Mama Bear: An Example of Parental Authority in Action

Watch this little clip of film. (Warning: in the last second, one of the people filming says sh*t, so mute if you want to avoid hearing it. The sound of the clip is not relevant.)

Notice Mama Bear’s weight. She is a Big Mama. Her years of loping through meadows and browsing through forests to find grubs and berries and all the other nourishments her world has to offer her shows—she has gravitas. Not just because she is large and there is more mass for the forces of gravity to work upon, but because she KNOWS. She has been around the block—or the lake.

She does not doubt what she knows. And in this case, she knows that little bearcubs do not belong on the highway with vehicle traffic. And Big Mama not only knows this, but she acts on what she knows. There is no doubt, no drama, no denial.

This is such a wonderful visual example of Ho Hum in action: acting calmly with parental authority (Ho Hum is a central part of Parenting in the Here and Now.

I am not suggesting that when your children are troublesome, you should pick them up by their heads. I am suggesting that it might help to remember Big Mama: the weight of her calmness and the resoluteness of her action.

Story and Curiosity

This is a re-post from 2013, but it feels relevant now:

My husband gave me my Christmas present early this year: a recording of Bruce McKee reading out loud an abridged version of his book, Story.  We had a six-hour drive to Philadelphia, so we listened while my husband drove and I took feverish notes. The book is geared specifically for screenwriting, but the basic structural foundation for a screenplay differs little from that of a book or a play.

My husband wanted a deeper understanding of the elements of story because, as a lawyer, part of his job is listening to his client’s story, and then re-telling that story to a judge or jury.

I appreciated Mr. McKee’s analysis because I had just finished the first draft of a memoir—and a primer on story structure was just what I needed before I embarked on the hard work of revision.

We were reminded of how important story is to humans. It is the primary way we learn about and understand our world—something I only understood after we began homeschooling.

And it reminded me how closely tied story is to judgment. A rush to judgment allows no time, no consideration for the story behind an apparent fact. That is what prejudice is—a pre-judging—based on the assumption that one already knows the story. Judgment is the end of the story—the period that says this sentence is over. No more questions. No more curiosity.

I used to think that love was the antidote for prejudice, but now I am considering that curiosity would be a better cure. Curiosity is just a hunger to know the story. And to love something that you don’t really know—that has always seemed a bit patronizing to me, or maybe it is just too abstract. But to be curious, to want to know the story, to be interested—My kids might say “Nosy, Mom. Admit it: you are nosy.”– that to me is a great blessing to bestow on another.

Parenting in the Here and Now

Parenting in the Here and Now is officially available for order from Amazon, Floris Books and Steiner Books (And BAM and B&N). It was an exciting day to receive my first copies, but this is an even bigger day, when the book actually makes its way into the hands of readers. I hope that it provides some simple companionship as well as insight for any who take part in raising children. Please pass on the link, and if you are so inclined, I would be so grateful to hear your thoughts and comments here and on the Amazon review page.

My website: www.LeaPageAuthor.com

Amazon page

Waiting for Permission

There is an interesting post and discussion about permission over on Steven Pressman’s blog. He is the author of The War of Art, in which he masterfully exposes the role that Resistance (with a capital R) plays in our lives. He speaks of it in the context of being an artist, but it really applies to anything we do. I wrote about it using a different name (Fear, with a capital F) in Parenting in the Here and Now, and when I read The War of Art, I thought, “Oh, yes, we are talking about the same thing.” (To Pressman’s credit, he said it decades before me; I just didn’t know it.)

I won’t re-create the discussion (you can read it here), but the salient point of the post is that waiting for permission to write a novel or form a band or whatever is your artistic dream is a form of Resistance.

I agree, but there are nuances and ironies which I find fascinating.

Just as we must be children before we are adolescents, and adolescents before we are adults, there is a process of growing into maturity as artists, and, I would say, as parents. It doesn’t all happen magically when we turn 21 (or have a baby). For most of us, we go through a period of dependency when we learn through imitation, and then we gradually branch out on our own(with varying levels of encouragement and support) until we are, theoretically, free: the masters of our own selves, making our own choices, no longer needing permission.

In the context of parenting, the equivalent stages are present. An example: a young mother recently asked a group of more experienced mothers if they had ever felt disillusioned with a chosen parenting style. Everyone answered “yes.” This is the adolescent stage of parenting, when the parent realizes that things don’t always work out as promised by any given method and the parent must mature into her own authority, which means making her own informed and independent choices for her family. In other words, no longer seeking permission. That young mother is well on her way.

Just as I don’t believe we can or should hurry our children through developmental stages, I don’t believe we as artists or parents can rush through those stages, either.

I think that often we ask for permission when we really need support and encouragement. But it is a tricky business: depending too much on support and encouragement is a bit like waiting for permission. Resistance and Fear are sneaky devils. But the reality is that few of us become the heroes of our own story, manifesting our dreams despite all the bad guys in our way, on our own.

We have to make that final leap ourselves, but chances are good that along the way, we had some kind of encouragement, and perhaps, at the last moment, we had some permission, too, even if it is only Steven Pressman saying, “You don’t need permission,” which is, ironically, the ultimate permission.

Creating Healthy Will in Our Children

Today, Elephant Journal posted my article, “Crisis of Will: A Family Ecosystem Out of Balance,”

I would love to hear your comments and thoughts.  Tell me how you fill your home with devoted attention.

 

 

 

http://www.elephantjournal.com/2015/05/crisis-of-will-a-family-ecosystem-out-of-balance/

Whining vs. Telling the Truth

In the last week, I have heard three different women dismiss significant and defining challenges in their lives. It is as if they were all reading from the same script, one that goes like this:

“I have been struggling lately because there was this event that happened before, _______.” They start to fill in the blank, and then they catch themselves, “but I don’t want to whine. Everyone has their troubles.”

Yes, everyone does.

And I want to know why that means that we must minimize our own. I want to know why it is considered “whining” to tell the truth. I want to know when it became a contest where only the one with the worst troubles is allowed to speak. And just who is the judge of that contest? I want to know why we assume that if we speak of ourselves, we are no longer listening to anyone else.

It is not like these women were trying to gain sympathy and therefore some advantage by opening the door to these moments. They weren’t trying to cut in line at the bank: “Oh, I have to go first because ______ happened, and I am still not over it.”

No. Acknowledging the truth has been conflated with whining and manipulation.

And that is a terrible thing. A dangerous thing. A harmful thing.

Sometimes the truth will lead people to act in response. Sometimes it won’t. A case in point: the simple stories that are shared on the Humans of New York website. Some of those stories have sparked huge fundraising campaigns and other offers of assistance. And others simply—no, there is nothing simple about it—have sparked readers to hear, to encourage, to stand with the speaker.

When we dismiss our own truth, when we don’t claim it and acknowledge it, we are dismissing TRUTH, not just ourselves. We are assigning a value, a rank: this truth matters, but that one doesn’t. And once we allow one truth to be more worthy than another, we have lost the essential power of all truth, which is in having the courage to tell, to hear, to witness, to laugh and to cry, and most especially, to honor.

 

 

 

Children and Choices: An Interview with Barry Schwartz

In my new book, Parenting in the Here and Now, I reframe many of the issues and challenges that today’s parents face. One of those issues concerns the role that choice plays in raising children.

Choices seem to be the all-purpose go-to remedy now. An article in the Wall Street Journal about the importance of chores—a topic that is very close to my heart—included, almost as an afterthought—that parents should offer their children choices about what chores they do. A recent article in the Washington Post suggested that parents model boundaries and consent by offering their toddlers a choice between chewy dinosaur vitamins or gummy robots. Faced with a temper tantrum or a power struggle? The answer is always the same: offer choices.

Our misunderstanding of the role and value of choice has had a profound impact on families. By digging deeper into how children learn to make choices and by asking questions about not only how much choice is healthy, but also about when choice is appropriate, we can dispel common myths and find practical steps that parents can take in their own households, steps that will bring their families into more balance, steps which will help form the foundation for building their children’s capacities to make good choices.

And so I turned to Barry Schwartz to add his insight and perspective to the discussion of this issue. He is a professor at Swarthmore College, where he has been teaching in the fields of psychology and economics since 1971. In his book and TED Talk of the same name: The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, Barry Schwartz takes aim at a central tenet of western societies: freedom of choice. In his estimation, choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied.

In our interview, Barry Schwartz discusses his thoughts on why we hold freedom of choice so dear, on the challenges of making good choices, and on what parents might consider when they are choosing when to give choices to children.

Barry is warm, funny and wise. I think you will enjoy hearing what he has to say. Click here to watch our interview, and I encourage you to watch his TED Talks, The Paradox of Choice and The Loss of Wisdom, and if you have the time, to read his books by the same names. The questions he asks are the questions that we all need to ask.

 

Hibernation is Over. Spring is Here!

My dearest readers,

It has been quiet on the blog, but bigs things have been happening.

My publisher, Floris Books, is releasing my new book, Parenting in the Here and Now: Realizing the Strengths You Already Have on April 16, 2015 in the UK (and on Kindle), and in the United States in June or early July.  It is available on Amazon now for pre-order.

My new website, www.LeaPageAuthor.com, has excerpts and reviews as well as some tidbits about me and about writing the book, and there are links to other published work, guest-blogs and soon: interviews.  The first interview is about children and choices, with Professor Barry Scwhartz, TED talk presenter and author of several books, among them The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less.  I will post that as soon as my intrepid IT/webmaster/better-than-McGyver guy (my husband) takes care of the upload.

Please come visit the website.

You will also find links to several published excerpts from my first memoir, Something About You, which is about raising my family in rural Montana.

I am now in the fingernail-biting process of sending out that manuscript (Floris Books doesn’t publish memoir), and in the meanwhile, I am working on a second draft of a second memoir, Remaining A Stranger, which is about an epic, horse-drawn cart trip through rural Greece.

I hope to have much more to offer you in the coming weeks and months.

 

Safekeeping

I am slung back in an armchair in the living room, reading a memoir of sorts: Safekeeping by Abigail Thomas.  I laugh at one passage and turn the page and then am slammed—she does this, with the simplest of details—and glance into the study to see if my son and husband notice that I am crying.  They don’t.

Thomas is going to high school part-time this year.  He wanted to get out of the house, which makes sense to us.  We’d like to get out of it, too.  It is dark.  The whole state is dark.   But that is another story.

But my son wanted to keep doing math with his dad.  For the last few years, they have been working together through courses from “The Art of Problem-solving,” courses which are heinously and deliciously challenging.  They sit together at my husband’s desk in the study—I can see them from my chair—bent over their papers, murmuring to each other, scratching their chins, working to figure out the starred problems, which are designed to be nearly impossible.  They love this.  But every once in a while they both sit back after a particularly long wrestling match and sigh with frustration and chagrin.  It is often a simple matter of computation that gets them off track.  They can do the hard stuff.  It is that elementary multiplication that bites them on the butt.

Today, while I am sneaking in my tears, they do this again—sit back laughing and shaking their heads.

“The usual stumbling block?” I ask, smiling down the hall at them.

“Yeah, 8 times 7,” says Thomas.  They are grinning cheesey grins at me.  They are proud of themselves, thinking that these blind spots confirm their genius.

“Ooh.  That’s a rough one,” I say sarcastically. I have a role to play in this, too.

“Oh yeah… what is it?” says Thomas.

“56,” I say.

“Just checking,” says Ray.  And then he whispers loudly to Thomas, “write that down.”

He looks up at me, bouncing his eyebrows, enjoying his small coup. “There’s more than one way to get to the answer.”

Then they set their elbows on the desk and rest their chins in their hands, mirror images, and start on the next problem, their pleasure in themselves so absolute that it sheets off of them and sloshes up against the walls.

I hold my book up again, but instead of reading, I look past the pages at them and let those waves wash over me.