How To Be A Better Parent

So I have a brand new vlog! My first vlog ever. It is called LeeSun, Truth Teller.

I began last Thursday, and so far have posted

1 How To Tell If Art Is Good
2 The Truth About Being Good Looking
3 How To Be A Better Parent

This vlogging business is a steep learning curve. At first I was horrified to see myself on video. But here I am, 3 days in, and I am actually starting to get used to it! Anyway, here is my post from today. And here is to exploring truth in this lovely way, and seeing what there is to discover!

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Trusting Your Gut Could Save Your Life

korea ferry disaster 2014-04-16I generally avoid keeping up with news, but from time to time, a story crosses my radar. I reckon friends will tell me about anything really important.

Today, I heard some news and was drawn in despite my general news avoidance.  I read the media reports and watched video footage and wept.

And I’m not writing about it here to depress you. I’m writing about it as a parent whose heart cries for the hundreds of people who lost their children yesterday, as their children did what they were taught to do.

So here’s the scenario:

What do you get when you combine a major disaster (ferry sinking) with hundreds of high school students (passengers) brought up in a culture of obedience to authority figures?

Tragedy.

The reports are damning. The consistent report from survivors is that they heard a thud, felt the ferry lurch, then were instructed to stay inside. They put on life vests and obeyed. This photo, showing students in life vests awaiting permission to go outside, was taken by one of the survivors. They waited for a half hour or more. And then it was too late for most of them. 

Almost 300 people  out of the original 459 passengers are still missing, likely dead. And every one of them followed the instructions given by the ferry’s crew and over the PA telling them to stay inside. The ones who didn’t listen and jumped into the sea survived, picked up by rescue helicopters and boats. Just think about that one.

It makes me so angry. My parents emigrated to Canada when I was 5 months old and Canadian culture is now a part of me. But I have plenty of experience of the values prevalent in Korean culture. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s all bad. But when you’re told that it’s far more important to obey your elders than to trust your gut, there is something seriously wrong. Though I’m all for respecting others (whether older or younger) and for working co-operatively with local and larger communities, I can’t feel good about not nurturing the best and most powerful part of being human: that bit inside that makes you able to think for yourself, feel for yourself, trust yourself.

It breaks my heart that those people (children) waited, compliantly, co-operatively on that ferry, and they are now dead.

I’m going to stop writing now because I’m crying again.

If you want to see the BBC article that I got the photo from, it’s here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-27046246

 

Another one! Give me more!

 

KO 2014 May with balloonDo you know what’s awesome about raising a child? It’s the privilege of getting to experience a continual flow of “first experiences” through their eyes.

Yesterday, KO learned how to load the dishwasher. Not from start to finish. But he learned where cutlery goes, and where plates and glasses go. And I got to be there while he focussed on placing each piece of cutlery where it belonged. I was there when he asked innocuously while wielding a butcher’s knife, “Where do I put this big knife?” And I got to show him how to handle the potentially lethal weapon knife responsibly and lay it carefully on the knife rack. I watched as he experimented with arranging plates closer and farther apart with painstaking concentration. And the best bit was when he turned to me with bright eyes and said excitedly, “Another! Give me more! Give me another one!”

These first experiences full of joy and exploration happen daily, but they never get any less wonderful.

Yes, this is an idealistic snapshot of parenting, a moment taken out of context. All the wonderful moments are interspersed among challenging moments where my limits of patience, strength, creativity, kindness and wisdom are tested (and often found wanting). Read: I raise my voice (fine, I mean “shout”) more often than I would like. And there have been some sharp smacks to the bottom. Smacking and its purposes are a much discussed topic at home. That’s a subject for another blog post.

But most days as I’m working, the moments that come to mind vividly, filling my heart and making me grin, are those of KO looking as though he’ll burst with delight, every ounce of his being absorbed in something new he’s learned to do, or a new object he’s playing with, and his expression as he turns to me saying, “Give me more!”

Finding my passion daily is a lesson that I learn from my little boy. As I engage in each task in my day, I want to say, “Another! Give me more!”

Go on. Call me self-important and arrogant.

KO doing as he pleasesNot long ago, I saw a Russell Brand interview about his opinion of UK government.

I didn’t know much about Russell Brand, as I don’t have a TV, and I don’t follow celebs. But I enjoyed the interview. I watched it twice! Russell seemed to be honest, articulate, passionate, and caring. And I want to listen to anyone who displays those traits, whether they’re famous or not, whether they’re 100 years old or 2 years old or any age in between, and whatever other traits they may have.

Well, since Russell Brand has appeared on my radar, that thing has happened … you know, that thing where you become aware of something or someone, and suddenly you start noticing loads of other references to that thing or person in your day-to-day life.

And the thing that bemuses me, is how so many people get worked up about Russell Brand, actually ANGRY at him. And the main thing they’re angry about is they think he’s arrogant and self-important.

Mirriam-Webster online defines self-important as:  having too high an opinion of your own importance. Seems rather vague. How high is “too high”? If anything, it seems to me that most people have far too low an opinion of their own importance. OF COURSE people should have a high opinion of their own importance.  They ARE important. IMMEASURABLY important. Because they are ALIVE (what a mystery!), and that means just by being themselves they can change the world.

So why did I post a pic above of KO pulling a face? Because KO could care less what any celeb is up to. And KO has got an incredibly high opinion of his own importance. This is the boy who does not feel the least bit sorry to drag his exhausted hard-working mother out of bed at 5.30am in order to play games with him downstairs. Grrr.

Very young children have got a healthy sense of self-importance. Sure, they could really work on recognising that OTHERS are EQUALLY IMPORTANT (take note, son!!!), but that comes with time. That’s called maturing. That’s called empathy.

Ever seen a young child in action, interacting with another person? Chances are, you’ll see they don’t give a flying fuck whether someone is rich or poor, “successful” or not, famous or obscure, “attractive” or not, thin or fat, tall or short, brilliant or bumbling, male or female, black or white, gay or straight, and so on and so on. When a child asks why someone is in a wheelchair, or looks different, it’s not to judge that person. It’s to understand the complex and confusing world around them. It’s a desire to know WHY.

Children instinctively understand that these things do not define a person or determine a person’s worth.  Children are utterly unconcerned with a person’s social status, and more concerned about whether people interact kindly with them, whether they engage with them and are interested in them, whether people approach life creatively, fearlessly, lovingly, and authentically. We can learn a lot from children, in this and in many other ways.

So you think Russell Brand is self-important? Well good for him. Perhaps the issue is not the high opinion he has of himself, but the relatively low opinion you have of yourself? 😀 I said PERHAPS!

So go on, call me arrogant, or call me self-important. I don’t mind. I DO think highly of myself. And I also think highly of YOU!

Outsmarting KO

This morning KO wailed, “I don’t WANNA go to school!”

He’s done this at the beginning of every school day since he started nursery at the age of 3. Well, almost every school day. There have been a few exceptions. These rare exceptions have cruelly dangled before me the promise of an end to the daily school run battles. Then just as quickly as the tantalising vision appears, it’s snatched away.

But it’s great. Every time KO wails at me, “I don’t WANNA go to schoooool …” I have the opportunity to come up with an inventive (or not) response to try to guide his little mind through the morass of complaints, whining, and balking that is otherwise known as a TYPICAL SCHOOL MORNING IN THE LIFE OF KO. It’s been illuminating. (To put it politely.)

I’ve tried:

The matter-of-fact response: “Well you HAVE to go. You can say what you like, but you’ll still have to go.”

The cynical response: “Well, sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do. That’s life.”

The self-pitying response: “Well, I don’t want to hear you whinging about school every day either!”

The sympathetic response: “I know, darling. Life can be really tough sometimes, can’t it?”

The tough response: “Tough. You’re going.”

The bribe: “If you get to school cheerfully this morning, you can have a [insert bribe here]!” Bribes include chocolate, sweets, toys, books, pizza, movie night, a new car, cash …

The desperate plea: “Oh pleeeeeeeeeease KO … can you just get your shoes on please??!”

The diversion: “Oh my goodness! Did I just see Spiderman walk past our window?! Quick, let’s go see!”

The sarcastic: “What?? Really??? But I thought you LOVED school …”

The don’t-be-silly: “What?? What are you talking about? Yesterday when I picked you up from school, you were having a GREAT time! You didn’t even want to leave! And the day before that too!”

The threat: “If I hear ANY MORE WHINGING about school this morning, we will NOT go to the park after school!”

The deafness: “Isn’t it a lovely day out! And I think you have lunch time club today at school!”

The mimic (this one’s highly ineffective, but really annoys KO, which can be amusing): “I don’t WANNA go to school …”

The I-can-relate: “I didn’t like going to school either when I was a child …”

The you-should-be-grateful: “Lots of children in the world only WISH they were as lucky as you, to get to go to school … some children have to work all day making shoes …”

Or the it-could-be-a-lot-worse variation: “Your school is LOVELY. You know when I was growing up …”

The angry-and-shouting (hiding my head in shame): “Oh for goodness sake!!!!! GET YOUR SHOES ON, **NOW**!!!”

The I-give-up: “Fine, I’ll carry you.”

The feelings-come-and-go: “You know it’ll be fun once you’re there!”

The what-are-the-alternatives?: “I’m just going to do boring work all day. You wouldn’t want to be at home …”

The let’s-explore-your-feelings: “School is really boring for you, isn’t it? What would you rather be doing?”

The explain-yourself: “Why don’t you want to go to school?”

The it’s-good-for-you: “But you NEED to go, so that you can learn!”

The look-at-the-perks: “There are loads of kids at school! If you stayed at home, you’d be all alone all day!”

The are-you-being-bullied (with concern): “What’s the matter? Is anyone being mean to you?”

 

And the list goes on. And on. **Note: I am not advocating any of the above responses. Many of them reflect a certain desperation that can descend upon my mind at times like these.

I’m sure that one day, KO is going to stop protesting this. It’s just that he’s an incredibly tenacious kid (maybe that’s true of all kids). He reckons that if he keeps this up, perhaps not this year, perhaps not next, but one day, the day will come when I’ll say, “Fine! Don’t go to school then!”

He can tell that I don’t like it when he whines and moans in the morning. He knows he’s making my life more difficult when he drags his feet, refuses to get dressed, refuses to walk.  And even if he knows that the chances are close to nil that he’ll be allowed to stay at home, he gets some satisfaction from just being a sulky, uncooperative little monkey. (Again, the polite word for it.)

I’ve been told that the only way forward for changing these sorts of behaviours is to focus on the positive behaviours and to reward them. This is similar to “the bribe” except it’s reliant on catching the child spontaneously behaving in the desired way (yeah, right). You then swoop down onto the child, and reward them. In KO’s book, all rewards are flawed. Because no matter what the reward, he wants more. There is very little that I can offer him to motivate him to change. He likes the way things are, already. He’s got it pretty good.

But I am an intelligent, grown woman. And I’ve been racking my brains for a response to KO’s daily protest, a response that will acknowledge his feelings, but encourage him to move on. And I think I’ve found it.

This morning when KO wailed, “I don’t WANNA go to school,” I said (matter-of-factly, and with a touch of sympathy), “I KNOW you don’t darling. But what if you DID? What would that be like?”

The result? KO was rendered speechless (a minor miracle). His brow remained furrowed all the way to school, but he didn’t whine, and he didn’t refuse to move. It was as if some great unknown power was pushing him along, reluctantly, all the way to school, which we reached in good time. (Thank you, great unknown power!)

When we arrived at school, he said again (but quietly), “I don’t WANNA go to school …” and again I said (with an insanely cheerful smile), “I KNOW you don’t darling … But what if you DID? What would that be like?”

And so we had a fairly non-eventful morning, the sort of morning that I imagine MOST other parents have, taking their children to school. The sort of morning I fantasize about having.

I think this may be a breakthrough.

We shall see.