Sharing a beautiful prose poem: Finally

This piece was just shared by a colleague and really encapsulates for me the essence of the first steps on the journey home to self…

Finally
By Lisa A. McCrohan
What would you finally have to feel
if
one evening
after a long day
you decided
to slow down
let the dirty dishes sit there
in the sink or even on the counter
stopped busying yourself with
perfecting things that really don’t matter
turned off the TV
put down your smart phone
put down the fork or glass
stopped numbing yourself
with your addiction of choice
and you paused for a moment –
came into stillness
listening to your breath
allowing its rhythm to carry you
into your heart?
What would you finally have to feel?
the anger
the sadness
the grief, regret or rage
that has been pushed down
denied, buried
for too long now?
Maybe it’s the longing –
the longing to belong
the longing to know
you are enough
the longing to be held
the longing to say
what’s been on your heart
for decades.
Maybe you’d finally have to feel
that one tender wound
still fresh, still raw,
still too easily opened
that happened long ago.
What armors your heart, dear one?
What fear keeps you from fully living,
fully feeling,
fully loving?
What would you finally have to feel
if
you
took off
the armor
and held whatever it is
with kindness and compassion
with spaciousness and light –
yes, finally,
in the soft light
with air to breathe?
What would you finally have to see
be with
tend to
and hold,
dear one?
What would you finally have to feel?
What would you finally have to feel
against your chest
inside your belly
under your ribs?
The cries?
The moans
that you didn’t believe
any human being
could make?
Your body shaking?
Your legs kicking?
Your fists pounding?
The emptiness?
The raw rage
and utter sadness?
Maybe it’s time.
Maybe it’s finally time
to heal.
Time to feel.
Time to let your body do
what it knows it needs to do.
Time to sit
come into stillness
feel the rhythm of your breath
carrying you into your heart
to befriend
and reclaim
Yourself
again.

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First Steps

First Steps on the Journey to Conscious Parenting

What I haven’t yet related in this blog is that, initially, I didn’t set out on a journey to change my parenting, rather I set out on the pre-requisite journey – that of healing and learning to love myself…

Five years ago, I was a person crippled by anxiety and fear, by self-doubt, self-loathing and despair.  My relationship with my children was poor, guilt-ridden, exhausting – I yelled at my kids a lot.  I remember my eldest daughter telling me she wished her best friend’s Mom was her Mom because there was never any screaming at her house.  Over the course of a couple of years, as I healed and learned to forgive and to love myself, I was growing in myself a state of inner resourcefulness.  And, it was from this place of inner resourcefulness (self-compassion, self-love), that I was able to take a good, honest look at my parenting behaviours and my relationship with my children.

I mention this, not only to demonstrate the distance it’s possible to travel in a few years, but mainly because if we don’t address our own pain, our own woundedness, we will be sure to unintentionally inflict those same wounds on our children – despite our best intentions to the contrary.  I also mention this because the human spirit is extremely resilient and I’m amazed, humbled and grateful for the manner in which, as I’ve healed, I have been able to create the loving space within myself and within our home for my children’s healing to occur as well.

I think the deepest, most basic wound from which most of us suffer is that of never having been truly ‘seen’ [psychologists call this ‘proximal’ abandonment] and so, having been rejected on the most basic of soul levels, we repress and even attempt to outright murder our own true and authentic self.  This is the disease of disconnect of which I’ve been speaking.  We have lost or murdered our true self because it was never welcomed, it was never honoured, it was never seen [on the contrary, it was overtly suppressed] – by our parents, by our teachers, by our community and THIS is the wound that we inflict again upon our children.  And we do it in so many ways:

  • by cribbing children instead of carrying them or sleeping with them, ignoring their deep need for psycho-emotional bonding and attachment [a need that actually takes precedence over and above the satiation of basic physical needs like the need for food or sleep]
  • by letting our children ‘cry it out’ when studies are now showing children, even up to the ages of four and five, are unable to regulate their own psycho-emotional state and require soothing from a calm adult in order to learn how to properly self-soothe
  • by shaming them for exhibiting the same violent behaviour we unconsciously perpetrate on them on a daily basis
  • by being so busy doing that there is no space for simply being present with oneself, let alone with our children
  • by keeping our children so busy doing there is no space for them to simply be present with themselves
  • by violating our children’s inherent rights to self-ownership and self-expression, leaving no space for the unfolding of their own uniqueness
  • by attempting to control and mold them according to our own idea of what a ‘good’ child is
  • and so, consequently, by continuously violating them physically, emotionally and psychologically.

And we do it because we are so shell-shocked ourselves, because we are so disconnected from the vulnerable inner self that was so violated and shamed when we were children that it went into the deepest of hiding places.  The disconnection is so extreme and it is so ‘normalized’, most of us don’t even realize there is even a healing journey to begin.

And so, of course, I encourage you to begin the journey ‘home’.  It takes immense courage, immense resolve and immense humility.   Give yourself the necessary permission to hold yourself, to dare to be seen, to slow down, breathe out, and take those necessary first steps towards healing…

This is how a better world is birthed.

Resources:

Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype – Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D

Warming the Stone Child: Myths and Stories about Abandonment and the Unmothered Child – Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D {Audio Work}

Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love – Dr. Sue Johnson

http://www.kindredcommunity.com

Wheels of Life: The Classic Guide to the Chakra System – Anodea Judith, Ph.D

EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) Tapping Manual Download (acupressure/tapping to aid in the freeing-up and release of repressed emotions and trauma)

Peter Levine’s Work and Healing Methodologies: http://www.somaticexperiencing.com  and http://www.traumahealing.com/somatic-experiencing/peter-levine.html

Survivors and Partners: healing the relationships of sexual abuse survivors – Paul A. Hansen

Belleruth Nazpartek’s guided imagery for healing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Hedonism and the ‘Disease of Disconnect’

Facebook is a great way to take the pulse of the world through monitoring the postings and repostings of what one might call philosophical ‘sound bites’.  What I’ve been noticing is a movement towards the adulation of the individualistic pursuit of pleasure  – without regard to the cost of this pursuit – and I’m very concerned that the pursuit of pleasure and of personal wealth and happiness is being (mis)represented (and consumed) as the highest moral good, as the highest expression of our ‘Being’.  This is hedonism dressed up as self-love.

There are half-truths being promulgated in the ‘New Age’ movement which, in some very big ways, give folks ‘permission’ to pursue hedonism dressed up in this manner.  These include a skewed understanding of Karmic Law and the promulgation of a philosophy known as Solipsism which, in short, is the notion that nothing is real; everything is an illusion, an artifact of our own mind.  The conclusion that logically flows from this is that nothing we do (or don’t do) really matters. To me, this is the ultimate abdication of personal and moral responsibility.

I first came across the skewed notion of Karmic Law a couple of years ago.  I was taking an Artist’s Way course and was shocked to hear someone say that we needn’t concern ourselves with the rampant immorality afoot in the world  (my words) – I think some of us were talking about what is really going on in Africa.  Her notion was that all (my emphasis) these folks had accrued some sort of Karmic debt in a past life and so we need neither be concerned nor take action to remedy the situation.  She went further in saying that it would, in fact, be morally wrong to interfere in the lesson these people were supposed to be learning in this life.

I think it might help to bring the notion close to home.  If the above were true then, if you came across your own or your neighbour’s child being raped, you would have no need, even more, you would have no right to intervene; this violation would be the child’s karmic debt and you would not have the right to interfere with their opportunity for growth and learning.  As I mentioned above, and I believe this is worth repeating, this is the ultimate abdication of moral responsibility.  If we can blame victims for their own victimization and exonerate the perpetrators of responsibility for their crimes because they are either acting out their own pain or playing a pre-determined karmic role, then there is also no need to examine how our own action (or inaction) affects others, especially those brown-coloured folk on the other side of the world.  We are free to pursue lives of hedonistic pleasure.  I do think we are here to grow our souls and ourselves and a part of that is learning and growing from difficult, even traumatic experiences (it doesn’t serve oneself to stay in a state of victimhood) but in no way is it correct to say that an innocent victim deserved their violation.

The questions is: why are people so readily ‘buying’ these pseudo spiritual philosophies?  My answer: this is another manifestation of the ‘Disease of Disconnect’ – our disconnection from our deepest nature and, therefore, from all life.  To me it also represents a loss of caring:  we don’t have enough heart, passion, compassion, empathy to care and, more importantly, to act.  And it makes sense.  If we are unable to feel and work through – let alone recognize – our own deepest pain, and if we are unable or unwilling to acknowledge and then to travel the difficult road from a place of unworthiness to place of self-worth and self-love, then we will remain deaf and blind to the pain of the life that is crying and dying around us.  (For more on the disease of disconnect, please see my blog post from a couple of years ago.)

Rather than pursuing a spiritually empty life of only personal pleasure or self-aggrandizement, I think the challenge that is upon us is figuring out how to have a rich, fulfilling and satisfying life AND to live this life in such a manner that we are in harmony with all life as a whole.  This includes an understanding of and an accepting of responsibility for how our action and inaction affect other beings.

After-thought (added August 5th):  I’m not sure if it’s pleasure that most folks are pursuing so much as thrills, a frenetic escapism.

Notes:

[Hedonism is a school of thought that argues that pleasure is the only intrinsic good.[1]

I would like clarify I’m not advocating asceticism which is, essentially, the denial of the senses, the body, the complete denial of ‘earthly’ pleasure.  As a friend correctly noted in a recent Facebook discussion, this would be an expression of self-hatred or, in my words, yet another manifestation of the disease of disconnect.

Why My Kids Have Scraggly Dreads…

This past New Year’s marks the two year anniversary of me starting and stumbling through to a more moral and honourable way of parenting.  Over the course of the past two years, I’ve distilled my parenting approach and come to fully embrace it for what it truly is: non-authoritarian parenting. I must admit that many times I regretted that I had ‘let my daughters in’ on my change in parenting philosophy, especially my oldest daughter.  Why had I not just quietly made changes without informing her that I had no right to impose my will on her or that she possessed the inherent right to author her own life?  Frustrating and humbling as it has been to have my 7, 8, and now 9 year-old call me out on the incongruent, immoral or hypocritical nature of some of my behaviours, I am, after all, very glad I did tell her.  It has kept me – she has kept me – honest, honest and walking a path of integrity. It’s far too easy to violate the rights of children since they are relatively powerless, largely or completely dependent upon us, and also largely lacking the force and ability to defend themselves and their rights.  All the more reason why abusing a child’s inherent rights is so heinously wrong.  Much harder – though getting easier for me by the day – is the path I now walk, one of non-authoritarian parenting. What does non-authoritarian parenting look like in my house these days, two years later?

  • It means I don’t always ‘get my way’, even though I’m the parent;
  • It looks like compromise;
  • It looks like negotiation;
  • It looks like respecting a child’s right to say “NO” which, I’ve come to realize, often means they will be more likely to say “YES” the next time around simply because their right to choose has been respected;
  • It looks like kids with scraggly dreads in their hair and long nails because I respect their right to choose how they care for their body.  Sometimes it even smells like stinky kids who have chosen not to have a bath or a shower for 2 weeks… 🙂
  • It looks like me modelling the behaviour I want my children to learn: walking my talk because I *know*  children learn what we do and not what we say;
  • It looks like discussions around right* and wrong* behaviour and that each of us chooses and is responsible for our own behaviour;
  • It looks like my children learning about the effects of their choices on other people and learning about the natural consequences (good or bad) of their choices;
  • On my part, it looks like patience and understanding and remembering that my girls are children and that they are in the process of learning to be responsible, respectful adults.  There is no need for shaming or reprimands because of the very fact that they are children;
  • It looks like me distilling my understanding of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and what the word ‘respect’ really means to me.
  • It looks like me sometimes being very unhappy with my children’s choices but still respecting their right to make those choices;
  • It looks like me communicating respectfully how a child’s choice may have positively or negatively affected me;
  • It looks like a living workshop: my family and I re-learning how to live successfully and respectfully in community; and
  • It feels healthy, it feels peaceful, it feels good.   🙂

NB: *I would like to clarify what I mean by ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ behaviour.  To me, ‘right’ behaviour does not mean a child complying with what a parent or an authority figure wants or demands.  I don’t classify ‘right’ behaviour as obedience and ‘wrong’ behaviour as disobedience.  By ‘right’ behaviour, I mean behaviour that respects the rights of other people and ‘wrong’ behaviour being behaviour that violates the rights of other people.

Life as a Respectful Dance of Negotiation

I had another a-ha! moment the other day.  Well, more than an a-ha! moment, it was a revelation. 🙂

If you’ve read my earlier posts, you’ll see that I’ve embraced the truth that my children have the inherent right to be the authors of their own lives.   Removing the hierarchy in our family, acknowledging that my children have the right to make their own decisions, ‘leveling the playing field’ so to speak, has been an interesting journey for me.  My children embraced this new reality of course, happily emboldened with the new power to say ‘no’ to everything I asked them to do.  My husband and I, on the other hand, have really struggled with adjusting to our new paradigm.  If we could no longer threaten or intimidate our children into complying with what we wanted, how on earth were we going to influence them?!  (I know threaten and intimidate sound severe but take a moment to genuinely and honestly examine how you interact with and influence your children.  It’s enlightening.)

The revelation came at a dinner party.  A bunch of friends were over and all the children were running wild in my backyard.  A child came in to complain that one of the kids was being ‘too bossy’.  The child’s mother replied that among children there are no ‘bosses’, that no one makes the rules.  This interaction percolated through my system and I thought to myself how unfair it is to expect our children to adopt a social role of equality and respect when this is never modelled for them.  At home, at school, all they know is boss and subordinate.  And that’s when it hit me.  I realized why I had been struggling in our new, hierarchy-free home.  All I knew was boss and subordinate.  When I gave up the position of boss, I automatically took on the role of subordinate!   I had no idea how to assert myself respectfully.

So this is what I am learning to do: to assert myself and express my needs respectfully.  I’m giving up both the dictatorial and abusive language of the boss and the pleading language of the subordinate and I’m coming to realize that, when all parties are treated respectfully and as equals, life becomes an artful dance of mutuality and negotiation.

I know it might be difficult to imagine respectfully negotiating one’s needs with one’s children.  It is so ingrained in our society to put all our needs (and wants) ahead of those of our children.  But I can assure you that it does start to work over time and truly it is the only just and honourable way to interact with our children.   And what my children are learning  is so precious: to respectfully assert themselves; that life is a process of give and take; that it’s important to consider everyone when making decisions.  If we would like to see social change, a new paradigm of respectfulness and equality, we have to start in our own homes, so that when our children go out in the world, they have more than the roles of boss and subordinate to draw upon.

More Musings on Racism

How is it that many North Americans can listen to the most horrific news, briefly think “what a shame” or “how awful”, then shrug  their shoulders and move on?  Why is it that we can so easily turn an unseeing eye to the atrocities perpetrated by our institutions of power against brown and black folk, both at home and around the world?  And what is it about our pale-coloured skin that makes us believe these same institutions of oppression, persecution, inhumanity and violence won’t be turned against us?  Earlier, I would have  pinned it solely on what I’ve come to see as a deeply imbedded but unacknowledged racism.  Lately I’ve come to realize that, of course, it is far more complicated than this.

So why is it that we remain unmoved by the violence around us?  For the entirety of my adult life I had been aware, on an intellectual level, of the many crises facing humanity: war, violence, oppression, poverty, pollution, environmental degradation – essentially the abuse of all things human and non-human, living and non-living – yet I remained, on the whole, unmoved.  Perhaps the sheer enormity and extent of this abuse is so psychologically crippling as to render one immobile, unable to act?  Perhaps, overwhelmed, there is a forceful, subconscious denial of the connection between our action (or inaction) and such matters.  Could it be the tranquilizing effect of the ‘sanitized’ language of war: “shock and awe”, “collateral damage”,  “healthy day of bombing”, “servicing a target”?  If the language of war was real, a language of hatred and blood, violence and death, pain and despair, would we then be moved?

We North Americans are a distracted and busy bunch of people; disconnected from our own humanity, we pursue hedonism and materialism to the point of self-oblivion.  This frenetic busy-ness, this empty hedonism, I think masks a very deep and unacknowledged pain.  I’ve come to believe that, despite all our privileges, we are a wounded people, disconnected and deeply wounded: disconnected from our life-giving mother, the earth; disconnected from our families, and others; disconnected from our heart, our very selves; disconnected from our deepest knowing.  This disconnect manifests as a terrifying, gaping, internal abyss – an emptiness vast and frightening.   We maintain a frantic pace to our lives so that only on the rare occasion do we catch a glimpse of this terrifying emptiness and a whiff of the scent of our own fear.

I’ve come to believe that only after this psychological, this spiritual hurt has been healed will we be able to feel the pain of the living creatures with whom we share the earth, our mother.   When we are once again able to feel deeply, emotionally, spiritually, we will be wrenched to our very core by the violence perpetrated against brown folks, against the poor, against our children, against the earth itself; we will grieve deeply and, unable to sit by, we will be moved to action.

Heartening Moments and Painful Realizations on the Path of Conscious Parenting

I mentioned, in one of my past posts, the double standard that permeates our interactions with children, and my new understanding that my children’s ‘poor’ behaviour was simply a reflection of my own.  Here are a couple of heartening moments and painful realizations from my path of conscious parenting.

I started modifying my behaviour in December, 2011.  I expected there to be a time lag between changes in my behaviour and subsequent changes in my children’s behaviour and knew that a great deal of faith in the process would be required.  One of the first bright moments came a couple of months ago, February I think, when Samara, for the first time, said, “Excuse me, I would like to interrupt” instead of barging in on a conversation.  We tend to interrupt our children’s activities often and rudely but then are horrified, angry and embarrassed when they interrupt us rudely in return (that nasty double-standard!)  Three months of quietly and politely asking my children if I could “interrupt them for a moment” is finally ‘paying off’ as they begin to treat me respectfully in return.

Typically, when our children speak to us angrily or rudely or hurtfully we volley the anger, dismissal or hurtfulness right back at them.  How dare they be angry?!  How dare they question us?   How dare they not want to please us?!  However, this anger is typically a very understandable defence against the violation of their basic rights and now gives me pause to stop and consider my own actions.

As I refrain from imposing my will on my children, I’ve also been forced to acknowledge that the ‘normalization’ I witnessed after I first began to ‘allow’ Jasmine to make her own decisions was only her mistrust of the situation. I think that, on a very fundamental level, she didn’t trust I would continue to love her if she were truly herself, if she stopped ‘trying to please’.   Adults like it when children ‘try to please’.  We confuse a child who ‘tries to please’ with a ‘good’ child because a child who ‘tries to please’ validates us.   I think it is very harmful to children in the long run; they risk losing themselves in the pleasing of others.

And so it has been with the passing of time, as Jasmine tests to see if there are boundaries to my love and as she experiments with learning to be herself, that I have begun to witness some of the damage of my past parenting.  It has been especially painful to observe Jasmine ‘transform’ from a child whom I thought was empathetic and thoughtful to a child who appears to demonstrate little to no empathy.   Lately, Jasmine has been tormenting and teasing her sister viciously and incessantly; she has also been hitting her violently and treating her friends callously.  This behaviour reminded me acutely of the violent nature of Jasmine’s jealousy towards Samara during her little sister’s first year of life and it forced me to acknowledge that Jasmine had only suppressed this violent jealousy as she desperately tried to retain my love and approval after Samara’s birth.

Horrified and worried, I turned to the web 🙂  for help with this new development and found two incredible articles which helped me to understand my child’s apparent lack of empathy.  The author of the articles discusses the damage we do when we shame children for their behaviour rather than communicating to them (without judgement) the consequences of their behaviour.  To sum them up (but I highly recommend reading the articles :)), when we shame a child for what we perceive to be unacceptable behaviour, instead of them understanding the harm they have done (and thus developing empathy), they instead focus only on themselves with feelings of shame and self-hatred.  They don’t ‘hear’ and can’t ‘see’ anything beyond, “I am bad”.  It’s a double whammy: children learn to hate themselves, plus they learn nothing of the impact of their actions on others.  I had been aware for quite some time of Jasmine’s self-hatred but, until reading these articles, had been unaware of its cause.

It has been very difficult to acknowledge that my child has little to no self-worth and painful to recognize that she is not the empathetic child I thought she was.  I had no idea that journeying down the path of conscious parenting would land me in this place.  I’m hoping, as I love Jasmine through this darkness and gently help her to understand how her actions affect those around her, that she will again feel worthy of self-love and the love of those around her.

So How did I Get Here?

A friend asked me – after reading my post about a child’s inherent right to self-determination – how on earth I had arrived at this way of thinking.   The simple answer: long periods of navel gazing punctuated by several illuminating “ah-ha!” moments.  I share a few key milestones from my journey below:

Like most parents in my immediate social circle, I never subscribed to the idea of ‘hitting’ children as a means of discipline.  I was acutely aware of the double standard it represented: hitting my children but admonishing them when they hit others?  I’m not saying the desire to hit my children was never present but I recognized that hitting a child would be my own loss of control rather than something my children ‘deserved’ or ‘needed’.

My next step was to recognize the violence inherent in anger in general.  Even though I never physically struck my children, I began to see the emotional and spiritual injury of my anger, how it hurt and diminished my children.  As a family we now label shouting or yelling, ‘hitting with words’.

Another key milestone? Realizing my children’s poor behaviour was simply a reflection of my own.  Despite admonishments and disapproval, my children continued to speak disrespectfully to their friends, to each other, to me.  They rudely interrupted conversations and, oh, the horror, they delighted in ordering other children around!  I can remember saying to Jasmine – on more than one occasion, “How dare you speak to me that way!”  A wry moment of awakening came when, one day, Jasmine threw those words right back at me!  I was far enough along my new path to have a little chuckle at myself over this.  Generally, however, we don’t see our own behaviour as unacceptable because our society entitles parents to behave disrespectfully towards children; this blinds us to what should be another, obvious double-standard.  Thank you, Jasmine, for enlightening me!  I have, since, dramatically changed my behaviour.  One tool I use to ensure my interactions with children are respectful is to picture how I would work through an issue or problem with a good friend or colleague.  How would I approach them? What tone of voice would I use?  Would I expect them to do something simply because I asked?  Would I ‘force’ them (overtly or covertly) to comply with my demands if they chose not to heed my words?

This fall, I made a brief foray into the Occupy movement; though somewhat disappointed (a story for another time), I did admire the Wall Street organizers’ vision to embody a model of inclusive, non-hierarchical decision-making.   It got me thinking about how hierarchies permeate the fabric of western society, from private to public institutions, from profit to non-profit.  As someone interested in social change, I was uncomfortable with the idea that I was perpetuating this same hierarchy in my own family.  How could I possibly nurture in my children the wisdom necessary to enact social change if I continued to raise them within a paradigm of hierarchical power and control?

Around the same time, I began reading an illuminating book about Australian aboriginal society, “Treading Lightly: The Hidden Wisdom of the World’s Oldest People”.  Several aspects of this estimated 40-60,000 year-old society resonated deeply with me.   One was the non-hierarchical nature of aboriginal society, but also was their notion of what it means to “respect” another.  ‘Respect’, in the Australian aboriginal sense, means to allow people to see “what you mean; who you really are”.  Integral to this concept of respect was the requirement to lead or guide without imposing one’s will on another person; in imposing one’s will on another, one failed to truly ‘see’ (respect) the other.  Children were accorded respect in the same manner as the adults.  As I reflected on this new perspective, I began to understand our society’s hierarchical system as the imposition of a person’s will on others, from top manager down to ‘lowliest’ worker –  a deeply abusive, disrespectful and dehumanizing system.  I also reflected on the myriad ways I imposed my will on my children; how it dehumanized all of us, and how it prohibited me from truly ‘seeing’ them.

So, here I am.  To not impose my will on my children is to see them, love them and accept them for who they truly are, not what I desire them to ‘be’ or ‘become’.  I accept, as a fundamental truth, my children’s inherent right to autonomy and self-determination.

The Dynamics of Power and Children’s Right to Self-Determination

This has been a very challenging week for our family. It began when I finally admitted to myself  that, despite our best intentions, despite using consensus for big decisions, ours was still not an equal family in terms of  power and control:  we, the adults, had all the power and the children had none.  I explained to my husband that the children were very aware of this power imbalance (as all oppressed people are) and that this explained their continued resistance to certain things (namely, said oppression!)  I explained that we needed to honour our children and return to them their right to self-determination, their right to make their own decisions, good or bad.  No more rules.  No more imposing our will overtly or subtly.

I started the ball rolling with a simple question for Jasmine. I asked her if she knew the meaning of the word “power”.  Sure enough, she had a very clear understanding of its meaning: “You mean like when you tell me it’s bedtime and I have to go to bed?  And like when you expect me to do chores and I can’t say ‘no’ even if I don’t feel like doing them?”  We discussed things a little further, then I asked Jasmine how she would feel if we were to ‘level’ the balance of power.  To clarify, Jasmine asked me, “So I get to decide what I want to do about everything?”  I tried then to get in a few words about the responsibility that goes along with autonomy, and the need to think about the impact of one’s decisions on other people. This, of course, fell on deaf ears. I had already lost her to ecstatic contemplation of a delightful future of saying “NO” to her evil oppressors, Mom & Dad.

Needless to say, the week was an interesting one.  Jasmine stayed up to 10:00 p.m. reading in bed the first three nights and absolutely NO chores were done as she enjoyed exercising her right to self-determination.  We rarely went outside and when we did, Jasmine went out in summer dresses underneath her snowsuit.  Jasmine also reprimanded me a couple of times when I fell back into old habits and tried to offer her ‘limited choice’. In her words: “Mom, you just offered me choices!” (She knew there hadn’t been an option to ‘opt out’).

Don’t think this was an easy time for the adults; it wasn’t. Even though Jasmine reacted as I had expected, I still found her behaviour very difficult to handle graciously.  I had to be careful not to use my anger at her self-absorption to manipulate her into doing things she didn’t want to do.  I tried to carefully and neutrally let her know the impact of her decisions on the people around her and the importance of balancing her needs and desires with the needs and desires of the people in her life.  Some days I was more successful than others.

But we made it through the week and things are beginning to normalize.  Jasmine certainly knows she can say “no” to anything but she is also discovering the joy of saying “yes”.  Prior to thinking about power dynamics, I didn’t realize that, in unbendingly expecting things of my children, I was also robbing them of the joy that comes with making a “good” decision on their own, and the self-worth that goes hand-in-hand with this.  I know we have rough days ahead as I stumble and struggle through learning how to parent in a manner that is counter to both how I was raised and to parenting norms in our society.  In my gut, however, I know that I am on the right path, that our societal norms are skewed, and that we must honour our children’s right to self-determination.  It is the pathway to wisdom, at least for myself and my partner, and hopefully also for my children.

Acknowledging My Own Racism

Acknowledging one’s own racism is not something a middle-class, ‘liberal-minded’ person does.  Unless we’re applying the term to someone else, the word makes us feel uncomfortable, so much so that, in an effort to protect the ego, the mind is quick to bury any tentative foray into the consideration of our own racism.

A funny thing happens, though, if one allows oneself to consider how and in what manner one might be racist: once in the spotlight, once acknowledged and under scrutiny, the racism evaporates.   To acknowledge and examine one’s assumptions about a particular ‘race’ or group of people, leads to openness, to exploration, to understanding and new information.  Previously unacknowledged stereotypical thinking vanishes.

Prior to Monday night, I would never have considered applying the word racist to myself; however, this past Monday night, I watched the documentary “Unrepentant” by Kevin Annett and Louie Lawless.  This documentary chronicles Kevin Annett’s on-going attempts to bring to light Canada’s historical and continuing genocidal practices against aboriginal peoples.  In brief: over 50,000 aboriginal children died at the hands of the church and the state in Canada’s residential schools.  More than 50% of the students who attended residential schools died.  These are the official statistics, imagine what the real numbers are.  Stop for a moment and imagine sending your child to a school where they would have a greater than 50% chance of being killed, not to mention enduring physical, sexual and psychological abuse beyond our imagining.  This is not ancient history, the last residential school closed in 1996.  I would have been 26 years old at the time.

After having watched this documentary, after having had my very core shattered by the brutality and horror that aboriginal peoples have endured and continue to endure, I was forced to confront my own racism.  Yes, I had known that native children had been abused at residential schools, but how could I not have known the extent of this holocaust?  How could I have accepted government and church apology for this genocide simply as politics of the day and not delved deeper?  The truth is, I didn’t want to know; I didn’t need to know; it had nothing to do with me.  I now acknowledge this disinterest, this unquestioning acceptance of the official ‘storyline’ as a form of racism.

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