Always advice from Granny Witch


By Geneviève Hone

Where There Is A Family

There's always advice from Granny Witch

Am I mean when I mean it?

Hone, small image.

Dear Granny Witch,

I have never asked a grandmother or a witch for advice. My father always said it was up to the husband to solve his family’s problems, and don’t air your dirty laundry in public. I guess that today I am disobeying his orders. I don’t think he’ll mind though as he has been dead for years and I can speak my mind.

It’s funny that I should mention “disobeying” because this is exactly what I want to ask you about. I was brought up to obey and honour my parents. That meant: never talk back, don’t argue, never voice an opinion unless specifically asked to do so, and whatever you are asked to do, do it right now. As strict as they might have been, my parents were nevertheless very good people who would not have hurt a fly except to kill it, but that was because we lived on a farm and there were just too many flies around.  

My wife was also raised on a farm, but a smaller one than ours. Her parents were very much into the “homesteading” movement and they had moved their family from the city to a patch of land to grow their own food and homeschool their children.  My wife’s parents were very open with their children; they discussed everything in front of them including their sex life and they continually encouraged their kids to look inside their hearts, feel their energy and decide how they wanted to behave. To sum it up, in my family, we heard “No! Now! Don’t make me repeat this.” In my wife’s family, they heard: “Yes! Whenever you’re ready! Let me explain once more.”

Before we married, my wife and I agreed that we would not educate our children as we had been raised. We would be firm with the children to have them obey, yet show them respect and understanding. But it turned out that we were better parents before we actually had children, so to speak, because our kids do not obey us. We say: “Go pick up your room. Bring down your laundry. Go do your homework. Put your toys away. Empty the dishwasher.” They pretend they haven’t heard, or they argue that it’s not their turn, they procrastinate, they complain that we ask too much of them or they want to “negotiate” as in “How much will you pay me if I shovel the front porch?” We spend our waking hours repeating... and repeating... and repeating.

My wife and I are fed up with our kids’ attitude. We try to support each other, but we argue on how to solve this problem. We have attended lectures at the community centre on parenting unruly children and we have read two books, one of which you authored, Granny Witch. It’s the same message everywhere. “Children need firmness, direction, structure, consistency. It’s scary for children when parents abdicate.” We get it, Granny Witch. But all this lovely advice hasn’t worked for us. Today’s kids are bright and they know how to manipulate their parents. Can you teach my wife and me how to manipulate back? If you can avoid recommending firmness and consistency, it would be much appreciated.

Signed: “Fed Up”

Dear Fed Up,

  Image: Non non non non, by Julien Mercure.
  Image: Non non non non, by Julien Mercure.

So you don’t want an “expert” to once again remind you that in a well-functioning family the big people must provide protection, limits and structure to allow the little people to explore, play, learn and develop in safety and joy. I’m quite happy to avoid the usual recommendations since most parents already know the importance of being firm and consistent with their children, and if they don’t, their families, friends and in-laws will certainly inform them! So, instead, I’m inviting you to reflect on your own behavior.

Start by asking yourself how you obey or disobey now that you are a responsible adult. You mention you were brought up by very strict parents. Do you obey too often, today, because you haven’t learned to say “no”?  For instance, do you wear the blue sweater that has been given to you because everybody says blue is your best color, even though you dislike that color and the sweater itself? Or, on the contrary, do you disobey too often just because you are fed up with being told what to do? Do you say no because you can’t stand saying yes?  For example do you consider speed limits and no smoking signs to be mere opinions?

You don’t mention the age of your children, but from your examples, I understand that they are of school age. You will however remember the NO stage, around two. It is at that time that children begin to perceive themselves as different from their parents, and the way they choose to manifest this difference is by saying “NO!” often, strongly, determinedly. They need to do this in order to start acquiring independence of thought and action. They are learning important skills for their adult life where they will strive to find the right balance between compliance and noncompliance.

You say you are fed up with repeating. Good. Time to change that behavior! Picture yourself telling your child to do something. He or she doesn’t immediately obey and you find yourself saying the same thing six more times. After the seventh time, he or she finally seems to grasp your message and complies.  So we might assume that something happened between the sixth and seventh time that helped the child understand that this time you really meant it, but what is this change?

To help identify the nature of this change, take paper and pencil and write: “Between the sixth and seventh time ...” and then finish the sentence with whatever comes to your mind. For example, “Between the sixth and seventh time, I heard a voice inside of me say ‘Enough. What I am asking for is fair. I am 28 years older than this child and it’s my job to give orders in my house, not because my parents were too strict or not enough, but because this is my job as a parent.’ ” Write six or seven more sentences in the same manner, without censure. Put the paper aside, and in a couple of days, read what you have written. Let yourself be intrigued by what you wrote to become aware of what happens when you speak your mind and not somebody else’s!

Invite your wife to do the same exercise and share your thoughts, feelings and history with each other. Discuss your aims, how you’d like things to change. Tell each other what kind of support you need. Make plans to celebrate changes, even small ones. And eventually do celebrate them!

Dear “Fed Up”, I wish you the best and hope that the next time you write me, you will be able to sign: “Learning together with our children, and thoroughly enjoying it!”