Becoming Resilient––Anne Mason and Thea Mason

My sister Thea Mason and I discuss the concept of benign neglect in parenting, as well as in all our relationships, to help everyone build the necessary resilience to face life’s challenges.

Transcript below:

Anne:                                         00:02                       Hi Thea!

Thea:                                         00:03                       Hi, Anne!

Anne:                                         00:03                       So today we’re going to talk about resilience. And we come to this, I come to this partly because I have been seeing an overemphasis I think on people’s victimization in this culture, in this society, in, throughout our history on too much emphasis in my opinion on victim hood and identifying with our victimhood rather than identifying with our strengths and our empowerment. And we won’t get too into this, but the last conversation we had was…we talked about empowerment. What is empowerment? And you pointed out that this word has been, it’s thrown around a lot and it’s used a lot, but I think we need to get clear about what is empowerment and what is, what is resilience? How do we become resilient? How do we remain resilient to face the challenges that inevitably we face throughout our lives?

Thea:                                         01:31                       And one of the colorings I think that we had spoken about in regards to the dynamic of victimhood is this the functioning of victim mindset to look to the world, to change, to make the victim feel better. To ask for that, which is outside to alter. And one of the dynamics we’ve spoken about is really this is a relationship, right? So you have the individual in its victim state or non victim state relating to the world. And both of them have to be inter interacting and connecting together. Impressing upon one another to, sorry, helicopter to enact change and development as a, as a species, as a culture and so on. And so when the victim hood is getting stuck in this one direction dynamic to the outside world, we’re really not going anywhere good. So that’s one part. And then we were talking about what is it that, what is it that can cultivate resilience and speaking as parents, as mothers, we’re looking at, okay, what is, what does that mean for parenting?

Thea:                                         02:55                       You know, there’s numerous parenting books and styles, everything. Well, what is the, the function of the parent to be able to bring forth, can we pause? Sorry, my timer’s going off. I forgot.

Anne:                                         03:11                       So just to come back after that interruption, you were talking about parenting what kind of parenting? The type of parenting that really helps children become the type of adult that can weather the storm as opposed to being demolished by it and demanding that the world change or stop or alter to accommodate their inability to handle that. Right? So that, that’s my take on it. Right?

Thea:                                         03:54                       Right. And, and within that take, I mean, we did, we talked about there’s a difference between the demanding gesture and the commanding gesture. And within that, I feel like it’s important just to have those moments to distinguish, I think recognizing the difference of just, “Hey, pull yourself up by the bootstraps and you just do it.” And that’s true. And when there are true things that need altering in a culture, that is that, that’s that picture of that pressing. We have to change one another in that relationship to evolve.

Anne:                                         04:31                       Exactly. We, right. And, and in the last conversation, in another conversation that we had had, I said, you know, the extreme version is that idea of throwing a kid into the water before they know how to swim and, “sink or swim.” Right? And that people may have learned to swim that way back back when. Okay. But that’s not ideal either because that’s traumatizing as well.

Thea:                                         04:55                       And then probably they don’t like to swim. Right? So, so and so talking about the distinguishing, what is that characteristic or style of parenting and through many conversations over the years, I had coined it as benign neglect, ah, as a parenting style or as a parenting tool. And so here we get to talk about how that that dynamic can be utilized as a parent with a child. It can also be utilized as a friend to a friend or a partner to a partner in whatever dynamic. And essentially it is when the child or friend or whomever is in a problem, in a struggle of sorts, whatever that is, that, that you as the, or me as the support, the friend, the parent, the guide is clear about where they are with their problem and where I reside with myself. Therefore I’m not getting into their problem with them and taking it over and trying to fix it, but I can be a supportive tool or a guide to help them find their way to their own solution.

Anne:                                         06:24                       Yes. So it’s, because in, in another conversation that we had talked about, you know, it’s, it’s not helicopter parenting, right? It’s also not “Cry it out.” Right?

Thea:                                         06:45                       Right.

Anne:                                         06:45                       It’s, it is allowing the child the space to struggle and prove something to him or herself really is what it is. And you had identified this in another conversation. It’s also letting that child or partner or friend know that you’ve got the utmost faith in them to be able to do it. And so much faith that you don’t have to fix it for them or do it for them or make it easier. And one of the examples we had touched on was in a very basic way that most parents understand, and I think this is, it’s interesting when we were talking about the knowingness, before? I don’t know that any parent, I’ve never seen any parent interfere with the, the, the, the baby who is struggling desperately to get up on their hands and knees to crawl.

Anne:                                         07:55                       We instinctively know somewhere deep inside of us that the only way that baby is going to move forward is if we allow them to do it themselves. No matter how much their crying and frustrated and you can see it in their face, right? We all allow our kids to do that. The key I think is to continue doing that throughout their lives and to do that with anyone else. But it, it doesn’t mean, I mean if you know, if danger is coming and the kid’s right in the midst of learning how to crawl, we’re not going to just let them do that and come to harm, right? So there’s a balance.

Thea:                                         08:40                       There’s a balance and that muscle has to be exercised so that we can tune into what that is, that dynamic of healthy struggle as opposed to endangering pain. So for ourselves as parents to our children and for ourselves as individuals experiencing pain, I mean it’s such a, such a, such a layered web of becoming an identifying reality as such, you know, in terms of what happens in that moment if we, if I as a parent take my child out of that moment of struggle when it was good, healthy struggle, I have robbed them of their own experience of proving something to themselves. I have also robbed myself as the parent of allowing that growth that occurs for our children to become more individual, separate from the parent. If I take take that child up before it’s time. I didn’t quite hit that well, but…

Anne:                                         09:56                       I know, I know what you were getting at just to because the, the parent, it’s an, you know, we’re doing a, we’re dancing with our kids, especially those first 18 or so years. And if we don’t allow them to do that in front of us, then we’re also robbing ourselves of that knowledge that our kids are actually going to be okay.

Thea:                                         10:25                       Right. And I mean, and then you know, that can I kind of lost where I was going, but it kind of, it can get so hijacked for so many reasons. And, and sometimes you’ll see this with parents who, you know, I can’t remember. It’s some syndrome of some sort or some complex that it’s called when a parent needs a child to be sick? So there’s, so that’s like an extreme distorted dynamic of it, to be needed. Yeah. there is, and then as you’re talking about a child learning how to press up into hands and knees I don’t know what’s on the market these days, but I do know that there are things provided for babies to sit up before they’re ready to sit up, there are things provided for babies to stand before they’re ready to stand…

Anne:                                         11:13                       Or to walk. Walkers, right?

Thea:                                         11:14                       Or to walk. So we have these things that are in our broad culture that are, are pushing us away from the intrinsic instinctual and intuitive parenting that we have with our children.

Anne:                                         11:35                       Right? It’s shortchanging everybody. Yeah. Right.

Thea:                                         11:38                       And so again, so what those things are doing and we can map that back to pregnancy, I mean to, you know, it’s like everywhere that it’s, it’s pulling us away from exercising that muscle of instinct and the other side of that, intuition. Those two sides of knowing beyond the factual seeing.

Anne:                                         12:00                       Beyond the parenting book that tells you, “In this situation, allow your child to learn to climb the tree but don’t make the, make sure the tree isn’t so high” or something like that. We have to get past that. We have to instinctively know. And, and that, that comes from the beginning and practicing this from the beginning when the risks are very low.

Anne:                                         12:23                       Right? So when it’s just learning to rollover learning to grasp it’s to allow the child, the, the full capacity and range to go through their struggle and overcome that step by step by step.

Thea:                                         12:42                       Yes. That muscle grows continuously.

Anne:                                         12:47                       You can, and you know, this would be another conversation, but I didn’t even think, you know, fever. Right? Or all of the other things that our body does, right? It’s like, or pain. The pain relievers. Our obsession with pain relief on every level. Our obsession with not allowing people to be depressed for very normal reasons. Like grief. I remember when our folks died, you know, and you know, people offering to prescribe medication to minimize our grief. Right? No! We have to grieve and move through that in order to come out the other side. Anyway.

Thea:                                         13:28                       Well, one more thing I think, I mean it’s, I know it’s so fun and exciting to explore the ideas and see all the avenues where they’re connected. But one of the other parts was in that experience of struggle and frustration and discomfort, you know, as parents, we are, it’s such a huge responsibility in terms of identifying and naming things for our children. So, so rather than that struggle, that hard work that makes their muscles tired rather than that being pain, that’s frustration and strengthening. But if it has been named as pain, I mean, I’m using this, pushing up on my hands and knees, but it can be so many other things. You know, as, I’ve worked with kids who, oh, they have sore muscles and it feels like pain because they don’t yet know how to name that as, “my muscles are sore because I use them in a new way.” So just the importance of that identifying and naming of something. And if we don’t allow that healthy struggle, when we, when that resistance comes at us in a, in an uncomfortable way, a child who has not had the experience of going through that resistance, feeling that resistance and coming out the other end may think, whoa, that’s pain.

Anne:                                         14:57                       Or there’s something wrong here, which relates to something we’ve talked about before, which is what you’d said, being okay with being uncomfortable, being comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Thea:                                         15:10                       Yes. Getting comfortable in the discomfort. And that is parents, I mean, that’s like one of our first jobs, getting comfortable with that discomfort of everything that’s going to be coming our way, raising children into the world. And if we can get comfortable there, our kids can get comfortable there and find their own way with it and not uh…

Anne:                                         15:41                       Avoid it. Not avoid it. Right?

Thea:                                         15:43                       Yeah. Yeah.

Anne:                                         15:44                       Um you know, which also reminds me of other things we’ve talked about. A conversation we had had about just, you know, even in a household, I mean, I’ve talked to other friends of mine about this, but you know, my husband and I fight, right? We don’t take it behind closed doors and then come out after it’s all resolved. The kids see us fight, the kids see us resolve it. Right? And I, you know, some might think might say we’re, we’re a little too, you know, just, it’s all, it’s all out here, right? There’s but hold on one sec.

Anne:                                         16:33                       Okay. So anyway, so yeah, just, just, just in, in regards life’s problems, right? Obviously everything has to be developmentally appropriate. I’m not going to introduce my kids to worldly problems that are not impacting them right now, that they’re not ready, I feel to handle yet, but bit by bit, I think that we can, you know, we need to find a flow in which we’re not contriving the world. You know, the, the, there is a struggle. The human experience is, is, and can be a struggle. It’s, there is beauty in the struggle, right? And, and we overcome. And we triumph. And so, so how do, how do we, how do we guide our children to learn that and know that in themselves?

Thea:                                         17:34                       Well one of the things you had said in our conversation another time was really the task of the parent is to allow for the safe creation of a practice world for the child. And I would tie that even into our, our last conversation we shared about games. That’s what games do, right? There our practice world for meeting challenges and all these different dynamics, social dynamics and such. And as parents, if we can allow for that practice world, the struggle can happen. The conflicts can happen. And when there’s need for intervention, we’re there. But the need is so much, so much less frequent than we think.

Anne:                                         18:24                       And let me interrupt something cause it, it makes me realize something that’s worth saying. I think the reason that we have gone this whole other direction is because our generation, maybe even the generation before came from more authoritarian, an extremeness the other way, that we’ve been trying to, we’re reacting to that. And people may be, perhaps are going overboard in, in sparing children, any pain, any pain, any struggle, right?

Anne:                                         19:02                       Which also goes into this whole idea of giving your kids boundaries and guidelines too, right?

Thea:                                         19:11                       Yes. It’s not a free for all!

Anne:                                         19:13                       Exactly. We both live in areas where a lot of people read a lot of books about parenting. And I think there’s sometimes a tendency to, in order to allow the child to freely express themselves they’re not giving the child enough enough boundary to push against.

Thea:                                         19:40                       Right. And so what that also sparks for me in that is, you know, really when I was thinking about this benign neglect, it was sort of like how to raise the child that you’ll like as an adult. That you’ll like to be around as an adult.

Anne:                                         19:57                       Okay. We’re back.

Thea:                                         19:58                       So I believe I was talking about this idea of how do you raise a kid you’re going to like as an adult and ideally, hey, that you mostly like when they’re a kid as well. There’s going to be periods where you don’t, you know. That’s, that’s appropriate. And we were talking a little bit earlier about how allowing for or giving the space of a benign neglect practice of parenting allows for a young person or anyone to develop their own relationship with, with what is good and true to build a muscle with those activities and ways of relating to the world. And if those ways are practiced and that relationship with what is good and true and beautiful is strengthened, then they’re able to come into the world and touch in with those qualities and know when they’re in line with those qualities and when they’re not.

Anne:                                         20:59                       Without someone else telling them.

Thea:                                         21:04                       Right. So that goes to this idea of approval, external approvals or not. So you also made a comment about Orson Scott Card saying that, an author, saying you’re not really truly an adult until…

Anne:                                         21:18                       Until you stop worrying about what other people think of you. And I, and I qualified this when we talked about it before that of course it makes sense to regard and check in with those you love and respect, or those you respect really, because we all need to be checked sometimes. And we all need the feedback from the outside world to really, to have some perspective on ourselves, some objective perspective. But, you know, and this is a conversation for another time, but I think even our educational system is geared toward training people from very early ages to seek approval, to seek authoritarian approval, really authority’s approval or seek someone’s approval uh in order to move forward. And I think the key is to raise people who have a, the word you’ve used is compass, who, who have a compass, a keen compass. That over time allows them to sense when they are behaving badly, basically.

Anne:                                         22:40                       Right? Or going down the wrong path. Because it’s not about behaving badly. It’s also about behaving purposefully. There are some great figures in history, many who have gone forward because they, their compass told them and directed them so, and much of the world thought they were crazy, but they ended up being the movers.

Thea:                                         23:10                       Well, and, and I feel like, I just want to fill that in a little bit because I think developmentally, you know, there is an appropriate time to look to your teacher, your guide, your parents for approval. That is a healthy, appropriate thing. But the task is then for that dynamic to evolve. So when that teacher, parent you know, is doing a good job, they get to where they don’t, that the student isn’t looking for the approval anymore because the approval is in the doing or the, the act itself. And so that’s just, that’s a dynamic of teaching that gets distorted, as well.

Anne:                                         23:55                       Right, right. And parenting, teaching and parenting, right? Because if, if the teacher or the parent is not mindful enough of their own stuff to, to do their best to regard that other being that other person as a separate.

Thea:                                         24:17                       Free being.

Anne:                                         24:19                       Yeah. As a separate free being, having their own growth, their own challenges, their own struggles that don’t reflect on us. One way or the other, right? If they can do that, they’ll go a long way toward healthily giving their approval or disapproval when the child needs it.

Thea:                                         24:43                       Yeah. Right. And knowing when those moments are which is so key and that really, so…Two things out of that, if I can keep it. One was, you know, touching on traumas before I go into that. The other part I wanted to accent is, so in terms of that, that trauma that, that we can get caught up in, which doesn’t allow that person to go through their own struggle of their own that isn’t ours.

Anne:                                         25:15                       Let, let, let me clarify that…what we had talked about in another conversation was that it is often our own traumas as parents that influence us to not want to let the child struggle through their necessary struggle. Right? We want to spare them the traumas that we had, which is why it’s so important to become conscious of our traumas, identify them and work through them in whatever healthy way we can. Not get stuck in them and project them onto our children as well. So we had talked about that which…Traumas probably needs to be its own conversation, and I’ve seen our time. We’re pretty long.

Thea:                                         26:09                       So really it’s, it’s the notion if we’re just to pull these things together, the notion, oh I got it. Really the work is individually as parents, individually as a a partner or friend, is that work of clarifying our own ah, work, our own habits that either take us into good things or bad things or, and good healthy relationship practices.

Thea:                                         26:37                       And the more we do that individually, the more that simply translates into how we are going allow another human being to develop freely. If we are working on freeing ourselves from whatever is externally pressing in upon us in terms of teachers’ approval judgments…

Anne:                                         27:01                       Pain. Headaches, body aches emotional aches. If we can face those, step by step every day and move through them and prove to ourselves that we’re all okay, we’re all going to be okay. Just keep moving forward. Right? We are powerful beings. We can handle a lot. If we can do that, and be mindful of it for ourselves, that helps us to be more mindful of it for our children. It helps us to be more mindful of it for our friends, for our partners and for all the members of society around us, right? To be compassionate. And respectful. But to have such faith in each other, that, that we are capable of overcoming. And become resilient, right?

Thea:                                         28:00                       Absolultely. Becoming resilient. Yes.

Anne:                                         28:05                       And so maybe, maybe in another one we may flesh out more material examples of that, you know, with, you know, beyond the, the crawling.

Thea:                                         28:13                       Right. Taking it into stages of development, even relationship dynamics or struggles that can come up. That would be really good fun.

Anne:                                         28:27                       Yes. Good work for all of us.

Thea:                                         28:29                       Good work for everybody. All right. Thank you Anne.

Anne:                                         28:32                       Thank you, Thee. All right. See you next time. Bye.

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