On motivation and ego

Photo courtesy of flickr user JasonUnbound

Photo courtesy of flickr user JasonUnbound

Yesterday I met with two moms who are going through the process of becoming Attachment Parenting International leaders and will soon be co-leading the Skylands API New Jersey group with me. (Hooray!!) We spent a lovely couple of hours at the county library chatting about all things AP while three of the kids played and the infant slept.

Together we laughed about how we give babies voices, like when he is crying and we try this and that and the other thing and finally get the crying to stop, and we say something like, “Finally! I thought you’d never figure it out! Just because you’re cold when it’s 75 degrees doesn’t mean I need to be dressed like an Inuit!” We mused about whether or not there is a word for that.

If anthropomorphism is attributing human characteristics to a non-human animal or entity, what is the term for an adult putting words into a baby’s mouth?

Because I have nothing better to do, or because the nerd in me loves an entomological challenge, I gave this a fair amount of thought. I think the term would be pedomorphism, or the retention by an adult of juvenile characteristics. But I’m open to suggestion.

So then I started to think, what would the word be for describing the reverse situation, attributing adult characteristics or motivations to a child? After all, it happens all the time so we really should have a word for it. A baby cries and we describe her as being impatient. A toddler has a tantrum and we describe him as manipulative. A preschooler wants to wear a bathing suit to school in February and we describe her as stubborn. The second we sit down to read our child asks for a snack and we describe him as inconsiderate.

Of course, none of these things is true. They are simply being children, driven by ego.

But we tell ourselves these stories, and it puts distance between us and our children. We interpret their age-appropriate behavior through the lens of adult emotions and motivations, and we get angry and frustrated. That’s not to say that we aren’t responsible to teach them consideration, honesty, patience and flexibility. Of course we introduce these characteristics in an appropriate way over time so that eventually they grow to be adults who are kind and pleasant to be around. But words like “manipulative” and “inconsiderate” are loaded, and they make a lot of assumptions.

Children are simply trying to get their needs met. Nothing more, nothing less.*

I wonder what would happen if, when we see these judgements arise, we do a little rephrasing. Instead of “She is being manipulative”, we tell ourselves “I feel manipulated.” What is that about for me? What is the story? Maybe I am thinking something like, “She doesn’t trust me to meet her needs, and that’s why she is manipulating me instead of being honest. I’m a bad mother.” Or maybe it’s something like, “She does not care about me at all. I do so much for her, and all she cares about is what she wants.” I could be, “Everything has to be a struggle with her all the time. Why can’t she just take no for an answer?”

Try it, and let me know how it goes.

*Of course, this is true of everyone! But ideally with age comes maturity and consideration….

What we’re reading: The Forgiveness Garden

There is a hard law…When an injury is done to us, we never recover until we forgive. ~Alan Paton

forgivenessgardenOn a recent trip to the library one of the books on display was The Forgiveness Garden by Lauren Thompson, illustrated by Christy Hale.  I don’t know how the librarians choose which books to put on display, as they rarely seem related to the season or even to each other.  In the adult stacks, I tend to look at all the titles on the shelves, but in the children’s section I almost always choose from the books on display.  I don’t know if the volume of picture books is too overwhelming or if the spines are too small to read, but unless I am doing research or looking for something specific I simply don’t bother.

While the cover art wasn’t that enticing for me, I couldn’t pass up a book with that title.  After a quick look, I wasn’t planning to read the book to my kids because it seemed more violent than what I would ordinarily choose for them, especially as a bedtime story.  But I decided to go for it, and I’m glad I did.

The Forgiveness Garden is the story of two feuding families.  During one of their disputes, a boy threw a rock and hit a girl from the other family, and tempers flared.

But when presented with the opportunity for revenge, she chose empathy and forgiveness.  

She encouraged her attacker to join her in planting a garden for both families to enjoy and remind them of their shared humanity.

The book was inspired by two gardens of forgiveness, one in Beirut Lebanon and one at Ground Zero in New York City.  A movement towards planting these gardens has sprung up, and there are now over a dozen such gardens around the world.  The organization spearheading this effort, Forgive to Give, describes its mission:

“to create a world beyond violence, with gardens as venues for conflict transformation and healing in communities around the world as well as vehicles through which [they] raise awareness about the power of forgiveness.”

I am intrigued by the idea of creating a Virtual Garden of Forgiveness.  It would be amazing to have an accessible and safe online space where people could explore their wounding and work through their struggles.  Another project for another day…..

Any web developers out there interested in working on something like this?