your mom say that she considered sending you away when you were depressed. There’s something about “military school” that seems so cold, so punitive.

    In Oct. I read a memoir called Live Th.rough Th.is, about a mom’s attempts to help her depressed daughters who ran away from home. Many of the things she tried for her girls backfired (wilderness experiences, living with friends, in-patient treatment). She was emotionally unavailable to her depressed daughters and angry at them for their drinking, &c. Overall, this fall has made me realize how painful life can be and how much we need love and acceptance.

  3. I am finding there is a generational divide on the issue of spanking and there’s not really another way to put it. I had a lovely childhood, really would want to be just exactly the same parent as my mom, and was spanked but never would spank. Even though spanking accomplished in my family what it was supposed to and I don’t feel scarred or damaged by being spanked it’s something we’ve not chosen to incorporate into our family life. My mom accepts but worries about this for many of the same reasons it sounds like your mom does.

    Of course it is not a sign of weakness, but more a sign of the times. Our generation has a collective understanding that hitting is not okay and hitting kids is a bad way to teach them this principle. Someday we’ll be looking at how our kids parent and shaking our heads about something too, I wonder what it will be… 🙂

  4. Nodding my head in agreement over what you’ve written. I’ve had similiar coversations with my parents (not over spanking, but other differences in parenting philosophy). It’s extremely frustrating! Mr. Book summed it up very well. That’s exactly what we hope for our children too.

    I’m very glad that you were’nt sent away to a military school. Those places are festering with sexual and physical abuse 😦

  5. Spanking does seem like one of those “divide” issues. I understand wanting doors to stay open. I also know that the challenges change over time or the stakes do. I did read from this that hard as conversation might be, you both attempted it in good faith & that has to count for something.

  6. It’s only really an issue because your mother wants to make it one. I have similar problems with my father, so I just sidestep any conversations on the topic. He likes to comment that since I turned out perfectly fine, he must have done something right! All parents make mistakes, they are just different mistakes.

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