11.19.2011

Minding the Unruly: help from books



I was reading Tricia's beautiful Home Made Happy blog the other day and she made reference to parenting wisdom gleaned from parent-characters in her favorite books. I thought, I can totally relate! Is it weird that much of how I try to parent comes from fiction? Do you do that too? Some of my fictional parent heroes:

-Mr. Penderwick: (the Penderwick books are my new favorites). Lots of room for those girls to be independent and free, and he gives them such intellectual riches in their conversations and home life. Sympathetic and funny, yet still a moral compass. And he's so funny (did you read the second book? Marianne Dashwood?)
-Marilla Cuthbert: (Anne of Green Gables) tough love, baby.
-Matthew Cuthbert: (Anne of Green Gables) tough love is great but sometimes you just really need to get your kid some puffed sleeves.
-Mrs. Comstock: (Girl of the Limberlost) She got off to a rough start but it's never too late to make changes. Usually the damage isn't too permanent, nothing that a few great lunch box meals can't fix.
-and of course, we can't even have this conversation without talking about Mrs. Ingalls. On this I will quote an email sent to me by my dear and brilliant friend Alexandra:

"I have developed a mothering ideal based loosely on doing whatever best fits the answer to the question: What would Ma Ingalls do? It falls short often because it is so hard to translate across the century of change, and maybe I just don't have all the data on the psychological health of the kids of that generation, but I tend to think that it was sort of a good thing that Ma was so wrapped up in keeping them all from starving to death, freezing to death or being torn apart by wild animals that she was not able to spend all her day in play with her kids. Probably good, too, that Laura had to help out to keep herself and her family alive. I loved those books as a little girl but when I reread them a few years ago I was struck by two things: 1) they are sort of boring and 2) the purpose of all they did was to survive.

The idea that you live to not die is so foreign to me. I know we cannot replicate that in our homes and it is silly to try to do so, but that doesn't stop me. I was going to end that sentence differently, but the truth got in the way. Ma and Pa were devoted to their kids and talked to them and taught them and spent all sorts of time (Pa didn't have a job, after all, he just hunted for food and then stored it) together. But they didn't dote on their kids. And I don't think they even worried about their feelings or emotions so much as their not-dying or their characters. And I think their characters benefitted from their parents not doing much more than trying to keep them alive and demanding that the kids do their part in ensuring family survival, too.

I think that we love our kids so much and want to give them all we had and more--all the things that went wrong for us or that our parents did wrong we want to do right. Those are natural impulses, but if we go too far with them I think we do ourselves and our kids a disservice. Life is tough sometimes. Other people live here, too, and their feelings and pursuits matter, too. If we are always sacrificing our everything for our kids, how will they learn that they are strong, independent people? How will they learn that the world does not stop for them, or revolve around them? Or, would we want our own kids to entirely drop their skills and interests to cater to their children's schedules and demands? Sometimes it helps to get out of the too-child-centered approach to the world to ask the question that way: would I want my own child to grow up and live like this (in this marriage, job, mothering pattern)?"

...it gets so hard because I don't mean that we shouldn't reach out and do all those hard things (sometimes boring things!) that are caught up in mothering kids. Or that it's okay to waste away the hours on facebook or some other indulgence while the kids stare at the tv. I guess I am just saying that moderation in all things is the wisest and truest sentence I have ever heard. If you find that you are basically always tending towards sacrificing your own needs for your kids or the other way around, you are probably doing something wrong. I think the line on what we need to feel healthy and rejuvenated and in balance is a little different for each person, and I think that we need to resist the temptation to compare our style to someone else's for verification..."

Great food for thought, Alexandra. What would Ma do is my new mantra.

Which book-parents inspire you?



17 comments:

Amber said...

Anne of Ingleside is my favorite! I read it last week and it reminded me to cherish and delight in my children. It was so refreshing to drink in the difference between that book and most of the people/influences around us. Great post!

chris said...

I also love Marmee in Little Women...and Jo in Jo's boys.

lynne said...

I haven't read Anne of Ingleside in years and years! I'm so glad you mentioned that. It would be great to revisit Anne as a mother.

Becca said...

The first person I thought of when I started reading this post was Ma and Pa from the Little House books! I also think of the mother bunny from the Country Bunny and The Little Gold Shoes all the time.

lynne said...

I LOVE that bunny mom!!!! Do you have a child trained to pull out your chair for you at meals? That is totally one of my fantasies!

Stephanie said...

What? The Little House books are boring? Why I never! That's all I'll say about that.

Julie said...

Oh we all love the Penderwicks in this house, and we are having a lot of fun now with the Nanny Piggins books: she is every child's fantasy (chocolate and cake for breakfast lunch and dinner) but I wouldn't go quite so far as to call her a parenting role model.

melissa said...

That was absolutely beautifully written. I like your new mantra of following "ma Ingolls." I must say, my own mother is a lot like her.

Jen said...

Marmee and Jo, Ma Ingalls and Anne are all my favorites too! The Penderwicks are awesome. I would also recommend some of the other L.M. Alcott books (particularly Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom). I think that those "newfangled" ideas of Uncle Alec are so holistically oriented! I also love the mothers in Madeleine L'Engle's books --Mrs. Austin, Mrs. Murry, and Mrs. O'Keefe.

Liz R. said...

Because I am an illiterate (just kidding), I don't have any examples of parenting from books, but the great Jack Donaghy from 30 Rock said on an episode I was watching yesterday:

(originally he was encouraging tough-love parenting, but then came to the following conclusion... and yes, I re-watched the episode just so that I could put this in my comment...)

"A parent is the one person who can make their kid think they can do anything; says they're beautiful even when they are ugly. Thinks they're smart even when they go to Arizona State. Let the rest of the world tear your kid down, your job is to support them no matter what".

I don't believe in the "supporting them no matter what" part of the advice, or taking parenting advice from a dysfunctional t.v. character, but oddly enough... I thought the conclusion to be very compelling. I find this part of parenting very hard for some reason. (or I anticipate to in the future when my kids are older).
Where is the balance between realistic feedback (made with love), and confidence boosting that keeps them trying. I don't understand the parents who accompany their children to American Idol who are completely knocked off balance when their child is so terrible. Do they really not see how bad their children are, or are they just "being supportive no matter what"?

Could Jack Donaghy be right?? :)

Tricia said...

Love this post, Lynne! And yes, your friend Alexandra is indeed brilliant. Thanks for the great words of wisdom, both of you!

lynne said...

Liz, I've been thinking a lot about your comment. I too love Jack Donaghy and think that quote is really great. It reminds me of one that I wrote down from the preface of Kelly Corrigan's memoir, The Middle Place. About her father, she says:

"He defined me first, as parents do. Those early characterizations can become the shimmering self-image we embrace or the limited, stifling perception we rail against for a lifetime. In my case, he sees me as I would like to be seen. In fact, I'm not even sure what's true about me, since I have always chosen to believe his version."

I think to inherently believe in your child and their potential, and to take the time to really notice and look for things they are good at - I think that is what a parent is in a unique position to do. Maybe those American Idol parents are just noticing the wrong things. :)

lynne said...

...I also totally agree with you Liz about the realistic feedback thing being tricky, btw - I need to think more about that.

Beth said...

I love this post so much. You got the list totally right, but I would also add in Marmee like a PP!

Also, how much do I love that you know Girl of the Limberlost! I wish more people had read GSP`s beautiful books!

Stephanie said...

We read the same books as children apparently :) And I LOVE the advice shared here. Go ma.

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jessbcuz said...

love penderwicks too.