One of my beliefs is that parents have to be solid enough so that our children can stand on our shoulders to see further than we have. If that happens, then the entire human race might truly become humane.
I was a single mother back in the days when there weren’t many of us around. When I look back now, I’m not sure how I raised a daughter on my own and worked at an acting career.
Diane Ladd, with daughter Laura Dern
Let’s take a moment and sing the praises of all single working mothers out there. They don’t call it a mother lode for nothing, because this type of life can be a real load. Today there are many single fathers out there as well, and my hat is also off to them.
The first lesson I learned as the single parent of a daughter is that you have to let each other off the hook. If you make your child feel guilty, she’s going to hate you. Guilt and resentment are entwined in a kind of negative pas de deux. (And you shouldn’t make adults feel guilty either).
Relating to kids at their level of emotional development makes them feel validated, whereas talking down to a child is patronizing and can lead to feelings of inferiority. You can treat kids in a childlike way, but not childishly; the latter comes with all kinds of judgments.
Now, let’s say your child does something wrong, which everyone will do from time to time. Rather than resorting to strident authority and fear-based parenting, let the child off the hook once in a while — not all the time, but every now and then.
When my little girl, Laura, did something a bit naughty, I didn’t jump right to the age-old “Go to your room!” Instead, I’d look at her and say, “All right, here’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna go out and have a malted milk and talk about this.” I guarantee that your child’s jaw will hit the floor — and he or she will listen!
Understand that you’re not encouraging improper behavior. You go get the malted milk and say, “I thought it would be nice if we shared something sweet while we talked. I’m not giving you the malt because you did something wrong. And, by the way, because you did do something wrong, you can’t go to a movie this weekend.”
I never ended the talk on a negative note. I’d always add, “But, honey, I want you to know that you’re loved. I also want you to know that we all do wrong things. I want to help you do things right. And if you don’t understand what to do, just talk to me. “Use your words.” Then put your arms around your child and hug her. Hopefully, the next time, she won’t be afraid to come and tell you that she did something wrong.
I think it’s sad that many parents take the opposite approach. They wait at the kitchen table for their child to return home and bark, “Get your butt over here! You did something horrible!” I think that I’ve figured out why certain folks do that: They’re still terrified of their own parents, and remain scared of their own childhoods. As kids, these people were told that they didn’t do things right. As grown-ups, they’re still afraid of making mistakes — and God forbid their child should make one!
It’s tragic to me when I run into people who were abused either physically or emotionally as children. Just so you’re aware, there are currently approximately 374,270 registered child molesters in the United States. Beware! Protect your child.
I’m certainly not saying I’m a perfect parent. I don’t believe anyone fits that description! I made a lot of mistakes as a mother, and Laura will mess up with her children, and my grandchildren will do the same with theirs. What’s important is to be able to say that you really tried.
The other day someone asked me if I believed in spanking. I can understand how a parent might get caught in an emotional spiral that leads them to get physical with their children. However, I don’t believe that “to spare the rod is to spoil the child.” No way! Talk it out, even when you don’t think the words are working. They’ll get through eventually, and you’ll be glad that you didn’t go down the other path.
It’s important to listen to your child with the “ear” of your heart because it engenders mutual respect. I tried to really hear my daughter, encouraging her to feel that she would always be safe coming to me to talk about anything. I’ll never forget the afternoon when Laura was 13 and came home from school, put her books down, grabbed some ice cream, and calmly stated, “You know, Mother, a lot of kids in my class have already had sex.”
Her utterly shocked, nearly hysterical mother froze on the outside. Inside, a rapidly pounding heart silently shook my entire body. But forcing myself to be calm and rational, I asked in a quiet voice, “Well, honey, how do you feel about that?”
Laura took several bites of her ice cream, sighed, and responded with the wisdom of the innocent. “Well, even though their bodies may be ready for sex, emotionally they’re not prepared to exchange energy with another human being.” I was stunned, and thought, If only we could teach all of our children the meaning of that statement, this would be a better world.
The point is that we must show our children how to make choices that are good for them to bring the results they really want, rather than providing a momentary pleasure that might complicate their lives. It’s still a good idea to look before you leap.
On that day over ice cream, I said to my wise daughter, “That’s really a mature opinion, Laura. I’m so impressed with your point of view.” She grinned happily, made some popcorn and went to get the checkers game.
DIANE LADD’s new book, “Spiraling Through the School of Life” (Hay House, $19.95), covers her journey to release anger and learn to forgive; discover some good old-fashioned Southern home healing; and find the right way to eat and stay active. She has been nominated for three Emmys and three Oscars, and is the recipient of 23 other international awards. Diane and her daughter, Laura Dern, made show business history as the only mother/daughter duo to be nominated for an Oscar in the same film. For more information on her book, visit www.dianeladd.com.