Category Archives: Children

Parenting topics and family stories

Can Makeovers Go More Than Skin Deep?

I had an experience in the past year that propelled me out of my comfort zone, and has me thinking about relationships, acceptance, and yet again – the way society sets us up.

Here is me: I stay at home, and have, for the past… oh, almost forty years that I’ve been married and had kids.

[box type="shadow"]You might call me insulated…. parochial… any number of limiting adjectives; because that is how people tend to categorize and pigeon-hole each other. It is also a function of how our brains manage to work with limited information and infinite unknowns. [/box]

Increasingly over the past decade the mold has broken and I’ve been traveling, so far to Hungary, Denmark, Brazil, and across the States on a roadtrip west. I had moved into a type of intellectual travel, too, with the internet, forums, and blogging, but in 2012 I ended up briefly visiting the reality TV world.

That was stretching me beyond a number of comfort levels, into a world that is truly alien for me.

That experience can be seen in the brief scenes in the latest episode of Making Mr. Right.

When you know the premise of this dating show, immediately some of the most obvious questions come up, like “Could/Should people try to makeover their mates?” (Potential or otherwise) And the equally obvious questions about whether people have soul mates, or is “finding the right person” the key to happiness? Those last questions, oddly enough, revolve around the idea that we don’t “make” our happiness or the object of it, but that people are somehow static and finding the “right match” is the important part.

How much of our happiness resides in the power of another person, how much within our own making?

Actually there are all sorts of questions that swirl around in our culture, along with some of the preconceptions attached to them.

Which is what makes the idea of creating a dating show one that promises interest and entertainment for viewers.

And either way, we are led to objectify our significant others in ways that cause us to forget they are people who change and are influenced, and who have the power to make their own choices, to mold their own world, and to turn the tables on us! We might want to inject some humility, respectfulness, and freedom into this process.

Makeovers

Makeovers are such a big part of American myth. American girls are practically raised on that idea, from magazine articles to whole books to the beauty industry to the business world. If we just get the look right, or make the superficial changes, we unlock approval and success, and get to have our dreams come true.

Fortunes are made on such beliefs.

[button link="http://truegrit.weblogs.us/2005/01/20/lies-i-was-told/" type="icon" icon="paper"]Lies I Was Told[/button]

Kind of like the “Working Girl” movie with Melanie Griffith, made in the 80′s when the importance of image reinvented itself and became the top priority for our society. Makes the old adage “can’t tell a book by its cover” meaningless.

This idea has too many remakes to count, just take a look at a list of this year’s movies, TV shows, music videos, and other pop culture venues… I bet you can find more than a few that follow the pattern and sell the concept.

It is all about the image, the branding, the packaging. We just have to reinvent, and we will get what we want.

And it works. Glitz and glitter works in the short run.

In all this, some of the outdated deceptions reemerge.

Within those beloved makeovers, I wonder, can the changes go more than skin deep, can we really resolve the way we interact with people in our lives by changing the details and the surface conditions of our lives?

My Bias

Let’s go back to ideas of changing our world, our society. Does a little Newspeak work on the macro scale? Is it working on the smaller scale of our jobs, relationships, and approval ratings of the people around us? Or more importantly for the questions brought out by Making Mr. Right, can we find and create our perfect life? Or a perfect mate, Or a perfect “other”? We certainly spend a lot of time trying.

Things I Am Convinced Of

Realities that I woke up to …along the way.

  • Mass movements, politics, and propaganda do not truly change the world, only temporarily rearrange the status quo. I learned this from my participation in the Moratorium Movement during the Vietnam war era.
  • You don’t mold or change your children. You find out who they are and encourage and direct their development. And the parenting is not even the lion-share of that. Many influences, many choices, many circumstances go into the formation of who a person is and becomes.
  • You can control very little, of anything. Your job in life is not about “control”
  • You don’t change other people, because you can’t. And vice versa

So what do makeovers accomplish, really? For all our love affair with the idea, does it change anything? Surprisingly I do think that makeovers produce some changes, just not the ones we expect.

We think of the makeover as changing the outward appearance. Sometimes that is a reflection of what inward changes have already taken place, and improves the way others perceive us. We are not islands, and the acceptance, approval, and support of others is vital. The makeover can certainly be a type of catalyst.

A makeover can align the clues we give to society of who we are with who we actually are. We can more clearly represent ourselves by adding the objectivity of the others helping us with a makeover (or those we model ourselves after). Perhaps, dispelling the false messages we accepted from others about who we are. We don’t always know ourselves as well as we believe we do.

It can also connect us better with what others need. A makeover in etiquette, in how we express thoughts and opinions, in listening skills or emotional intelligence. This is gaining a toolset in relationships.

[box type="shadow"]But changing the core of a person, their struggles with life, or personal direction? Those are the ways we misuse the makeover, and the end of such manipulations is going to end in conflict and disappointment.
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What Can A TV Reality Show Tell Us?

I love Francis Schaeffer, and his thought. One of the things that I picked up from reading his books is to look at the culture, especially its art and expression, to find out truths about who we are as a society. Beyond the shallow judgements of like or unlike, or slots of good or evil, what do our ideas of marriage, family, gender, man and woman, parent and child, divorce, dating tell us about our larger society and its direction? What kind of blind spots do we have, and what will give us insight and a pathway to follow on this convoluted road of life?

A few hypotheses from my perspective

I think we still believe we can control more than we have the ability to control. Maybe as a society, that belief is more underlined and accepted than ever.

We see things through the filter of our hopes, and tend to edit out even obvious barriers. We believe romantic love conquers all obstacles. Romantic love is pretty wimpy, and that isn’t the type of love that faces and overcomes real challenges. Although it has a powerful kick as a firestarter to desire.

Our ideas of divorce are sacred cows roaming our streets and leaving us starving for strong relational bonds.

We laugh at how silly someone else may be while remaining blind to our own foibles.

Humanity is humanity and no amount of makeover changes that.

What Do I think Of All This?

There was a time I wouldn’t watch reality TV. Then I started watching the occasional show. I never ever imagined being on one, even for a brief appearance. I am not really TV material, to say the least. But it was a great experience and I’m glad to have had the chance to connect with people in a whole new way, including with my son. If you look closely at my body language in some of the glimpses, I feel protective of my children, even one who is fully grown… and that is what I see in many moms. We want the best for our children and makeover or no makeover, we desire that they be loved, and learn to love. We want our stories to have happy endings, or at least make heroic efforts toward that end.

I learned that we continue to see new perspectives of the world through our children, just as when they were little.

I wish I had spent less time trying to be a makeover artist with my children, and more time just being with them and finding out who they were.

Finding out who someone actually is, and helping to be the best representative of who that is… I think that is the important lesson, the valuable takeaway from this experience. Get that from a TV show and your time watching was well spent.

masked
Photo credit: clarita

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On Parenting

Not having blogged here seriously for a long time, I am not going to apologize for that now. You may find some of the reasons if you read between the lines- or maybe not.

[box type="warning"]warning: this may turn into a long post. it will certainly go deeper than I have on this blog for a long time. you may not want to read what I have to say. don’t say I didn’t warn you[/box]

How did I find myself inspired to write here today? On this topic? I visited the blog of a long time blogger who has become a new mother. She said this:

Looking after a newborn baby is really, really hard. It’s the hardest job I’ve ever done. It’s mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting, and it’s relentless. People keep telling me that it gets better or easier. I hope so. I’m pooped. ~Meg Pickard

When I read that, I remembered back …way back to my first introduction to motherhood, and yes, that is very much a description of how I felt at the time. I don’t know if there was a generation more unprepared for parenting than mine- at least among those who were like me.

Why do I think that?

  • We had jumped from ‘Leave It To Beaver’ and ‘Father Knows Best’ to ‘The Brady Bunch’ and ‘All In The Family’
  • Smart Girls prepared for careers, not families; and Supermom wasn’t going to show up until much later.
  • We had come from smaller families, and didn’t help raise siblings, and our moms and dads were all getting divorced. At least in my circles. Elsewhere in America, too, if the statistics tell the story.

How did this play out for women like me? We were sorely under-prepared for taking care of babies. We were socked with that relentless exhaustion and tried to play catch up with learning how to change diapers, adjust to feeding schedules, and generally learn parenting and household skills on the fly.

Humans are survivors- and women like me and our babies survived. From our survival lessons came the supermom syndrome. Which, for me, translated into a frenzy of trying to make everything “work”. And if you were like me you could make everything look pretty good…. on the outside. A house of cards, if you will.

This is getting ominous sounding, don’t you think? Well, in some ways it was, but in others- there were good times, there were some things I would do again, but the overall tone of life? No. Perfection makes a hard taskmaster, and I would trade that for making “Nurture” the keynote of our family. As it was, the keynote was more of “Accomplishment” as framed by my environment.

The reason I would change that focus and tone might be found in the name of a category I have on this blog, one that I haven’t yet found heart enough to fill up, but perhaps this post will be filed there,”Broken Heart Devotionals”.

Because another hard truth not told to new parents is the fact that not only can you fall deeply in love with your babies, but that they can grow up and break your heart. Not all of them, not inevitably, but it is one of the possibilities. And a parent needs to recognize that. It could change our focus and remove some of the deception that seems to infect every generation in some way or another.

I’m not going to get all sappy here, and I am certainly not going to imply that this is the inevitable outcome. Perhaps for some it isn’t in the cards, not even as a possible condition, I don’t know. I do know that when such heartbreak hits, it can come as a complete surprise… the same arrival of surprise that the exhaustion brought to an unprepared, naive mother in those first few months. With the same impact to your psyche, and your sense of what life should be.

Do not mistake facing reality for regret. There is no regret in the wonderful people that came into my world. I am happy for each individual child being a part of my world and the world at large. There is only sadness that I didn’t understand that nurture and tenderness, taking time for small moments, and living the love I felt for those people was more important than anything.

Anything.

And if I were to sum up my advice, thoughts, and stories on parenting in one thing it would be be that last paragraph and its emphatic underline.

But I have more to say. Just don’t let go of that one nugget of truth, which is the only real piece of advice I wish to pass on.

Sifting Through The Sand Of Motherhood

Sand, because motherhood will both polish you and wear you down. It will get in your shoes, but it is also lots of fun to play with. In the right conditions it will focus you on the truly important things of life, even if a little late.

To go back to that mother’s observations which I began with:

It’s also really boring much of the time. No-one tells you this. In fact, I think it’s probably frowned on to say it. But if you’re used to being surrounded by agile minds conducting fascinating thought-experiments and verbally jousting at work every day, looking after a baby gets pretty tedious rather quickly, especially when they’re too young to play or engage much with their surroundings. There’s something about the relentless monotony of routine (is it feeding time again? So soon? I could have sworn we just fed a few minutes ago…), and the fact that your brain has been sucked out of your ears by exhaustion, and the need to be constantly entertaining or on the move. It’s knackering.

I see some things have not changed much from my generation. I think we gave that attitude to the next generation as something of a legacy. Perhaps it was the gleam in the eye of our divorced mothers, and we inherited it ourselves? It said, “Smart girls are bored by the dailiness of the life of Motherhood”. Not that this was the essential point of Pickard’s post- it wasn’t. I simply plucked it out as saying what I, and many like me, felt- to the letter. Or thought we felt because we were supposed to feel that way as modern, hip, thinking women. and whether you think a certain way, or think you ought to and subscribe to it- it boils down to the same thing.Many of us Baby Boomer mothers struggled with it in one way or another.

I think it is ‘Supermom’ residue, personally. which is the opposite of “Earth Mother” persona. E.M.’s have to live in this society,too, so I don’t think they get off scot-free. They are, however, more apt to take time for their mothering, as part of their identity.

It’s Not All About Mothers

Mothers are not all there is to the forming of a child’s life, and psyche. But I do think, that like fathers in their way, mothers of my generation went sort of AWOL. And we got mixed up about what makes a good mother. We got too much into the debate over working and not enough into the conversation of what loving a child looks like.

And even if mothers do things right, it doesn’t insulate them, their families, or their children from the vicissitudes of our society, which has lost its mooring. Really, it has. No one can even define the semantics of our roles or actions in any substantial way today.

But thankfully, one thing stands against all the assaults and assails of whatever is wrong with us as individuals and as a society, and that is that “Love Never Fails“.

It really doesn’t. If you really love your child or your spouse, or any relationship with true care and concern for them as a human being, as someone that matters, then you will go a long way toward nurturing that soul. And they will thrive from it.

Don’t get sidetracked about what that love looks like. Don’t get fooled by some made-up experts rules. Do things that puts the wellbeing of that person on the top of your list.

Being a Christian, I don’t think there is any defining lesson on what that looks like more than you might find in I Cor. 13, the Love Chapter of First Corinthians. I don’t think we can make up what love is like any more than we can make up what nutrition our child needs. There are certain hard wired realities in humans and in life.

We could be more wise about disseminating real facts on that. Just like real facts on neo-nate development. Certain things happen and develop at certain stages, humans need certain things to thrive. Lets be very real about what those things consist of and how to properly deliver them to each other and to our families.

Love has elements of attachment, elements of freedom, and elements of hands-on actions. There are many recipes for a healthy relationship, and part of life’s challenge is to use the elements in a way that produces a whole human being.

For those who found themselves in Hell’s Kitchen, there is a new day to work at creating a life of Home cooked, life giving, wholeness making Love. It will be seasoned with humility, because it is hard to start over, to let go of preconceptions, and to admit we make mistakes.

But I’m very hopeful we can do this.


All right. I guess that is all I have to say about being a parent, and what I hoped to communicate. Til later, friends…

Eyes and Health

As a person with long standing and increasingly poor eye health I was very interested in this news about the massive rise in Asian myopia, the suspected cause, and suggested prevention. Consider how much outdoor time your children get during the day…

Professor Morgan argues that many children in South East Asia spend long hours studying at school and doing their homework. This in itself puts pressure on the eyes, but exposure to between two and three hours of daylight acts as a counterbalance and helps maintain healthy eyes.

The scientists believe that a chemical called dopamine could be playing a significant part. Exposure to light increases the levels of dopamine in the eye and this seems to prevent elongation of the eyeball.

BBC Science Report

Additionally, more than one study has found, this helpful eye health fact:

An analysis of eight previous studies by University of Cambridge researchers found that for each additional hour spent outside per week, the risk of myopia reduced by 2%.

Exposure to natural light and time spent looking at distant objects could be key factors

More info on eye health

With the added benefit of proper amounts of vitamin D (we usually are woefully deficient) and the implications of that deficiency in such maladies as diabetes make it even more important to make sure we, and our children, get more time outside in the sunshine.