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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What to do When Your Toddler is Acting Like a Spoiled Brat

A friend of mine texted me today: "I need advice on how to get my daughter to walk on her own. I simply can't and won't carry her everywhere. She cries and appears to be a spoiled brat about it. I'm starting to get mad at her. Her dad carries her everywhere."

There are many issues going on here:
1) Mom wants to know how to get toddler to walk more on her own
2) Mom doesn't want to carry baby anymore
3) Baby wants to be carried and is protesting
3) Mom thinks baby is a spoiled brat

My response:

It is authentic for mom to refuse to carry her toddler--she doesn't want to. We never have to do what we don't want to do and shouldn't--sacrificing in our relationships causes resentment.

It is also authentic for the toddler to protest. She wants to be carried and she should not be made to feel ashamed of her desire to be carried nor should she be made to feel ashamed of the sadness and anger she feels when her mom refuses to carry her. Her feelings of anger and sadness are absolutely valid. It sucks when we want something from someone and they won't give it to us! 

When mom labels her toddler a "spoiled brat" she is using "battle" language--judgements that allow people to treat other people without empathy. This is the kind of "enemy" thinking that enables us to do things to people we wouldn't do otherwise. Relationships are a challenge but they are not a battle and the minute we turn them into a battle we have lost.

Our toddlers are not trying to trick us or manipulate us with their crying. They are crying because they feel sad. When I want my husband to take me out like he said he would and he announces that he is too tired, I feel super hurt and I cry. I am not crying to get him to change his mind or to get my way or to make him feel guilty. I am crying to release my sadness and it is imperative for my health that I do so. If the fact that I feel sad makes my husband feel guilty, then he might call me names like "cry baby" or accuse me of being manipulative but what he really needs to do is to allow himself to feel sad that he cannot give me what I want, it is also likely that he needs to acknowledge a certain level of shame for feeling tired, shame for not fulfilling an imagined duty of making me happy. But these are HIS things, they are not my things.

Sadness isn't bad. Anger isn't bad. We are not bad moms when our babies feel sad. In our culture it is quite common for people to feel ashamed when they do not feel happy and especially if they feel sadness or anger. We have been given the message that we should not feel these things so when we do feel these things we hide it from ourselves and blame the other person, calling them names and punishing them. When we find ourselves name calling or reverting to battle thinking, we are usually tired, nor asserting our needs or feeling ashamed.

Lastly, it's important for us to question why we cannot meet our child's needs. If we don't want to carry our children because our back hurts that is legitimate. If we don't want to carry our children because of a "should" idea (Two-year-olds should not be carried anymore! They should walk!) we need to reframe our thinking. There is a great saying in AA "Don't should on yourself." That applies here--don't should on your kids! There are no shoulds. There are only feelings and needs (or values). 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Do Our Stories Prime Us for War?

According to Joseph Campbell all mythologies are "someone else's religion." The stories we call myths  were truths to someone.

Hunter-gatherers all had religions based around the primary emotional thing they had to deal with: killing animals. Their religions involved stories of how it came to be that humans ate buffalo and why it was okay with the buffalo for us to eat them. Hunter-gatherers usually worshipped the animal that was their main form of subsistence. Their myths, religion and/or fictional stories instructed people in how to deal with what they were doing, how to feel about killing those animals: we are all one; the buffalo gives himself to us willingly and when we die, we become the grass for the buffalo (gross simplification). In these societies people shared the most political equality mankind has ever seen because of the simple fact that if anyone didn't like what anyone else was doing, he could "vote with his feet" i.e. he could move elsewhere.

Farming cultures on the other hand worshipped the main plant they ate, the earth that brought them their food, the celestial patterns that controlled their food production. They were obsessed with everything about fertility and most of their myths, religion and/or fictional stories instructed people in how to deal with a sedentary farming life. These societies saw a great deal of equality between men and women but there were more social pressures and rules and people could no longer move as easily. It was more important that they learned to get along.

And then came the war religions--the Jews, the Christians, the Muslims. The purpose of their myths, religion and/or fictional stories was to help people deal with killing one another. These religions create an "us versus them" kind of thinking. They say, "We are right and good, they are wrong and bad, it is okay for us to kill them." Because in battle men were so much more useful than women, women saw themselves fall miserably in status until for more than a thousand years, they were little more than property. But war worship doesn't just create inequality for women, in war worship we conquer our friends, our lovers, our businesses--status, winning, that's what we do.

Why am I writing about this? Because it is important to understand that the main culture we grow from today is based on war worship. It is based on "us versus them". It is based on victim thinking followed by the worship of the hero who "saves" the victims. It is based on competition worship (since that is a kind of war).

So a couple things:

-We wonder and wonder and wonder why it is so hard for us to have healthy relationships with one another yet it makes perfect sense to me that, having spent a lifetime thinking in terms of good guys and bad guys, winning and losing, the art of relating and treating people well... is nonexistent. Isn't the only point of treating people well to get them to like you so you can... get something? It's not actually about relating.

-We wonder and wonder and wonder (as a culture) why we are sexually oppressive but it is obvious to me. We worship war. Sex is a distraction. Unless sex is being used for the war in some way (to create more of us or to distract a bad guy) sex will never be what it was for the hunter-gatherers (something so normal you barely notice it) or what it was for the ancient farmers (something so important it was worshipped).

-We wonder why women can't seem to get on an equal footing as men but it is obvious to me that when women as useful in battle as men, they will finally be equal. But in a culture that worships war and wars heroes, women will never be equals until they are the war heroes.

-I wonder about organized sports. The government started pushing organized sports after the civil war so that they would have better soldiers in the next war--not just more physically fit but able to step into that us versus them, "go fight win" mindset that is so important to win a war.

-The history we teach our children (hypothetically so that they are not doomed to repeat it) primes them for war. It primes them for us versus them and hero worship. The fiction we read and watch is almost always a war story--bad guys versus good guys. We even think about stories that way--a story without a protagonist and an antagonist wouldn't be a good story, right? Not shockingly, you will find no protagonists and antagonists in stories before war cultures came into being. And it's not because ancient people were less smart or not good story tellers, it was because they couldn't conceive of thinking in that way, that way of thinking that we take for granted as normal.

-Children's fiction was invented in the 1800's (simplification) to illustrate to children how to be. Fiction back then was very clear about the morals and values it was teaching. Today fiction is the same. Fiction is no different from any myth or religion--it offers a way of seeing the world, it rewards certain behaviors and punishes others, it sells a certain vision of hero to the reader that the reader will then internalize and strive to become more like.

-Does the fiction we expose our children to prevent them from developing authentically? How well does it succeed in selling a certain version of hero to them so that they strive to be more like the hero in the book and less like themselves? Most importantly, do the stories teach war thinking because we wonder and wonder and wonder how we can have a free and peaceful society... but it makes perfect sense to me that as long as we think in a war-worship paradigm, we will be a war-worshipping society.