On Saturday, December 31, 2005 I wrote a blog about the reappearance of what I consider to be very damaging childraising methods, and how I believe my experience with this method has colored my life. The method in the article I was referring to is known as "Ferberizing", which involved strict feeding and sleeping schedules, and discouraged "coddling". Ferberizing was the standard child raising technique of our culture when I was an infant. My parents were conscientious and they did what they thought best according to the information they had available to them. I am very grateful to both my parents and love them dearly.
I received this comment from an anonymous reader whom I assume is a family member:
Patty and I have enjoyed reading your blog. We both feel that your writings have improved in quality and clarity. Yet I find some of your comments puzzling ... lately ideas about what is fact and what is fiction in a person's memoirs seems to be a big topic of discussion. You say "My parents, who must love me (right?) would not leave my out in the cold for long stretches of time unless I had done something wrong." and "When I had kids I did everything in my power to ensure that they would not experience this despair." Did you do everything in your power to save your children from despair? I recall their stories of frost on their faces on desperately cold mornings and days without food.We don't even need to talk about physical abuse. Your children have survived a very challenging childhood and yet they do not seem to hold anything against you. Yet you seem to hold many things against our parents. I don't think you can compare being snugly wrapped in a blanket on a porch in a perambulator... getting some healthful sunshine and fresh air, to freezing despite numerous layers of blankets and clothing because no one got up to light the stove. I think you are somehow blending the lines between what was your experience and what were the experiences of your children. We plan to continue to read and enjoy your blog, but I must say we will look at it as partial fiction.We all are trying to come to grips with our lives and where we have come, as we move into our new middle stages. I think we need to understand and accept both the good and the bad about what we have done in our lives so that we and others may learn from our experiences.I feel that my mother and I have a good relationship and understanding of each other and her love has sustained me through difficult times, knowing she had it much worse and came through beautifully.
Perhaps "anonymous"feels the need to to defend my mother, but there is no attack intended. We all find ourselves in a world over which we sometimes have very little control, especially as children. The best we can do for each other is have compassion and understanding.
Having said that, I would like to point out that during the time frame when the boys and I did experience cold winters and difficult conditions they were teenagers and we all shared the same experience. Believe me, they had no problem expressing their opinions and desires, or of rectifying the situation for themselves, Each of the boys was quite capable of lighting a fire for himself, cooking a meal or bundling up. During this timeframe, Ben, for example enjoyed survival camping in the snow with his friends. Most of the time the guys were into it.
This is a very different situation from that of a newborn infant who can't say what she needs, or do something about the situation.
NO parent is perfect. We all can complain and that's OK. What is important is to be heard, and not marginalized for saying what you need to say.
"I told the story of frost on my blanket from my breath. The fire was stoked and fully loaded every night, but the home-made stove was not airtight and it went out 4 hours later.
Parts of our house were insulated with salvaged materials like sawdust, and on some -40 degree Canadian winter nights, the temperature in the house did get below freezing. We were all quite adept at bundling up and had enough blankets.
I tell this story with some pride, describing how we learned to tuck and wrap the blanket over our whole bodies with just our nose and mouth exposed where the frost formed, and how on those nights we would wake in this position in the morning. I was not cold in my blankets, and because I woke first for my 1 hour ride to highschool, I lit the fire almost every weekday morning.
I feel strongly that these types of experiences have allowed me to have a resilience and a different perspective from those who have never really experienced life outside the air-conditioned, thermostatically regulated, commercially-driven experience we know as living in America.
I have had my days like railing at mom for having Whitney, our ex step-father in our life. I experienced one incident of corporal punishment from him as a 17 year old when I was ready to leave the nest. Mom never condoned any corporal punishment, and consistently nurtured our expression, exploration, and the development of our individual identities.
I did feel despair as a teenager, which I think is healthy. It was not despair about a lack of love or nurturing, but with my highschool classmates, the state of the world, or the condition of our ramshackle house.
In those years and subsequently, we have been as loving, nurturing, sharing, honest, and joyful a group as any family I know. If the kind of abuse, deprivation, and lack of nurturing and respect "anonymous" has imagined from our stories (and loves to whip out to keep mom off her high horse) existed, my brothers and I would not be the physically and emotionally healthy, creative, intelligent, sensitive human beings that we are. Neither would our family choose to live together from time to time as we have, which is extremely noteworthy in our atomic family culture.
I think we all have to be careful about the images we paint of each other. I think one of the main reasons "the family" has dissolved in our culture is because of the pigeonholing that happens in families, and the re-emphasis of perceived negative character traits that happens as a result of the the struggle for love, resources, and recognition all humans in relationship to each other.
Ultimately, I believe it is the feeling of being loved, accepted, and cared for, and that an honest attempt to understand and be understood by your parents is what separates a good childhood from a bad one. "