Welcome to the new year parents, grandparents and all lovers of children.
Brené Brown says,
Courage is to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.
Let me give it a try.
This is a long story – I might have to share it in parts. Please only continue if you can bear some darkness on the way to serenity.
I have started promoting my new endeavor, “Peace At Home Parenting,” and I see that promotion itself is quite challenging for me. I think it will get easier if I tell you what brought me to parenting education in the first place.
I was raised by a mother whose mother lost most of her family in the holocaust. When I was two years old, my mother went back to work and hired a black woman from the south whose ancestors were enslaved. My mother, my grandmother, and my care giver, Mildred, were all good, loving, hard-working women. And they were all traumatized by the aggression visited upon them and their ancestors. Trauma comes down through both genes and behaviors. It is passed on insidiously, even in families like mine that we might call “looking good.”
My first hint should have been the way I loved children, even as a child myself, and wanted to protect them and make them happy. The most obvious hint came when my own daughter finally decided to sit on the potty and I could never wait there for her. I always called Joe in to help – I would feel queasy, get a stomach ache or just “antsy” and want to get the heck out of there. Only after some reflection and a conversation with my older brother and my therapist did I realize that when Mildred came into my life at two years old, I would be emotionally hurt in a way that would set my life course.
Mildred had left her two young sons with her mother so Mildred could come up north to make some money and send it back to her family. She left her children to take care of my two older brothers and me. My brothers were in school all day and I was home with a sad, angry, grieving mother. One way Mildred expressed her grief and anger about her children, her family and her ancestors was the anger she expressed towards me because I wasn’t potty trained. Mildred used the only tools she had to “train” me – threatening, yelling and hitting. I never knew this story until I asked my oldest brother about what was happening when I was two years old. My body remembered as I waited for Annie on the potty, but I didn’t have the picture. Our bodies remember our losses and our fears. Our bodies remember the terror. We use a lot of strategies – food, sex, TV, technology, work, exercise, our own aggression – anything to get away from the story our bodies sometimes try to tell us.
I remember attending a workshop in my 30’s with my husband, Joe. We were asked to stand up in front of the group and declare our “mission.” I volunteered to stand up without actually knowing what I was going to say. I only knew that this powerful energy seemed to be coming up from my solar plexus and something inside me wanted to be said. I didn’t know what it was until the following words came out of my mouth: “My mission is eliminate aggression visited upon children in their homes.” The language seemed so archaic. The mission way too big. It took years before I saw myself actually working toward this seemingly impossible vision through teaching parents alternatives to yelling and punishing. It was at least 30 years before I sat down with a young, talented professor from the University of Connecticut who studied my parenting webinars and declared confidently, “Ruth, you’ve reached the gold standard of parenting education. Participants report decreased hostility after just one one-hour webinar.” The memory of my outrageous mission statement came flooding back. I had no words. And for those of you who know me, you know that’s pretty significant.
So on this first day of 2017 please understand the roots of “Peace At Home Parenting.” I have always wanted to be of service to children by supporting parents in meaningful ways. My daughter has inspired me to imagine this more as a business and therefore you will see me promoting this work for a fee. It is a bit terrifying to move into this “for-profit” world, specifically “marketing” (my daughter’s career choice – just to balance me out in the universe I guess – I was a “hippie” in the 60’s and believed money to be the root of all evil).
I ask you to understand where I came from, who I really am and continue to support my work in any way that you can. I am still me and now I am me as a business woman. If my promotions bug you, please let me know. If you are in financial need and still want to participate, please let me know. But please don’t turn away from the process of understanding where your own parenting challenges really come from and reaching for that tender prize for which we all long: true peace in our hearts and with our loved ones.
Thank you for getting all the way to this part of my story. Your companionship along the way – as participants in parenting classes, as family and friends, as willing clients, as curious observers, as sponsors of parenting classes, as parents who never stop seeking answers – means everything to me.
Blessings to us all in this new year.