A feminist critique of hyper-feminism

Standard

Feminism

noun fem·i·nism \ˈfe-mə-ˌni-zəm\

: the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities

– Merriam Webster Dictionary

 

I have been contemplating this post for a long time now. Many months and many conversations have gone into forming the thoughts I’m about to share. I spent a long time coming up with reasons not to post this, reasons often voiced by those in conversation with and around me: I don’t want to stir the pot on this hot topic, I don’t want to keep spreading the myth that feminism is about hating men, enough people are trying to cut feminism down – the least I can do is speak to its merits as opposed to getting caught in the seemingly endless assault on its perceived flaws. For a long time these reasons were enough to keep me from speaking up.

But something happened recently, something I’ve often witnessed at an arms length but never previously experienced so close up. Someone out there in the ether, someone with an education and a platform, someone held up by many as the ideal feminist warrior – this someone and a few of her biggest supporters launched a vicious, personal and ongoing cyber attack against my husband after he made a sarcastic joke in an effort to show his solidarity with her on a particular issue. Now, people take offense often and I have no problem with someone taking offense to Tory’s particular sense of humour. It’s remarkable it doesn’t happen more often! But this wasn’t someone taking offense. This was an explosive and vitriolic reaction to a simple attempt to communicate, followed by shaming, berating and full on cyber-bullying of the worst kind, spewing hatred not just at him for daring to be a man, but at me for daring to voice disagreement with their accounts and at our children for daring to be born.

The nice thing about such an intensely unpleasant experience is that it removed any inhibitions I had about raising my voice. I stopped being worried about how some of our friends might react and started to be far more concerned with the damage people like these are doing not just to the reputation of feminism but to real individuals who are being publicly flogged for the sin of holding a different view of the world.

In this post, I will be referring to something I have decided to call “hyper-feminism”. It should be noted that when I speak to this particular brand of “feminism”, I am not referring to what was described in the definition provided at the top of this post. I am not referring to the millions of people engaged in meaningful discussions and meaningful work focused on gender equality and on allowing women to have the same access to opportunity as men. I am not denying that the world we currently live in is an uneven playing field, and that because of that women have more ground to cover in order for equal opportunity to be realized. I am not denying the reality that to this day there are undertones in our society that work against women and for men, and that these undertones still have a huge impact on how we choose to live our lives. I do not believe feminism is unnecessary, I do not believe it is outdated and I do not believe there is a simple fix to the huge array of issues that feminism works so hard to unearth and address.

“So then why call it feminism at all?” I will still use feminism to label this worldview (at least in part) because 1. There is a large – though not majority – faction of people who loudly proclaim themselves to be part of the feminist movement who hold this worldview and 2. Because we don’t get anywhere by trying to minimize real issues. Pretending this isn’t a hijacked and twisted version of feminism but simply some other entity altogether diminishes the dangerous crossover this movement shares with feminism in its true form, and the reality that this movement is rooted in and uses to its advantage the basic premises of feminism before perverting them so completely to serve their own purposes. Evil perpetuated in the name of a worldview needs to be called out for what it is so that it can be extracted from the worldview it purports to support. If we as feminists refuse to acknowledge what is being done in our name, it will continue to infect the entirety of the movement.

Maybe you think I’m being a little dramatic. Maybe you think this isn’t a real issue, this is just first world problems. Who cares about what a stranger on the internet says. My response is this: First world problems often have a trickle down effect on the rest of the world, and in order for feminism to continue to be the incredibly positive and powerful force it is in EVERY world, the ever-louder voices destroying it from the inside out need to be answered and called out for what they really are. Hatred can destroy even the strongest of things. And I care about strangers on the internet when so much of our world today is lived out in social media, and social media happens to offer just the right amount of distance to allow people to say the most horrible thing under the illusion of immunity, words that don’t just hurt feelings but can cost lives and destroy decades of good work.

Hyper-feminism has been growing ever louder over the past half a decade or so, at least that I’ve noticed. It’s gone from being a small faction barely recognized by those either inside or outside of feminism, to finding a voice in the development of feminist literature and theory, and most of all within the media. In the last few years I’ve not taken a single course that involved feminist theory that didn’t in some small way touch on some of the ideas held by hyper-feminism. The media has exploded with the content of the hyper-feminist movement – essays abound on the subjects near and dear to their hearts and newspapers and magazines seem afraid to speak out too loudly against these opinions, probably because they know they will immediately be branded as misogynistic and morally backwards. The only voices that loudly oppose hyper-feminism are those on the right – but unfortunately they are so far right they provide nothing constructive to counteract the arguments, instead reinforcing patriarchal norms. So the world sees two sides to choose from and while being bashed by the right for your views just reinforces for moderates and liberals that they are on the right track, because of the speed and severity of the condemnation of the hyper-feminists, speaking out against them runs the risk of political and social suicide. So, cowering in the fear of the potential consequences, the majority decide to keep their heads low while the hyper-feminists grow ever louder.

“What is it that you think ‘hyper-feminism’ is and why do you disagree so strongly with their views”? Hyper-feminism has taken the fight for women’s rights, and turned it into “only women have rights” – while also saying that women should have no responsibility. Hyper-feminism has decided that because men have had and continue to have more power and advantage in the world, male experiences are not valid. Hyper-feminism has twisted the acknowledgment that women deserve equality into the proclamation that men don’t have a place in the world other than to worship and agree with anything a woman says. Except if that woman doesn’t agree with hyper-feminism in which case that women is a whore who has sold herself to patriarchy and is too ugly and stupid to have valid thoughts either. Hyper-feminism has stripped the world of intelligent, compassionate dialogue and replaced it with screaming so loud and unending that there is no room for another voice to interject. And any society that only allows one voice to speak is doomed.

The thing that bothers me most about hyper-feminism is the utter hypocrisy demonstrated each and every day by those I see yelling most loudly in support of the movement. They often claim to support the tenets of feminism, but their actions betray their true beliefs. You can see it easily of you know what to look for – a woman “stands up for herself” by cutting down a man who disagrees with her, calling him horrible and degrading names, attacking his looks, his intelligence and his value as a human being (‘neckbeards anyone?). She is heralded as a goddess by her fellow hyper-feminists and lauded for putting him in his place. But, if a man does any of these things he is the worst kind of misogynist. If a man dares to mention a woman’s career when expressing surprise that she didn’t know how to communicate better then clearly he’s a misogynist neckbeard whose children are not children but “spawn” because he and his offspring don’t even qualify as human. But wait – isn’t that what you are mad at men for? For reducing you to less than human, for attacking your fuckability as if your only worth lies in your looks, for assuming because you have an opinion that’s different from theirs you don’t have the ability to form an intelligent opinion at all?

Men are not right for doing these things. Neither are you.

Or what about this – women are encouraged to “be strong” and “be powerful” – women who kick butt and take control are immortalized in comic books and turned into children’s stories about girl power that can be read to our daughters. But if a man so much as dares to open a car door, hyper-feminists say he is undercutting and infantilizing them, and should be beaten in the streets for this unfathomable crime. If a man appears to live up to the traditional stereotypes of being macho and manly, of being strong and taking charge – then he is perpetuating patriarchy and is called a pig.

Hyper-feminisim is presumptuous, condescending, arrogant and abusive. Hyper-feminists assume their opinion is so far superior that anyone who disagrees with them is not even worthy of breathing the same air as them. Hyper-feminists assume they are mind readers, and believe they not only know every persons thoughts but also all of their underlying motivations. Hyper-feminists assume it is their God-given right by virtue of their superiority to be judge and jury for the entire world. Hyper-feminism assumes all men are misogynists and predators – only those who have submitted completely and claim no right to have an opinion are allowed to exist without condemnation. It assumes that because of their maleness all men’s motivations are pre-determined, and those motivations are to gain power and dominate women.

Hyper-feminism argues that because women suffer more greatly from inequality, nothing a man suffers ever matters. It’s like arguing that because a child in Africa is starving and lost his parents to AIDS, I don’t get to be sad when my own father dies because I’m not starving and he didn’t have AIDS. That women face more hardships doesn’t mean that the hardships of men are any less real, and acknowledging the greater position men hold in our society doesn’t mean they aren’t still subject to discrimination or hatred too. Using the logic of the hyper-feminists, when a woman in North America experiences catcalling it may never be empathized with because there are women in other parts of the world who live in countries where rape is still legal. So because a woman here doesn’t have to face that much greater trial, any trials she does face aren’t valid.

And it’s not just men that hyper-feminists are so willing to attack. Remember the speech Emma Watson gave about inviting men to the table of feminism to be part of the discussion? Do you want to know where the worst attacks on her came from? They came from within feminism – from hyper-feminists who could not believe her gall at acknowledging the value of the male voice. They destroyed her. They ripped her apart. She didn’t share their views so therefore she was a traitor, and not worth treating as a human. Hyper-feminism is so quick to dispose of the humanity of anyone they disagree with – almost as speedily as they raise as goddesses those who yell along with them the loudest.

Many people argue with me that because men have the greater power, we shouldn’t be spending time talking about their voices or concerns or needs. I disagree. Why? Because if we forget about their voices then we lose the balance that true feminism is really after in our world. True feminism is about creating a space where men and women come together as equals, with equal access to all the opportunities life has to offer. Hyper-feminism is not concerned with this equality, but with silencing men altogether. Female empowerment is important – it NEEDS to happen. But hyper-feminism seeks to simply build a mirror image of the world we’ve been fighting so hard to change.

This is not a post about men’s rights. Men DO still have more power, and they don’t need the same amount of support that women do in order to get our world to equality. But the whole point of feminism is not to build women up and cut men down, the point is to find a balance – where no one has too much or too little power in the world. And the whole point of hyper-feminism is to teach the world to hate everything they have decided men encapsulate. Men aren’t people, at least not ones that deserve equal voices. And if a woman believes in the value men offer, she’s just as worthless as men are.

Hyper-feminists, you are not goddesses – you are humans. Fallible, imperfect humans. You cannot imply intention. You cannot know without discussing. You are teaching the world to hate. Feminism gave you the platform you stand on today and I, for one, will not just stand by and let you ruin the good name of feminism.

 

 

The problem with how we talk about Caitlyn and Josh

Standard

This post will not be popular – of that I’m certain. But I’ve very recently gotten past the point of caring about being popular. It’s too much work anyway, trying to live up to the expectations of the entire world.

Two big stories have dominated the media these past two weeks: first, the story of Caitlyn Jenner and second, the story of Josh Duggar. Both have been polarizing, both have caused extreme lashing out both by Christians and at Christians. I’ve watched outrage fly and hatred spew on all sides. So many have taken an “us vs. them” stance, screaming “You are either for us or you’re against us!”. Both individuals have been reduced to extremely oversimplified caricatures, filled out by the projections of millions of people based on their own personal experiences. People who identify with either of these individuals claim to know their every thought and intention by virtue of their assumed kinship, or by virtue of their kinship with those who oppose them.

A trend has emerged. People choose their side and hold up these individuals either as saints or devils, representative of all the good they can dream up or all the evil the world possesses. But then something happens – the caricature begins to fracture. Someone points out an inconsistency in the position that’s been taken, or the sainted individual makes a choice that contradicts the perfection they are meant to encapsulate. Caitlyn, it’s revealed, is making millions off of this whole “coming out”, and suddenly her motives run the risk of not being completely altruistic. Two of Josh Duggars victims speak out in his defence with messages of forgiveness, and those who have been claiming to be the victims voices in all this find themselves having to come up with ways to undermine those whose side they purport to have chosen. 14 year old Josh Duggar self reported his crimes before his victims were even aware of them, and it’s harder to argue that he fits the profile of a pedophile.

By this point of course the opinions have been broadcast so loudly, and lines so clearly drawn that there is no room for doubt, for backing down or changing your mind or softening your position. All that’s left is to double down and redirect the argument through whatever means necessary so that the conclusion can be supported. The conclusion is the guiding force, and the facts will be molded to fit it. The caricatures become even more extreme, and any glimpse of the real humans behind these names are lost completely to the public’s consciousness.

And that’s the real problem. The problem is that in the moment these stories emerged, instead of searching to find these individual’s humanity, people sought to dispense of it in an effort to support the narrative they wanted to develop. This is equally true of those both on the left and on the right. These individuals are not spoken about in most circles as fully fleshed out humans – fathers, husbands, sons, brothers, sisters, daughters, wives, mothers. They are idols or they are scum. They are not allowed to be humans.

Why are we so afraid of their humanity? Perhaps because if we allowed ourselves to see their humanity, we would see in them the imperfect pieces of ourselves – of our husbands and mothers and children. We would relate to them not as things to be judged but as people to be loved, and love is far too complicated to support any simple narrative. Love requires empathy, compassion and forgiveness just as much as it requires boundaries and responsibility and consequence. Love requires an acknowledgement that these individuals who may hold beliefs that we oppose with every fibre of our being also share in the common experiences of human life – bedtime stories with their children, loneliness in the breakdown of their relationships, awe at the splendour of a perfect sunset. It requires the acknowledgement that those things we hate about who they are and what they stand for are merely one part of their person, that their perceived flaws are no more numerous than our own and that nothing they say or do can erase the fact that they are still more like us in their humanity than they are different from us in their failings.

So if you want to discuss the Jenners and the Duggars, discuss what they do with humility and caution, knowing your life is full of choices someone else in the world opposes with the same vehemence you are feeling. Don’t assume you know who the person is or what their motives are, unless you actually have a close relationship with them – and even then realize you cannot read another’s mind. But most importantly of all, root every conversation you have in the reality of a love that requires you to put their humanity centre stage. Whatever your position is on Caitlyn Jenner and Josh Duggar, whatever your feelings about the lives they are leading and the choices they are making, you must always remember to look at them first and foremost as imperfect people, as brothers and sisters, and as precious and loved children of God.

The Art of Listening

Standard

This summer I have the incredible opportunity to spend almost 3 months on Vancouver Island with my (almost) husband and our 1 year old, as well as having our 5 and 8 year olds come out for 4 weeks in July and August. While most of my peers are busy working, I’m learning how to love cooking again, how to be present for the little things and how to reconnect both with my partner and – even more than that – with myself.

This past year and a bit have been a blur. Scratch that – the past 3 and a half years have been a blur. From the time Tory entered my life, my world has been in a constant state of stress and upheaval. Every aspect of my life has changed in huge ways, as has nearly every aspect of my self. I look back 3 years and see a broken child, searching for meaning and belonging and purpose and Love. Between dealing with a move across the country, a divorce that dragged out 3 full years and ensuing custody battle royale, becoming a step mom and in essence a wife, a career beginning and end, LSATs, first year of law school, pregnancy, childbirth (it was 76 hours, it counts as its own significant endeavor), becoming a mother and more, every facet of my being was reshaped, every belief about myself and the world challenged, every limit tested. But I’m here.

And I’m not just here, I’m… different. More. More aware, more humble, more forgiving, more trusting, more Loving. More human.

This is the first time since my new life began that I’ve been able to just sit and consider what my life is and who I am in it. With no pressing deadlines and no looming court dates or bills we can’t pay, I truly have the freedom to just BE. I think the greatest freedom I am currently feeling is from the pressure to have to provide financially for the family. Tory’s working and I am not responsible for this summers income, and I feel like I can breathe and relax into my life, into the chance to do nothing more than Love those around me for a time.

I catch myself feeling guilty for the nothingness – for the sitting and watching, for the quiet. And yet I know it is necessary. The quiet I have been given these few short months is not just for me to recharge after a grueling few years. I believe more than anything else, God has given me this quiet so that I have the time and space to hear His voice in the silence, and to listen to His whispers as they float in off the summer breeze. My day to day life is normally so filled to the brim with all my competing responsibilities, my attention drawn even in my dreams to all the things I must do and prepare to do and be careful not to do that I have no space in my life for any sort of quiet. For any sort of listening. It’s hard to hear the stillness of God above the cacophony of life.

Because that is what God is. Stillness. In a world that is ever changing and always moving, He is a fixed mark, strong and stable and sure. He is steadfast in his pursuit of us, active in his Love of us, but I can always recognize His voice if I am willing to listen for it, because it never changes. He whispers Love into every corner of my life, asking only that I trust Him enough to let him lead me to fullness.

I am so easily led astray.

In September I will head back into the throng of students competing to find success. For many that success looks like money and prestige. For some it looks like finding meaning and making a difference. For a few it looks like compassion. For me…

For me I pray for the courage to hear and to listen to what I am being called to. For me I pray I do not become seduced by the endless pursuit of MORE, of bigger and better and richer.

For me I pray I will speak Love into the lives of thousands over the decades to come. That I will reflect compassion, embody humility and inspire courage. I pray that I will spare children the hate of their parents, and parents their crippling hate of each other and of themselves. I pray that God makes my life matter.

This summer, I hope I master the art of listening. I want to hear in no uncertain terms who I am called to be in this world so that when the time comes for me to live it out, it is impossible for me to forget, impossible for me to run from. I want to know myself – the version of me that I am called to be – so deeply, so wholly, that I cannot deny who I am. That if I choose not to be her it will torture me every day until I stop running away from myself.

I want to know me, so that out of that knowing, I can truly live.

God, help me listen.

I am 30

Standard

I was 13 the first time I tried to lose weight.

I remember that I attempted to make it through a whole day at school with only an apple to eat. I remember I was famished by the time I finally got home, and gorged on whatever I could find. I remember it only lasted a week or so before I gave up.

It was the first time I ever felt hunger brought on by my own choice. The first time I ever thought of food as the enemy as opposed to the thing that I eat when I need it – the thing that gives me life and energy. It was the first time I ever felt out of control when eating. It was the first time I ever thought of my body as anything other than useful, strong and capable.

I was 13.

I had learned to be ashamed.

Shame was not something I had known. I was active as a girl, raised in the country on a hobby farm, next door to dairy farmers. I was outside most of the time, or upstairs escaping monsters and searching for hidden passageways in my parent’s closet, or playing in our library building massive forts, or in the chair near the fireplace reading our endless number of books. I was preoccupied with my brothers and fascinated with the world of my imagination. Apart from choosing glasses frames, I spent almost no time so much as thinking about how I looked. I was concerned only with what I could do.

But that all changed, and far too quickly.

I was 13. I had started to put on a little weight as many teen girls do. My body was growing up. I didn’t notice it myself however until it was pointed out to me. A training bra was recommended along with well intentioned words saying I would have to start paying attention to how I ate and what I did. In those few words I heard for the first time that my body was changing, but that it was my responsibility to make sure that it changed appropriately, and only in ways that were acceptable. It was my job to fit myself into whatever was deemed an appropriate amount of weight gain, to reign in my hips and my breasts and be sure they didn’t get out of hand. I had never thought of my body before but suddenly it had the potential to speak poorly of me if I didn’t control it.

My body was something to be controlled.

I spent my early teenage years trying to hide my developing body. I wore baggy clothes and wanted nothing to do with make up or high heels or anything else “girly”. In grade 9 I went in the opposite direction and wore mostly skirts for a year. I still felt out of place in my own skin. I was not huge, but I was heavier than many of the other girls in my class, and I felt ashamed of it.

As I grew older I became more and more self conscious. I put on more weight, and couldn’t figure out how I was supposed to dress. I didn’t know how to control my body, but I knew I wanted to. I remember one day in grade 11, I was walking out to the car after school when my brother looked up at me approaching and said “Brynn, you have boobs!”. Even coming from my brother I knew this was something that bestowed me with a new and different kind of power. I started to understand that my body was once again useful, though now in an entirely different way.

In grade 12 I met a man who was 10 years older than me. I was awkward and uncomfortable and had no idea who I wanted to be, but he paid attention to me, and at the time that was enough. We began dating. He drove a sporty car, and I started to wear tighter clothes because I felt it made me more attractive.

Then he cheated on me. I was devastated. I had no idea what to do. All I knew was that his cheating meant I was not good enough in some way so he went to someone else to get what I couldn’t give him. I asked him if he’d like me better if I was thinner. He admitted he would. I discovered it was incredibly hard to control what I ate, but I could easily control what I got rid of.

I was 18. I was bulimic.

That relationship ran its course eventually, but it left me deeply wounded. When I finally left him, I believed that I was not good enough for anyone. I believed my only worth came from my body, and my body was only as good as it was thin. I purged more and more.

I was 19. 

I started to date another older man, a coworker who made me feel attractive. It was a toxic relationship in every way. I started to smoke, and realized it made me less hungry. I started to run and realized I was getting even thinner. My boyfriend liked it. He had told me once that if he ever got married and his wife got fat, he’d divorce her. I ran harder. I smoked more. I ate less. by the age of 20 I was working 2 jobs, 80 hours a week, smoking a pack and a half a day, running 2.5 hours 5 days a week and eating about 800 calories (if that). My boyfriend told me he hoped I wasn’t planning on losing too much more weight. I felt so good – I knew I was succeeding.

I was 21.

I returned from a solo trip to Australia and I was the thinnest I had ever been. I had gone there with plans to go on a road trip with an Australian friend I had met while he was living in Canada. When I got there and he found out I had a boyfriend, he cancelled the trip and I had to figure out what to do on my own for a month. He wanted sex and when he realized I wasn’t going to give it, he dropped me. Why wouldn’t he – it was the only thing of worth I possessed. My boyfriend dumped me soon after I returned.

I was lost.

I spent the next year with a series of boyfriends, searching for someone who would Love me, knowing my body was all I brought to the table. I drank too much, smoked too much, and worked too many hours trying to escape myself. At 22, I realized that if I ever wanted to heal I needed to get away. So I packed my station wagon and drove to Nashville. And I started over.

I was 22.

I met a good man within the first month and immediately started dating him. He was kind and generous and broken in his own ways, but he was the first man I had ever known who was genuinely interested in something other than my body, and he made me feel safe. I healed a little. I changed a little. But I still secretly threw up in the bathroom of his bachelor apartment.

I was 23.

We moved to North Carolina, a mutual decision and his attempt to gain some traction in his musical career. It lasted about 3 months before we both gained the perspective we needed to know what we needed to do. He moved back to Nashville 6 months later, and I returned to my parent’s home in Ontario to finish my undergrad. I missed him, but we both knew it would never work. I wanted a family and he wanted his music and our lives just weren’t meant to be together. We officially broke up in the fall. My heart broke too and I once again felt alone. I ate less, I purged more.

I was 24.

I desperately tried to find a replacement. I dated guys in quick succession, lost in a blur of recreational drug use and desperate attempts to give each man whatever it was I thought he specifically was looking for. I was rejected, time and time again, solidifying my belief that I was not enough, that I had nothing to offer other than a good rack. I was set up with someone who I knew was wrong from the first second that I met him, but I was so desperate to be Loved I went so far as to fly across the country for a week long kayaking trip off of Vancouver Island with people I had never met. In close, wet, cold quarters. An introverts nightmare. I just wanted someone to think I was worth it. It failed, of course.

I was lost.

I was 26, had just finished school, had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, or who I wanted to be and was working as a waitress. I made good money. I knew how to read people and give them what they wanted. And who doesn’t like a pretty girl. I smoked a lot.

Then one day, a tall, dark, handsome stranger sat down at table 42 in my section. And a voice in the back of my mind told me that someday I would marry him. It was weird, and impossible and I tried to forget it, but every time I saw him something happened to me. So I talked to him. And he invited me to see his show. And I went, and we went out for a drink after, and we talked and laughed and talked and 4 hours later I dropped him off at the house he was staying at. This happened every night for the next week. The more I got to know him, the more pulled I was, and the more conflicted. I found out he was married with 2 kids, and that the facade of his broken marriage had been kept together “for the kids”. I called him out on that, I said your kids deserve to see what Love really looks like. He didn’t run away. He cared about who I was. He cared about what I said. He wanted to know my mind, and didn’t care about my body. He was the first man I had ever met who I could talk to the way I talked to him. And he still technically belonged to someone else.

The more I got to know him, the more I saw his brokenness. He felt trapped and whatever was happening in his life, I could see it was destroying him. This talented, smart, kind man was dying in front of me, and I could see it so clearly. I didn’t know what to do. So I did the only logical thing and moved across the country to a city where I knew no one to help this man who I had met 3 months before find himself again.

I was 27.

I fought him, hard, day in and day out. I fought for him when he didn’t know how to fight for himself. I stopped thinking about me and started thinking about him and I finally got to the point where I told him I don’t care if you ever want anything to do with me but you have to end this sham of a life you have been pretending to live because you are dying in front of me and I can’t bear to stand by and watch it. And he did.

I was valuable to him, and not for my body but for everything else that I was. I thought I had it figured out at last. I thought I had found my worth.

I was 28.

I spent all of my energy fighting for him, and for his kids. I had found a way to be useful and I was on fire. I could think and Love and heal and protect. I could be all the good that they would ever need. Perfect partner, perfect stepmom. I wasn’t just more I was everything. I was so important.

I was 29.

And then I wasn’t. I couldn’t keep it up. I had tried to carry everything for too long, and I started to fall apart. I had a baby, and I didn’t sleep enough. I didn’t have the energy to cook healthy delicious meals every night. I couldn’t keep the house clean. I got angry and impatient. When I was hurt, I couldn’t hold it in. I took a lot of things out on him. I was sure he would leave now that my body was ruined from stress and pregnancy and all the perfect alternatives I brought weren’t so perfect after all. I was certain that once again I was not enough.

And the truth is? I’m not. I’m not enough. He’s not enough. Our kids aren’t enough. Our Love isn’t enough. But that’s the thing – we never were. And we never have to be. We aren’t called to be enough. We are called to do our best, and Love each other and give each other all that we can. Then give the rest over, and humbly live in gratitude.

I am 30.

My body is powerful, strong and capable. My arms are filled with little hands, two strong arms wrapped around me. My heart is humble and full.

My life is just beginning.

Tired is a State of Parenting

Standard

I used to think I knew what tired was.

Tired was pulling an all nighter and not getting to bed until 10am. Tired was having to wake up at 3:30am to start a long road trip. Tired was working 84 hours in a week, running 2 hours a day at the gym, and still finding time in between to hang out with friends.

Don’t get me wrong – I really was tired then. Physically drained. I’d eventually collapse into bed and sleep on and off for 14 hours just to wake up groggy again. It’s not insignificant.

But that was single Brynn tired. That was me only having to look after me, only worried about my needs and eventually having the option to collapse.

Motherhood (and fatherhood) is a whole new kind of tired. It’s… exhaustion. Pervasive, continual exhaustion.

Let me give you an example.

7:15am – Wake up (I know this seems late, but I’ll explain)

7:15 – 7:30am – Dress, do hair/make up (if I have the energy), brush teeth, go to the bathroom, think about all the things that I have to do for the day.

7:30 – 7:45am – Help Tory with breakfast for the boys if not already fed (Tory usually gets their clothes and back packs ready for them and gives them breakfast). Grab snacks/lunch for myself. Make coffee. Pack school bag. Help with coats/shoes. Change the baby. Feed the baby. Help get everyone and everything in the car. Get in the car myself. Realize I’ve not had my own breakfast. Praise God that I still have my coffee.

7:45 – 8:45 – Drive the boys to school across town (or more often keep Tory company/distract Lazarus with food and drink while Tory drives). Drive back across town to school myself. Watch Tory drive away with Lazarus in the back screaming for me.

9 – 11:45 – Go to class. Try to concentrate. Succeed 40% of the time. Spend 60% of the time zoned out/thinking of bills/appointments/parenting/schooling for the boys/wondering how Tory and Lazarus are doing/feeling guilty that I am at school and not at home helping out.

11:45 – 2 – Lunch time. Get food. Make any necessary phone calls. Chat with Tory. Feel relieved that I get a small break. Feel guilty for feeling relieved that I get a small break. Intend to catch up on school work. Avoid catching up on school work and instead browse Facebook and pay bills/set appointments and plan dinner. Hit the wall of exhaustion. Buy coffee to conquer the wall of exhaustion. Head to class.

2 – 3:15 – Go to class. Try to concentrate. Succeed 20% of the time. Spend the rest of the time zoned out/ wondering how Tory and the boys are doing/ planning out the evening.

3:15 – 3:45 – Go home. Feel a wave of relief that I made it through another day of school. Relish sitting for a few minutes with the people I Love.

3:45 – 4:45 – Unload the car. Talk about the day, everyone all at once. Feed Lazarus. Make dinner. Try to pick up the house. Realize it’s futile as everything just gets messy again. Try not to be tired and snippy. Fail. Feel guilty for being tired and snippy. Feel guilty for Tory being tired and me not being home to help out. Feel frustrated that Tory seems so tired and wants a break. Feel guilty for feeling frustrated that Tory is tired and wants a break since having been a stay at home parent I know EXACTLY how he feels. Feel tired and want a break myself. Realize it’s impossible for us both to have a break at the same time, and that Tory has earned it more than I have. Accept I will just be a shitty parent because I’m too tired to parent well. Mope. Get over myself. Apologize to everyone for being snippy. Try to make up for it. Serve dinner. Contain Lazarus in his high chair. Sit down.

4:45-4:55 – Eat dinner. Discuss the evening plans. Remind the boys to keep eating 10 times each and sit down 5 times each. Explain the house rules for eating what’s on your plate at least once.

4:55 – 5:05 – Remind the boys to keep eating another 10 times. Release Lazarus. Consider cleaning the dishes. Decide not to.

5:05 – 6:30 – Play with/watch Lazarus. Zone out on the couch. Stop at least 3 arguments between the boys. Think about all the things I should be doing. Don’t do them because I’m too tired. Get Lazarus his bedtime bottle. Change Lazarus. Read him his bedtime book. Say good night to everyone. Feed him and sing him his bedtime song. Put him in bed. Close his bedroom door and exhale. Creep downstairs.

6:30 – 8:30 – Sit. Check email. Go on Facebook. Half pay attention to Tory and the boys. Feel guilty for not doing more. Do a small amount of cleaning. Worry about not doing enough in school. Do a small amount of school work. Realize I can’t focus on school work. Think about how to help the boys reach their potential. Worry that I’m not able to do enough to help the boys reach their potential. Help get the boys to bed.

8:30 – 10:30 – Spend the only moments of the day I have alone with Tory. Try to do more school work. Worry about not doing enough to help out at home. Help make lunches. Plan the next day. Shower. Brush my teeth. Watch a little tv with Tory. Feel guilty for not getting more done during the day. Crawl into bed.

11 – Wake up to feed Lazarus. Enjoy him not squirming for 10 seconds. Go back to sleep.

2am – Wake up to feed Lazarus. Wonder how often he will wake up tonight or if he will let me sleep. Go back to sleep.

4/5:30am – Wake up to feed Lazarus. Realize he doesn’t want to go back down. Bring him into our bed. Try to get him to sleep. Fail. Bring him back to his crib, turn on the stars, leave him to fall asleep in his own time. Go back to sleep.

6:30 – Wake up to Lazarus crying/talking. Tory gets up with him. Go back to sleep.

7:15am – Get up for the day.

Sure. It’s a lot. But that’s what weekends are for, right?

Wrong.

When you have kids, weekends no longer mean sleeping in and hanging out with friends and catching up on your rest and school work. Nope. Weekends are the 48 hours I have during the week to spend quality time with my family, go to church, help clean the entire house, help catch up on laundry and dishes that I’ve let go all week, buy all the groceries, figure out meals for the week, do all the school work I failed to do during the week including re-reading all the things I zoned out on and try to spend some one on one time with Tory, all while taking care of the kids (especially Lazarus who desperately wants my attention ALL THE TIME).

I used to think I knew what tired was.

I had no idea.

Tired is feeling pulled in 5 different directions every moment of every day.

Tired is not having slept through the night in over a year.

Tired is realizing at 5pm on a Saturday that you haven’t stopped even for a minute since you got up that morning, and that you won’t stop until long after the kids are in bed.

Tired is accepting you can’t do it all, but feeling like you are supposed to be able to anyway.

Tired is something most parents feel, most of the time. And they feel it in a way that’s entirely different from single tired.

However, let me be clear on something: I’m running on the spectrum of exhaustion all the time, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the whole world.

I have an incredible partner who reminds me I’m not failing anyone and makes sure I take a break when I really need it – just an hour or two to myself to recharge.

I have the most amazing, intelligent, loving, compassionate children who pick at each other 70% of the time but Love each other 100% of the time, and Love me too, even in my many shortcomings.

I have wonderful friends who understand what my life is and don’t mind if I only get the chance to talk to them once a month, but who are there for me every hour of every day should I need them.

I had no idea what tired really was before I had other people who relied on me. I also had no idea that Love can give us the ability to do pretty much anything, no matter how exhausted we are.

Now where’s my coffee?

A Right is not a Must

Standard

We are a culture here in the Western world absolutely obsessed with our rights. The right to bear arms, the right to free speech, the right to equal pay, the right to toboggan wherever we please. We cannot shut up about our rights.

We are a heavily entitled, easily offended bunch of folks, it seems. Our claims to our personal interpretation of rights is absolute and will be vehemently defended at every turn. God have mercy on the soul who dares to infringe upon our God-given rights to do whatever we damn well please.

I’m not innocent in this either.

In a culture so utterly self focused, it’s no wonder this is the state we find ourselves in. I’d describe our culture as one promoting the perpetuation of teenagehood well into adult life. Teenagers need to have a healthy amount of self focus to figure out who they are and how they fit into the bigger picture of things. But it’s meant to be moderated and limited in length. Instead, we encourage everyone to maintain their inward orientation – new age spirituality tells us we are the gods, we must come first, our needs are the most important needs, our wants are there to be indulged. It’s a brilliant marketing technique that has us all endlessly seeking to buy our identities and further our happiness by indulging ourselves. Really, all we accomplish is to be so distracted by our own “self-improvement” that we don’t notice the degradation of our society and our planet and we have no time to contribute to the rest of the world in a meaningful way. Think of the gelatinous fat balls in Wall-E, sitting in their moving chairs endlessly consuming media and junk food, moving on a pre-determined track and so completely unaware of their surroundings. That’s us. Well, most of us.

There is a certain brilliance in it all. Disguising self indulgence as political and social activism. We get so riled up about our rights that we forget about connecting with the rest of humanity. Our passion for defending our rights leads to further disconnection not only with the rest of humanity, but with the humanity within ourselves. Fighting for our rights means condemning anyone who does not utilize those rights in the way we see fit.

A woman’s right to work means she better take a job outside the home, otherwise she’s weak and condoning patriarchy.

The right to bear arms means anyone should be able to buy an assault rifle, and if you try to regulate gun ownership or say that guns are dangerous, you’re anti-American and a traitor to the state.

And the right to free speech means that any person should be able to say anything, to any one, at any time, and no one else must ever react or take offense.

A right is not an entitlement. A right is a responsibility. A responsibility to not rely on a police state to regulate our moral behaviour but to engage in our own critical thinking, in respectful interaction with our fellow man. A responsibility to ensure that we do not abuse our hard-won freedoms. A responsibility to be kind and loving, even though we don’t have to be.

Freedom allows choice, and within that freedom our choices need to be respected and respectful. My ability to work should be celebrated, and your decision to stay home with your children should be respected and celebrated for what it is: your choice.

The right to bear arms means we have access to any number of weapons. All the more reason to be cautious and responsible in how and why we use them, not just as individuals but as a society. To respect the power of the weapons, and the damage they can so easily do.

The right to free speech allows me to say anything I want, and so I must think critically and carefully about what kind of words I want to put out in the world. My right to speak does not preclude others from being hurt or offended, and if I choose to say hateful things it is irresponsible of me to not expect and prepare for hateful responses. It also speaks volumes of me should I choose to exercise the great power of free speech in a way as to hurt those I share this world with.

With great power comes great responsibility. The freedoms we have are some of the greatest power. And yet we exercise that power so carelessly, so selfishly, so absentmindedly. We need to wake up to the power available to us. Then we need to turn outside of ourselves and start thinking critically about the ways in which we should use it.

 

 

Dark Time

Standard

My life is busy.

Anyone who knows me will confirm this for you. We have three young boys – one still breastfeeding – and I started law school at the beginning of September. Our youngest decided that daytime formula feeds are just NOT acceptable, and so he reversed his feeding cycle and now feeds every 2 hours at night. I have 30-40 hours of reading and school work to do each and every week, which I wedge in on lunch hours and after bedtimes and over top of the one on one time I have allotted for me and my husband. (Side note here: if you ever decide to go to law school while you have young children, get yourself a househusband. Unlike the mythical house hippo, the househusband is a very real and very valuable addition to your life.)

My life is busy, and I am tired.

In addition to the craziness of life, the demands of going back to school full time have made me seriously wonder if my family is getting enough of me. I fought so hard for this family. I Love them more than anything and anyone else in the world. I take time – however short it may be – to be with my husband and my kids each and every day. I set aside one day each weekend where I forget about school and remember I’m a mom and a wife. But going from full time mom to full time student is bound to change the dynamic of our little home. While I love watching as Lazarus starts to fall deeper into sync with Tory, it is bittersweet knowing he is falling slightly more out of sync with me. The natural rhythms of our early months together are fading as he grows and I can’t help but feel a twinge of loss. Tory has been incredible taking care of our home and our children, but he gets almost no help from me on those fronts, and almost no time with me alone. The older two boys are already with us only half the time, so the time we do have with them carries so much more weight.

My experiences are no different than those of working parents everywhere. Tory struggled for years and under far more difficult circumstances being away from his family. It is a struggle – knowing I am doing what I need to do both for our family and for myself, but also knowing it comes at a cost. Life is full of difficult realities. And those realities, those worries, the busyness and tiredness, they can all create so much noise that we get lost in the cacophony.

And that is where I found myself tonight. I walked in the door to find Tory was frazzled and exhausted from a particularly long day. I tried to juggle feeding Lazarus and making some dinner for myself, while Tory took care of dinner for the boys and himself in between trips to the sink to finish up the dishes. All the while, the boys were in and out, asking questions, playing with friends, wanting to connect with us both. All this noise swirled around me and I wondered how we would handle it all.

But we did. We got through dinner and homework, a mishap with paint, a thumped head and some hurt feelings, another feed, bedtime for the baby and playtime with friends. We recorded L’s first adorable phone call to a kindergarten friend and set up a play date for the weekend. We talked about lying and laziness and work ethic. We played catch the caterpillar. And still the noise of things to do yet tonight were ringing in my ears.

As I poured myself a glass of wine and finished up a pot of boiled eggs for snacks, L invited me to sit with him on the porch. Now, I don’t know about you, but when one of my boys invites me to do something, I will do everything I can to participate. It took us a long time to get to a point where they wanted me to be a part of their worlds. And as boyhood quickly marches forward, who knows how much longer I will be invited in.

So I went. And I sat. And I listened. We drew words and pictures in sidewalk chalk on our steps and on the sidewalk in front of our house. L talked about how mommy’s favourite colour is orange now, not purple. We talked about how L prefers egg whites to egg yolks and about how wine is gross and about why there was only one purple chalk stick. We sent mommy some pictures of the beautiful clouds. We talked about the deep blue of the night sky.

It was nearly bedtime when L said “Brynn, I’ve always wanted to go on a dark time walk, but I never have. Will you go with me?” I told him it would have to be quick and we hurriedly gathered up the sidewalk chalk and got on our shoes. And out we went.

First, we looked at the clouds. “Look at how beautiful the sky is Brynn! See over there?! It’s God peeking out! He’s looking at that boy. Look at how dark blue the middle is. It’s my favourite colour! I love the sky at dark time.” We walked down the sidewalk, our shadows stretching out in front of us. “Ow, something pricked me! Did you know mommy punched a rose bush and the thimbles poked holes right through her glove. The electric for that street light just went out! I’ve never been to the park at dark time. Will you swing with me?” “Quickly” I say as we run across the grass.

I push L as high as I can, then hop on beside him. “I’ll try to keep swinging myself. Why are you going so much higher?! How do you do that?”. I explain that bigger people can more easily create momentum. “I know how to swing too. I’m really good at it.”

As we head back home, he laments that he can’t stay looking at the sky. “How about one day, we can sleep in the backyard and look at the stars” I say. “But what if we get scared?” “It’s ok, daddy or I will sleep with you.” “Can I sleep outside when I’m five?” he asks. “Yup” I answer. “YES! I’m five next year.”

We are almost home, maybe six houses away, when L says to me in a serious tone, “Brynn, this is the beautifullest time in my life.” All I can manage to say is “I agree”.

These next few years will be hard. There is a lot on my plate. There is a lot on all of our plates. But even though there is so much going on, even though it is all important in some way, none of it takes away from the beauty of the life we are living in the midst of all the noise. Our children remind us that life continues on, even if we are too busy to notice. And they remind us that those moments we do have – no matter how few or far between – matter more than we think.

It took the quiet of a dark time walk to let me hear the most important noise in my life – the voices of my children.

Take time for some dark time. It may be just what your soul needs.

 

 

 

The Many Moods of Motherhood

Standard

*Disclaimer: This post is about motherhood. I have two other children – my stepsons – who I Love deeply and uniquely and with my whole heart. But because they have a mom who is present and active in their lives, being “main mom” is not my role in their lives. Even though I have been stepmom for 2 1/2 years already, being main mom has still been a completely new experience.

 

 

Six and a half months ago, a mother was born.

Standing on this side of the motherhood experience, I can say with absolute certainty that there is nothing anyone can say to you that will prepare you for being a mom. Sure, you may know how to care for babies and change diapers, have your dos and dont’s of discipline laid out and understand your position on vaccines and playdates and private schooling, but there is nothing that can make you understand the emotional impact being Mom will have on you.

Everyone talks about the overwhelming, life altering love new parents feel. It is true – you will Love this child of yours in a way you can’t comprehend. It’s an incredible reorientation of self that occurs. Everything in your life passes through a new filter now – that of parenthood. Priorities change.

But not everything in motherhood is butterflies and roses and lollipops.

I spent a lot of the first few months of being a mom feeling like I was a bad person. Why? Because while I felt all the love that everyone always talks about, I also felt a lot of other not so nice things.

For one, I felt a lot of resentment. Resentment that I had lost my ability to just go out for a night with my friends without having to get a babysitter and pump and leave instructions and then worry the whole time anyway about whether or not the baby was doing ok and if the babysitter could handle it. Resentment that my husband could turn over and go back to sleep whenever the baby cried while I had to get up to feed him. Resentment that I couldn’t browse through clothes at a store without a baby hanging off of me or the looming deadline of having to be done in 2 hours so that the baby could eat again. Resentment that even when given the chance, I was unable to nap, as the phantom cries of my sleeping child would wake me. And I didn’t just lose my physical independence (at least for the time being). Even more than that, I lost my mental independence. This baby invaded my every thought. I couldn’t even eat or drink without having to consider how it would affect him. Every single choice I made had to be made with consideration for the implications it would have on another human being. It was totally and completely overwhelming.

I was also frustrated. Before having a baby, I was the most efficient person. I got things done, and I got them done quickly and completely. Now, I found myself struggling to accomplish even a quarter of any given task. Everything took ten times as long and only (maybe) got finished after 4 or 5 attempts.

Then there was the crying. I’m lucky – my baby is a pretty damn good baby, and he’s never been a super crier. But when those times did come when my baby wouldn’t stop crying NO MATTER WHAT I DID, and I was exhausted from only getting 5 or so interrupted hours of sleep every night for the past 4 months, that crying felt like the most effective psychological torture ever invented. On more than one occasion I had to put him down and walk away so I could cry myself in the other room, afraid I’d shake him or possibly throw him out the window from overwhelming frustration and exhaustion and helplessness. Then I’d feel horrible for even thinking those thoughts (even though I knew I would never actually do anything of the sort) and inadequate for not being able to take care of my baby and I’d question why I could not do what all other mothers could. I felt so alone.

And the struggles with motherhood continue. In one week, I am starting law school. My son is now almost 7 months old, and while I am so fortunate to have my husband being the one to take care of him while I’m at school, I still battle off thoughts of being a bad mother for leaving him while he’s so young. I worry that he will feel insecure and abandoned. I feel guilty that I don’t have the time or energy to pump while I’m at school during the day requiring him to be on formula during those hours. I know I’d be unfulfilled staying at home full time but I question whether I can be a good mom AND be a good lawyer at the same time. I wonder if someday he will resent my career.

I have spent so much time over the past 6 months feeling guilty for not being a good mom. But the truth is, I AM a good mom. I’m a great mom. I’m a real mom. I’m a whole human being and all the different parts of me came together to join in my motherhood. It’s not all love and happiness. It’s not all joy. Sometimes it’s frustration and anger and resentment and fear, and that’s ok. That’s part of it. That’s part of the growing and changing and learning and mourning that all comes with being a mom. In motherhood we gain so much but we also lose our old selves and our old lives, and we do ourselves a disservice if we refuse to acknowledge the not so nice things that are part of our motherhood experiences.

Motherhood has many moods. Many different shades of joy and sorrow, of love and longing, of learning and of letting go. It is the most difficult role I have ever taken on. It is also the most edifying. While I am thankful every day that I have the honour of being someone’s mom, I’m here to tell you other moms – past, present and future – that motherhood permeates us in our entirety, and there is nothing wrong with parts of us struggling to accept the new reality of this enormous responsibility. We are not one dimensional beings, so to expect that our experience of motherhood would be one dimensional is unfair and unrealistic.

You are a good mom when you are nursing your child blissfully in the wee hours of the morning. You are a good mom when you joyfully play on the floor, laughing at your child’s simple pleasures. But you are also a good mom when you hate the thought of having to feed your child YET AGAIN and fantasize about the day when your boobs will once again belong to you. You are a good mom when you just can’t bring yourself to play the same song for the 50th time in a row and you long for uninterrupted adult conversation. You are a good mom when you question if you did the right thing by having kids right now. You are a good mom when you wonder if you are a good mom.

Motherhood is not just about loving your kids unconditionally and feeling blissed out and blessed by their presence in your life. It is also about struggling to maintain your own identity under this new umbrella of motherhood, and figuring out how to balance your needs and theirs. One of the best gifts we can give your children is to be whole people, and achieving that wholeness requires that we embrace both the joyful and the more difficult parts of life. Our children love us for being their moms, even when we aren’t sure exactly how to be one.

Hello, motherhood. I look forward to all you have to offer.

Him

Standard

If you are looking for a light hearted, witty post, you will want to stop reading. This post will not make you laugh. It won’t be sarcastic or funny. This post deals with something very real and very difficult, because sometimes life is very real, and very difficult. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 

I met my husband at the end of 2011. We were both broken people, trying to figure out how to Love and be Loved. We made many mistakes in our lives before each other, and we each carried with us a lot of history. But we also carried something more. You see, my husband and I are not alone in our marriage. We are joined in our union by a companion of sorts, a third party. A terrible creature raised in the confines of our histories.

His name is Addiction.

For those of you who are familiar with him, you know that Addiction is a force to be reckoned with. Seemingly quiet and unobtrusive, he creeps in so often without us even knowing. He lives in the shadows, lurking behind every unspoken word, every white lie or untold truth, clinging to the darkness brought on by fear. Fear is his greatest weapon. He feasts on it, and feeds it to us in turn. Tells us we are unlovable. Tells us we cannot trust. Tells us we cannot go on without him, and in so doing we are consumed by a fear so great we lose sight of all that is real. And so we devolve into hopelessness and despair.

He is not a welcome companion. Our only advantage is that we knew of his presence when our relationship began. And so we sought to contain him, to pour all the light we could procure into our marriage, eradicating the shadows in which he flourishes. We pushed him out as best we could, naming our fears day by day, unraveling our secrets, chipping away slowly at the darkness. We worked so hard, and we made great progress.

But Addiction is much smarter than people give him credit for. As hard as we were working to limit him, he was working just as hard to limit us. Addiction delights in inching us apart. He pries us from one another, reveling in each step we take in opposite directions. His only goal is to have us each alone, because in our solitude he becomes our only companion. He is a jealous being. He does not want to share.

He does his work well.

He starts small, with whispers that it’s not really a secret. He tells us that the not telling is an act of Love. He makes the omissions seem like acts of mercy – not lies, just a means of protecting the other from unnecessary pain. Then one day we find ourselves standing beneath a mountain of lies, pebbles piled one on top of the other, so high now that he assures us should we attempt to move even one stone the whole mountain will crumble and we will surely be crushed beneath it. And so we cower behind our mountains, anchored there by our shame.

He cajoles us into believing that if we know more, we will trust more, that the constant searching and questioning of the other is the path to healing. He offers a sense of control, all the while stoking the fires of distrust within us. He tells us that if we know, we cannot be hurt. The embers start so small that we do not even notice them; sparks in the night. But his whispers turn embers to flames, fanning the fires with our fear that not knowing will destroy us, until suddenly we are being consumed by a fire so hot we cannot breathe. We have no idea how we came to be in the middle of it, or that we are accomplices in our own destruction.

We would be utterly destroyed, trapped forever, burned alive at the hands of Addiction, were it not for the one thing we possess that is more powerful than Addiction: Love. Love is stronger than fear. Love is greater than shame. Love is a fortress that no mountain can crush and no fire can consume.

When we find ourselves cowering behind our mountains, and burning in our fires, we reach out for the other. We cry in the dark “Please Love me! I’ve forgotten how to Love myself…” We cover each other in Love, wrap each other up in it. We hold tightly onto the other and as the mountains crumble around us and the flames slowly die, we look up to find ourselves still whole, even amidst the shambles of the life Addiction tried so hard to have us build for him. Our Love is a light, permeating every corner, and Addiction has no choice but to cower in the shadows of the rubble and ashes his lies have left behind.

And so we begin, as before but stronger. Addiction will never leave us completely, but we have hope that our Love will keep him at bay and illuminate his whispers for the lies they are. Love is not control. Knowing is not trusting.

To be Loved allows us to trust that we do not need control to be safe.

We rest within the safety of our fortress. For today, at least, Addiction cannot get in.

Don’t open the door.

 

 

Ice Cream and the art of Screwing Your Kids Over

Standard

Kids love ice cream. Well, most kids. Some kids don’t, probably because they are lactose intolerant or have malformed taste buds that don’t allow them to properly compute the joy that is cold sweet cream melting on their tongues. I mourn their empty childhoods…

But for the majority of kids – including mine – ice cream is a delight.

In our house, we have rules. These rules were established with the input of our children, and serve as a framework for our daily lives. They give us all a code of conduct to live by and a safe space in which to coexist. Do your chores before bed. Clean up your play space. Don’t hit. Use your words to communicate your feelings. Give lots of hugs and cuddles. There are more, but you get the idea. We have expectations for how our children and we should behave, and we hold everyone accountable to those standards. We teach our children that they have the freedom to choose whether or not to follow the rules, and that there are consequences – both good and bad – for making those choices. Those consequences are the natural extension of their own choices, not punishments or rewards doled out by mom or dad.

Ice cream is what we refer to as a sometimes food. We don’t call it junk food, or bad food because those words tend to elicit feelings of guilt and shame when indulging in those foods, and I don’t want to open the can of worms that is shame about food or our bodies. Sometimes food is just that – food to be eaten on occasion, but not every day. The nice thing about having sometimes food in our parenting arsenal is that indulging in it truly becomes a treat, and a useful incentive.

One of the rules in our house is that you must finish your meal before you are allowed any other snacks. And so, last night when we went out for dinner, Tory promised the kids that should they finish their entire meal, they would be allowed dessert. A positive consequence for a positive choice. A finished his entire meal much to our amazement, and so we followed through on our bargain and he was soon presented with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream topped with strawberry sauce and whipped cream.

L enviously eyed this creation, and immediately started begging for his own. The problem, however, was that L had hardly touched his meal. He had talked and played and dawdled instead. We had reminded him several times throughout the meal that he needed to finish his dinner if he wanted dessert. Of course, he didn’t seem to mind until A had something he did not. And worse yet, we had run out of time to wait for him any longer (he had over 40 minutes to finish) as we needed to head out to soccer. A natural consequence for his choice. He was not happy with this, not at all, and made sure to voice his displeasure.

But what would happen if there were no consequences? What would happen if instead of holding L accountable for his choices, we gave him excuses? If we told L at the end of the meal (knowing full well he is capable of finishing it) “Oh, it’s ok, you’re just too little and have a smaller appetite. Go ahead and have some ice cream anyway.”?

You may not think this is a big deal. After all, he’s only 4, and it’s just one meal. But if there are no consequences for his choices, the lesson L learns is that 1) he can make excuses for his choices and 2) because of those excuses, his choices don’t have consequences. He chose to fool around instead of eating, even though he knew what the outcome would be. Taking away his consequences is setting him up to believe that there are none, and that excuses can relieve you of responsibility.

If I think back to my childhood, the lasting lessons I learned did not come as a result of grand gestures or stirring lectures on the part of my parents. They came from the small things, the every day things, the choices they made in their interactions with others and in their dealings with us. And so, as a parent now myself, I seek to consciously parent my children through all of the small things, helping them to learn the big lessons in life. Each small moment gets piled onto the next until soon enough you have a mountain. If it is something good, then you have given them sound footing, high enough and strong enough to weather the storms of life. But if you aren’t careful, your children can end up on mountains of misunderstandings and fantasies so steep they become almost impassable. And the fall down from that peak when reality hits can be incredibly damaging.

When you make the choice to give your children excuses for every difficult moment that comes their way, you are teaching them moment by moment that they are the victim of their circumstances, and that they hold no responsibility for their own behaviour. When your son gets 50% on his spelling test because he didn’t practice all week, and you tell him it’s ok because the words were really hard, what he’s learning is that if he doesn’t work, he can just find something or someone else to blame it on. You are robbing him of the opportunity to learn that his choices hold weight in the world, and you are robbing him of the power to affect his own outcome.

And when your son decides to play instead of eating his meal, and then you get him ice cream anyway, you rob him of the opportunity to learn that his choices have consequences, and that he has a say in how his life will unfold.

It is not our job as parents to keep our children happy every moment of every day. It is our job to prepare them to navigate the terrain of life. One of the biggest and most difficult realities of life is that our choices have consequences. Taking away consequences and making excuses is lazy and selfish parenting, parenting that is focused on making yourself feel good for being the hero and not having to ever suffer through seeing your child uncomfortable or angry with you or disappointed. And robbing them of learning about consequences now sets them up to have to learn much harder lessons later in life.

I don’t want my children to make excuses in life, I want them to make choices. I want my children to feel empowered in their lives, not enslaved. Taking away the consequences for their choices now sets them up to be the victims of their circumstances for the rest of their lives. I have no interest in raising my sons to be passive victims, excusing their choices and believing that the world owes them something or is working against them. I want my sons to know that we all deal with shit in our lives but that we get to decide how to react and respond and that those responses have consequences for us and for those around us. I want my sons to take ownership of their lives, and the only way they will learn to do that is if I allow them the freedom to choose as well as to suffer.

Excuses don’t remove us from the consequences, but they do deprive us of the joy of our accomplishments and the lessons of our failures. Excuses are a prison, keeping us enslaved to everyone and everything around us, keeping us from growing and learning and living and becoming the kind of people that choices allow us to be.

The greatest gift we were ever given as humans was the gift to choose. The best thing we can do as parents is teach our children how to use that gift responsibly.

And sometimes, that means no ice cream.

Believe me, son, you’ll thank me some day.