I try to be tolerant, to keep my mind open, and approach all conflicts from a “what can I learn from this” point of view.
And I fail, often. One of the surest ways to encourage my tolerance needle to dip to zero is to mouth the phrase, “Children need structure.” Having seven children underfoot, my parents—my mom in particular—adopted structure as a survival mechanism.
We had a strict schedule for who was responsible for doing the dishes on which night. Everybody had assigned chores, and if my mother caught us idling, much less moping, she would volunteer to find something for us to do—in much the same tones as many adults promise to give a child “something to cry about.”
So for me, “children need structure” punches all the buttons that say routine is more important than the children it’s imposed on, that controlling children is the hallmark of successful parenting (or adulting)—which, of course, it is not.
Loving and caring for children are the hallmarks of successful parenting, and for each child, structure will have a place. If the child is well loved, the parent will develop a sense of how much and what structure suits that child—not the kid’s sibling, not the parent, not the European children studied in the latest Psychology Today round-up.
What I needed to be happy and productive, at least by the time I was three years old, was to be LEFT ALONE. I figured out what would accomplish that goal—appearing to be “good,” for one thing, being “academic” for another. When I was ten, I stumbled onto a piano bench, and in part because nobody bothered me when I was practicing, I practiced a lot.
I could rant on and on about the damage done in the name of providing every child, regardless of need, ability, or desire, “structure” so some hide-bound adult can get to bed at the same time every night. For every child wilting under that rigidity, however, another is failing math (again) because nobody gives a thought to their bedtime.
The point of this post is that I’ve identified an issue that makes all my normal, adult conflict management mechanisms charge headlong for the window. Right under that issue lie old hurts, tender spots that haven’t completely resolved. Structure for me implies suffering, it implies being ignored, being subjugated to another’s convenience, and being made invisible. Children need structure because children are messy, inconsiderate, and stupid—or so this child concluded.
The good news is that a hot button like this, when examined, can reveal a driving myth that has long outlived its usefulness.
I rely on my editor to give me deadlines, and that’s a good thing, because a deadline met gives a real sense of accomplishment and ensures a book will get the best possible launch positioning. I listen when my docs tell me it’s time for another mammogram. Routine has a place, a positive place, even in my life.
What’s a hot button for you? What inspired you to peek beneath it and turn down its heat?
To one commenter, I’ll send an audio version of Laura Kinsale’s “Prince of Midnight.”