The Interwebs are abuzz over Catherine Hakim's new book Erotic Capital. Hakim, a British sociologist, is best known for authoring books and articles centered around women in the workplace and gender equality. A self-described feminist, Hakim has made a career of attempting to understand and iterate the social, political and economic impact woman have in the workplace and how pressures of conformity and patriarchal values create challenges for women.
Given her background, many feminists are perplexed by the assertion she makes in her latest book, that a woman's best bet in the workplace is to leverage her sexuality in order to even the odds.
Yep, that's right. A feminist telling us to use our looks to get ahead.
Not only that, Hakim asserts that women who don't take the time to maximize their sex appeal via diet, makeup, wardrobe and options like Botox are being are simply lazy and counter-productive.
To be fair, I haven't read the book yet. Its sitting in my Kindle account, waiting for my droid to have a 3G signal to download it. However, the salient points Hakim makes via her interview with The Daily Beast, are worth discussion and don't require the finer points of the book to be open to debate.
"Anyone, even quite an ugly person, can be attractive if they just have the right kind of hairstyle, clothes, and present themselves to the best effect...This isn't a frivolous spending of money. It has real benefits."
In and of itself, nothing about this statement is truly offensive. I remember attending a seminar geared toward women in business back in the late 1980's where we were advised to pay attention to how the senior executives in our company dressed. If we wanted to succeed, an easy way to demonstrate our "acceptability" was to dress the same way. If the men wore suits and ties, women should wear suits and low heels. If everyone wore solid colors - black, blue, etc - so should you. If the environment was casual, be the best-casually-dressed worker in the office. I don't think its such a stretch to encourage people to look their best at work, it demonstrates a level of attention and ambition that assures higher-ups that you are someone who's not just marking time at your job, you're in the game.
Social research doesn't lie; people make assumptions about other people all of the time based simply on how they look. It stands to reason that a competent employee who dresses like a slob is going to be less favored than an equally competent employee who dresses well, all else being equal.
Hakim asserts that "Everybody should use all the assets they've got, and this is one asset that women have often been told is inappropriate to use. I think women need to stop having a chip on their shoulder, or feel uncomfortable investing in erotic capital. Attractiveness and beauty has real value." She claims that things such as Exercise, tanning, coloring your hair and even plastic surgery are necessary evils for career success. She identifies social skills as another invaluable asset.
Its disconcerting to have someone with Hakim's considerable research behind them to bluntly advise us that we must look better in order to compete. But is it true?
I wonder if the reaction to this book would be different if the title were less threatening. Looking good doesn't necessarily convey "erotic" appeal. Dressing nicely and maintaining one's looks don't necessarily insinuate that a woman is exuding sex appeal. Utilizing a word loaded with not-so-subtle visual imagery as part of her hypothesis is certainly one way to create controversy and ensure a greater number of book sales. But then, without having read it, I have no idea whether Hakim is simply advising women to make sure they look good at work and not telling us to show off our boobs in low-cut tops and wear stiletto's to maximize the draw power of our legs and asses. Because truly, those are completely different concepts.
I've met plenty of women in the business place that easily fall into stereotypical categories. I've worked with women who were gorgeous and marginally competent, who slept with or sucked off whichever man was required in order to get a better salary, a better bonus or a promotion. I've worked with women who were incredibly good at their jobs but who were challenged either by less-than-stellar looks or a timid personality or both, and heard them degraded behind their backs by coworkers and higher-ups based simply on the scale of their physical attractiveness. I've heard people say things like "Oh yeah, she's really good at what she does, but..."
Then there are those women - the ones who have it all. Either blessed genetically with good looks or having earned them via a lot of time in the gym or under the scalpel, these women also have the brains and the personality to boot. And frankly, they blow the competition out of the water. They work hard, they get things done, and they look good doing it. That's pretty hard to compete with.
I can see it from both sides, honestly. I value a person's ability over their looks, and as a manager I know that I want to hire people who will get the job done. But as a woman in the workplace who is also interested in cultivating my own success, I often must consider how my physical appearance might benefit or harm me. One button too low? Does this make me look too casual? Am I over- or under-doing the hair and makeup? What is it I want to accomplish today and what meetings do I have where I may need to generate a better impression?
I have had the (mis?)fortune in the past of supervising stereotypical office bimbos. Women that reported to me but who were also sleeping with other managers in the company or getting massive boob jobs and distracting the entire office with their low-cut shirts, I can tell you quite honestly I'd rather have someone who is a lot more discreet in their clothing choices, regardless of the quality of their work. Its not that I resent another women for being pretty or sexy, I don't. We come in all shapes and sizes, and just because someone looks different from me or is younger than I am doesn't mean I'm competing with her. However, in my experience, a woman who openly flaunts her sexuality in the work environment becomes a distraction, breeds jealousy and resentment in her coworkers. Even if she isn't sleeping her way up the ladder, if she's wearing micro-minis and being obviously sexual in her behavior, everyone will believe that she is.
When you're managing people, you need teamwork from your people, and the pockets of overt hostility that such a woman engenders, unless she is staggeringly brilliant at her job, aren't worth it. On that basis alone, I'm going to assume that Hakim isn't telling us to "whore it up" to get ahead, but that she rather means to look and act our best and that success will naturally follow.
I'm inclined to follow my natural instinct that the inclusion of the term "Erotic" in the book's title and the somewhat inflammatory nature of Hakim's comments in her Daily Beast interview are deliberate and designed to increase interest in the book itself, and that what she's actually proposing to her readers is something other than what the book's title suggests. And if I'm wrong, and that's what she's actually suggesting, I will less-than gently opine that she's got it all wrong. Crossing a certain line when it comes to what you wear and how you act at work will do you more harm than good. And the more women that cross that line, the harder they make it for the rest of us to remind the corporate patriarchy that we are competent, we are personable, we are capable of success without using our lady parts to get there.
Edited and added: There is no question that our concepts of attractiveness are largely culturally defined. There has always been an existing conundrum for the career woman who is also a conscious feminist: How do I work to change cultural concepts while also surviving within them? If I attempt to change the culture yet still conform to it, am I damaging my message? Hakim's new book does little, if anything, to solve this dilemma.
About once every two weeks I browse through the "people you may know" feature on LinkedIn. If you're a social media junkie, you know that LinkedIn is the business and career (i.e. clean and sanitized) version of Facebook. People post their resumes and job experience, connect with colleagues and business contacts. No friday-night drunken party pictures or gratuitous photos of children and pets, just all work, all the time. Well, mostly, anyway. Every once in a while I link my blog in a very discreet place on my LinkedIn page, followed shortly by a wave of fear that causes me to un-link saidsame blog. I have nothing to hide. I have everything to hide. I'm not sure if I ever decide to go job-seeking that a prospective employer would be truly impressed by reading about my bleeding hoo-haw or my dogs or my very special and very challenging children. (One of these days I'll post more about how I'm going to make a bajillion dollars when I create MyFaceLinkTwit+ and everyone migrates their social media addition to it.)
One time, before they added the feature where you can scroll through profiles of people who are connected to people who are connected to you they used to just make a few suggestions by name. Once LinkedIn suggested that I connect to my Mother's cousin's daughter's husband, who I have not seen since 1996 and who lives in South Carolina. How did you know, LinkedIn, HOW DID YOU KNOW????
So last week I'm scrolling through the list of people LinkedIn thinks I want to connect with, and I see a name that I recognize. Its the daughter of the alcoholic I lived with some twenty or more years ago, the daughter of the man who glued me to the path of the codependent, the daughter whose father owes the state of New Jersey some $54,000 in back child support. Wow, LinkedIn, REALLY? How did you know?
As it turns out, the suggestion wasn't that mysterious, she is the connection of a connection. And then I look at my list of connections and I start to have that strange sensation of sinking into a swimming pool filled with marshmallows. Goosebumps rise on my forearms as I consider the breadth of people represented in those several hundred names on my contacts list. High school friends. College friends, sorority sisters. Ex lovers. Coworkers current and past. Business associates, fellow Bastards, fellow bloggers.
All across the web, we are connected. We are connected on Facebook, we follow each other on Twitter, we know someone who knows someone who knows someone who...fill in the blank.
I think now, more than ever, the average non-adopted person can understand what its like to be an adoptee "in reunion" and living with relatives from two (or sometimes even more) families. Adoption, divorce, remarriage, step-familying - my children have a brother from another mother, I will likely soon be acquiring another step-offspring, I have a brother and cousins by adoption and brothers and sisters and cousins by birth, because their father and I are both adopted, my children have at least eight sets of grandparents, and that's not counting potential future stepgrandparents. But when viewed in the context of the world of social networking so many of us inhabit, it no longer seems strange, does it?
We may not be one people, but we are all on one planet. Social Media has provided the material framework to prove what I've known all along - we are connected, each and every one of us, if not by blood and birth then by common acquaintance and if not by that then by common interest or common point of contention.
And yet, more so than I can remember in my very brief lifetime, the dividing lines between people in my country are wider and more stark. We live in a world where we can connect to one another at will, with an ease and speed never before known in the history of humankind, and the beliefs and the politics that we cling to drive us even farther apart. The juxtaposition of these two concepts, our connectedness and our difference, flattens me with the irony it engenders.
To quote Burns, I dinna ken how that may be.
I was going to take a break from blogging today. Actually, I was going to be at work, starting early, and wasn't going to have time for blogging today, but my poor sitter is in the ER after having a bad reaction to a new medication, and so I'm here with my kids, praying that she recovers quickly (and not just for selfish reasons).
Watching the sun turn the clouds pink in a deep blue early morning sky while I drink my coffee, I am chewing over yesterday's plethora of tweets and posts regarding Amazon's listing of a book written by a pedophile that apparently provides "advice" for other pedophiles on having (this really turns my stomach) "better" relationships with their victims and how to avoid being caught. I say "apparently," because I am not going to read the book to see exactly what the author says, and I am not going to link to the page for the book because I don't wish to drive any more traffic to this guy, and I'm not even linking Amazon here, because I don't feel like sending them any more page hits today. (They should be sending ME page hits in thanks for all the money I've thrown at them over the years, really.)
This is one of those times where my morals and my convictions have a little tug of war with one another, and right now I'm not certain who is winning.
Background and context, for starters. I've written about my birthmother and family. I've actually submitted a piece to Violence Unsilenced that I compiled interjecting my own narrative with chunks of a manuscript that my sister Vicki sent me several years ago. It is her own story of growing up with a stepfather who is a pedophile. At some point in the future, I hope, that piece will be published.
I have five siblings. Four living. I was given up for adoption, the rest of them were raised (using the term very loosely) by my birthmother. My sister was raped by her stepfather for the first time when she was around five years old.
Here is what happened when she told her mother, in her own words:
She slapped me so hard across the face that I was knocked several feet backwards and fell to the floor. She screamed at me, that I was a liar and sent me to my room. I sobbed, hurting from the pain in my bottom and the pain in my heart, knowing that I was going to die. He was going to kill me. There was no one to stop him. So I did what all good Christian girls did: I prayed to God that I would die in my sleep before morning.
That was the longest night of my life. Somewhere in the night I fell asleep. When I woke up, the Monster was smiling down at me once more. My heart was racing and I knew I was about to die and he just kept smiling. He puts one hand on either side of my head holding me down by my long brown hair, and smiling the whole time, he said, ‘She didn’t believe you, she never will and if you ever try to tell again I will kill you.’ Then, like nothing ever happened, he walks to the door, opens it, and calmly says, ‘Breakfast is ready when you are.'
I had a younger brother. I never met him. He called me once, a few years ago and asked if we could meet. He was just out of prison and was looking for someone to give him a hand in getting back up on his feet. It was the only conversation I ever had with my brother.
"I wish I could meet you, wish I could offer you some help, but I can't. I have children."
He went to prison for raping a little girl. While in prison he contracted HIV. Look, I'm not stupid. Statistically, the recidivism rate for men who molest boys is twice as high as for men who molest girls, but those statistics are based on convictions and not the actual number of crimes being committed, and who in hell could know what those statistics are? Who's to say my brother hadn't also molested boys? And honestly, did it really matter? I wasn't exposing my children to a convicted pedophile. Period.
Two years later, he died of complications from AIDS. As sad as I feel for never having met my sibling, I still stand by my decision to protect my family.
Remember the incident back in 1993, when Ellie Nesler shot David Driver in the courtroom as he was being tried for raping her son? She was my hero, then and now. If anyone and I do mean ANYONE hurt one of my children, it would take more than a legal system to keep me from hurting that person. I have no doubt whatsoever that I would kill to protect my kids. As much as I believe in second chances, in following the law, in respecting our legal system, none of that reason could override the animal instinct that raises its head in me when I consider what I would do to someone who hurt my child. I think I would be capable of just about anything, including violent murder.
So that's where I stand on pedophiles. Reason and logic don't apply. Look, I know most pedophiles offend because someone hurt them when they were children. I know they are mentally ill. AND I DON'T CARE. My reaction is visceral. I am being as honest as I can here.
As a mother, as a human being who believes that the death penalty is a suitable punishment for people who rape children, I want that book GONE. OFF THE SHELVES. I don't want to give Amazon another dime of my money so long as they will carry that kind of filth on their website.
And then there's the other thing. The part where I believe in the constitution and the right of free speech. If Amazon can carry a book that teaches people how to make bombs, if I believe that our constitution also protects that kind of speech, then I have to agree that so long as that vile piece of filth that passes for a book contains nothing that falls within the legally defined boundary of child pornography, so long as it contains no evidence of someone actually committing a crime in its pages, so long as it is theory and not practice, then it may be published and sold. We can't call for it to be burned or banned or torn into little tiny shreds and stomped on with manure-covered jackboots.
I don't know.
I was so proud when Google said they were going to pull out of China because China's policy on free speech was in direct opposition to the company's values and to the principles of democracy and freedom. So disappointed when they caved in to the almighty dollar.
Should I be proud of Amazon if they take the logical and legal position that free speech is a protected right and that as a seller of books, they take no position on whether a book ought to be listed so long as it doesn't violate the boundaries of the law?
Or should I be proud of Amazon if, after reviewing the situation, decides that they will concede to the majority opinion of their customers (and the weight of the consumer dollar) and pull the book?
You tell me. What do you think is the right thing for Amazon to do?
Amazon has removed the book from their online catalog. Good choice.
Two things to add.
First: My friend Drew shared a quote with me on FB that is now being added to my favorite quotes list: “I have always been among those who believed that the greatest freedom of speech was the greatest safety, because if a man is a fool, the best thing to do is to encourage him to advertise the fact by speaking”
~Woodrow T. Wilson
Second: There is a great discussion going on in the comments over at Adam Avitable's blog about this issues. Come join in.
I take a great deal of satisfaction in having come to motherhood at what the doctors like to refer to as "advanced maternal age". (And the doctors can just smooch my butt, by the by. Ageist douchebags) I know plenty of women who procreated young, married young. Women I went to high school with are grandparents already, while my youngest isn't in kindergarten yet. I know that parenting can be harder when you don't have the energy you had, but in many ways it can also be extremely satisfying. Unlike my friends who by necessity became mature adults when they were in their late teens/early twenties, I enjoyed more than a decade of doing whatever the hell I wanted whenever I felt like it. I wished I'd traveled more. Wished I'd written that novel. But still and all, those were very good years. I don't have the lingering feeling that I missed my youth. Now that I'm approaching middle age, I don't have any desire to get a fancy car or a younger boyfriend, or even to go out and hit the party scene as I see too many women my age doing. I know many of them are trying to make up for a youth they never got to fully enjoy thanks to the responsibilities and fiscal burden of being young parents. I got to sow my wild oats - and then some, thank you very much.
No, the things I miss now, as a mom, are not the things that one might expect. But there are things that are gone from my life, things I really wish I still had:
1. Language. I have a B.A. in English. I have been reading since the age of 3. I LOVE words. I like nothing more than reading a deft turn of phrase or a scene described so vividly that I can smell and feel it. Words used to roll off of my tongue and pen with the ease of a well-oiled hinge. No longer. With the onset of my first pregnancy, I fell victim to the dreaded cerebrus maternus-- MOMMY BRAIN. This insidious disease has taken root deep in my system, and the most prevalent symptom is complete dyspraxia. I KNOW there is a word that I want to use. I just can't REMEMBER IT. And so I have gone from being what I used to gloatingly consider an eloquent person to one who stammers and says "SHIT! What was that word? SHIT!" constantly.
2. Abs. I am pretty sure there are still muscles inside my abdomen. But I can' find them. Endless crunches, yoga dvds, leg raises and shredding a la Jillian Michaels have failed to cause them to reappear, so I must finally accept the fact that they are gone forever. Along with whatever used to resemble skin tone being my navel and pubic bone. Seriously, is the skin there always going to wrinkle and sag?
3. Money. Sometimes I have this great dream, wherein I go get a pedicure and have my legs waxed, hit the salon for a good haircut. Then I go to Barnes & Noble and drop $150 on books, and stop and have a grande nonfat vanilla latte at Starbucks. On the way home I fill up my tank with premium gasoline, and when I go to the grocery store I buy WHATEVER. I. WANT. Then I wake up. I cry. The end.
4. Coherency. I believe that the loss of logic and deductive reasoning is a secondary symptom of cerebrus maternus. Along with the inability to speak, I have lost the ability to remember things like math and people's names, follow simple directions or respond appropriately in social situations. I try to yell at my dogs and I call them by my children's names - I try to yell at my children and I call them by the dog's names. I have solved this problem by simply yelling "HerculesRoscoeFosterDogChildAChildB - STOP THAT!!!!" I put milk away in the cupboards, I pour coffee on my cereal, and on more than one occasion have arrived at work to find that I have two different shoes on my feet.
5. Me Time. Its not that I was ever the kind of girl who was into meditation and quiet moments. But I have always enjoyed having time to bury my nose in a book or sit and watch a movie without interruption. In the past 8 years, the only time that I have been able to read more than one paragraph of a novel without hearing "Mommy! I have to go potty!" "Mommy, I'm hungry" "Mommy, the dog ate my Barbie and then pooped out her shoe!" have been when I was traveling for business and staying in a hotel room by myself. J used to think that my work trips were my chance to go live it up in strange towns with strange men. In truth, the strangest thing happening was that I would run myself a nice quiet bath, get a glass of wine from room service and fall asleep in a warm tub while reading a book. I know, you're thinking "Good God, that woman's a HELLION!"
6. Music. They may finally be getting over it, but I have not been allowed to play the piano or sing since my daughter could speak. Music has always been a part of my life - fourteen years of piano lessons, singing at weddings or whenever I could, teaching myself to play the guitar. There was a time in my life when I sat at the keys nearly every day. When the Amazon Girl was a baby, there didn't seem to be time, and the last thing I wanted to do if she was giving me a few minutes of free time by napping was wake her up with my piano playing. When she was a toddler and could entertain herself, I thought to myself "Finally! NOW I can play!" I sat on the piano bench, selected a nice old jazz standard and started to play. No more had the first notes of "It Had to Be You" left my mouth, when suddenly a curly-haired virago appeared next to my chair. "NO MOMMY!! NO SINGING!" I patiently invited her to sit on my lap. She refused. "NO! Mommy NO SING!" And so it went. Every time I sat at the piano for more than a few minutes, a tantrum ensued. After the second child arrived, any attempt to enjoy a few minutes at the keys resulted in a fight erupting, something being broken, or an emergency which required my immediate attention. I have been forced to acknowledge that my children were born with an internal radar which informs them the moment I have decided to play the piano. I can prove this, because last weekend they were playing at the neighbors and after I finished my housework I sat down at the piano. No sooner had I started to play than daughter fell over and skinned both her knees. I could hear her screaming from half a block away. I'm going to try it next when they're at their dad's. What are the odds they can hear me then?
The price tag for parenting is high, in many respects. And when I take the time to think about the things that I miss most about being a child-free adult, what strikes me more than those things I no longer have is the presence of new things in my life that I cannot imagine living without.
1. Purpose. Before I became a mother, I wandered aimlessly through life. I did whatever I felt like doing at the moment, I took the opportunities that came along, but I had no direction. The arrival of my children changed that, not just by necessity, but by the awakening of the realization that I had found my place in the world. I have identified myself with many titles in my lifetime, all of them meaningful and profound. Daughter, Cowgirl, Athlete, Adoptee, Friend. Of all of the titles I hold dear, I cherish "Mother" the most. And because it is so important to me to live up to all that being a Mom means, I have no choice but to have a direction. To know where I'm going and what I stand for.
2. Flexibility. Nothing used to annoy me more than when my Grand Plans for things got screwed up. I always know how I want things to go, and rigidly following plan was also a way of coping with my ADHD. Any mother knows that while children want and need structure in their lives, that in the grander scheme of everyday, Plans, while noble in concept, are only meant to be adapted to Circumstance. A Plan is a good thing. Start with one and do your best to follow it. If you have children, be prepared for your Plans to be disrupted. Constantly. The bigger challenge to me was to learn to be OK with that. On the large and small scale, I have learned that one of the kindest things I can do for myself as a parent is to learn to be flexible. To learn that MY plans aren't always going to happen, and to be OK anyway. My children have given me a great gift by teaching me flexibility.
3. Relaxation. And I don't mean the "spa weekend" kind of relaxation. Technically falling under the category of Flexibility, relaxation is what happens when you stop trying to be on time for everything, when you stop watching the clock and panicking because you're going to be late for work/church/dinner/appointments. Relaxation is when you take a deep breath and decide to live in the moment and not care that you didn't make it to the movies because your kids decided to dismantle your washing machine and throw your car keys in the garbage. Its a survival skill - Relax or lose your mind. You pick.
4. Love. I know, its such a cliche. It can't be helped. I thought I knew what love was before. I thought the love I felt in my relationships was the ultimate kind of love, that needing-wanting to be with someone all the time, that desire for closeness and rapport. The kind of love I felt for my parents, needing, wanting to please. The kind of love I felt for my dog or my horse, having someone I could be around who loved me without an agenda, who liked me for me and made me feel good about myself. Certainly special, but nothing compared to the depth of love you feel when you hold your child for the first time. When some mechanism deep in your soul that you never realized existed awakens and you realize that THIS is the person you would die for. This is the person you would sacrifice everything for. This is the person that no matter what, you will do whatever you can to ensure they are protected, happy. There is no moment in the world that is so perfect as that moment when both of my children are near me. None.
5. Faith. It was easy to walk away from faith before I was a parent. When that changed, my perception of the entire universe shifted. How could I not look at the perfection of my baby, feel that upwelling of joy and fierce love, and not understand that there indeed WAS a greater purpose in life? Not feel intimately linked to Creation? My faith has been shaped by my experience as a parent, my understanding of Who I believe God to be honed by my own relationship with my children.
6. Family and Friends. My boundaries and definitions of family were refined once I became a parent. I began to appreciate and enjoy my own parents even more, because I was finally able to understand what the challenges of raising children can be like, I was able to see how a parent might be doing just the best they can in a difficult circumstance. I stopped having resentments about the things they did that I didn't agree with, because I got to experience how it felt to have other people question your choices or your parenting style. My relationships with other certain members of my family deepened, because we finally had some common ground. Children are life's great equalizers. You might meet someone with whom you think you have nothing in common, but if you are both parents, suddenly you have everything in common. Interestingly, the people in my life with toxic qualities suddenly became easier to say "no" to. I no longer have the luxury of tolerating bad behavior, I have children who are learning from me about what friendship means. I want to model healthy relationships, which means I have to HAVE healthy relationships.
7. Self Esteem. Physical perfection no longer matters. I have to learn to accept myself so that my daughter will not be twisted by my own body dysmorphia. But even deeper than learning to accept my imperfections has been learning to recognize my strengths. My children (at least for now) think that there is nothing I can't do. I can bandage every cut, soothe every hurt, I know how to operate the lawnmower and how to drive a car. In my children's eyes, I am Superwoman! Its hard to buy into negative perceptions from others when the people who matter most in the world to me think that I am beautiful, smart, powerful, amazing. The opinions of the outside world fade into just so much noise, and I can hold my head high, because I have the antidote to the poison of their negativity.
I recently picked up Screamfree Parenting by Hal E. Runkel, LMFT. Why? I could be coy and say "Why not?" but we both know that's not really the truth now, is it? The truth is that like a lot of parents, I have frequenting parenting FAIL and I'm open to ways to not do that so much.
I'm hornswoggled on a daily basis at how creatively frustrating my children can be. They are masters of finding the pain points. I dont' think they do it to be malicious, they do it BECAUSE THEY CAN. For years I had immense difficulty with the concept of Original Sin...and then I had children. Now I understand that they emerge bloody from the womb filled not only with joy and love and innate bueaty, but also with deviousness, malicious intent and willfulness brewing.
Undeniably my children have taught me to have far more patience than I had before they fucked up changed my life for the better. However, that's akin to saying that box wine is a huge improvement over jug wine. Sure, one is better. But by how much? (Annnnnd there, I've gone and offended 95% of my living relatives and inlaws)
It is a guarantee in my house that if I need my kids to get ready quickly for any reason, they will move at sub-visual speed. Quirky scientific phenomenon in which the subject moves so slowly as for all movement to be visually imperceptible. I watch them for ten minutes and I don't even notice them twitch. NOTHING. Even before embarking on a new career as a single mother last summer, mornings were my domain alone. Before J and I split, he worked an earlier schedule than I did, so the kids were mine to deal with. I've written before about my struggles with our mornings. I'm getting better at dealing with them, but they are a continual challenge to me.
In Runkel's book, after he explains to you that yelling at your kids puts them in the position of being responsible for calming YOU down, which is not really their job (hint, it's YOURS, grownup person), he then discusses natural consequences and how instead of being responsible for our children, we are responsible to them. TO. THEM. Which means letting them learn that their behavior has consequences. Imagine how differently people who employ this method parent.
As much as I fail and do exactly what Runkel says not to (yelling), I was also a little bit pleased and gloat-ish after reading the chapter on consequences, because it is a technique I have been working on with some success for our morning routines.
I got so tired of trying to wrangle them out of bed and get fed and dressed so that I could get animals fed and dress my own self in time to catch my carpool. Mornings were a daily exercise in frustration. I'd ask them to do something and ten minutes later they'd still be staring at the TV, openmouthed, with the half-eaten plate of waffles still sitting in front of them. It was making me feel insane. Gradually I realized that I was the one bearing the consequences of their choices not to be ready, and that it was time to change to equation.
I found my egg timer. (I really have one. I used to bake. And cook too. Then I had kids.) When I ask them to wake up, I set it for 10 minutes. That's how long they have to stumble into the kitchen in time for me to prepare their breakfast. If they don't get out of bed before the timer goes off, they're on their own, because its now MY time to get myself dressed and prepared for work. No, they won't starve. But they won't have warm breakfast. They can have whatever they can make for themselves,which includes pop tarts, cold bagels, yogurt and assorted other prepared items. After I'm ready for work, Child 1 and I "do meds." I find if we make a game of it, she resists less. She takes a pill, then I take one of mine. She's always happy because it takes me longer (I have more stuff I take). And she also knows that the consequence is either a beloved toy goes in long term timeout or a planned activity is canceled (birthday party, play date, time with grandma). So we do our meds. Then after I have fed the dogs, I go to feed horses. By this time they need to be done with breakfast. As I go outside, if they have not already gone and started dressing themselves, I remind them that by the time I return from feeding the horses they should be dressed and ready to go. When I come back in and put the dogs away in their crates, if they are not dressed with shoes and coats on, then they will go to daycare/before-school care in their pajamas. And bare feet. If it is embarassing and uncomfortable, it's only so for them. Not for me. I bring their clothes with them, and they can change when they get there.
The nicest thing about this method is that I don't have to yell. I don't have to get mad, or frustrated. No matter what THEY do, as long as I follow my schedule, I will be on time. The unpleasant consequences are theirs to bear. Sure, I might have to listen to some whining, or crying because they're going to be embarassed in front of their friends or because they really wanted something warm for breakfast and not a cold Pop-Tart. But I can listen to a few minutes of crying or whining without feeling like I have to make it stop. It's not fun,but its tolerable.
The best thing? Its working.
The first day that Child A didn't get out of bed on time, she started to cry and whine about wanting her breakfast. I forced myself to calmly continue getting ready for work and to let her stew in her own juice. I gently reminded her once or twice that she was still free to go get something for herself to eat. Eventually, after about 10 minutes, she actually did! She got out of bed, stopped crying, went to the kitchen, and looked for food. She asked me if I would come help her reach the peanut butter, which I did, and then she MADE HER OWN BAGEL. With peanut butter.
First best? She was SO PROUD of herself. And I was proud of her too. What started as a potential tantrum instead turned into a learning lesson and a clear example that she was capable of doing big-girl things. On her own. Two years ago I guarantee you that she would have still been screaming about breakfast an hour later. Today? So much better. So incredibly much better.
We still have room for improvement. Little Man has gone to school three times so far in his pj's, including today. He does not like to comply with requests. I am learning that I can control myself and not get mad when they don't listen to me. I'm not 100% successful yet, but I'm better than I was. The morning stress level is diminishing for all of us and the days that I climb into my carpool feeling like a wrung-out washcloth are fewer and farther between. Its worth noting.
I hope I never stop learning what my kids have to teach me. I am a better person today because of them.