October 2021: Parenting and Capitalism

I am always interested in the things that we believe without questioning. For example, we believe that it is better to “win” than to “lose”. We believe it is better to “try” than to “not try”.  We believe it is better to “work” than to “be lazy”. We believe it is better to be rich than to be poor, and we believe it is better to have many “things” than to have fewer (or no) “things”.

These beliefs are “values” we pass onto our children. But are they necessarily “true”? Like everything else (except, arguably, some physical realities like gravity) these are social constructs we invented. They actually aren’t “right” or “wrong”; they are just social norms we typically don’t question, and which are part of most parenting.

I don’t believe there are a small group of evil people huddling in a cave somewhere to control us all (although…who knows???).   But I do look at these belief systems, and realize how strongly they cause us to raise children who fit well into a capitalist society. Capitalism is all about working hard to “win” and to accumulate as much wealth and influence as we can.Since there is a finite amount of wealth and influence, we are pitted against each other. This happens as early as preschool.   Only one preschool child can win the race; so by definition if you win, I lose. I can be a winner by causing you to lose.

People way smarter than me have pointed out that capitalism has the advantage of creating highly motivated “winners” who can achieve a lot (albeit often at the expense of other people or the collective good). Traditional western parenting is perfect to promote capitalism.  We reward our children for accomplishments and for achievement. We praise them for winning and we chastise them, or console them, for losing. We teach them to get their “piece of the pie”.

But for me it always comes down to happiness.Do we have a world of happy, peaceful, self-assured adults? If we did, would the drug companies be selling billions of dollars’ worth of drugs to fight depression and anxiety? If we did, would we have this much distrust, self-consciousness, intolerance and anger? If this is what we reap from the way we raise children, maybe we ought to reconsider how we sow!

But at the end of the day the choice is up to parents. Only parents can decide if their job is about preparing their children to go out into the “cold, hard world” and compete to succeed. Or to decide their job is something else.

I don’t suspect capitalism in our culture is going away anytime soon (people LOVE their “stuff”) but maybe adults with a strong sense of their own self-worth won’t be quite as impacted by it, and maybe over generations our system actually COULD change.

September 2021: COVID

Hopefully, by the time this comes out September 1st, things will have calmed down a bit in our world.

As I write this, we are “locked down” in SE Queensland.   Never before in my lifetime, have our personal freedoms been this impacted. For 16 months we have not been permitted to travel overseas. It just isn’t allowed! Who would have thought that to be possible?

Now, during lockdown, we are literally not allowed to leave our house without a narrow list of what the government considers compelling reasons. If we do leave we are not supposed to be more than 10 kms from home. Where I live, Maleny, EVERYPLACE is more than 10 kms away. So I am restricted to not leaving Maleny. This is actually happening here in Australia, and now in 2021!

I am writing this about Covid and lockdown because it really emphasizes to me that there are things we can control, and things we cannot control. Whether you agree or disagree with the government restrictions, it is out of your control. Compliance, of course, is within your control, but the government, having more power than you, can punish you if you disobey. But the government can NEVER control what we think, how we feel or how we treat each other.

There is so much anger in our communities and passions are running high.   People are scared of Covid (and the “Delta strain”) and angry with people refusing to be vaccinated. Others believe this whole thing is insane and are angry at the people supporting the push to vaccinate.

This feels like one of those times in history where we can hold onto our own beliefs and honour and respect the beliefs of others. It’s a time where we can choose to treat each other gently and kindly.

How we treat each other is always within our control, and regardless of how we feel about this, we’re all going through this crazy time in history together. Believe what you believe and fight for what you think needs to be fought for, but let’s be nice to each other.

Sometimes that’s the only thing we can control, but often, that is everything.

August 2021: The Need for Validation

From my perspective, there are so many ways that traditional parenting compromises our emotional well being as adults.   Traditionally, children are not encouraged to listen to themselves and to trust their feelings.  Instead, we are told things like “you shouldn’t be angry”, “you need to be nice”, “stop crying”, etc.

The result is we grow up doubting whether the ways that we feel are OK.   By the time traditionally raised children go through puberty, they are already questioning whether they are “overreacting” or being “too sensitive”.

I often say that we don’t sell anti-depressants to 2 year olds, and one of the things that differentiates 2 year olds is that they trust how they feel.   They don’t question themselves.   Arguably, humans are the only species that questions how they feel and whether it’s “OK” to feel that way.  No wonder the pharmaceutical companies are making so much money selling psychotropic drugs!

One of the ways this chronic self-questioning plays out is in the need for validation.  We are so unsure about our opinions and perspectives, and then we feel so much better if others agree with us, and so much worse if they don’t.   If I am feeling uncomfortable in a certain situation, does it really matter whether others would feel uncomfortable in that situation?   Is my discomfort “valid” if most others would agree, and “invalid” if they wouldn’t?

I believe it is possible, and have seen it happen, to raise children who trust themselves and feel secure in their feelings, whether others agree or not.  How much inner peace could derive from a sense that how we feel is OK,  because we always know we are OK?

So how “should” we feel?   Exactly the way we feel.   We are the only version of ourselves, so we are the perfect version of ourselves, and how we feel is how we “should” feel.   Of course, if WE are unhappy with anything we are experiencing, it’s really healthy to address it (with our without a therapist), but it doesn’t make our feelings “wrong”

 

 

July 2021: Gaming is Not an Addiction

ADDICTION?

In the current parenting world, a major issue is “screen time” and gaming.   Parents will commonly use the term “addiction” to describe their child’s desire to play games and be on screens.

While I know that young people can passionately want to play games, I don’t think it is much different than when young people wanted to watch TV whenever they could, or ride in horseless carriages 125 years ago.   People passionately wanting to do something is different than an “addiction”.  In a way, using the term to describe young people’s drive to play games diminishes actual addictions (such as heroin).

I heard a podcast that put forward a fascinating theory, associating gaming and school.   This podcast made the point that children in school have double the amounts of behavioural rules and restrictions as inmates in a penitentiary!   Children spend 6 hours or more with very little control over their own world.  Also, in traditional education, a large percentage of children experience a sense of inadequacy at school.  They are presented with tasks they may not feel confident about, or may have no idea how to address.   Children can come home feeling a strong sense of powerlessness and inadequacy.

And then there is “gaming world”.   For most young people, playing, for example, Minecraft, is the perfect antidote for those feelings.  They are completely in control of what is, in Minecraft anyway, literally their own “world”.  And they are often good at the game and experiencing a sense of mastery and competence that has been sorely lacking all day.  No wonder gaming is super gratifying and a “preferred activity”.

What are the implications for parenting?   Maybe instead of trying to restrict screen time (which often results in anger and unpleasant power struggles) we can try to increase our child’s sense of control, autonomy and self-determination in as many areas of their lives as possible.   It won’t stop them from playing games and being on screens (this stuff is fun for young people, and would have been for us if it existed when we were their age) but it will reduce the emotional “need” to use screens to recover from pervasive feelings of being powerless and inadequate in the “real world”

 

June 2021: The Best Classrooms for Self-Reflection

There are so many terrific ways for us to learn about ourselves, and when we have the courage to genuinely self-reflect, there are almost unlimited opportunities.

In my experience, two of the very best opportunities to self-reflect are presented by relationships, and by parenting.

In thinking about past and present relationships (intimate partners) it can be super valuable to reflect on what we found seductive, what we found troubling and if the relationship is over, what we ultimately found too distressing to deal with.  The trick here is to NOT get caught up thinking about the other person, or ex or current partner.   That is such a distraction from the rich lessons we can learn about ourselves by analysing what feelings were evoked for us in the relationship and why we made the choices that we did.

Similarly, parenting is so important to us, and the ways we react to our children can provide amazing opportunities for self-reflection.   Again, we have to be mindful that all feelings arise from inside us.  Our children (or anyone) cannot “make” us feel a certain way.   So if we cannot focus on what the children are doing, and instead focus on what our triggers are, and how and why we choose to react the way we do, parenting can be another powerful place for self-reflection and self-awareness.

May 2021: Stay Away From the Empty Well

I believe with all my heart that we are perfect the moment we are conceived. What I mean is we are, by definition, the perfect manifestation of our own being. We are the only one of us on the entire planet.

The reason I believe traditional parenting does not result in happy adults is because we’ve been parenting this way for generations, and so many of us are plagued with sadness, anxiety, self-doubt, anger, distrust, etc. Of course, our parents were also perfect when they were born, and surely were doing the best that they could. But our “scars”, the toxic messages we carry about ourselves, invariably come from whatever particular form of traditional parenting we grew up with.

Without criticizing our parents/caregivers, they created the internal foundation we are trying to chip away at in therapy. This is a challenging task under the best of circumstances, but becomes even more challenging when we live with our parents (or very close by) as adults. We feel the same “triggers” as adults we felt as children, and we receive constant reminders of whatever toxic messages we received as children. It’s like moving towards a happy, strong life in the truth of your own beauty and perfection, but having a foot stuck in the door.

None of this means we cannot love, respect, honour and celebrate our parents. It’s not about “blame” and it’s not about anger. It’s about self-protection.

As we journey in therapy towards re-discovering our own perfection, we often find it seductive to try to get the unconditional positive love from our parents we never got as children. We are thirsty, but we are going to a well we already know is dry. And if we can look away from the destructive messages and towards the endless exciting possibilities of a world where we know we are perfect, and then SO many wells are there for us to drink from.