Tag Archives: parenting

Partner, Instead of Master

I have been training a puppy for the past two years.It’s no small feat considering the

dozer2

“Dozer”

handful of personality and energy that he encapsulates: he’s a combination of two parts lab, one part st. bernard, one part border collie.  We’ve had our ups and downs; he’s wont to make his own decisions at times but he’s done well overall, and, like most dogs he only wants to please. In the past three or four months, just after his second birthday, he’s gone through a bit of a maturity spurt and has earned my confidence in areas where before there was conflict between my desire for his behavior and his own independent impulses.  As a result I’ve shifted my position a bit with him in terms of our relational dynamic.  I’ve stepped off from the role of Master position and stepped beside him in a role as a Partner.

Its a feeling of accomplishment to be able to do so.  It means there’s a deeper level of trust between us:  he understands that I trust him to behave a certain way and have given him considerable freedom because of it. He trusts me to treat him more as a team mate, on somewhat more equal footing and his wont to please rises to the occasion – if I am his Partner, then he’s going to put his heart and soul into doing right.

The dynamic of shifting from Master to Partner was never so clear to me as it was in this instance and it got me thinking about other relationships and where it might apply as well.

Work?  Yes, this applies to my work life directly!  I am privileged to work with teenagers, and this year my colleagues and I find ourselves interacting with a more high maintenance, high energy group of kids.    As usual at the beginning of the year, I set very clear, immovable boundaries and at first will err on the side of being more harsh than soft when it comes to enforcing their validity (a lesson I learned from my own jr. high school teachers and seems to be fairly effective).  This year I am taking a slightly different approach and utilizing my newfound epiphany: I’ve made the boundaries clear, but I find that if I take a moment to consider the one on one relationship with each student and conceive of some way to Partner with them instead of try to Master them, I get a much better response and they seem be settling in with more ease.  The element of conflict that can inherently exist between a Master and Student is replaced with a mutual trust and common goal; sure I am still the authority figure but my willingness to engage from the side instead of from the front assures them that, on some level, they have a certain amount of respect and trust from me at the outset.  They seem to be responding by rising to the same level of respect.

Partnerships seem to work better than Mastery on the creative level too, I’ve observed.  I’m sewing a quilt for my niece at the moment, she’s beginning her freshman year in college, away from home and family.   If I employ my newfound nugget of wisdom and work with the machine and fabric on a Partner level, as a team mate instead of a Master, I notice a difference in the process.  There is a sense of enjoyment in the mix.  It’s holistic in a way; it’s not just my energy but the way I work with the energy of the machine as well that effects a kind of harmony, instead of subjectivity, and together something new and meaningful is created.

On an intrapersonal level, the idea of trading a Master for a Partner has, for me, been one of the most important adjustments I’ve made in my life.   I don’t know about you, but I am much harsher with myself than I am with others and I’ve definitely had a Master approach when it comes to self-discipline and correction. If I step aside though, work WITH myself instead of against myself in my head and heart, I find a peace I hadn’t experienced before, and whatever issue I am wrestling becomes manageable instead of a kind of drudgery. Furthermore, I find I have more trust in myself to do the right thing where before I might have contradicted the ideal simply for the sake of outdoing my harsh ‘Master’.

I understand this idea doesn’t work in all relationships and I also concede that there are some instances where we must always be “Master.”  But whenever possible, from now on, I will look for ways to Partner instead.   The benefits are mutual and more vibrant, and much more satisfactory to the soul.

Here’s to Partnerships instead of Mastery.   May we find ways to morph some of the latter into more of the former…

Yours, Frankie

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The “Art” of Multi – Tasking: We Can’t Even

Talk and drive, walk and chew gum, or carry on two conversations at once – we are familiar with the idea that while we can participate in two things at once, we suffer from the inability to do both of them well since our brains aren’t wired to multi-task.

These examples deal with superficial activities that we participate in every day, however, I challenge us to look at the idea of multi-tasking at a deeper level, at the level of creativity.

Take this real-life example:  as a writer, I am grateful to not be “working” at the moment and the difference in creative production compared to when I was working is tangible.   BUT there are bills to pay, student loans primarily, so my leisurely days of writing are now interrupted with tweaking resumes and scouring craigslist.  As I’ve focused on job hunting these past few weeks, I’ve definitely noticed my creative outlet is stifled. I can’t apply my emotional energy and investments into writing when I necessarily must funnel those elements into resumes and interviews.   We can only do one thing at a time.

My second son recently graduated high school.  He barely made the grades to do so, but I didn’t push him too much about tunagradmeit.   He is a highly creative individual, and although he wasn’t reading class assigned prose, he was (still is) reading Thich Nhat Hahn and Eckhart Tolle.  He didn’t participate in prom and loathed school assemblies, he sought instead a form of spirituality through the third eye and wrote rap lyrics about a higher calling in life.  His energy and time were vested in creativity, school took a secondary seat and this mother was unwilling to bridle his ventures into the mysterious for the sake of a four-point-oh.  We can only do one thing at a time.

Think about it in terms of living with an addict, of any kind.   I lived with an alcoholic for several months and I’ll never forget that my energy and creative flow were robbed in order to deal with the addiction and its fallout.   Writing came to a near stop and the ideas kept their distance, knowing they would be thrown away in the face of having to survive the consequences of walking on egg shells.  We can only do one thing at a time.

If you’re frustrated in your writing.  If you’re anxious over the slow pace of your manuscript.  Give yourself a break and examine your life at the moment:  is there something else taking up your emotional energy and drying up the creative outlet as a result?   Don’t beat yourself up over it.  Acknowledge that we aren’t able to multi-task at the emotional level where writing is grounded if our attention is called to other places. And then, be mindful.  Stay open to the creative tap so that when those creative moments do come up (they can’t help themselves, can they?  it is a curse we live with as writers) at least get them down in shorthand form on your iPhone note app so that you have the thing for later. Keep track of your progress, it will help you find the time.   My personal ‘game’ is to keep a running total of the number of words I write each day.   Some days my goal consists of a mere five hundred new words added to a working script, some days I can afford to increase the goal to two thousand.  The idea is to keep the work cooking and maintain the creativity spout on at least a drip output level.   Some is always better than none.

A writer’s life is not an easy road.  Creativity takes time, investment and an unoccupied mind, yet a thousand other details compete for our attention.   May we find a balance between the two and may we give ourselves a generous amount of grace in the process:  We can only do one thing at a time.

Write on, kids.

Frankie


Time For an Adjustment: Social Constructs, the Duggars, and a Pew Study

I’ll not forget the struggle I had reading modern philosopher Michel Foucault in graduate school, but I am thankful for the enlightenment it brought to me, especially with regard to an element he termed “social constructs.”

Social constructs are the framework within which a culture decides to build and operate a society.  They emerge from a myriad of sources, (religious texts, scientific discoveries, philosophy – to name a few) and are informally adopted by a society’s members over the course of generations. For example, the US has a unique construct with the marriage of capitalism and christianity which emphasizes an individualistic doctrine.  The Chinese are uniting their elements of communism and an emerging middle-class to produce a more cooperative environment (see John Perkins “Hoodwinked”). Overall, social constructs provide guidelines for citizens of a particular society to follow.

The thing that impresses me most about the idea of social constructs is that they can be changed. They aren’t set in stone. They are subject to new information and therefore malleable, adjustable.

I assert that Americans are learning that some of our current social constructs are in need of adjustment.

While we’re probably all up-to-here with the story of the Duggars, there is one theme that stands out from all the noise surrounding the issue:  willful ignorance and keeping something so wildly instinctual as our sex drive confined to unnaturally narrow definitions necessarily provokes problems. The abuse that’s occurred within the catholic church and the jehovah’s witness sect is a manifestation of the same premise. We can’t ignore our instinctive sexual hunger any more than we can ignore our need to drink water. Yet we’ve agreed to adopt a social construct with a rigid interpretation of sex – based almost entirely on a flawed document  As I read the comments and even a few articles reflecting on the Duggars, one thing seems certain:  the current is changing.  We are seeing the negative effects of this particular social construct and we are ready to realign it to more reasonable, and honest, interpretations.

Giving the current a significant boost in velocity is the discovery that many in the US are turning away from religion and the flawed document it is based upon as noted in the recent Pew Research publishing.   By leaving behind an outdated document, by eliminating it from the foundations of our social constructs, I contend that we should expect adjustments to include instead more science, academics, and probably humanistic tendencies.

Change is painful, it is messy, and it is oftentimes violent.  As we move forward together, we must be conscious of the struggle incurred by adjusting and redefining the social construct of sexuality.  It will help us to be patient with one another.  As we move forward together, we must acknowledge that work is involved, awareness is required, and stubbornness is appropriate so that ignorance no longer has a place within the new frameworks.  It will keep us focused.  As we move forward together, those of us who aren’t a part of the millennial generation need to provide them with exemplary discussions and elevate the standard for hashing out new precepts.   It will give them tools to manage their own adjustments.  As we move forward together it behooves us to keep in mind that social constructs are not permanent, they are pliable and influenced by new concepts.  It will enable us to embrace change.

Here’s to healthy adjustments,

Frankie


Something Amiss – How can the Hold of Religion Overpower Even a Mother’s Love?

I am privileged enough to be a mother to three wonderful young men.  I’ll never forget the first time I held my first child and the intense wave of protectiveness and fierce love that swept over me.  Like most mothers I knew right then that I would die for this tiny human before I would let anything harm it.  There is something very primal, very acute, and very ancient about that motherly love.  It enables us to survive sleepless nights, keep watch like a hawk, and always always want the best for our offspring – despite our own hopes and desires for them.  There is no other selfless love than that of a mother.

This devotion is the reason we experience such raw complete pain when we are on the outs with our children.   So far, cross my fingers, I’ve yet to encounter any difficulties with my own boys but I have a couple of sisters whose children have distanced themselves and I see the exorbitant amount of pain and anguish they endure – I hurt for them as only another mother can.  It makes me thankful for the relationships I have with my boys, and keeps me mindful to tend them as diligently as I tend my yard and flowers.

And yet, despite this innate adoration that we experience as mothers, and the pain that accompanies a broken relationship with a child, there are some who would willingly, consciously, unswervingly choose a religion over their child.   I know this because one of my dearest and best friends is currently walking a very fine line with her mother in the hopes that she and her infant son are not shunned completely from her parents life – all because, like any normal human,  she questions the faith she was indoctrinated with as a child.   I ache for her and worry for her.  I wonder at the ‘omnipotence’ of a god who would direct his followers to act as if their children didn’t exist. But mostly, I wonder at the ability of a single denomination of a single religion in a series of man made religions to have such a hold over its followers that even a mother would forsake her own flesh and blood. 

I simply cannot fathom it.

In fact, it is unnatural.  It is wholly unnatural for a mother to forsake her love for her child and abandon it as if it never were.  It goes completely against our motherly instincts.  I can only conclude then, that the religion which teaches the anachronistic practice of shunning must have an unhealthy hold on its adherents if it would override a mothers love and devotion.  

This surmise bears out over several academic disciplines, psychology and sociology for instance.  History has given us plenty of examples of cults and sects whose practices require them to completely shut off the outside world and anything to do with it – even family members.   In a more intimate relationship, say between a man and a woman, if he isolates his partner, keeps her from friends and family and feeds her consistent lies about the way the world works,  we do not hesitate call it abuse.  Yet, religion – and the omnipotent god it supports – does that very thing, to the point of triumphing a mother’s innate love .

There is something horribly amiss about the idea.

Here’s to a mother’s love…let no thing….including religion….drive it asunder.

Frankie


“The Village” and “The Church”: An Analogy Worth Consideration

M. Night Shyamalan made a movie a while ago entitled “The Village.”  I love that movie and I love it for a very personal reason.  It reaffirms why I left “The Church” in the first place (I’ll take the real world over a made up one any day of the week) and it also conveys the truth of the idea that evil exists within each of us, not as some outward demon.

The story line to the movie goes like this a bereavement support group, whose relatives are victims of violent crimes, decide to escape modern society into a walled sanctuary.  They live a Luddite lifestyle cut off from the world. Modern conveniences such as electricity and motors are shunned, they make their own furniture, live off the land, and are completely oblivious to anything outside the four walls they so carefully built.  Theirs is a peaceful lifestyle, where men and women know their place, children are loved and coddled, and everyone knows everyone else (the narrative is nicely wound around a love story, and a very sweet one, I think).

Since the proprietors of  The Village were challenged to invent a way to keep their offspring from wandering too far and perhaps discovering that they were cut off from an entire civilization, they invented a story consisting of monsters who lurked in the forest beyond  (The Village was an isolated settlement set upon a huge, and privately funded, land reserve) . The monsters were known simply as ‘the others’ and children were indoctrinated at an early age concerning the dangers of crossing the designated borders.  Apparently an agreement exists between The Village and ‘the others’:  if the Villagers don’t cross into their territory, ‘the others’ won’t cross into The Village.  A popular game for adolescent boys is to stand on a rock just at the border and tempt ‘the others’ to come get them, of course no one showed up, but the occasional howl of a coyote or wind was enough to give life to the story, reinforcing the narrative and instilling fear.

The elders were quite detailed in the shenanigans they were willing to engage in to keep their children in fear of the forest and ‘the others’. They didn’t stop at merely demarcating a physical boundary between good and evil.  The color red for instance, was labeled ‘the bad color’ for that was the color of ‘the others’.  In one scene a pair of tween girls came across a flower in their yard with ‘the bad color’ and with haste they both dig a hole and cover it up. Offerings are made to the forest to appease ‘the others’. Occasionally we are given the glimpse of a wooden box, tucked away in a corner, looming with mystery.  The box contains memorabilia of the outside world: newspaper clippings of murders and robberies of family members, pictures of their lost loved ones. It serves to remind the elders of their decision to leave the evil world behind.

And yet, evil springs up from within ‘The Village’ despite the elders’ attention to detail. In the opening scene of the movie we watch as a grief stricken father weeps at his son’s graveside.  The implication is that the son might have lived were there simple medicines available to give to him, but in their complete dedication to remain isolated, they sacrifice life.   At the feast following the service, it is noted that, despite even heartbreaking moments, they must remain committed to their cause.

A moment of compromise finally occurs however when a young man is stabbed by a jealous autistic Village member.  This strapping male is recently betrothed to the blind daughter of the very man whose idea it was to found The Village.  She begs her father permission to transgress their rules and travel to the lands beyond in order to get medicine to save her beloved’s life.  Her father bends to her pleas and allows her the freedom to go. Before she leaves however, he tells her of the ‘invented’ monsters, shows her the elaborate costumes complete with a row of sharp fang thingys and coarse fur.  It was apparently worn as a sort of ‘coat’ by village elders at times when a visible reinforcement of ‘the others’ was needed (I am reminded of Dawkin’s observation in ‘The God Delusion’, recently read, that  “…the horribleness of hell…is inflated to compensate for its implausibility.”) These home- made monsters were a bit intimidating, and made all the more so since we are put in Ivy’s place of having to discover them through touch only since she is blind.

Armed with the knowledge that nothing really exists to harm her, Ivy is allowed to breach the sacred boundaries and embark on a quest to find medicine to heal her only reason for living.  There’s a slight caveat given in order to keep ‘the others’ well alive in the mind of the rest of The Village. Ivy is sent with two companions, all three robed in a special color as a signal to ‘the others’ that they mean no harm and pass in peace.  The trio is even given a bag of ‘magic rocks’ for protection as well…which Ivy promptly dumps out once her companions abandon her for home out of sheer terror.

Our blind heroine finds the road, is met by a compassionate stranger (she notices “a kindness” in his voice that she “did not expect”) and obtains the lifesaving medicine for her soul mate, returns safely, and they live happily ever after.

Except, that is,  for the parents of the jealous autistic perpetrator who must live with their son’s deviant actions and subsequent death.  The autistic youth who stabbed Ivy’s beloved in a fit of envy was found to have escaped his isolation room.  They found him later, dead,  in a pit he’d fallen into whilst following Ivy into the forest,  wearing  one of the costumes of ‘the others’.  Alas, the final lesson of the story is that evil exists within, no matter the lengths we might go to keep it out.

As I watched my sons grow up alongside a myriad of children at church, and watched those children who were home schooled compared to those who were not, I noticed a bit of a difference.   It was my opinion that my boys will be going out into the world to make their way and it was my responsibility to make sure they were prepared to survive and contribute positively to society.  If I kept them home, shielded from the realities of the world in which they were born, then not only would be unable to thrive, they would live in it timidly – afraid of others and their motivations…I could already see the beginnings of some of these traits with the children who were more isolated from society.

They are grown now, for the most part – and  I took them out of The Church when I left because I myself had enough fear mongering and conspiracy theories. The eldest has been on his own these past three years now and just landed a great career job, if he decides to make it that.  The other two show great potential as well, comfortable in any sort of crowd, able to converse with just about anyone, and each possess a quick witted humor that makes me proud.   I have every confidence that my children will do well on their own, out in the scary big world because, well, we’ve taught them how to survive in it and they aren’t afraid to listen to new ideas or question old ones.  I feel I’ve done my job as a parent.

As parents we are burdened with the responsibility to raise our children to be independent of us, to live separately from us and thrive in the real world.   We do them a great disservice when we isolate them from the realities of life and coax them into a fearful world full of made up demons and monsters.

We do ourselves a disservice as well.   No matter how big those four walls of any church are, evil exists within it as well as without.  One doesn’t need to peruse internet headlines for very long to see that greed, adultery, gossiping, homosexuality, and child abuse is as alive in the church as it is out of the church.  This truth must be recognized if we are to move forward and progress.

We humans have a history of inventing gods and their demon counterparts as a way to explain our lives and purpose on earth.  It also allows us to blame some demon for a downfall rather than take responsibility for our mistakes ourselves. Evil exists within, and no  matter how elaborate the story we make up, no matter how high the walls we build, no matter how far away we can leave the outside world behind, we will always be confronted with it.   As for me and my house, we will choose the reality of life over man made stories, there is much more peace and freedom to be found living thus.

Peace comes with understanding….it does not pass it.

 

Frankie

 


Grace: A Human Trait…..

Grace has long been one of my favorite elements of human compassion.   I learned quite a lot about it as a child in the rooms where Jesus’ gospel was taught and I hear-tell that C.S. Lewis even touted it once as the single most significant thing that Christianity contributed to humanity.  Christianity is big on grace and it must be since it also promotes the idea of original sin.  Alas, after years of life outside of the church (and that more abundantly) I have come to the conclusion that grace is certainly not limited to religion, nor is religion the only avenue for grace to be expressed.

The idea of grace implies pardoning, giving someone clemency, demonstrating mercy, showing favor where perhaps favor is difficult to find. Within the matrix of Christianity, grace is an absolute necessity since, according to its storyline, humans are born evil and only the grace of god can save them from eternal damnation.  The redeemed cannot get into heaven without a full pardon of the sins they committed because they are inherently evil.  Really, Christianity doesn’t contribute grace to the human race so much as it defines our existence so narrowly that grace must be included or else there’s no point in living at all.

Outside the realm of religion though, grace takes on a more simplistic role: we all make mistakes, it is a human attribute.  The right thing to do then, the sensible thing to do is to be gracious to my brothers and sisters, since I myself am I need of grace from time to time (I painfully acknowledge that I am not perfect either).  Considering that what goes around comes around, or I reap what I sow, or karma is a bitch or a blessing, I am always willing to delve out grace with enormous generosity.  We can all have a bad day, for instance, so I if my husband is particularly cranky one day, I am willing to be patient with him because I certainly have my days too and I would hope he extend s the same mercy to me on those occasions. I am known to have been lenient upon receiving the dreaded ‘red alert’ note from one of my son’s teachers, they’ve been few and far between, and we’ve focused more on the lesson learned rather than the transgression itself.  If a colleague makes a mistake on some work gig, I am quick to forgive since I know I make some colossal blunders myself.  If a fellow driver cuts me off, I extend all manner of grace because I know damn well I’ve done the very same thing myself, sometimes because I’ve been pre-occupied with this or that thought.  Extending grace is a simple matter of acknowledging that at any time, we are capable of committing some unintentional infraction and a pardon by our peers is the one gift we can count on in order to move on from our mishap.

Grace enables the wheels of existence to operate without grinding and grating on each other.  When there is a lack of grace, the excruciating noise is unbearable and harmful to our soul and our civilization.  Do you recall the brilliant youngster with a stellar academic career who was expelled from school over an accidental chemistry explosion?  Like the uncomfortable screech of fingernails on a chalkboard, this injustice, this utter lack of grace, drives us to escape and scream ‘Stop!’ at the same time.  Grace would see, instead, a curious youngster whose imagination and inhibition is a gift to our future.

“Grace finds beauty in everything” sang an Irish crooner once, and I could not sum it up any better.  We always have the option of heaping it upon our brothers and sisters; indeed they are in need of it….not unlike ourselves.   We can afford to be generous with this favorite human trait of mine, especially knowing that we’ll need the generosity of others at some point ourselves.

Be Well,

Frankie