For children, there is no such thing as quality time. Or a perfect time. Or a time when they understand that parents just can’t be there. That’s because they’re kids, and they need all the time we can give them – regardless of our situation.
In the 2009 movie, Company Men, sales executive Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) becomes depressed after losing a six-figure income when his company, a major Boston shipbuilder, decides to down-size prior to a merger. The income that had afforded his family many of the finer things in life is suddenly gone
He becomes bitter and stops engaging with his kids.
The film presents a harsh slice of reality. But in a good way. It takes place during the recent recession, when the U.S. economy nearly grinds to a halt. I can’t imagine how many millions of parents ended up like Walker: depressed, discouraged, and out of luck.
In addition to Affleck, the movie stars Chris Cooper and Tommy Lee Jones, “…corporate executives who have lived by the treacherous adage, ‘You are what you do,’” said a 2010 New York Times review.
First he sells his hot little sports car. Then the bank forecloses on their spacious home. Out of money and out of options, he moves his family of four in with his parents, and he finds himself sleeping with his wife in his boyhood bedroom.
To add insult to injury, he feels compelled to take a job offer from his carpenter brother-in-law, played by Kevin Costner.
There’s a scene that is positively brilliant, a game changer in the life of this self-absorbed dad. It’s a major breakthrough.
Here’s how the scene unfolds: Walker comes home from a construction site dirty and dog tired. (I love it when he says it’s the first time in his entire career that a boss has ever said “it’s quitting time”. ) He climbs the back steps and is about to go inside when he sees his son shooting hoops in the driveway, into the same basket he once used.
He goes for the door, but in a moment of self-awareness, he stops and looks at his son. Instead of going in and lamenting over the loss of his lifestyle yet another night, he sets down his lunch cooler, lets go of the door and walks over to play with his kid.
It’s an opportunity parents can take advantage of every single day – the moment they make a decision to parent – in spite of being too tired, too broke, too depressed, too busy, too hungry, too dirty, too dressed up – too anything.
Instead of being the child, the parent transcends his or her own neediness. It’s a moment of the utmost importance to children.
I think they call it maturity.
Standing on the porch at that moment Bobby Walker stops abandoning his children to self-pity. He became an adult.
And when Walker starts putting his kids first, his whole life changes. Because good is always what happens when parents do the right thing. FFG
Court Does The Right Thing Clearing Raquel Nelson of Homicide Charges: She Lost Her Son. She Didn’t Need Jail Time
Italian educator Maria Montessori said that the loss of an object is punishment enough for a child. If they pick up a glass object and drop it, and it breaks into tiny pieces, that loss is sufficient. They should not be scolded. That is how I felt Raquel Nelson should have been treated by the judicial system when a drunk driver struck and killed her four-year-old son, A.J.
According to a July 27, 2011 story by Today contributor Scott Stump, ”[Nelson] was convicted of second-degree vehicular homicide, reckless conduct, and failure to use a crosswalk during an incident that occurred on the night of April 10, 2010. She and her three children had gotten off at a bus stop in Marietta, (Georgia), and were trying to cross a four-lane highway without using a crosswalk in order to reach their apartment.”
This time, justice prevailed. On June 13 homicide charges against Nelson were dropped. She won’t go to jail now, just because she opted for a retrial to clear her name of the homicide charge, appealing to Cobb County Superior Court, said a story released today on streetsblog.net.
Perhaps some good will eventually come of this poor mother’s loss, and the Georgia Dept. of Transportation will consider how to make crossing safer for families without cars.
The Today story continues, “Jerry Guy, a man who had two prior hit-and-run convictions, struck the family with his van as they were crossing, killing 4-year-old A.J. Nelson in the process. Guy served a six-month prison sentence after pleading guilty to a hit-and-run and was released on Oct. 29. He is currently serving five years of probation. Nelson could have been sentenced to up to 36 months in jail.”
The story goes on to say that Nelson had crossed with the children to the median, carrying a bag of groceries. After some other people crossed, she followed. Her little boy ran ahead and was struck by Guy’s car.
Here’s a look at his record. ”Through his lawyer, Guy admitted at the time to having consumed alcohol earlier in the day while also on pain medication. Guy also is also partially blind in one eye, and had two prior hit-and-run convictions on his record that both occurred on Feb. 17, 1997. He received a two-year prison sentence but was released in less than a year for those convictions.”
When I think of all the parents who have ever unintentionally put their children in harm’s way, even letting them ride a bike without a helmet, I think, there but by the grace of God go I.
Not even parents who kill children by ”forgetting” them in hot cars have received sentences. Would you call that “reckless endangerment?” I would.
There’s a limit to the criticism parents should have to endure when they make a single error in judgement. Even if others consider it “reckless endangerment.”
How about the boy on the football field who is not sufficiently protected by his gear and suffers a head injury? Those parents should have had the gear tested.
Or the parent who gives a child a gum ball, and the child chokes. They shouldn’t have let the child have it.
I guess we would have to go after almost every parent at one time or another, because no parent is perfect.
I believe most parents are trying to do their best. Most would even die for their kids. Sometimes they don’t use common sense, though, but that shouldn’t be a crime. Not like locking kids in a closet, or beating them.
People make mistakes. The idea of going after everyone to the letter of the law is indeed unfortunate – like the zero-tolerance policies that plague our schools today. They would have a child suspended for making a pop-tart into a gun. It just doesn’t make good sense.
Don’t these look delicious? They have just the right combination of chewy and a crunchy. I was typing away earlier today, revising a decodable text children’s story that I wrote some years ago. (I’m hoping to get it published!) My energy started to wane as the hours ticked by and I soon found myself in the kitchen. Here’s what happened.
Gluten-Free Energy Bars
Note: The nuts and seeds should be unroasted. You will need a heavy saucepan and candy thermometer (but if you know how to test for the “soft ball” stage, you can do without). Yield: 12 bars
Set a cookie sheet or glass baking dish near your stove. Line with waxed paper.
Toss thoroughly in a glass or stainless steel mixing bowl:
1/2 Cup coarsely chopped almonds (measure after chopping)
1/2 Cup raw, unhulled sesame seeds
2 Tbsp. flax seeds (I substituted ground flax)
1/2 Cup dried cranberries (may substitute dried cherries, blueberries, currants, raisins or other dried fruit)
1/4 tsp. sea salt (optional)
Cook the following ingredients over medium heat in heavy saucepan. Insert candy thermometer on lip of pan. Watch carefully. (I tend to use slightly more agave nectar than honey, but half and half is good.)
1/4 Cup agave nectar
1/4 Cup raw honey
Bring to a boil and stir constantly to keep from sticking. When the temperature just approaches “soft ball” stage, remove from heat immediately. The mixture will continue cooking, and you don’t want it to overcook.
Immediately pour the liquid over the dry ingredients and stir quickly. The mixture will start to harden.
Pour onto the waxed paper. Shape the mass into a rectangle about 3/4 inch thick. It doesn’t need to be perfect.
Cut in bars before completely cool. May be frozen for future use.
Every month or so it seems we meet a new and frightening “bad seed.” According to a June 7, 2013 article in www.motherjones.com, there have been 62 mass murders in the last 30 years. How does a newborn baby turn into a killer? Where does all the hate – and lack of conscience – come from?
In the 1956 movie, The Bad Seed, child-actress Patty McCormack portrays a girl whose perfect blond pigtails belie a murderous soul. Little Rhoda supposedly inherited her sociopathic genes from her maternal grandmother, a serial killer.
Confronted by her mother about killing a classmate, Rhoda displays no remorse. In fact, she tells her mother that she also murdered a neighbor woman. In the book by William March, the mother commits suicide and the girl lives. According to an article on Wikipedia, the movie code at the time wouldn’t allow a “crime does pay” ending and the script was censored. Instead, the movie ends with the little girl being killed while the mother is saved. Funny, even in the 1950s parents weren’t forced to take the heat.
In real life, however, killers aren’t usually little girls with blond pigtails. With only one exception, the mass murderers have all been men – a lot of them just beginning their adult lives. And they destroy without conscience.
A gunman identified as 24 year-old John Zawahri shot and killed four people in Santa Monica, Calif. this past week. He was supposedly distraught over his parent’s divorce.
Like a violent tornado, Zawahri didn’t discriminate in his destruction, perhaps with the exception of his father and older brother, whom he shot and killed first. After that, news reports say, he hijacked a car, kidnapped the terrified female occupant and forced her to drive him to the Santa Monica College Campus, where he had once been a student. Along the way he did a little shooting to pass the time, wounding several bus passengers. He did more shooting when he arrived at the school, killing a father and his daughter, along with a female bystander, before police gunned him down.
What a waste of human life.
But there’s not a chance in hell that this or any other mass murder happened because the killer was born a “bad seed.”
The problem is, we don’t know exactly what causes one person to snap and what leads another to handle disappointment with greater resilience.
According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, resilience is: 1. the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress
2. an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change
Read it again: An ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change. Is this something parents can actually teach their children?
Indeed it is. But it won’t be accomplished with drill sergeant tactics.
To start with, kids need to know parents understand how they feel. The operative term here is “need.” They need to know we aren’t pushing their emotions aside because we’re too caught up with our own affairs. It’s called empathy.
I’m not a psychologist or professional counselor. However, my reading on the subject, as well as my personal experience, inform me that when kids have a voice and are permitted to express their thoughts and feelings, their brains can then process stress in a healthy way. This is true whether they’ve fallen off of a tricycle, been dumped by a boyfriend – or gone through their parents’ divorce.
Being with someone who is emotionally “safe” encourages kids to open up. That’s because “safe people” offer something very important to our sense of personhood, and that is respect.
Ask yourself, “Am I an emotionally safe listener? Do I take time to let them my kids talk through what’s bothering them? Or do I judge, belittle, and force them to ‘grow up and quit whining?’”
Children need to be “heard” even before they talk. Crying, as upsetting as it can be for parents, is a baby’s way of communicating. When a mother responds immediately to her child’s cries, she is telling him that he matters, and that what he as to say is important.
Parents can’t take away all the stresses in their children’s lives, and they shouldn’t. Healthy stress is important for creating resilience. But holding, rocking, feeding, changing, talking or singing in a gentle voice, all help babies handle external stresses – whether they’ve been passed around to too many relatives or poked and prodded by a physician. Babies cannot soothe themselves at this stage. They need touch. Infant massage is another way to spend relaxing time with a baby. The child’s body then produces relaxation hormones such as oxytocin, known as the “cuddle hormone,” and he calms down. Parents produce this hormone as well, and are calmed by gentle contact with their babies.
How you respond to your kids may depend in part on what kind of parenting you received. But you can always turn things around with your own children.
What does creating empathy in children have to do with mass murderers?
Well, do you think any of them thought about how their actions affected others?
Here’s another thing. Scientists at The Harvard Center on the Developing Child say that chronic toxic stress – the kind kids experience when parents are neglectful or abusive – causes impairment to the architecture of the developing brain. Without “buffering” relationships, relationships with empathic adults, the seeds are planted for disorders of many kinds, including cognitive and mental disorders and physical illness.
Maybe these are the “bad seeds” people talk about.
The only difference between myth and reality is, bad seeds don’t grow from nothing. They’re planted. FFG
Click here to watch The Bad Seed
“Remember when you were little and we used to visit Eva across the street?” I reminisced with my daughter. “Eva ordered Girl Scout cookies from you, and when we went to deliver them, she insisted she never ordered any.”
My daughter laughed, then made a momentary sad-face.
We didn’t know at the time that Eva had Alzheimer’s. ”Remember when she asked if you wanted a dish of ice cream? She went into the kitchen and came back without it,” I recalled.
Story is life. When we talk to our children about the events that happen to them, we help them clarify and store memories in a safe place – a place of nurture and support.
When parents tell kids stories from an early age, the characters and lessons are forever ingrained. Without preaching or cajoling, kids take away an impression that helps them become whoever and whatever they were meant to be in this world.
Even playing pat-a-cake, as Mommy smiles and holds her baby’s hands, makes an indelible impression. A child remembers his mother’s voice, cadence and smiles through what scientists call “mirror neurons” that become part of the child’s behavioral repertoire. And so we smile at our little ones, and use a pleasant tone.
“Tell me about the olden days, Daddy,” I begged my father. He grew up during the depression, and not only were his stories tragic, they left me feeling helpless: his father left in search of work in California’s nascent aircraft industry when my dad was four. He never came back. While I grew up with plenty, I felt his poverty and shame as though it were my own, and I could visualize him leaving for school, staring down in at his sister’s hand-me-down shoes. His memories are my memories now.
I should have felt better by comparison, but did not. I had my own stupid shoes: sensible brown ones called oxfords that my mother bought at the Poll Parrot store. “Poll parrot. Poll Parrot. They’re the shoes you want to buy. They make your feet run faster, as fast as I can fly. Squawk! Poll Parrot!!!”
I desperately wanted to wear my Sunday shoes to school – at least once in a while, like the other girls. But my mother made me wear brown, lace-up oxfords through the third grade. I abhorred them. And one morning, feeling rebellious, I hid the clunky monsters behind the sofa.
My mother would not have it. She steamed, like an army drill sergeant, “Find those shoes!”
I remember shoving the sofa out from the wall as she watched in her red lipstick. Defeated, I left the shiny shoes at home. While the oxfords seemed hideous to me, they made pretty shadows. In the evening I would stand in the driveway and turn my foot this way and that, pretending they were my pretty patent leathers.
Such stories show children that parents are people, too. We’re not perfect. And we had feelings and ideas that were different from the adults in our world. But what if kids don’t want to listen?
Parents can stretch their children’s listening ability, build vocabulary and practice verbal expression by doing something called “daily reminiscing.” Not about the long-ago past, but what happens day-to-day.
The March 2012 issue of the National Childbirth Trust journal Perspective features a research overview compiled by Dr. Cathy Hamer, policy and communications manager of the UK’s National Literacy Trust. One of the briefs discusses the art of “reminiscing” with children. Let me say that this type of interaction also helps strengthen children’s auditory memory, which is important for beginning reading.
“Parents with children of all ages can enhance their children’s language by talking about interesting events daily and encouraging children to do the same. An elaborative style (including varying intonation, information about causes and effects, people’s motives, descriptions of objects and actions) is important for language development and for enhancing children’s understanding of emotion and mind.”
The article continues, “Both the amount and type of talk are important. In particular, reminiscing about events is a particularly effective way of helping young children understand, and use, words. This involves a context that is personally meaningful, elaboration by the parent, the use of questions and explanations.
The brief explains four particular aspects of an effective reminiscing style:
- Wh-questions (who, what, where, etc.)
- Associations (linking the event to the child’s prior knowledge)
- Follow-ins (encouraging aspects of the conversation that the child is interested in)
- Evaluations (praise)
When we are in the midst of the intensive parenting years, it seems they will last forever. But the truth is, we have our children at home for only a short time. And what we have at the end is what we put in. I hope you have stories. FFG