Sunday, October 17, 2010

A UNIFIED FIELD THEORY OF PARENTING by Lisa Duggan

My daughter doesn’t turn eight until next May, but the questions from the back seat are already getting more difficult to answer. Today, she asked, “Mom, what if people were magnetic?” Okay, I thought, I know this one. Magnetic force—it’s all about electrically charged particles and attraction.
Me: “Um, well, people are sort of magnetic. When Daddy and I met I felt like I was being pulled toward him.”

She: “Oh. So, if you and Daddy are magnets…what am I?”
Theoretical physics credits four unseen forces with ruling nature, electromagnetic force being the most familiar. My daughter may not yet have a grasp of this theory, but she knew instinctively that she held a place in the equation. The theory says:
“The unseen forces between objects are not transmitted directly between the two objects, but instead go through intermediary entities, or fields.”
In the world’s oldest experiment called parenting, you and the rest of the world are the two objects; your actions (both good and bad) are the unseen forces and your child is the field in between.

Every decision you make and every action you take affects your kid.  Even those things you do that are kept hidden from them.
Everything. It is one of the greatest and most difficult truths of parenting. When they’re small, your focus is on their physical well-being and the consequences of your actions are immediate and obvious—food that is too hot for their little mouths, a missed nap that results in a late afternoon meltdown.

But as they grow older, the way we affect our children becomes more nuanced, the result of our “transmitted forces” less readily apparent. Our influence on them is not limited by time and space. Actions today will have consequences in their lives now and fifty years from now. Therefore, how we get through our daily lives becomes critically important as children begin to mimic our emotional and intellectual responses to the world.

Do we let ourselves become too hungry, angry, lonely or tired? How do we handle intimacy, frustration, disappointment, or grief?  What tools do we employ? Do we shut down and ignore our feelings until they pass? Or do we take out our emotions on other people, verbally or physically; maybe we check out temporarily with a glass or two of wine or Xanax; have emotional or sexual affairs; over-eat, over-work, over-exercise, over-spend.

These behaviors are not uncommon or surprising and most are not even considered “wrong,” but normal within a spectrum of behavior—just take a look at reality TV. I’m sure you recognize your own behavior or the behavior of people you know and love in that list. (I'm guilty of at least six.)

But, would you tell your son to eat an entire box of Oreos to deal with his disappointment over losing a soccer game? Advise your daughter to have an extra-marital affair or two to address her unhappiness? Encourage your oldest child to bully, belittle or scream explosively in anger at her brother when she’s feeling down about herself?  Tell your five year-old it's okay to take a little Benadryl every night to help them get to sleep? No, of course not. You would never tell your children to do any of these things. But are you showing them how?

Somehow, it becomes immediately evident that these behaviors are all really bad fucking ideas when we view them from our kid's point of view. When the solution to a problem creates a new problem, it’s not a solution.
 
No one deliberately sets out to teach their children self-destructive behaviors but it's difficult to escape the emotional intimacy that comes bundled with the physical realities of living in a family. Kids will rip open the bathroom door to your soul, exposing your dysfunction, and they will not bother to knock.
 
Your children are the field in between you and the rest of the world. They absorb your every transmission. Like Sunday brunch, behaving badly is just another luxury you can no longer afford.

3 comments:

  1. Awesome. Guilty as charged. So so guilty.

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  2. I thought this was a brilliant little piece.

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  3. wow...really cool blog...thanks for sharing...

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