Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Psychology Today - Ticking Me Off All Week

Normally I really enjoy Psychology Today's blog, but lately, they're just honking me off.

First there was this post about "Why Your Child Cries."

Bottom line, "most of the kids, autistic or not, cry mainly for one reason: it works."


I wrote a lengthy comment, but with the way the website is set up, no one ever sees the comments, so I'm going to copy it here because I can.
I can think of a good half a dozen reasons why children cry that have nothing to do with manipulation. Stress, overstimulation, pain, fright, frustration, anxiety - and those are just off the top of my head. Hunger, fatigue, and other physical needs are other legitimate, non-manipulative reasons for crying.
Children cry to communicate, not to manipulate. Young and non-verbal children may cry because that is the only way they can express their needs. I've already learned the difference between my 6 week old baby's hungry cry and his tired cry. We're dealing with awful reflux that makes him scream, but he rarely cries because he knows that I'm here, responding to him and comforting him, and that he doesn't need to cry because his needs are met, in spite of his pain.
Your advice to "move slowly" so that the child won't learn that crying will get him his way seems misguided at best, and cruel at worst. Children of responsive, engaged parents cry far less - they learn that they don't need to get all wound up to get their needs met - whether they're autistic or not.
When my older children cry, I teach them to use self-calming techniques ("breathe," for example) and to communicate with words instead of tears, because I understand that their tears are an attempt to communicate with me, not to "get their way." I generally comfort them through the tears, "Calm down, it's ok," and once they're settled we talk about what happened and what needs to happen next. That's not being manipulated - that's being a loving, engaged, responsive, compassionate parent.
If nothing else, you should have fleshed this post out a LOT before publishing it. I think you recognize that there are legitimate reasons to cry (as you said, "Of course, that's not the only reason...") but you should talk about how to tell the difference between manipulative and other types of crying, and when it's ok to "move slowly."
I can't imagine anything sadder than being in real distress, and having the people I rely on to care for me move deliberately slowly in an attempt to... what? Show me who's boss??
Ironically, the very same night I wrote this, Mary Grace had a big old neon screaming hissy fit, pitched for the sole purpose of getting out of cleaning up...  But hey, I'm not stupid.  I know that kids DO manipulate, and when they do I react accordingly.  I just think it shows a fundamental flaw in one's parenting philosophy if one assumes that a kid is manipulating first, and attempts to find other reasons for crying later.

I finally calmed down from that one, and then I see this article today (comments seem to be disabled, so I'll just comment here).  Fortunately, this time the author seems to agree with me - although we arrive at the same conclusion via two very different routes.

The author of the post seems to think that all parents have some bizarre version of Stockholm Syndrome - that we love our kids because we can't quit them, so like a kidnapping victim we fall in love with our captors.  Not only do I think that's a weak argument, I think it shows a basic, fundamental flaw in psychology's interpretation of how people operate.  (Besides - people can and do quit their kids every day, whether they physically leave or just mentally check out - it happens all the time).

Psychologists seem to equate happiness with a lack of work.  (Maybe that's why they became psychologists?  Who else gets paid so much to sit around and say, "Tell me more about that..."?  Sure beats construction when it comes to ease!*)  I, however, have noticed that when I look back over my life, the times when I worked the hardest are the times that bring me the most joy.

Here's the best example I can come up with - I went to IU and slacked off and partied and watched soap operas for two years before I dropped out.  Later, I returned to college at Purdue, where I worked my ass of to maintain an awesome GPA, was on the Dean's List every semester, and I worked full time while doing it.  Guess which time period in my life I look back on more fondly.  Purdue, hands down.  It wasn't because I was with BJ when I was at Purdue - I had boyfriends at IU too.  It wasn't because I had more friends at Purdue - in fact, I left some of my best friends behind when I left IU.  It certainly wasn't because working 40 hours a week and taking 15 - 18 credit hours was easy.  No, I look back at my time at Purdue fondly because I worked hard, and I did something difficult (earning a degree) that not everyone can do.  My self-esteem was higher at Purdue because I was achieving - I was earning it!  That hard work paid off.

I had this job once where I was paid about $10, maybe $12 an hour to do NOTHING.  I was in an office alone, working for this internet service provider, and their main office was in another town.  I have no idea why they maintained the local office, but for whatever reason they decided that they needed a person there to provide "customer service" to the one person a week who came in to pay their bill, and the two or three people a day, at most, who called.  I also had to do something or another if the power went out.  The power never went out.  A lot of people think that making that kind of money in their early 20s (in the late 1990s) for absolutely ZERO effort would be awesome.  Those people are wrong.  I was miserable.  I was lonely and bored and tired and cranky.  The days crawled by so slowly.  It absolutely sucked.

Ease does not equal happiness, no matter what your shrink tells you.  If you solved all of your current problems you'd simply find yourself new problems.  It's part of being human. 

So, yes, parenting is really hard.  It's "the toughest job you'll ever love," in more ways than I can count.  But the difficulty, the struggle, is what makes it great!  Without struggle, there is no opportunity to learn and grow and change...  And that's why we'll all look back on our childbearing and childrearing years fondly when we're old and we have nothing that we have to do - not because they were easy, but because they were hard, and through that difficulty we grew and learned and became better versions of ourselves.

Well, that, and because kids are just cute and snuggly and fun, but everyone knows that.

* Edited to add:  The part about psychologists not working is just a joke.  I'm well aware that one doesn't need to break a sweat to work hard, I was just kidding.  Tell me more about how it made you feel when I made that joke.  :)

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