The morning was like any other morning I remembered. The bright sun was shining through the single pane windows, teasing you into thinking that the frigid winter air outside would stay behind the glass, rather than leaking past the crumbling putty. Shivering, I dressed quickly, smelling the scent of buckwheat pancakes coming up the stairs.
I followed my six other siblings down the stairs and sat down in my chair at the kitchen table, beside the cellar door. In seconds, my plate was full of pancakes. I smothered them with pure maple syrup and dug in with my fork. I quickly ate through one, two, and three helpings of those thin, acrid smelling cakes.
Satisfied and full, I got up from the table. It was my job, as usual, to wash everyone’s dishes. I had just begun washing the pile of plates when my stomach rumbled a bit.
“No way I can still be hungry,” I thought.
Then, a pang in my lower abdomen announced its presence. First, a dull ache. Then, it began building. Within 30 minutes, I was leaning over the toilet, hurling up every last shred of buckwheat, syrup, and milk straight from the cow’s udder.
I can still taste the buckwheat flavored vomit now.
If you have read much of the content here at Incongruous Circumspection, you know quite a bit about who Mama was. Despite all her faults, she did something right. From that fateful day until now, I cannot even look at a bag of buckwheat flour, let alone smell the stuff baking or frying, without becoming extremely nauseous. Mama recognized that and never served it again – ever.
That didn’t happen often with Mama. So, when I think back on my buckwheat story, I remember it both with shock and with a small sliver of warmth toward her. In this one small area, she bucked (no pun intended) her religious philosophy on how to treat children, and did something right.
That philosophy is the idea that a parent knows exactly what is right for a child and no input from that child is accepted, whatsoever. And, by child, I am speaking of anyone under the parent’s “ownership”, as they are wont to be defined as in Christian Fundamentalism, as well as many other overlapping religious circles.
Never is a parent taught to do a very simple thing – no matter how difficult it is to fit into, as much as possible, put yourself into the shoes of your child and attempt to understand where they are coming from.
Children have feelings, beliefs, superstitions, incorrect assessments, philosophies, conclusions, hell…everything that an adult has in their head (without the cynicism), just at a more immature level (in most cases). Just because an adult knows what is right, with no equivocations, does not mean that it is right. Rather, it could be the worst conclusion for one child and the best for another.
This is the key problem with how-to books about parenting. Life is not based on an overarching philosophy that covers all situations and decisions in life by accessing basic truths and simple charts. No, life is a complex mixture of one human being after another. Break it down even further, each human being is a complex mixture of everything I listed in the above paragraph, and more.
My daughter, Renaya (10) is deathly afraid of going out into the dark alone. She used to cry when I would send her down the basement to get a light bulb. Now, she simply turns ashen. Lately, I have begun telling her to do something in the dark and she makes a brilliant move by picking a favored sibling and asking them to accompany her into the abyss. Good for her.
But, would you believe that I used to belittle her for her fear? I used to get angry and tell her that she needed to face her fears and force her to go alone, weeping the whole way. I was sure I was doing the right thing. All the books told me so. Michael Pearl said that it was proper training to push your child to do what was right – obey me without question – and they would become model citizens.
Why was she afraid of the dark? Is it because she had a bad dream one night and it still gives her the heebie jeebies? Is it because I showed her the movie, Jaws, as well as Arachnophobia, when she was just seven years old? Is it because someone at school told her a story about a dank and dark basement, full of mysterious sounds, smells, and terrifying stories of death?
The fact is…I don’t know. I may never know. And, quite frankly, she may never be able to define her fear to me or herself in a meaningful way. And that is just fine. She has found a solution by herself and I have learned to be impressed by her brilliance.
Rather than destroying a life by squashing all attributes of a child that differs from your philosophy, embrace each child individually and learn who they uniquely are. Believe me, it will be worth it in the end.
Trust me. I know enough people in my life whose parents followed a strict parenting philosophy and they have walked away from that life completely shattered as a person. They were trained, beaten, and squished into being someone they were not. Now, it is up to them to throw it all away and rediscover who they really are, embracing every single beautiful and loveable eccentricity that makes them a necessary cog in the wheel of humanity.
Try on that shoe. It will be worth it.
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I am a 30 something husband of one and father of 6 dynamic and loud children. My wife and I are still madly in love – at least in my view. My world is exciting, tense, and full of life. I love to write and hope to one day, do it full time. – Incongruous Circumspection
NLQ Recommended Reading …
‘Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich
‘Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland
‘Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce