The Peda­gogy of Mama Bear

This week’s post is from an email sent to Waverly’s art teacher, Michelle Dakan, from Anne Schiller, a colleague and friend from Pacific Oaks.

As I am away from school recov­er­ing from knee surgery, I have had a contem­pla­tive few weeks. I’ve been think­ing a lot about parents who are in the thick of it and feeling great compas­sion for them; I’ve been looking around at old photos and feeling nostal­gic for my own kids who are now grown. 

Here are some thoughts.

It goes by FAST! In the scheme of a life­time, 18 years is short! There­fore, try to have a good time, in what­ever way you can. Breathe in the moments when every­thing feels good, whether your kids are snug­gled in with you, and there’s a sense of content­ment, or times when you are alone in your car, driving away with some time for your­self stretching ahead.

I often think of a certain image when I am discussing prob­lem­atic issues with parents. I think of the cuffing” method of parent­ing. This method calls for a straight­for­ward, trust- your- gut, not over­think­ing or fret­ting way of respond­ing to your child’s behav­ior that mimics a mother bear who cuffs her young when she goes too far off the mark. It’s a way of saying Stay on the path. Don’t wander off.” Or, while tussling if the baby gets too rough, the mother baby cuffs the baby. I don’t suggest actual cuffing, just the idea that being a parent and respond­ing to behav­ior that that is ques­tion­able does not need to be too compli­cated. The parent is the adult who is the driver and makes the plan and some­times says no.”

Being a parent can bring out a complex range of emotions that range from delight and ecstasy to exas­per­a­tion and discour­age­ment, partic­u­larly during custo­dial” years before age 5. What does my child need? Who is this person? The child keeps chang­ing – it’s like running behind a moving train. You feel you’ll never quite catch up. And, care-taking can feel one-way and rather endless. It’a all a lot..which brings me to…

Tedium. There are so many mundane and repet­i­tive activ­i­ties involved with having small chil­dren. When once you felt like a sharp-think­ing, success­ful indi­vid­ual whose success and sense of fun was involved with a zippy adult life and suddenly you’re doing a lot of wiping, it can be rough. Which is why…

It’s impor­tant not to feel isolated. Parents need to support one another. It’s easy to feel unsure and alone, and parents need each other to know that it’s not just you! Many others are expe­ri­enc­ing very similar things. (See The 6 Stages of Parent­hood by Ellen Galin­sky. It’s a whole book that is very soul-feeding on this subject). 

Try not to compare or measure your child’s success or your own against other child/​parent. It’s easy to look around and see a child who seems more advanced, polite, sophis­ti­cated, or accom­plished and wonder if you should be doing some­thing completely differ­ent. Try not to do this. None of it will matter in the end. Keep your mind on the big picture and follow your values and accept your child is who they are; you only have so much control over when they do certain things.

Take breaks from tech­nol­ogy. Tech­nol­ogy is getting in the way of rela­tion­ships, acqui­si­tion of language, reci­procity, atten­tion span, problem solving, eye contact, and plea­sure in fami­lies. This trend is very disturb­ing and deserves its own chapter or book.

This brings me to the impor­tance of reading aloud. You need to find activ­i­ties that bring you all joy at the same time, and books bring ideas that you might not think of discussing or sharing other­wise. Plus, they bring HUMOR!

Parent­hood is a big mirror that you look into and see your­self. Be kind.

Thanks, Anne!