Unconditional Parenting

IMG_2798

 

Through my 14 months of parenting, I have always known what my role is.  My sole responsibility is to tend to Selah’s needs.  Is she hungry?  Is she thirsty?  Is she tired?  These questions constantly run on spin cycle in my head throughout the day.  As we enter further into toddlerhood, I am seeing my role begin to change.  My focus is not centered on her physical needs anymore, even though those needs are still high on her priority list.  As Selah grows, her emotional, mental, and spiritual needs are beginning to cry out for more attention.

To say parenting is overwhelming would be the understatement of the year.  My shoulders weigh heavily from carrying the burden of Selah’s livelihood; making sure she is still living and breathing every morning.  But now taking on the weight of her personhood; what she is and what she will become, is a burden that would easily make anyone cower in fear.  Contrary to popular belief, this is a task for the few, not for all.  Parenting is not something everyone is called to do, nor should do.  But I accepted this task when I decided to have a family.

I believe that who Selah will become, for the most part, is innate.  As her parent, I feel it is my responsibility to bring out what is already there inside of her.  Sure, I want to expose her to what the world has to offer, but I do so in order to discover what she likes and dislikes.  It was my husband and my decision that we will never squash the interests we discover Selah has.  If Selah enjoys building things, we want to get her all the Legos, building blocks, and Lincoln Logs we can find.  If Selah likes to help mommy clean the house, then we are going to get her all the tot-sized cleaning toys we can find.  For those of you who know me, I do identify myself as a feminist.  So yes, the idea of her enjoying domesticity is a fear of mine. But as I stated before, I have already made the decision to bring out who Selah innately is.

In theory, most of you have probably agreed with what I just said, but that may not be the case in practice.

If you have been paying attention to the news lately, I’m sure you have read about a little boy who discovered an interest in My Little Pony.  He decided that he wanted a blue My Little Pony backpack which he received.  Upon being bullied at school, it was suggested that he leave his backpack at home as to not encourage bullying.  I remember reading comments on news reports of this incident, where other parents were condemning the mom for even buying the backpack in the first place. I cannot agree with these parents and I cannot agree with the school’s suggestion, because I believe in individual expression.  I believe the problem rests in the hands of the children who bully and their parents, not the child who chose to step outside of his gender box.  This is where the practice of what I said begins to divide some of you.

Whenever I step foot into a major retailer and walk down the toy aisle, I am bombarded with clearly defined sections of pink and blue.  In the pink sections, you can find all the Barbies, toy houses, and tot-sized vacuums your daughter’s heart desires.  In the blue section, you can find all the monsters, cars, and action figures your son could ever dream of.  Though there are some companies trying to step outside of these clearly defined sections, for example Goldieblox which tries to encourage interests in engineering for both girls and boys, this is simply what you will find in most stores.  I can’t blame the retailers, though, because they are just giving the public what they want.  They bend to the needs of the consumer, and I believe it is our culture that is to blame for claiming toys must be clearly girl or clearly boy.

I know parents who believe in clearly defining their children’s gender.  Boys cannot be in pastel colors for fear of being confused as a girl, and girls cannot be in bold, primary  colors for fear of being confused as a boy.  Boys cannot play with Barbies, for fear of them becoming too feminine, and girls cannot play with toy tool sets for fear of them becoming too masculine.

When I heard about this boy with the My Little Pony backpack, and read the negative comments; having seen the layout of major retailers, and interacted with parents who follow the belief of putting their child into their designated gender box, I can’t help but ask…

What are you afraid of?

So what if you find that your daughter likes things that are masculine, or that your son likes things that are feminine.  They are still your children, and these are the affinities that have been brought out of them.  Are we supposed to squash our children’s preferences simply because it challenges our culture’s gender expectations?  Is that what parenting is?

I can’t help but wonder if all this fear stems from the nature vs. nurture argument.  I wonder if, as parents, we push our children into a gender box, because we are too afraid of who they will become if we allow them to step outside of that box.  But what does that tell us?

What it tells me, is that our culture’s idea of parenting is conditional.  It tells me that we will only support, guide, and love our children if they become who we’ve deemed acceptable.  But the reality is, conditional parenting is not parenting at all.  Real parenting is deciding to play a constant role in your child’s life.  It’s deciding that you are in this for the long-haul; come rain or shine, you are their mom and you are their dad.

Redefining Conflict

Conflict photo

 

I’ve learned that couples enjoy sizing their relationships next to others, and a common comparison is who has the most conflict.  Obviously, you are not in a healthy relationship if fighting is constant, and your only way of speaking to each other is screaming.  Fighting like that shows an inability to communicate, and if that is the case there is a problem in your relationship.  But just because one couple has more conflict than another couple, does not make their relationship less healthy.  It is impossible to be in a relationship with another person without conflict.  In a friendship, marriage, or any relationship, two individuals are coming together having grown up with different families, different experiences, and different likes and dislikes. As these individuals begin to interact intimately with one another, they soon realize the differences in each other’s thoughts, opinions, and beliefs and conflict arises.  Somehow though, so many of us believe that if conflict is present it shows an incompatibility in our relationship.

When my husband and I first started dating, there wasn’t much conflict, if any at all.  We hardly ever fought, and we rarely disagreed with one another.  I would not make the mistake though, in believing that our lack of conflict meant our relationship was happier and healthier then than it is now.  In our case, the lack of conflict stemmed from our inability to be open and vulnerable with one another.  I was nervous to really speak my mind or outwardly disagree with my then boyfriend; not because he was controlling or aggressive, but because I thought that if we had conflict in our relationship it meant we weren’t meant to be together.  If our relationship was built to last, then conflict should not exist.  I now know I could not have been more wrong, so why did I view conflict so negatively?

Growing up, when I heard the word conflict it was always accompanied with war, battle, fights, and struggle.  Whenever we spoke about war and the Middle East, it was always referred to as the “Conflict in the Middle East.”  So conflict had this negative connotation in my mind.  The reversal of this was also true.  Because conflict was connected to violent words and events, I thought that an absence of conflict equated peace.  In my mind if there was a lack of conflict,  that meant there would also be a lack of fights and struggle.  So, if there was conflict in my relationship,  that meant we had a violent and aggressive relationship; but if we did not have conflict, then we had a peaceful relationship.

It wasn’t until my senior year in college that I began to form my own understanding of the word conflict.  I was taking a class with one of my favorite professors.  He started class one day by saying that an absence of conflict does not equate to peace.  Instantly, my mind was troubled because that was not what I’ve been taught.  He then began telling a story of a family whose father ran a tight ship.  The children were always quiet, the house was always clean, and everyone in the home made sure to do what the father said.  The father was a strong, aggressive, demanding person.  No one would dare speak out against him or challenge him.  So, if there was an absence of conflict because there were no disagreements, no arguments, no fights, does that mean their home was full of peace?

I soon realized that conflict was not this violent and negative word that I always deemed it to be.  Conflict for me became a representation of a truly intimate relationship; a relationship where trust, openness, and vulnerability exists.  There is no fear of judgment, because the two individuals have reached a point in their relationship where differences are acknowledged and embraced.

After that class I accepted that for me to be in a relationship, whether it was with a friend, a family member, or a significant other, I had to let go of my fear of conflict.  This fear was crippling me from truly experiencing relationships with others.  In my dating relationship with my husband, this fear was causing me to miss out on fully knowing him, and it was keeping him from fully knowing me.

Our love may not be perfect.  Through the course of our relationship, we have made each other angry, we’ve made each other cry, we have raised our voices to one another, and we’ve given each other the silent treatment.  There have been times that we have gone to bed angry, and there have been times that we were not slow to speak and quick to listen.  Our marriage is not in danger though, just because our love is not that of fairy tales.  The conflict in our relationship is simply a reminder that we are continuing this journey of getting to fully know one another.