The Om of Parenting and Divorce by Brock Elliot Noyes
Like a rainbow in the smog, there is something I find fascinating about the way American culture is morphing into new frontiers of human behavior. It certainly can be argued that the dissolution of the American family is the root source of the myriad problems that plague our materially wealthy and frequently spiritually impoverished society. I don't dispute that divorce, like a grenade rolled into the foxhole, has utterly shattered the traditional framework of the American family without any clearly defined replacement. Although some of us have created successful co-parenting relationships, psychologists tell me this is the exception, not the norm. More frequently, society is witnessing a total free fall in post-marriage child-raising arrangements, and sometimes the end result is our children resemble Beavis and Butthead on crack.
What you're about to read is one parent's passage through the maze of parenting and divorce. Little here is novel or revolutionary, but taken together, it has all contributed to my own successful navigation through that maze. Ultimately my greatest credential as a parent is that I have two healthy, respectful children to show for it.
Fundementalists lay the blame for current social evils and calamitous kids on the changing institution of family and divorce, and I think they've got some credibility in this claim. Personally, however, I believe it's better to have two healthy parents living apart than two unhealthy ones living together. Perhaps this is just self-serving rationalization, but in my case, divorce was a springboard to joy, so it's hard for me to hold onto marriage as an inviolable institution.
A Relationship with Divorce First off, do yourself a favor if you can and love your child's other parent. It makes life a lot easier. And don't ignore your partner in favor of the child. Parents are the garden in which the flowers that are your children do or do not bloom. So take care of your relationship. It can save you, your mate and especially your child a lot of pain and processing later on.
That said, I know that people sometimes change their minds, love can die, divorce happens. The case of divorce presents unique difficulties because so much toxic waste and acid rain can drench into the garden.
You probably don't want to hear this but, if you're divorced with children, you've got to go back and clean it up. I'm talking about forgiveness given and, hopefully, received. If nothing seems to work, follow the Tao: "Yield and overcome."
In my divorce, which is not a-typical, anger had transmogrophied into rage. My wife and I could barely tolerate being in each other's presence at the end. Living in a psychic sewer is a nightmare and it eventually got so awful I got down on my knees (a position most unfamiliar to me) and PRAYED. Then, at last, I began to yield. To begin with, I agreed to everything I possibly could, and when I could not agree, I did not respond.
This was extraordinarily painful for me! I have a fighting streak and spent well over a decade in karate learning to hone it. But it was obvious-rage only begat more rage and ultimately solved nothing. Nobody listens when you yell at them. So I finally stopped fighting. Eventually, my partner stopped swinging because nobody was swinging back. And as a family unit, as distorted as that was, we started to heal. "Yield and overcome." This is the way of the Tao, and it may be the only thing that works when the divorce war starts truly heating up.
The Commandments of OM Whatever your relationship with the other parent of your child, start the work of parenting early and don't stop doing it. My rule of thumb is that for every year you leave a problem unattended, it'll take a similar time to correct, if you are lucky.
Respect for the dignity of parenthood is no longer intrinsically accorded in American society. That Norman Rockwell dream is long solid gone. Now you have to earn the respect of your children or the results will simply be dreadful. Parental stories (and I've got my share) about American adolescence border on the horrific. Let me assure you-you never want to end up feeling like you're strapped in the "Big Chair" with your kid giving the current another hike. So do your work early. Don't stop doing it. The punishment for failure is green hair, a satanic tatoo, and a "F...... you, mom, I'm going out!"
Parenting is not democracy. Kids need limits, and if they can't find them, they will keep pushing out. If they hit the outer limits you can kiss them goodbye. It will take years to pull them back in, if ever.
I know the necessity of limits from personal experience. I had the ultimate l'aissez faire parents, and started drugs at 12, burning through adolescence like a human torch. Eventually, I took a cosmic ride on the big orange bus into the sixties in San Francisco (OK, I admit it . . . it was a rush . . .), and it took me a full decade to come down. But the reality of the human psyche is that it can handle freedom only when it has developed a sense of discipline and moral structure. Otherwise, it leads to depravity and chaos. Nowhere is this more evident than the streets of the American city.
American parents frequently extend a liberal sense of freedom and democracy when it is totally inappropriate to the situation and age level. Long-winded explanations of parental decisions, frequently couched in politically correct New Age terms, simply give the Machiavellian toddler an opportunity to argue endlessly and push every button on the elevator of your psyche. At a certain age the best response is "The answer is no, because I said so." If this type of authoritarionism creates protest among "spiritual" parents, let me suggest you go spend a couple of days as a volunteer in some of the public schools. HELLO!
Ultimately you are the boss. Establish that early. Be compassionate about it. If you aren't you risk becoming a tyrant, and you will pay for that just as surely as the parent who was no boss at all. Do your job well. It's the most important thing you do. Take the middle road.
Physically punishing a child is exceptionally painful to most of us, but when you establish limits and consequences, you must follow through. In my 20 years of parenting I have resorted to physical punshment three times. Once, with my oldest son when he repeatedly played with electric sockets, and twice with my youngest son when his behavior became unacceptably abusive. The limits were clearly established, pre-emtory warnings were ignored, and punishment ensued. By my record, it's obvious that I rarely resort to physical discipline, but the kids know if it's put out there as a consequence, it will certainly be enacted.
Woe to those parents who abandon this principle. Your child will push your limits, abuse you, and toy with you like the miserable victim you have become. Some people call discipline "tough love." I call it "smart love." And I am simply amazed, even appalled, at the way I see many children "dis" their parents. If this happens to you as a parent, don't blame it on the kids. It's totally your fault.
Be very respectful of your child's playtime. Play is a child's work, it's their art, the emerging rainbow of their personna. If you are constantly jerking your child out of play time because you're in a hurry or you've lost your composure, it's truly a variation of coitus interrupus for your kid. Give kids a quiet but firm notice that play will be interrupted soon. Take a few minutes and watch their play. It sure beats T.V. Let the child withdraw gracefully. In this way you show respect for your offspring. (The book 1-2-3 Magic explains this further. It's a "Bible" for modern parenting). You will in turn be teaching your child how to respect you.
The most important rule: Take care of yourself and continue to grow. This is so self-evident it needs no explanation. Just a reminder. You are a total human being; being a parent is just part of that.
My last piece of advice, perhaps a unique one, is the BIG OM. Like 1-2-3 Magic, this has been a tool of enormous significance in raising my child. My yougest son Shane could be quite contentious. I am sure he learned some of it from being a ringside spectator at the verbal heavyweight brawls between his mother and me. Once, when he trespassed across multiple warning signs, I gently led him into the corner, sat him down next to me, and said "When you are ready to behave we will resume activity." Then I simply closed my eyes and meditated. He wasn't allowed to get up and leave until I gave permission.
The first time I did this began a monumental battle of wills which nearly eclipsed an entire hour. I have meditated for thirty years but after an hour or so of this, my monkey mind really started to chatter; "When is this kid going to break?" I however knew the importance of the moment. Like his mother, or his father (depending upon your point of reference), Shane can be resiliantly obstinate. In essence, however, he's an American kid, into action, Pokeman, T.V., Nintendo, pizza, kidstuff. Eventually, he relented, and threw in the towel.
It got easier each time. Our second session lasted fifteen minutes. Now, on the rare occasions when we need to do this, it lasts about five minutes, then it's over. In this exercise, I used the passive tool of boredom and it has worked everytime.
I suppose it could be said that this process associates meditation with punishment. To that I respond, it certainly beats the back of the hand or a kid running amuck over you. Additionally, meditation is an integral part of my life, and I believe its positive effects seep in through some form of psychic osmosis. By sitting with your child, as opposed to banishing him to the solitary corner, you remain connected, angst dissolves, the problem resolves, calm ensues, and you both go back to a loving space. It becomes a learning experience and because you are sitting with your child, it ceases to be so punitive. And the beauty of it is, you get a time out for yourself, instead of carrying the burden of disciplinarian. So when words fail, bring out the BIG OM. It's a bases-loaded-game-winning-homer-in-the-bottom-of-the-ninth, guaranteed.
Good luck. Peace. Joy. And no matter what anyone says, "You can't love your kids too much." Beyond that, I say "Smart love." That's the answer.
Brock Noyes is an entrepreneur and song writer living in Portland. He can be reached at 539 SE 39th, PMB 633, Portland, OR 97214.