Annie of PhD in Parenting is, in a role reversal, spending the summer as a SAHM while her family is in Berlin, Germany. Her daughter, almost the same age as the Boychick, is being very much a three year old in a new environment in an unfamiliar situation. Annie writes about it in Age three: defiance with a smirk, in which she talks about the “several battles taking place on this battlefield”, including:
Her battle to assert her independence … My battle to teach her empathy … Her battle to have mommy all the time … My battle to divide my time and get things done … Her battle to test her limits … My battle to stay away from the hospital.
This was my reply:
I do not, alas, have any magic answers for you. But what struck me1 reading through this was the antagonistic language you used, framing things in terms of “battles”. And certainly it’s no surprise that you feel that way, and I’m not going to say you “shouldn’t” (you are always allowed to feel how you feel!), or say I never feel that way (oh, how I do).
I will, however, say that the more I can reframe things using non-fighting language, the better I feel about a situation and the more creativity I have, and the more potential solutions open up to me. “Battles” necessarily have winners and losers; needs, however, can all be mutually met (even if it is difficult sometimes to see how, or they are best met sequentially rather than simultaneously). Work can be shared. Joy (she’s enjoying her independence, you enjoy alone time) is contagious. I wonder how your situation would change if you were able to conceptualize what’s going on in some of those frameworks.
I’m not saying it’s easy — far from it, in my experience — but the more I’m able to shift my thinking (without dishonoring my feelings in the moment), the more I am able to “discover new levels of patience or magic that were previously uncovered. … find things to say that will help her to understand. … enjoy every, or at least most, moments that we have together.” I want that for you, too.
(As an aside, my favorite course from college was “Peace Journalism”, which, among other things, pointed out just how pervasive metaphors of violence are in our language. Everything is a war, a battle, a fight; we deal low blows and stab people in the back; we have wars on terror and drugs and cancer; we fight for civil rights. Ever since then, I’ve been much more aware of my language, and whenever possible — not just in parenting — replace those metaphors with ones that are less two-sided, less antagonistic: we work, we labor, we strive. It’s been enlightening realizing that I don’t have to experience everything in terms of violence, even metaphorical violence.)
I didn’t include this in my reply, but I think these metaphors explicitly uphold and perpetuate kyriarchy: what more basic hierarchy — by which I mean way of placing some persons below/above others — is there than “winner” and “loser”? For these are what we create when we structure our language, our thinking, our culture on violence and battle, actual and metaphorical.2
Language shapes thought shapes actions: I think it does matter that from conception to death we are surrounded by and immersed in language that encourages violence and antagonism. I can’t change the language my child will be exposed to everywhere else in his culture, but I can, and to the best of my ability do and will, give him fluency also in language that encourages cooperation and mutuality.
- I realized right after hitting submit on the reply that this is yet another instance of violent metaphor sneaking into my speech. ↩
- And yet, neither am I interested in committing the relatively-minor violence of imposing a “should” on anyone else’s words: things often do feel like battles, like fights, like attacks, and I think it pointless at best to deny the way we feel for some external ideal of language. I am not trying to tell anyone with this what they should say or write, only to illuminate the way I find our language works in our culture, and to share what I have found when I have made a change. ↩