Saturday, April 23, 2011

Skydiver Parenting 2: Find Your Base Position

The first thing you learn as a budding skydiver is the base position, or arch. It's easy and simple and, like most deceptively simple stuff, utterly crucial. To get in the base position, lay down on your stomach with your arms out in front of your head and curl your arms and legs up. Imagine you're inside a big rectangle and your hands and feet are at the corners, being pulled up by four strings. It's also called the arch because your back will be arched. It looks like a backbend, upside down and not quite so bent.

It seems easy, but it's important. See, the arch is what saves you from a very bad parachute deployment. When you are hurtling towards the Earth from a very high place your body position determines what that fall will look like. If you are flopping around, waving arms and legs and doing the stuff they show on TV when someone falls from a high place then your descent will be decidedly un-pretty. You'll be flipping end over end, while rotating around your center and possibly heading end over end in a more diagonal direction. While changing direction almost constantly. While screaming, I'm sure. You'll be disoriented as all get out, and when your parachute opens (if you manage to deploy it while totally unaware of anything but your motion sickness) you will get tangled in your own lines and your parachute will become more like a fishing net. And you're the fish.

But an arch in mid-air is a totally different thing. When you are in the base position, you simply fall straight down to the ground. Your parachute, when it opens, is above you as you fall so the lines stay behind you and the air fills it quickly. These are good things because they get you under canopy, which is the first step to a safe and satisfying landing. An arch makes you stable and gives you control. Your arch lets you function. It saves your life.

Sounds pretty simple and one-size-fits-all, right? Well, not exactly. See, you can be in an arch and be falling safely but still be just a little bit out of control. It's called a flat spin. It means you are falling, belly towards the Earth, in a controlled descent, but you are rotating around your center. It might be a very slow spin, so slow you don't even notice it. It could be a fast spin, almost as disorienting as flopping in the air but not as dangerous. And, if it gets out of hand and you panic, it could become a dangerous situation. The solution is finding not just the base position, but YOUR base position. Everyone's truly stable arch is just a tiny bit different. Some people need to bring their legs in more. Some need to bring their arms out more. For me, it's an arm position that makes it look like I'm eating a cheeseburger. We're all special snowflakes in this regard.

Parenting is pretty similar. Instead of a base position for your body, it's a base position for your approach. There is a box in which we all must fall in order to be in a controlled descent. Some things are just not good, and it's not a question of style. Picture screwed up parenting as plummeting towards the Earth flopping all over. Substance abuse, violence, abandonment, neglect... these are end over end, flopping around, disoriented parenting behaviors. They are life threatening, much like flopping around while deploying your 'chute would be. You're going to get tangled up in the lines, and your kids will suffer for it.

But even if you manage to get a basic arch going and you're in a controlled fall, you can still be just a bit out of control. You can still have that feeling of a flat spin - that "why doesn't this seem to work properly?" sort of feeling. It's a gut instinct, when you know that things are not quite under control. It's not a disaster, per se, but you can't control your movements easily. Things seem to get "away from you" and you find yourself wondering why the things that sound easy keep turning out harder than you expected. You know what you are doing, why isn't it working?

Maybe it's not something your gut is telling you, but rather a good friend. I had a slow, flat spin skydiving problem for MONTHS and I didn't even know it. What I did know was that I couldn't figure out turns. My mid-air maneuvering never went the way it should have. I would do everything right and it would turn out wrong. When someone pointed out to me that I was spinning, I was shocked. I had never noticed. But on my very next jump I picked a point on the horizon to watch and was amazed to see it moving to the left. WTF? It might be a good friend who helps you see your spin. Maybe you never noticed how quickly you lose your temper with your kids. Maybe you noticed but never gave any real thought to the fact that you never take them anywhere because you are embarrassed by their behavior. Maybe you just haven't seen your stress level inching upwards. Maybe you actively ignore it and don't want to admit it.

If a friend comes to you with some tough observations about your parenting, it can be hard to listen. Really hard. Even harder than not punching them in the face when they tell you what they see. We're all very sensitive about our parenting, and we should be. It's very personal and it's very important. It reflects on our abilities. It reflects on who we are. And there's a billion other moms and experts standing in contrast to us, all making us look good or bad and making us feel like we have to make excuses for someone, be it us or them. It can be hard to talk to a friend in a parenting spin because you don't want to sound judgmental, pushy or stuck up. You don't want to alienate this person because you love them.

Sometimes being a friend means being honest about something not good you see in the other person. Sometimes being a friend means being receptive to the not good stuff in you. Sometimes being a true friend will mean hurting your friend's feelings to tell them the truth. Sometimes it means forgiving them for hurting you so you can accept their help. We all need help sometimes. There's no shame in it. If you're in a spin be honest with yourself and accept help. And then find YOUR base position.

But what is YOUR parenting arch? It's different for everyone, but there's some basic rules to follow.

One - you should be able to do it, daily, and stick with it for a long time. Ya know, like 18 years plus? If you have to force yourself to behave a certain way it will not work. That's not to say that any effort is bad. Or that your knee-jerk response should always be followed. There's an element of self-control in all parenting. But if you think a certain method or approach is stupid and ridiculous and you grit your teeth and want to throw things every time you have to use it, it's not right for you. For example, if you can't stand to watch your kiddos shiver, letting them go outside in the winter without their coat so they learn that they need it won't work for you.

Two - you should know why you are doing it. "Because so-and-so said to" and "because everyone else is doing it" are not good answers here. Every school of thought in parenting (that is worth following, at least) will give their reasons for their methods. They might point to developmental stages, research and studies, experience of a certain doctor or therapist. They might give psychological explanations, maybe physiological. At any rate, you should know why this method is supposed to work, what sort of kid it works with, and you should believe the claims. A good example is vaccinations. Some are for it, some are against. But no parent should forego vaccinations simply because all the other moms in the neighborhood did and they don't want to stick out or sound mean.

Three - you should have buy-in from your team. If you and your partner, spouse, or extended family have seriously different views on parenting, you need a "come to Jesus" meeting. First the parents should get on the same page, then they should present their approach collectively to the other people involved in caring for their young'uns. The first meeting is where all the real discussion happens, by the way. You should not ever allow anyone to undermine one parent or the other... or in some cases, both. Parents are the boss, and they need to own that role. Other people need to be told what the game plan is, and then held to it. Parents are the coach, other caregivers are the team. If you can't follow the play, you get benched.

Four - You should see results. If it's not working, it's not working. You know that whole dead horse, flogging thing? Yeah... that applies here.

1 comment:

  1. Dedicated to Nicole. Sorry it took so long. I promise the next one will come faster. :)