It’s nearly the end of January! This post will complete the first cycle of my weekly series, which carried the theme of “Lost Children”. Next month, I will focus on a different theme. Because it will be February, I imagine the theme will have something to do with Love. Hearts abound in February and already every supermarket and drugstore around me has at least one aisle that has exploded into pink and red. I already have some ideas of what I would like to share, and it is going to be a lot of fun.
In the first post of this series, I shared a short story I had written – it was a story about lost children, a contemporary revisiting of the Hansel and Gretel fairytale. In my story, the children are lost through parental abuse and neglect. In a departure from the original tale, my characters enter the woods as an act of empowerment. The danger is not the unknown forest where wolves and witches lurk; the danger is in the home.
This is an unfortunate reality for many, many children today. As a teacher, a parent, and a member of society, it seriously concerns me how children are raised, educated, and valued. Millions of children suffer at the hands of their parents, those people who brought them into the world.
I think when most people think of “lost children”, they imagine a child on milk carton – and that is another terrible reality, how some children are taken by the sickest members of society and mistreated, raped, abused, and killed, never to be seen again. There are children who are abandoned by their parents, sent to live with relatives, in foster homes, only to receive similar or worse maltreatment. However, in my research on violence against children, I found that children are most at danger in their own homes.
On my teaching resume, I have stubbornly put my role as a mother as part of my experience and skills. The reaction to this has varied, and I have been told by some that while it is nice that I’m a mother, it doesn’t count as valid experience in working with children. I am always a little angry to hear that, because I feel that being a parent is among the most important work that I will ever do, and I do it on a daily basis. But it does not surprise me. Over the years I have realized how little we value the act of parenting and caring for children.
The “stay at home mother” is a rapidly declining position in this society; it is unpaid and not ecomomically viable for many women. For others, being a mother is often seen as a low goal for a modern educated woman. I cannot speak for fathers – but I do know that there are more “stay at home dads” than ever before. Nevertheless, the number of children living in divorced families with custody to the mother is astounding. While the role of father is very important, it seems much more shadowy to me – the predominant father in society is absent, distant, and removed from the care of children.
We have generations of children being raised in daycare centers. One can see the value of raising and caring for children when centers typically pay their workers between $8 and $10 per hour, which is just above minimum wage. Besides a childcare certificate, no further education is required.
I’ve thought that when people have children, there should be some mandatory education on parenting. There are many different parenting books, magazines, articles – but sometimes I think that they fail to reach those who most need these resources. As a society, we approach the task of parenting, having no real education on how to parent, having no choice but to rely on our own experiences as a child for guidance. Consciously or unconsciously, our first education in parenting is the parenting we received as children. We then are faced with either rejecting or emulating the methods of child rearing that have been passed on.
I believe that I am a good mother. I am not flawless. There are many things that happen in the course of parenting where I am faced with challenges and decisions, and I do not know if all of my actions and words are the “right” ones. Being a single parent causes this to fall on me with an extra weight, because I do not have a partner with which to talk and brainstorm and share the awesome responsibility of parenting.
Relatively recently, a friend of mine asked, “What are you going to do when your children are old enough to read your writing?” I wasn’t quite sure what he meant, but then it was clear that he was speaking about my erotica. I told him that I had no fear of them reading anything I write, including erotica, because I think by that point they will know me. I also think that, if I accomplish what I hope, that my children will not have society’s fear of sex and sexuality, and will see it as a natural, interesting, extremely close interaction between conscious and consenting adults.
Now, we haven’t quite gotten there yet. My older daughter is a recent 13 year old. But we talk, and communicate very well. Most of our discussions right now center more on body image, peer relationships, friendships, and the changes and complications of a girl slowly turning into a young woman. We talk about boys, fathers, the particular difficulties that men have growing in this society as well.
That is where my daughter is, and I feel that it is essential that she understand her self and her body, and be confident in who she is. Relationships will come. Sex will come. But it is my hope that this foundation will find her in safe and healthy relationships – starting with the most important one – her self.
This is a good example for me to use because it is in this area that I have had to deviate from my own experiences and my parent’s example. My parents divorced when I was about 11 years old. The time that followed was very tumultuous, and there were many years in which I did not see my father, years in which I lived with my mother and her alcoholic husband.
When I was going through puberty, I was mortified. I did not want to change. I did not like the way I saw teenage girls acting. I did not like the way I saw men beginning to look at me. To increase my discomfort, my mother’s boyfriend teased me constantly about my arms always crossed over my chest and my bad posture (shoulders forward in a feeble attempt at hiding my body). There was no conversation with my mother.
At that juncture, I feel that my mother was going through many of her own life changes. The transition between parenting a child and parenting a young woman did not come easily to her, and I feel that she thought I would grow, as she did, into womanhood on my own. And I did. I did, but it was done painfully, awkwardly, and finally, through the help of books.
I think that this was a crucial difference. My love of books began when I was a young child and has continued to this very day. By the time I was 12, I had literally gone through all of the interesting children’s and YA books and series. It was around this age that I ventured into the adult section of the library and stumbled upon psychology and philosophy. I began reading Freud and learned how to self-analyze, to think, to understand who I was. I believe that this is what allowed me to live through some of my experiences and to emerge with very little harm done to my essential self.
My daughter does not have to go through it alone. No one does. I feel that a parent/child relationship is in constant flux. As a little child, she needed me to “mother” her, to nurture her, to take care of nearly all of her needs. As an older child, she needs me to guide her, to show her how to communicate, to be her example. It is not easy work at times, and I am not perfect. But I love my children. I enjoy them and value who they are, as distinct persons from me, the person who brought them into this world.
Parenting is a responsibility as well as a gift, and a singular experience that should never be taken lightly. My parents made mistakes, sometimes grave ones, and my relationship with them has changed and evolved as we have all grown.
There is an idea that we are all constantly changing, and it is essential to look at each other anew every day. It doesn’t matter who you were yesterday, or who you will be tomorrow – what matters is who you are right now, at this moment. And this moment demands always that you give the best you have to offer – as a parent, a child, a person in the world.
In closing this cycle on “Lost Children”, I wish to offer a few poems I wrote about my experiences as a child. And further, hope. This moment is constantly changing. We are all given opportunities to grow and expand and evolve. “If you’re not lost, you’re never found.”
Click here to read a few more poems from my unpublished manuscript, My Mother’s Daughter.