Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The Reason I Was Monologuing In My Car Last Night

Before I get to the actual post here, a few points. One, I am a blogger who occasionally writes about her kids, yes. This is true. In fact, this here blog started out originally as a way to share stories and pictures with family far away, then it veered very much away from quaint little funny stories about the kids and I pulled down nearly all of the content about them. I do still write about them from time to time these days, but generally once they hit about 8, I ask them first. And even if and when they consent, I still watch what I write and which pictures I post for the reasons I will explain shortly, not the least of which is that you can't control what people do with the information or pictures once they are posted. Ahhh, the internet.

Two, I generally detest parenting advice, particularly of the unsolicited variety. Most of it is terrible and never applies anyway, is given only to make the giver feel more superior about the path they've chosen as a parent...to justify the choices they've made along the way because in our twisted society somehow the only way to be a "good" parent has become to point out the "bad" parents. The truth is, I really and truly believe that most of us are trying our best most of the time given the resources and information we have at that moment, and depending on how exhausted we might currently be.

Three, I work a lot with kids. Specifically teenagers. And no, they aren't always my own, though I am myself the parent of three teenagers at the moment. I do a lot of volunteer work and a ton of advocacy. I run support groups for parents. I help kids create safe spaces in their schools. And as a result, people generally feel pretty safe to confide in me. I joke that I am the human Fort Knox, and it's not a stretch of the truth. Working as a doula magnifies this. Oh, the things people tell me. They tell me all the things.

Most adults whine endlessly about teenagers these days. Insist the kids are all lazy and disconnected, distracted and selfish. That has absolutely not been my experience at all. I love teenagers (most of the time). Sure, they are impulsive and make bad choices sometimes, they can be selfish assholes sometimes too, but so can all of us. Adults just tend to forget that everyone has bad days sometimes, demanding consistency from children when they are not even compelled to display it themselves. Well, and most adults forget what it was like to be a teenager.

So, there's your opener.

The precipitating incident to the writing of this post happened yesterday. And a few months ago. And a few months before that. And a couple of years ago. In fact, it happens all the time, where I see a parent sharing something online that they probably shouldn't be sharing about their kid in a way that they probably shouldn't be sharing it. In the process, that parent is quite often telling their newsfeed more about themselves than they are about their child, but I'll get to that in a minute. The specific context yesterday was pertaining to the discussion of parenting a child on the spectrum, and the word "burden" came up more than once. Words synonymous with burden. Words that indicated that these particular children are more work, more difficult, more needy, more more more...

It brushed me the wrong way, as comments to that effect always do. I myself parent children with mental health issues, with learning disabilities, with spectrum disorders, with serious medical issues. I've lived these frustrations, spent endless hours on the phone trying to find screenings and services, fought with insurance more times than I could say, cried at IEP meetings out of sheer frustration.

Having been doing this parenting thing for a very long time now, I can tell you all one thing with absolute certainty. IT IS ALL HARD. Every kid, regardless of their diagnosis or condition or needs or requirements will 100% challenge you in a novel way. Kids that seem to have no issues or conditions will do it too, they aren't magically immune. Will some kids need more? Of course. Will all kids test your limits and patience and resolve in their own ways? YES.

As I wrote yesterday, though, any insistence that children on the spectrum are burdens does three dangerous things. First, it ignores the fact that all kids are hard in their own ways. Second, it dehumanizes people on the spectrum, makes it seem like they are merely an obligation to which the parent is beholden, creates the martyrdom complex that usually sounds a lot like "I sacrificed all of this for you". Third, it ignores the fact that spectrum conditions don't just affect children. Nope. Those things are very much lifelong conditions, and they are things that affect many more people than most realize as adults, and I know for a fact that there are several people in this particular group who land somewhere on that spectrum themselves, not to mention their kids.

Our children are not extensions of us. They aren't. They are separate and distinct human beings with hearts and minds and souls away from us entirely. Sure, we are thrust into the position of being wholly responsible for them for 18 or so years, but that doesn't mean that they are part of us. Legally, we are given the job to make decisions for them, but morally, we have to think about their agency and the long term effects of the choices we make every step of the way. And, also, it's worth pointing out that no child ever asked to be born into your life. They aren't your obligation by choice, at least not on their part. They're stuck with the family they were born into. You might have chosen to have them, but they did not choose you.

That's not how this works.

It isn't just parents of children on the spectrum, obviously, to which I speak today. It's all parents, and occasionally other adults in their lives who share things that are wholly inappropriate. Parents of kids with learning disabilities, health issues, anything outside the box of societal norms are the most likely to have to grapple with teasing out where these lines are, but this issue exists for all parents, and to some extent all adults. Teachers posting videos of their students online as "inspiration" comes to mind right away.

It's parents who can't tease out the boundary between venting and sharing frustration at the reality of parenting with sharing too much about the issues of this particular child. It's a fine line, sure, and it shifts and moves quite a bit as kids get older. There's a whole lot more you can reasonably overshare about parenting a newborn than you can with a 16 year old.

And that is how parenting should go, right? As children become adolescents, they crave independence and agency over their bodies. They want decision making control. They think they know everything. Those decisions about who knows what about their personal lives should extend to what things their parents share with other people without their consent.

We should get to make fewer decisions, they 
should get to make more the older they get. 
And number one on that list should be what
the rest of the world gets to know about them. 

A while back, a former friend posted about taking her tween daughter bra shopping. (I can hear the groans from here...) It is not the most fun part of parenting by any means, but then when was the last time you enjoyed shopping for bras for yourself? (It's terrible for everyone, right?)

Anyway, this conversation was viewable to well over 1,000 people, and quickly involved details about cup sizes and preferences and what friends were wearing and more and more, and I made the suggestion that once she felt this topic had been sufficiently crowdsourced, maybe pulling down the post wouldn't be the worst idea ever for privacy reasons. A few people jumped all over me for ruining her "mommy village", insisted that I was body shaming her daughter, told me that I was being ridiculous, compared it to the struggles of potty training a two year old, and more. Then she blocked me.

She pulled the post down first though.

I really don't honestly care that she blocked me. I just hope that she saw the point that I was trying to make, which wasn't anything having to do with being the ogre stomping on her created mommy village. I'm in several small private groups where we do talk about the more difficult points of parenting in detail. I am not about to put that stuff on my wall, though. Nope. I wasn't body shaming her daughter, nothing of the sort actually. I'm the 100% body positive personal agency parent who rails against gendered dress codes. I was making the argument that her daughter should have a say in who knows what sizes and types of bras she wears. That's pretty personal information, and I know that I would have been absolutely mortified if my mom had just started sharing that with her 1,000 closest internet friends.

I wasn't telling her how to parent, even. I was merely suggesting that she take a step back and ask herself if it was truly her choice, her right, her place to share those details.

And I do this because I work with kids, kids who tell me things, kids who don't often feel comfortable talking to their parents about much. Some of them think their parents won't understand, will shame them in some way. Some of them are afraid of being punished. Some of them refuse to talk to their parents because they can't trust what their parents will do with that information, who else they will tell. Some of them know that the only way to preserve their privacy is to not tell their parents at all.

Is it entirely okay to talk about being frustrated? Of course it is. In fact, please share those frustrations more because social media is full of people lying about life, only sharing the good stuff. Parenting is mostly monotony, sometimes absolutely awful, and occasionally awesome. If you only share the awesome stuff, you're skewing the pool.

Can you share frustrations without being specific? Fuck yeah. More of that, please.

While we're at it, social media types, stop fucking shaming vaguebookers. You are not entitled to know the personal details of anyone's struggle simply because you are Facebook friends with them. If you don't like to see vague complaints, if it somehow offends your psyche to see people venting non-specifically, scroll on by. Unfriend them if it bothers you that much. If they wanted you to know, they'd tell you, dammit. People are allowed to vent. You don't need juicy, personal details to give a shit about them. Honestly.

Can you talk about how much it sucks to navigate the health care system or the mental health system or complain about lack of resources? YES. Please talk about that. Should you mention how difficult the IEP and 504 process is, how treating kids like a set of symptoms instead of a whole person is endlessly frustrating and self-defeating? YES. Because Thor knows that there are tons of us fighting back tears in those meetings, hearing people talk about percentages of goals met as though the value and worth of our child could ever be quantified.

Should you advocate for better services, for research funding, for reducing stigma? YES. Can you do it without throwing yourself on the sword of sacrifice for the world to see? Yeah...yeah, you probably could do that. Do you need to mention personal details? Nah.

Should you mention how exhausting having teenagers is? YES. To be honest, I parent my teenagers and toddler in basically the same way. Do you need a snack? Do you need to poop? Need a nap? Have you drank any water today? A good 70% of life's issues can be fixed with that short list, goes for us grown up types too. (true story).

But should you start talking about the people your kids are dating or speculate about their orientation or mention specifically which class they are failing or post about the latest argument you had with them that you will forget about in two days anyway? Maybe not. It's the nuances. The details. The personal.

Because here is the thing about kids that too many parents don't realize until it is too late: 


If they lose the ability to trust you, 
you've undermined everything about
 parenting teenagers that you're 
going to need to tap into the older they get. 

If they are always wondering if you're going to use this in a blog post or make it into a meme or whine about them on Facebook, they're going to stop telling you things. Believe that.

And once they stop talking to you, there's not a whole lot that will ever get them to open up again.

I know because I remember what it was like to be a teenager. I can distinctly remember the day that I stopped telling my mom anything. The day I started censoring what she knew. The day I began hiding everything else.

So, parents of the world, I ask you to ponder for a minute before you click post. I say this not as a parent, really, but as someone your kids will talk to when they won't talk to you. I say this as someone who remembers what it was like to have her trust violated by her mother. I say this as someone who stopped tell her mom things as a result. 

And when in doubt, ask them. The children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. (please get the reference, someone...)

1 comment:

  1. Ahem: show them all the beauty they possess insiiiiiiiiiide! (Had to. Also, I listen when you give parenting advice. I can tell you’re doing something right, and I’d like to as well.)

    ReplyDelete

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