By Ann Brown
Discussions have been lively in parenting classes this month. We’ve been talking about practicing good behavior with our kids.
Well, it’s not exactly accurate to say, “we’ve been talking…” Admittedly, I’ve been doing most of the talking, and the parents have been doing most of the listening. I think they were listening, although, come to think of it, I’m not certain. In fact, I don’t even recall if the parents were part of the discussion. Or on the couches. Or in class at all.
I tend to be a tad self-absorbed when I get into a topic that interests me.
If you know me well, or even if you’ve sat in any of my classes or groups, you know that I am obsessed with the TV show, “Nineteen Kids And Counting.” Obsessed. If you know me at all, you might find this odd, since the only thing I have in common with the Duggar Family is that I own a denim skirt. Albeit, a mini skirt. With a marijuana leaf embroidered on the pocket.
But this is why the universe is such a trippy place to live – I feel a deep, soulful connection with them when it comes to their parenting philosophy.
One of the strategies Michelle Dugger uses is to practice doing/feeling the right thing. Don’t tell Michelle, but this is pure, vintage, granola-eating, Birkenstock-wearing, hippie, “fake it ‘til you make it” wisdom. And yes, even though when I first heard the expression, it was in 1969 at a women’s consciousness-raising gathering about orgasms (and they were NOT preaching to fake it), it holds so true in pretty much everything else.
We raise our kids to express their feelings, which is great. It’s awesome, it’s healthy, it’s blah blah blah best practices. However, we forget to also raise them to know that their feelings are not the center of the universe.
We are perplexed when they say things to us like, “But I don’t want to go to Grandma’s house; I’m playing now.” We wonder how they got to be so self-centered.
It’s a mixed bag of messages, raising kids today.
We want them to know how to identify and express their feelings. In fact, “emotional literacy” is high on the checklist of Doing It Well, when it comes to parenting. But so is empathy. And perspective. And doing for others.
So the deal a few episodes ago on “Nineteen Kids And Counting” was that the youngest daughter was jealous that Mom was going to have a date with the next-youngest daughter. This seems a pretty common situation in families – the battle cry of “it’s not fair” can heard in homes throughout the USA when siblings hawk-eye the (gift, size of slice of cake, place on the sofa, chore assignment – the list never ends) the other gets. And as many times as we tell our kids that fair is not always equal, which is a true and noble statement, they still feel ripped off if their sibling gets to, say, stay up fifteen minutes later than they did. Even if the fifteen minutes was devoted to sitting in a steamy bathroom trying to help them catch a croupy breath. It isn’t fair.
So, little Duggar Number Nineteen was pouty and sad because her sister was going on a special day with Mom. And instead of shoving a bunch of platitudes down #19’s gullet, platitudes that were not going to be meaningful to a three year old, and were only going to make her feel worse for not feeling better, Michelle practiced with her – they practiced feeling happy for little Number Eighteen. They practiced feeling happy that #18 got to have a special day, and added that when it will be #19’s turn for her special day with Mom, the other sibs will feel happy for her.
I cannot tell you how much this blows my mind and how much I love it. Well, I can tell you but if my classes are any indication, you will be subjected to hours of not being able to get a word in edgewise.
So I’ll be as brief as possible.
Feeling good for someone else’s good fortune does not come naturally for most of us. Oh, we say the right words and we even convince ourselves that we are happy for them, but for most of us mortal humans, it’s a stretch. We have a strong sense of “Hey, what the fuck, what about MY good fortune??” that lives in even our most loving souls, and knocks on our hearts and egos when, say, your co-worker get the huge raise. Or when your neighbor wins the lottery. Or your best friend loses the 25 lbs. that you were going to lose. We want to be good, supportive, selfless people but it takes work. It takes practice.
And Michelle Duggar gets that.
In many (if not all – I have no idea; I’m just making this up) religions, there is a basic tenet of “DO the right thing”. Which is very different from “FEEL like doing the right thing.” But we forget that little point. If we wait until we feel like doing the right thing, we will probably not do as many right things as we had hoped we would. In fact, we might do very few right things. In fact, we might mostly sit around watching TV and writing snarky blogs about other people. (Dr.Stragemom “Like” me on Facebook).
So we need to practice doing the right thing. Even when we don’t feel it. Because – and this is as close to a money-back guarantee I can give you without actually giving you your money back – once we are in the habit of doing the right thing, we begin to feel good about having done it. And once we begin to feel good about having done it, we begin to feel good about doing it.
Just practicing saying to ourselves, “I’m happy that she lost the weight – she worked hard for it,” can be the first step to eliminating poisonous envy. I know it sounds unlikely, but it’s true. I mean it. Which is why I am HAPPY that Demi fucking Lovato got a zillion-dollar book deal to write about the wisdom her twenty-one years has given her, and MY novel is still in rewrites with discouraging notes from the agent.
Okay, I’m not there yet. But I’m practicing.
Photo Credit: Marcus Hansson