You Don’t Get To Choose Your Mother OR Your TeacherBy Bill Page
When Anna, my first of two children, was born, I was 29 years old; I was an experienced school teacher and an amateur father. As a teacher, dealing daily with other people’s kids, I knew precisely what I expected to teach my own kid and (with my wife’s advice and consent, of course) how I would choose to rear her. I would insist on two qualities as priority values in parenting: 1) My daughter would learn to think for herself and 2) She would learn to do what she was told.
In the time between knowing Anna was on her way plus the time it took her to mature sufficiently to respond to my teaching, I had time to recognize, reconcile, and make plans for implementation of both of those, obviously, conflicting goals. Patti, my wife, was no help. She had neither a commitment to the two values, nor a defined philosophy of child rearing. Being confident and feeling competent for the task ahead, Patti refused to concern herself with a parenting philosophy, with goals, or specific child rearing plans.
Two Conflicting Goals
Fortunately, even though the goals of “doing what you are told” and “thinking for yourself” were diametrically opposed, I figured out a satisfactory way to accomplish both. The solution lay in the sequence in which they were taught. First I would teach Anna to think for herself. Then, second, having learned that lesson thoroughly, she would willingly do what she was told, because she decided to do so, not because I or anyone else made her do their will.
Apparently some parents, who are without a plan, expect to reverse that sequence. By teaching their kids to do what they are told, they assume someday, much later, their progeny will then think for themselves. WRONG! When parents eventually get through telling their child what to do, aided and abetted by authoritarian teachers, someother self-appointed authority will take over. Now, friends will tell him/her what to do. S/he will have learned that there are people older, wiser, and eager claiming the responsibility for telling him/her what to do and not do. Thinking for him/herself just complicates decisions.
Parental power, ownership of worldly goods, age, size, dominance, and persistence is sufficient to demand and get adequate conformity and obedience; but it can also get anger, apathy, resentment, retaliation, hostility, rejection, and violence. Neither my wife nor I ever struck either of our children in any way, ever. We believed that kids need to be taught, not controlled. We actually believed the creed expressed in, Children Learn What They Live by Dorothy Law Nolte – If a child lives with criticism; he learns to condemn if he lives with hostility; he learns to fight; if he lives with love…respect…dignity…etc.
I know of only two ways I can change anyone’s behavior – my kids, your kids, my students, my wife, relatives, neighbors, criminals—and one of them doesn’t work. However, so many people believe in and use the one that doesn’t work; I felt a need to throw it in so I could throw it out. The way people think behavior can be controlled is by coercion, intimidation, threat, bribery, force, reward, punishment, etc. Actually such tactics can work for a short while, or while the intimidator is present, but in the long run it always fails. Coercion teaches the wrong lesson and has the wrong message.
The Only Way to Change Behavior
To cause other people to change their behavior is to facilitate and encourage their own reasons for changing. They need to perceive the conditions and circumstances surrounding a situation in a different way. Causes of behavior lie inside of the behaver. Their behavior depends on the way they perceive situations. So, it is perception that must change; the behavior will change accordingly. But the perception cannot be changed from the outside. Only the perceivers can change it. If kids saw what I saw, they would do what I do. If they had in their heads and their understanding, what I have in mine, they would make decisions similar to mine.
“To influence” someone to see things the way I see things, requires open communication to understand each other’s perspective. Communication requires a willing, reciprocal relationship based on mutual understanding, love, trust, and respect. I cannot make you understand, love, trust, or respect me, but I can offer those, unconditionally, as my message to you. If I don’t like you and your choices, ideas, or beliefs; if I don’t feel you have my interest at heart; if I cannot identify with you; if I don’t want to be like you; or even if I don’t think I can be like you; I won’t listen to you, take your advice, or be influenced by you. However, there is one way I have a chance of getting you to listen to me; and that is by listening to you.
You Don’t Get to Choose Your Mother
In reflection, and with the preceding information above, the most important lesson I ever taught my two daughters is, “You don’t get to choose your mother.” You also don’t get to choose your father, siblings, relatives, teachers, neighbors, the weather, the genes that determine their size, or nationality, but I have simplified it. By the time you get your rear slapped, your eyes opened, your name conferred, and you figure out that the lady nursing you is your mother—it’s too late—“That lady IS your mother. You didn’t choose her and she didn’t choose you. The relationship is for eternity, maybe beyond. The mother-child relationship is permanent. Through parental divorce, disinheritance, court decreed custody, step-parents, and even death – that lady is and always will be your mother. And may I respectfully remind you, so will your other relatives forever be related.
I taught my daughters the mother-daughter lesson by calling their attention to an undeniable truth. “You cannot decide whether your mother reminds you of your responsibilities repeatedly, loudly, and unnecessarily—(not knowing any better my, girls called it nagging). You can’t determine whether your Mother chooses to yell, scream, and throw a fit, especially about you yelling, screaming, and throwing fits.
You Can’t Make Decisions for Your Mother
You should not expect a warning when she loses her temper and on a moment’s notice “grounds you” for two weeks, messing up two weeks of plans and dependent friendships. You can’t even decide whether she goes into a screaming fit when she finds your cosmetics, wet towels, and clothes strewn from one end of the bathroom to the other. However, if and when your reasoning ability returns, you can decide how you want to relate to a Mother who goes into a screaming fit or commits other dastardly parental misdeeds. The ways you decide to relate to her motherly style may make matters worse or better. It’s entirely up to you not her.
Some More Bad News
Learning that you don’t get to choose your mother may be bad news; but unfortunately, you can’t change her behavior, either! “I knew Patti years before you came along and I have not been able to change her, modify her behavior, or even get her to listen to me explain why she should. So, I would have no faith in your ability to change her or get her to listen to you, either. Your mother is your mother. You may not have chosen her, but you have her. Now, you have the opportunity to live with her until one day, after a long mothering apprenticeship followed by your own mothering experiences, you may look at your own kids and say, “I have become my mother.”
You do not get to choose your teachers. You cannot decide whether your teachers are unfair, mean, hard graders, or empathetic. You cannot decide whether your teachers are happy with their lives or their chosen profession, or whether they discriminate against girls. You can decide only how you want to relate to those teachers. Your methods and techniques of relating are entirely up to you. Your choices are yours to make and will undoubtedly determine your own success in classes, in your learning, and in the school.
And, the Ultimate Bad News
There is only one person in the world whom you can control, only one person whom you can change, and only one person whom you can be sure has your interest at heart, and always values your opinions; that person is you! And that, my dear daughters, is an immutable fact of life. A heavy burden, is it not?
With joy in sharing,