Showing posts with label Compassion for all living things. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Compassion for all living things. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How to Help a Publicly Struggling Parent

A time I *didn't* need help.
Wrap: Inda Jani Fular Rayado
The other day, well, was awful. I have never, in my whole parenting career, needed a stranger to step in and help me more than I did that day. No one did. Instead they just stopped and stared at me. Now, I wasn't in danger or anything (although I did nearly drop my daughter on her head on concrete) so I realize my experience might not sound like THAT big of a deal, but when we're overwhelmed and feeling like we don't have control of a situation involving our kids, EVERYTHING IS A BIG DEAL, am I right?

It was snowing so hard that day that I almost canceled our appointment downtown, but I'd cancelled it the week before due to the plague, and I had to take Delilah to school anyway, so I went ahead with it. Half-way there, I realized I didn't have any change for the metered parking lot and would have to park on the street. YAAAAAY! (By which I mean a four letter word that starts with "F".)

I had to park about a block away from the building, putting a large snow bank and a slippery parking lot between me and my destination. I got Canon (the baby) into a ring sling, slung my diaper bag over my shoulder, and went around to get Delilah (the preschooler) out, who was insisting she didn't want to go and I should just leave her in the van. Which, obviously, NO. So I picked her up with my free arm, kicking and screaming and carrying on, and made it about 10 feet before she screamed "MY BOOT!" 

I looked behind me and sure enough, her boot had fallen off. I trudged my way back to it, where two people stopped to watch as I squatted down so I could dangle her low enough to pick it up, barely able to push myself back up out of the squat with, oh, 60 pounds of kids and diaper bag under my arms. Delilah made to hand the boot to me, but let go before I had a hand on it, so again, it fell. Again, my spectators offered no help.

I finally got a firm grip on the boot and started to make my way toward the building. Canon started slipping out of the sling, but I couldn't fix him, because I had his sister under my other arm. I barely had a handle on Delilah, but couldn't put her down, because only one boot on and because snow. She was screaming, I was begging her to hang on tight to me so I didn't drop her, and people all around were stopping to stare. I looked around at people pleadingly with tears in my eyes, and if I met their gaze, they looked away. Not one single person offered to help me. I VERY CLEARLY NEEDED HELP. Even the person right behind me when I finally got to the building waited for me to open the door myself, at which point I really did almost drop Delilah on her head, because my arms were about to fall off and oh by the way I only have two of them. 

So. Maybe those people were stopping and starting because they were thinking, "Wow, now there's a mom who really has it together!" Somehow I doubt it. Maybe they were there for the schadenfreude. Because my world view is such that I believe people are inherently good, I'm choosing to believe that they just froze because didn't know what to do or how to help. So, here's how to help a parent who appears to be struggling in three easy steps!

1. Ask if they need help. Some people don't want strangers intervening/touching their kids/touching their belongings. Maybe they have it under control even if it doesn't look like it from the outside. So, ask first before assuming help is wanted or welcomed. This is really simple. Some possible options are "Can I help you?" "Do you need a hand?" "Can I [pick up that boot] for you?" Not necessary are patronizing additions like "Wow, you've got your hands full!" or "Boy, they've really got you outnumbered!" or "Rough day, huh?"

2. Ask what kind of help is needed. Let the parent tell you how you can best help them. I would have been happy to let someone else carry my daughter to the building for me. Someone else may have preferred that someone just help get the boot back on. Someone else would have asked only for a kind soul to grab the door. Don't assume that the way you wish to help is the help that is needed. "How can I help?" "What can I do?" are quick and easy ways to suss that out. 

3. Help. Follow through with the help as requested, if you are able, or offer an alternative, if you aren't. Maybe I say "yes, could you carry her to the building for me?" but you've got a back injury and can't lift more than 10 pounds. You could offer to put the boot on her instead, or walk ahead to grab the door, or really, just say a kind word with soft eyes. 

Optional 4th step: Pat yourself on the back and feel good about yourself. It truly takes a village, and you were a part of someone's village! Even if you don't have kids yourself, even if you don't particularly like children, you can feel good knowing that you made a parent's day a little brighter. 

For what it's worth, I haven't lost faith in my village, thanks to my neighbor snow-blowing my sidewalk that afternoon. The bottom line is, if you see someone who looks like they might need to help, offer to help them, if nothing else, to avoid them taking to their blog with a pity party. ;) 







Thursday, March 21, 2013

In The Wake of Steubenville

I'm going to be honest. I've had a pretty serious case of feminist fatigue as of late. I've identified as a feminist for two of three decades of my life. In the past 5 years, thanks in large part to taking on a Women's Studies minor in my undergrad work, and in large part to the feminist circles I run in on these here internets, my knowledge and awareness of feminist issues has exploded. Things like blatant sexism, subtle rape culture, and internalized misogyny are visible all around me, everywhere I turn, hanging over everything I see like a thick, dark, foul-smelling cloud that won't lift. It's hard to take pleasure in watching a television show or movie anymore, because it's rare that more than a few seconds go by without an example of one or the other of the above, marked by a simultaneous heavy sigh from me and a cringe from my husband, who is starting to see it everywhere now, too.

It is so, so big. And dark. And smelly.

And it's just not going anywhere. It's not budging. And I'm sick of it. And I'm tired. And when I speak up, I'm preaching to the choir. And the people who aren't in the choir think that the music doesn't exist and that the singing is a bunch of crazy nonsense.

And then news of the Steubenville rape started to spread a few months back, and now this week, news of the outcome of the trial. The "justice". I'm too tired to link to the articles that I think do the best job of describing the events, but if you're reading this, you're surely familiar. Some high school boys (two were charged) dragged an unconscious (or barely conscious) high school girl from party to party, sexually violating her, photographing and videoing their assault on her, circulating the photos and videos online, and laughing and high-fiving one another about it. And it's highly unlikely it's the first time this particular group of boys has done such a thing. And because they were hot shot high school football players, the whole thing got pretty much swept under the rug, until it got drug out again and they were forced to face what they had done. And they were found guilty for what they provided photographic and video proof that they did to that girl.

Then the media talked about what a sad and tragic and life-altering thing it was.

For the rapists.

The rapists who raped someone.

And there is outrage. Justified, angry outrage. I share in it deeply. I am angry at those boys. I am angry at their parents. I am angry at their friends for not stopping them. I am angry at their coaches and their school for looking the other way. I am angry at the people who are feeling sorry for them. I am angry at the society that would bring them up to not realize that what they did was wrong.

As angry as I am, I am far more sad. Defeated. Hopeless.

This is the world I have brought two children into. This is the world I have brought a girl and a boy into. A world where my daughter gets messages from every direction that she is an object. That her worth is based on what she looks like. That whether or not she will be violated and attacked will be partly her responsibility, based on her behavior, her clothing, or her level of intoxication. A world where my son gets messages from every direction that women are a commodity to be consumed by him, a possession he is owed by virtue of owning a penis. That he is not expected to be in control of his actions or desires because boys will be boys.

As I sat taking in some of the thoughtful, angry, absolutely necessary and appropriate reactions to it all, I sat nursing my sweet baby boy. I looked down at that innocent little baby boy, and a wave of love for him washed over me, and I thought of the mothers of those boys that raped that girl, and how their sons were sweet little babies once too. And I cried.

We are failing our daughters; and we are failing our sons.

So in the wake of all this that weighs so heavily on me, and with this dread that this world simply won't change fast enough for it to make a real difference for my children, I'm left wondering what I can do that will make a difference for them.

What I can do is everything in my power to teach and guide them, and to be an example to them.

I can teach them that they have value and worth, and that all other people do, too. When I chose to give birth to them, I granted them full status as human beings. They have a say over who touches them and how, and nothing they do, or wear, or drink, takes that say away. I can teach them that "no means no," but that more importantly, the default is "no," and that "the only yes is a yes." A person who hasn't said or who can't say yes has said no, whether they've heard it or not.

I can teach them that it is never, ever, not at all their fault if someone hurts them. I can teach them that it is always, every time, 100% their fault if they intentionally hurt someone else.

I can teach them to treat alcohol and other substances with respect and to consume them carefully. I can teach them that alcohol can be dangerous, and not because abusing it can get you raped, or can cause you to rape someone, but because abusing it can lead you to make bad decisions or even to become addicted.

I can teach them to take care of each other and the people around them. To speak up when people say hurtful or dehumanizing things about others. To step in when someone might hurt someone else. That if if they are scared to step in or it isn't safe to step in, they should get help from someone who can. I can teach them that they can call me or their father, in any situation, without fear of getting in trouble, and that we will help.

So for a brief moment, I am hanging up my "angry feminist" hat on this one, and I am letting my very capable sisters (some of whom I'll link at the end of this) carry that torch. I will cloak myself instead in the warm and varied garments of  "mother with lots of feelings." I will relish the bursts of oxytocin as my son drinks in his nourishment from my breasts, relish his smiles and his inquisitive eyes, and I will be thankful that today, no one will hurt him, and he will not hurt anyone. I will delight in my daughter's laughter and her songs, in her passion for creating elaborate train tracks, and I will be thankful that today, no one will hurt her, and she will not hurt anyone. I will make smiley face breakfasts and change diapers and will this time in which my children's lives are so simple to last forever.

I will feel sad for the little girl who got hurt. I will feel sad for her mommy. I will feel sad that those little boys somehow missed the message, as they grew into young men, that people have value, and that they are not entitled to use people for their own amusement or enjoyment. I will feel sad for their mommies.

And it won't be long, I can almost guarantee, before I put that angry feminist hat back on and resume preaching to the choir. If the swelling crescendo of the chorus in response to the events of Steubenville has shown me anything, it has shown me that little by little, person by person, day by day, the choir grows. Every day more people are hearing the music for the first time; they are realizing that the music is indeed real, and that singing is worthwhile, and like I did, they are joining the choir. We will keep singing, louder and louder, and we won't stop until the whole world joins in our song.

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Here are some important things to think about, from women who said them better than I could have, even I'd had the energy:

A Letter to my Sons About Stopping Rape
I am not Your Wife, Sister or Daughter. I am a Person.
Modern Sexism
So You're Tired of Hearing About Rape Culture


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Accentuate the Positive

Welcome to the February 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Respectful Interactions With Other Parents
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have focused on how we can communicate with other parents compassionately.
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Given the nature of my work as both a Parent Coach and Substance Abuse Counselor, interacting with those who parent differently than I do is a near daily occurrence. As a Parent Coach, I work with parents who have CPS (Child Protective Services) involvement, usually due to allegations of abuse or neglect. Most parents don’t abuse or neglect their children by virtue of their commitment to gentle, nurturing parenting practices, so it’s safe to say that nearly every parent I work with has a different parenting philosophy than I do. While my work as a Substance Abuse Counselor isn’t so directly focused on parenting, parenting issues certainly come up as people work to change their lives.

One thing that serves me well in maintaining compassion for those I work with is using a strength-based approach. Rather than focusing on what I think parents might be doing wrong, I seek out something they’re doing right, no matter how small, and I work to amplify and build on that strength. By finding a skill or value that I can affirm or praise, I help to build confidence in the parents I work with while strengthening my relationship with them.

When parents I work with say or do something that could potentially jeopardize the health, safety, or well-being of their children, I try to pause long enough to remind myself that a) my values are not universal values and b) that they are likely parenting the way they were parented. Many of the parents I work with were raised with different values than the ones I maintain. Many of them suffered horrible abuse and neglect at the hands of their own parents. Many of them suffer from addictions that cause them to say or do things that they’d find atrocious if they were sober. I try to remember that most parents are doing the best they can with what they have, and that “what they have” is not just material possessions or financial resources, but skills and knowledge. “When you know better, you do better,” so I work to gently guide them into learning better, so that they have the resources to do better.

Let's say I'm working with a parent who uses spanking as their primary disciplinary technique. Rather than jumping in with "spanking is bad, here's why, do this instead", I first ask the parent how spanking serves them. What do they see as the benefits of spanking? Why did they decide to use spanking? What are the drawbacks?

The answers to these questions can help me choose some alternatives that might bring about similar results and might be even more consistent with their values than spanking. But first, I ask permission. In the absence of immediate safety threats, I don't give advice until I've been invited to do so. I start by affirming something about the way they've been doing things (as difficult as that can sometimes be). For example, I might say "It's clear that you care about your children and want them to grow up to be responsible and well-behaved." Then, I ask permission: "Would it be alright if I made some suggestions? There are a few things I've tried/other parents have tried/I've learned about that might be just as effective but might feel better for both of you." Then, if they invite me to do so, I share my advice. I model some different techniques. I invite them to talk with me about what they like and dislike about what I'm suggesting. If they'd rather not hear my suggestions, then I back off and work on another angle to come back to later.

It can be a slow process, to be sure. Even so, I've found that people are more likely to make changes when they are willing participants in those changes, rather than having them forced upon them. People are rarely motivated to change by being shamed, chastised, or accused. I make them the experts about their own family; I'm just someone who has some helpful tools and knowledge that might help them further develop that expertise. I allow them to teach me, too, and always affirm those lessons, no matter how small they might seem.

By building a foundation of trust and compassion, I’m able to help parents improve their inherent strengths and develop a body of new skills and knowledge. By listening, without judgment or interpretation, I’m able to discern their primary values and help them parent in a way that is consistent with those values. I’ve found that people are more open to consider making changes when they don’t feel they’re being judged or ridiculed for the choices they have made.


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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be live and updated by afternoon February 14 with all the carnival links.)
  • How to Respond Respectfully to Unwanted Parenting Advice and Judgment — At Natural Parents Network, Amy (of Peace 4 Parents) offers some ways to deal with parenting advice and criticism, whether it's from your mom or the grocery store clerk.
  • Judgement is Natural - Just Don't Condemn — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shared her views on why judgment is unavoidable and why the bigger issue is condemnation.
  • Four Ways To Share Your Parenting Philosophy Gently — Valerie at Momma in Progress shares tips for communicating with fellow parents in a positive, peaceful manner.
  • When Other Parents Disagree With You — Being an attachment parent is hard enough, but when you are Lily, aka Witch Mom, someone who does not enforce gender roles on her kid, who devalues capitalism and materialism, and instead prefers homeschooling and homesteading — you are bound to disagree with someone, somewhere!
  • Mama Bashing — Lucy at Dreaming Aloud reflects on the hurt caused on the blogosphere by mama bashing and pleads for a more mindful way of dealing with differences.
  • Accentuate the Positive — Joella at Fine and Fair shares how she manages interactions with the parents she encounters in her work as a Parent Coach and Substance Abuse Counselor by building trusting relationships and affirming strengths.
  • The politics of mothers – keys to respectful interactions with other parents — Tara from MUMmedia offers great tips for handling the inevitable conflict of ideas and personalities in parenting/mother's groups, etc.
  • Trying to build our village — Sheila at A Gift Universe tells how she went from knowing no other moms in her new town to building a real community of mothers.
  • Internet Etiquette in the Mommy Wars — Shannon at The Artful Mama discusses how she handles heated topics in the "Mommy-space" online.
  • Parenting with Convictions — Sarah at Parenting God's Children encourages love and support for fellow parents and their convictions.
  • How To Be Respectful Despite Disagreeing On Parenting Styles... — Jenny at I'm a Full-Time Mummy shares her two cents' worth on how to have respectful interactions with other parents despite disagreeing on parenting styles.
  • Public RelationsMomma Jorje touches on keeping the peace when discussing parenting styles.
  • Navigating Parenting Politics — Since choosing an alternative parenting style means rejecting the mainstream, Miriam at The Other Baby Book shares a few simple tips that can help avoid hurt feelings.
  • Hiding in my grace cave — Lauren at Hobo Mama wants to forget that not all parents are as respectful and tolerant as the people with whom she now surrounds herself.
  • Carnival of Natural Parenting - Respectful Interactions with Other Parents — Wolfmother at Fabulous Mama Chronicles explores how her attitude has changed regarding sharing information and opinions with others and how she now chooses to keep the peace during social outings.
  • Empathy and respect — Helen at zen mummy tries to find her zen in the midst of the Mummy Wars.
  • Not Holier Than Thou — Amyables at Toddler in Tow muses about how she's learned to love all parents, despite differences, disagreements, and awkward conversations.
  • Nonviolent Communication and Unconditional Love — Wendylori at High Needs Attachment reflects on the choice to not take offense as the key to honest and open communication.
  • Respectful Parenting As a Way of Life — Sylvia at MaMammalia writes about using her parenting philosophy as a guide to dealing with other parents who make very different choices from her.
  • Homeschooling: Why Not? — Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling shares how parents can often make homeschooling work for their family even if, at first glance, it may seem daunting.
  • If You Can’t Say Something Nice… — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells her philosophy for online and offline interactions … a philosophy based primarily on a children’s movie.
  • Different Rules for Different Families — Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children discusses how differences between families affect our children, and how that can be a good thing.
  • Respectful Interaction With Other Parents — Luschka at Diary of a First Child shares the ways she surrounds herself with a like-minded support network, so that she can gently advocate in her dealings with those whose opinions on parenting differ vastly from her own.
  • Parenting as a mirror — Rather than discrediting others' parenting styles, Kate Wicker discusses why she tries to focus on doing right rather than being right — and why she’s also not afraid to show others that she’s a heartfelt but imperfect mama just trying to be the best mom for her family.
  • The One Thing {Most} Parents Have In Common: They Try Their Best — Christine at African Babies Don't Cry finds interacting with other parents easier once she accepts that they are all just trying their best, just like her.
  • Finding your mama-groove: 5 ways to eliminate judge/be judged metalityMudpieMama reveals 5 ways of thinking that have helped her find her mama-groove and better navigate tricky parenting discussions.
  • Speaking Up For Those Who Can't — We've all had those moments when someone said something hurtful or insensitive, or downright rude that just shocks you to your core, and you're stunned into silence. Afterwards, you go home and think "Gosh, I wish I said…" This post by Arpita at Up Down, And Natural is for all the breastfeeding mamas who have thought "Gosh, I wish I said…"
  • Thank you for your opinion — Gaby at Tmuffin shares her go-to comment when she feels like others are judging her parenting style.
  • Mending — A playground conversation about jeans veers off course until a little mending by Kenna at Million Tiny Things is needed.
  • The Thing You Don't Know — Kelly at Becoming Crunchy talks about what she believes is one of the most important things you can consider when it comes to compassionate communication with other parents.
  • 3 Tips for Interacting with Other Parents Respectfully When You Disagree with Them — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama shares what she has learned about respectful interactions on her parenting journey.
  • Peacefully Keeping My Cool: Quotes from Ana — How do you keep your cool? Ana from Pandamoly shares some of her favorite retorts and conversation starters when her Parenting Ethos comes into question.
  • Kind Matters — Carrie at Love Notes Mama discusses how she strives to be the type of person she'd want to meet.
  • Doing it my way but respecting your highway. — Terri from Child of the Nature Isle is determined to walk with her family on the road less travelled whether you like it or not!
  • Saying "I'm Right and You're Wrong" Seldom Does Much To Improve Your Cause... — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment writes about how living by example motivates her actions and interactions with others.
  • Have another kid and you won't care — Cassie of There's a Pickle in My Life, after having her second child, knows exactly how to respond to opposing advice.
  • Ten Tips to Communicate Respectfully, Even When You Disagree — What if disagreements with our partners, our children or even complete strangers ultimately led to more harmony and deeper connections? They can! Dionna at Code Name: Mama shares ten tips to strengthen our relationships in the midst of conflict.
  • A Little Light Conversation — Zoie at TouchstoneZ explains why respect needs to be given to every parent unconditionally.
  • Why I used to hide the formula box — Laura at Pug in the Kitchen finally talks about how judgement between parents changed her views on how she handles differences in parenting.
  • Assumptions — Nada at minimomist discusses how not everyone is able to nurse, physically, mentally, or emotionally.
  • Shushing Your Inner Judgey McJudgerson — Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction knows that judging others is easy to do, but recognizing that we all parent from different perspectives takes work.
  • Respectfully Interacting with Others Online — Lani at Boobie Time Blog discusses the importance of remaining respectful behind the disguise of the internet.
  • Presumption of Good Will — Why — and how — Crunchy Con Mommy is going to try to assume the best of people she disagrees with on important issues.
  • Being Gracious with Parenting Advice — Tips for giving and receiving parenting advice with grace from Lisa at My World Edenwild.
  • Explain, Smile, Escape — Don't know what to do when you're confronted by another parent who disagrees with you? Amy at Anktangle shares a story from her life along with a helpful method for navigating these types of tricky situations (complete with a handy flow chart!).
  • Balancing Cultures and ChoicesDulce de leche discusses the challenges of walking the tightrope between generations while balancing cultural and family ties.
  • Linky - Parenting Peacefully with Social MediaHannabert's Mom discusses parenting in a social media world.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

To the One I Must Forgive

I have struggled for close to two decades to find forgiveness for you. There have been times I thought I was close, but then old wounds would reopen, or new ones would pierce my being, and I'd be back to square one. When I was 19 years old, a former therapist suggested that I didn't have to forgive you. That sometimes, forgiveness isn't possible, isn't practical, and that instead, I should try to make peace with that. Maybe I've been hiding behind that all these years. Maybe that was the easy way out.

Either way, it didn't work. The anger and pain in my heart still poison me, still chafe at my soul every day. As I've struggled to seek out every avenue possible to help heal my baby's beautiful skin, a friend pointed me in an unexpected direction. Could it be that the hurt that poisons and chafes me is poisoning and chafing my beloved daughter? Perhaps. At this point, I'm willing to try anything, and even if it doesn't help, it certainly can't hurt.

The biggest barrier to forgiving you is that in your mind, you've done nothing wrong. This has been my sticking point. How do I offer my forgiveness to someone who doesn't want it? Someone who finds it unnecessary? Someone who thinks I'm nothing but a spoiled child for daring to question the treatment I've received? I realize now that this forgiveness is not for you. It's for me. So I'll try.

Deep down, I know that you who hurt me was also hurt. You faced things as a child that no child should have to, then you internalized and became those very things that tore at your own being. The abused became the abuser. I know, even if you do not, that you are very, very ill, and that your illness is at the core of your treatment and impossible expectations of others. It causes you to demand respect without reciprocating it. It causes you to demand that your thoughts and feelings be heard, while refusing to entertain or even hear the thoughts and feelings of others you've knocked down in your path. It's an illness that will likely never be healed, because the illness itself makes you blind to the fact that it exists. It poisons you from the inside out, and it poisons me. I can't let it poison my daughter, too. I won't let it poison her.

I have compassion in my heart for you. For the child that you were. For the suffering you've experienced. For the illness that you don't, and maybe can't recognize.

I don't know how exactly I'll do it, but do it I will. I will find away to focus that compassion into forgiveness. When the thoughts sit heavy on my heart, as they do every single day, about how I wish things were different, about how much it hurts, I will try to take a moment to be with them, then let them go. I will go back to working with my therapist (not the aforementioned former therapist from years ago) to process and let go of the anger and pain. For even if I can believe that you know not what you do, it doesn't make it hurt any less to be on the receiving end of such toxic poison. My soul needs a cleanse, and I hope that detoxifying it will allow me to move forward in forgiveness without allowing that which has poisoned me to poison my child.

You'll probably never know that I forgive you, because forgiving you doesn't mean that I'll let you back into my life. But I do. I forgive you. I love you. I feel a strange sense of kinship with you, knowing that you've likely experienced many of the same feelings that I do. I feel hopeful that I am equipped with tools you were not, tools to pry away your grasp on my life. I am the only one who has the power to release your suffocating grip on my soul's throat. I release it. I set it free. I forgive you.

Peacefully,

Joella


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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Vegetarian No More?

Dear Delilah,

You have always had very sensitive skin. Practically since the day you were born, we've worked to try to figure out the cause for the angry red flare ups that appear on your delicate little body. Our doctor is confident that it's something you'll outgrow. When you were a baby, I tried eliminating various foods from my diet, in case my breast milk was the culprit. We use only the gentlest and most natural products to clean and moisturize you. We use gentle laundry detergent. We don't over-bathe you. Still, your angry red skin persists, becoming much worse in the harsh Wisconsin winters.

Our chiropractor recently suggested fish oil to help with your skin issues. I bristled, reminding her that you and I are vegetarian. I mentioned our liberal consumption of ground flax seed, hinting that there should be Omega-3s a-plenty coursing through you. She went on to explain that there are two kinds of Omega-3s, and that flax seed is missing one of them, and blah, blah, something, something...I wasn't really listening. I was nodding politely, but I resolved that no, fish oil was not an option.

Then, some combination of factors came together to cause the worst chapping and chafing you've ever experienced. I suspect that drooling from teething, a sudden change to bitterly cold and dry weather, and an inability to blow your runny nose when you were sick recently are the primary culprits. One day last week, your face looked like this:


Then it got worse. Nothing we tried topically seemed to make any difference; you were still waking up with cracked and sometimes even bleeding skin on your beautiful face. I couldn't take it anymore. I needed to do something more. I found myself in the natural foods section at the grocery store, staring at the various options. I tossed a bottle of Spectrum Cod Liver Oil into the cart. The bottle boasted sustainable fishing practices. I tried not to think too much about it.

We got home from the store and put all of the groceries away. I set the oil on the counter where it taunted me while I fixed lunch. Veggie burritos. I fought back tears. We ate lunch. I washed your face and hands. I looked at the bottle on the counter, picking it up and turning it over in my hands a few times. I reluctantly opened it and sniffed at it. Hmmm....doesn't smell fishy. I measured out half a teaspoon and drew it up into a medicine syringe. I set it down on the counter, fighting back tears once again. I picked you up and hugged you. I explained that I was going to give you some oil made from fish, and that I hoped it would make your skin feel better. You were oblivious; no clue what the fuss was all about. I offered you the dropper full of oil and you took it easily. I stopped trying to fight back the tears and let them flow.

My vegetarian since conception baby was no more.

It was a moment of very mixed emotions. I was hopeful that this would be the answer, that it would help your skin to heal. I was also sad. Very, very sad. I always held the ideal that you would be old enough to understand what it means to consume animals before making that choice for yourself. I felt as though I had taken that away from you. As though I had failed.

Right now, there are probably some people reading this and thinking "What's the big deal? It's just fish oil! It's not like she ate veal!" There are probably others shaking their heads and thinking "She should have done more research. There are other options that wouldn't have compromised her values." To the latter, I would say that I'm just a parent with a baby in pain who is doing the best I can, and I'd ask them to be gentle with me. To the former I would say that compromising my values and ideals has always been hard for me, and that vegetarianism is extremely important to me. It's not a path that I take lightly or chose on a whim. It is deeply rooted in my values of compassion toward all living things, ecological responsibility, and conservation.

In the end, I am finding peace with my decision. I'm hopeful that this will be a temporary remedy, and that more research on my part will reveal accessible vegetarian options for both kinds of Omega-3s. It sounds like mircoalgae may be one such option. In the mean time, there was noticeable improvement in your skin within 24 hours. There's always a chance that's a coincidence, but it helped to settle my conscious. As you grow and learn, you will ultimately decide for yourself whether or not to maintain a vegetarian diet.

If you do choose it, I hope that you'll forgive me for this tiny foray into the non-vegetarian. In the land where most people think vegetarians eat chicken, and where waiters at local restaurants tell me with a straight face that "Yes mam, we do have vegetarian options. All of our fish selections are vegetarian!" I doubt that anyone will bat an eye if you choose to call yourself a life-long vegetarian, fish oil and all.

Love,

Mama

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Privilege and Mindfulness: Part 2

After I realized the extent to which men work from a base of unacknowledged privilege, I understood that much of their oppressiveness was unconscious. Then I remembered the frequent charges from women of color that white women whom they encounter are oppressive. I began to understand why we are justly seen as oppressive, even when we don’t see ourselves that way. I began to count the ways in which I enjoy unearned skin privilege and have been conditioned into oblivion about its existence.
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I repeatedly forgot each of the realizations on this list until I wrote it down. For me white privilege has turned out to be an elusive and fugitive subject. The pressure to avoid it is great, for in facing it I must give up the myth of meritocracy. If these things are true, this is not such a free country; one’s life is not what one makes it; many doors open for certain people through no virtues of their own. -Peggy McIntosh* 
Yesterday, I wrote a bit about the importance of being mindful of privilege, and of listening to and believing accounts of the oppression of others. Today I'd like to share some more on being mindful of privilege and what that looks like for me.

I have found that the best way to understand the oppression others experience is to be mindful of my own privilege. In my undergraduate Women's Studies coursework, I had the opportunity to complete an assignment reflecting on the systems of privilege and oppression that I experience in my life. As part of that assignment, I was to choose three sources of privilege and oppression and make lists of specific ways in which I experience them.

The process of examining my privilege opened my eyes to the oppression of others more than anything else I've read, written, seen, or heard. In the interest of inspiring others to do the same, I'm sharing excerpts from my privilege lists here today. Please note that these lists are not intended to be complete, but to provide examples of privilege that are often overlooked. I apologize in advance if ignorance caused me to misstep in developing these lists, and invite you to bring any such missteps to my attention. The systems of privilege I chose to focus on were White Privilege, Able-Bodied Privilege, and Assumed Heterosexual Privilege (I use the qualifier "assumed" because while I do not identify as heterosexual, my monogamous heterosexual marital status affords me that privilege).


White Privilege

  • I can be reasonably sure that I get hired for jobs based on my qualifications and ability, rather than the employers need to fill a quota based on my skin color for affirmative action.
  • My classmates do not assume that I am less worthy of my financial aid due to affirmative action.
  • I can walk into most places that I would desire to be and be reasonably sure that most of the people there will share my skin color.
  • If I so choose, I can have a variety of health care professionals to choose from who share my skin color.
  • It is not assumed that I will be good at certain sports because of my skin color.
  • I can easily find hair and skin care products that work for my hair and skin type (and color) in stores.
  • I could date members of other races without people assuming I’m trying to infiltrate the dominant group.
  • I do not have to worry that I will be targeted for violence based on my skin color.


Able-bodied Privilege

  • I can count on entering places of business and homes without difficulty.
  • I can ask for help without feeling embarrassed.
  • I can use any public restroom without assistance.
  • I don’t have to worry that others will question my intelligence or mental capacity based on my bodily ability.
  • I do not have to account for extra time each day for elevators, etc.
  • I can purchase any home or vehicle that I can afford without having to modify it for my needs.
  • People do not pity me or assume I am unable to do certain things based on my body presentation.
  • My able-bodied status is not used as an insult or joke (i.e. “that’s retarded” or “short-bus” or “special Olympics”).
  • I can go about my daily life without requiring assistance or special accommodations.


(Assumed) Heterosexual Privilege

  • I was able to legally marry my partner of choice.
  • I do not have to worry that I’ll be unable to visit my partner if he his hospitalized.
  • I am able to make healthcare decisions for my partner in the event that he is unable to.
  • It is not automatically assumed that I will raise my child(ren) with immoral values due to my sexual orientation.
  • I can express affection toward my partner in public without fear of being verbally or physically assaulted.
  • I do not have to worry that others will consider my relationship to be a bad example to their children.
  • If I express affection for another female, it is assumed to be out of friendship and therefore considered appropriate.
  • I have no problem accurately identifying my relationship on forms that require it for demographic purposes.
  • My daughter will not be discriminated against or chastised due to her parents’ relationship.
  • I can see my relationship type portrayed as “normal” in advertising and in the media.
  • I can easily find greeting cards to purchase for romantic holidays or purposes.

Will you join me in reflecting on your privilege? Spend a few days being mindful of the things you take for granted as you move throughout your daily life. Consider the reasons why you take things for granted. Did you immediately fear for your physical safety when you got pulled over for that traffic violation? No? White privilege.  Did you think twice before taking a sip of the drink you left unattended momentarily, for fear someone may have slipped something in it? No? Male privilege. Did you have to check for a ramp first before you walked into that building? No? Able-bodied privilege.

Start by focusing on or two sources of privilege. Consider things like white privilege, male privilege, class privilege, straight privilege, age privilege, religious privilege, and able-bodied privilege. What other sources of privilege might you experience? It will probably be hard at first. That's okay. This is complicated stuff, and you'll be trying to think in a way you've never had to think before. Just give it a try and do the best you can. I promise you'll learn something. By understanding the specific ways in which you experience privilege, you can increase your mindfulness concerning privilege, your compassion toward others, and your understanding of the specific ways in which others experience oppression. 

*Recommended Reading: White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh


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Monday, January 16, 2012

Privilege and Mindfulness: Part 1

Dear Delilah,


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Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, on which we celebrate and remember Dr. King's life, work, and advocacy for civil rights and equality for all. It has been almost 50 years since Dr. King gave his famous "I have a dream" speech. As you grow, I hope to make it an annual tradition to recognize this day by reading or listening to Dr. King's speech in its entirety, and discussing what we can do to help make his dream come true.


For me, today, that discussion is focused on privilege and mindfulness. If just reading that word privilege makes you feel defensive, or if you're unfamiliar with the use of the term in the context of social activism, please take the time to read the most comprehensive and easy to understand explanation I've come across: Of Dogs and Lizards: A Parable of Privilege.


I'll wait.


Did you read it? Oh, you didn't? Well, I really wish you would, but if you won't, here are some highlights:
The fact that people are stupid isn’t news, however. And actually that’s kind of why the concept of privilege is important – because privilege isn’t about being stupid. It’s not a bad thing, or a good thing, or something with a moral or value judgement of any kind attached to it. Having privilege isn’t something you can usually change, but that’s okay, because it’s not something you should be ashamed of, or feel bad about. Being told you have privilege, or that you’re privileged, isn’t an insult. It’s a reminder! The key to privilege isn’t worrying about having it, or trying to deny it, or apologize for it, or get rid of it. It’s just paying attention to it, and knowing what it means for you and the people around you. Having privilege is like having big feet. No one hates you for having big feet! They just want you to remember to be careful where you walk. -Sindeloke

But just how do those of us with big feet go about being careful where we walk? 
So, quite simply: don’t be that dog. If you’re straight and a queer person says “do not title your book ‘Beautiful Cocksucker,’ that’s stupid and offensive,”listen and believe him. If you’re white and a black person says “really, now, we’re all getting a little tired of that What These People Need Is A Honky trope, please write a better movie,” listen and believe her. If you’re male and a woman says “this maquette is a perfect example of why women don’t read comics,” listen and believe her. Maybe you don’t see anything wrong with it, maybe you think it’s oh-so-perfect to your artistic vision, maybe it seems like an oversensitive big deal over nothing to you. WELL OF COURSE IT DOES, YOU HAVE FUR. Nevertheless, just because you personally can’t feel that hurt, doesn’t mean it’s not real. All it means is you have privilege. -Sindeloke
There are many, many sources of privilege. There is white privilege, male privilege, able-bodied privilege, heterosexual privilege, class privilege, religious privilege, and more. If you see yourself in that list and the hairs on your neck are standing up, and you're feeling compelled to defend that you did not choose any of these sources of privilege, take a deep breath. I'm not accusing you of anything. I know you did not choose to be privileged, anymore than the people who don't see themselves in that list chose to be oppressed. Most of us are some complex combination of privileged and oppressed. It's not good or bad, right or wrong, it just is.


Hey, you know what? That's kind of important. I'm going to say it again.


Most of us are some complex combination of privileged and oppressed. It's not good or bad, right or wrong, it just is.


It's important because of the common reactions in discussing mindfulness and privilege. If you're a white woman, and we're talking about white privilege, you might be thinking (or saying): "Yeah, but I'm a woman! I'm oppressed too!" If you're a man and we're talking about male privilege, you might be thinking (or saying) "Yeah, but I'm gay! I'm oppressed too!" 


And you're right. You are. Still, if every discussion of these uncomfortable matters devolves into the oppression/privilege Olympics, how can we make progress? How can we help Dr. King's dream come true? I am not without guilt on this. In fact, the very inspiration for writing this today was my own reaction as I read Dr. King's speech. I read statements like: 
"This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the 'unalienable Rights' of 'Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.'"
and little ol' feminist me thought: "Well yeah, but what about black women and white women


How dare I? I had the opportunity to listen to a black man tell me what it's like to be a black man. But I didn't listen. I wasn't mindful. I was momentarily offended that this black man didn't think to incorporate the oppression of women in his speech. And really? Why should he? He's not one. If he'd tried to address the additional and intersecting issue of women's oppression, I surely could have found fault with that, because as a man, he couldn't truly understand the oppression of women, just like as a white person, I cannot truly understand the oppression of people of color.


As a white person, listening to a black person talk about being black, it's not my place to respond by telling him what it's like to be a women. It's my job to listen to him and believe him. So I reminded myself to just shut up and listen. He wasn't telling me about me. He didn't need to, because I already know about me. He was telling me about him, and I needed to listen, without judgement, without interpretation, just listen. This is my challenge to myself, and to you, if you'll take it. Just listen. If you're able to truly empathize, feel free, but if you can't, just say thank you.


When you notice your privilege, or when someone else brings it to your attention, be mindful of it. Thank them. You don't have to apologize for it. You don't have to defend it. You don't have to rationalize it or explain it away. Just notice it. If someone tells you about their experience of oppression, just listen. Don't correct them. Don't counter with your own stories of oppression, making it a "Who's More Oppressed?" contest. Just listen, and thank them for the opportunity to have a glimpse into what people with other experiences feel. It's not about you. It's about having compassion for others, having respect for differences, and being at peace with the fact that systems of privilege and oppression exist. Until we can admit that they exist, we can't take any meaningful steps toward changing them.


Love,


Mama


Come back tomorrow for Privilege and Mindfulness: Part 2, where I'll share how I became more mindful of my own privilege, a big step in learning to listen to and believe others who are oppressed in various ways. 


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