There was an interesting juxtaposition going on in my kitchen yesterday morning. In the background I was listening to NPR's Scott Simon discuss his friendship with Gabrielle Gibbons, in the foreground we were discussing me. Specifically, we (my daughter (C), her friend (who mostly kept quiet) and I) were discussing how virtually all of C's friends have been scared of me at one time or another. I loudly berate C for various things she does - real and perceived. I can scream, yell and nag for up to an hour after any particular incident. C reminded me that once I said no I wouldn't take them to the mall, and when the girl then called her mom to see if she would, I freaked out for no apparent reason. (I probably thought the girl was being manipulative, if one parent says no, try another). This week alone I have called my daughter, "The world's most spoiled child." I have also called her "vain" and "irresponsible" for wanting to wear brand new Uggs to the Bridgewater Sports Arena (if she weren't going with the church youth group, I wouldn't have let her go at all). Earlier this week I've also criticized her friends as being a bad influence on her and I also called the mother of one so-called bad influence "a complete idiot", referring to her behavior toward C's other friends. Did I use my outside voice? Yes, I most definitely did.
This morning the tables were turned as I made bagels and eggs for my daughter. My tone had softened despite having just listened to NJ 101.5 complain about the liberals who were criticizing Sarah Palin's rhetoric for possibly influencing the Arizona shooting. I'm sold! Sarah encourages people - on her website -to "take politicians out" if they disagree with her (Gibbons was on that list), plus she has a newly-canceled reality show where she proudly shoots things (well, only animals, I assume, since I didn't see it). My blood was boiling, but I called my daughter "sweetheart" as called her down to "please come eat your breakfast". My pre-dawn rhetoric was warm and loving.
How can I call myself a pacifist, or even an anti-bully when I yell at all the children in my life? It's to the point where my daughter and her friend both admitted that they don't listen to my rants half the time.
How do I convey my passion for whatever point I am trying to make (including how much I distrust my daughter's friend's Mom) without bordering on emotional abuse? How do I change my nature? Yoga? Pro.zac? Pot? Would Palin ask the same questions? Doubtful. Should I?
But there's the difference: I see my failings and that their continued toxicity can evolve into very negative results. Instead of pushing my daughter to be more responsible about her $150 boots, I know she enjoyed proving me wrong. Her boots weren't stolen on Saturday night.
While writing this, I started to read this article about Chinese parenting techniques. Who knew I was part Chinese?! I don't call my kids fatty or trash - but I have called them lazy and spoiled - in fact I've used those terms regularly! Saturday's argument wasn't about homework or practicing, it was about responsibility: not wearing your boots where you shouldn't wear them.
But unlike the Wall Street Journal Super Chinese Mom (and clearly if she is a Yale-Professor and comments for the WSJ she is better than I am) my goal wasn't to boost C's self-esteem, it was to teach her that she needs to take care of her things. Of course, it backfired! I came off as the hysterical mother, shouting about nothing of consequence, she did what she wanted (wearing the shoes) and she showed how wrong I was (they didn't get stolen by BSA drug dealing 9th graders). Or did it? Did I teach her an even more valuable lesson: take care of your stuff or your Mom will be RIGHT?! The lesson, after all, was responsibility...
or was it?
Women demonstrate their power in many ways: successfully encouraging you to shoot your enemies, force-feeding their daughters piano practice to the best results and Sicilian-tempered rants and raves in order to save the Uggs. On the other hand, can't we women have our Prozac and be good moms too?