So a while back I signed on to read a child-rearing book along with Krista. I was pumped. I was literate. I was attempting to rear the children. No big deal, right?
The book is What Do You Really Want for Your Children? by Wayne Dyer.
Well, I’ve had the worst time keeping up with the reading so I haven’t wanted to blog anything until I was completely caught up. Then I went a step further and decided not to read Krista’s book discussion until I was caught up so I wouldn’t “spoil it.”
I really enjoyed the first couple of chapters of the book, all the idealism, some of the guilt. His premise is that we should be raising “no limits” kids, kids who believe they can do anything, kids who sail smoothly through life’s stormiest seas because their parents are perfect (okay, that’s not exactly what he said, but he really emphasizes the need to teach by example, to be healthy, thin, confident, calm, freakishly happy, etc). The nice thing is, he gives parents hope that we can become the kind of parents our no-limits seedlings deserve, sort of.
Last week I realized that this book is made up of chapters, each with a separate topic and I could skip to where the rest of the bloggers were reading and join them. Each chapter covers one thing we really want for our children. Of course it was my bad timing that I chose to read last week’s topic. I told Krista that I did not have very nice things to say about the chapter but she encouraged me to blog it anyway. She hasn’t exactly agreed with every word he’s written either.
I Want My Children to Be Free from Stress and Anxiety. Nice thought, right? Well, here are the opening paragraphs from the chapter:
The world is perfect; there is no anxiety in it… anyplace. There are only people thinking anxiously. – Eykis
Every day you hear about people having anxiety attacks. You have seen the statistics on the phenomenal increases in the use of tranquilizers, uppers, downers, sleeping pills, anti-stress tablets, antidepressants, and drugs for every kind of so-called anxiety attack. We are relying more and more on external elixirs to rid ourselves of something that does not even exist.
Anxiety does not attack! People choose to think anxiously about their world and then look for a pill to rid themselves of this mysterious thing called anxiety.
Yes, Wayne, it is mysterious and imaginary, all at the same time. [Swift kick to the gut.] Are you kidding me?! I know that we live in an over-medicated culture, that people are looking for an easy solution to their problems and that doctors over-prescribe when medication is not necessarily the answer, but can you really say that anxiety doesn’t exist?
Can you look me in the face with my dark hollow eyes the month after Magoo was born and tell me that my post-partum trauma was all in my head, that a week after my son was born, the hot and cold flashes that wracked my body and the crippling anxiety that woke me from a dead sleep, if I could sleep at all, were imagined because I was not a strong enough person?
Tell my mother and husband who babysat me night and day for 5 weeks when I was suddenly transformed into a completely different person that they should have encouraged me to do more positive self-talk and that would have caused my body to become capable of eating food or keeping down water when I attempted to drink.
Maybe talk to my doctor who explained that a certain part of my brain was over-actively pumping my body full of adrenaline, making me unable to keep food down or sleep. At all, which is why I had to be taken to the emergency room.
Another quote from the book:
Children can be guaranteed a lifetime without anxiety, provided you are prepared to encourage them to believe that they have a large measure of control about what they carry around inside themselves.
Wow, my parents must have sucked. All this time, I thought they did a great job but I found myself with no guaranteed anxiety-free life. Not only did I grow up to be a post-partum woman with “anxiety attacks” which required medical attention, I also experienced anxiety when my dog died, when I auditioned for the school play, when I went through the fire safety class in 3rd grade, when a kid in junior high flicked boogers on me in the hall and called me filthy names, and when I spent months interviewing survivors of rape for a documentary I directed in college.
If only my parents had taught me that I had a large measure of control about what I carried around inside myself, I would have been able to deal with all of this, anxiety-free.
I think what I dislike the most about Dyer’s blanket statements is the same thing I dislike about phrases like “rape prevention” or “protect yourself against rape” which imply that if you are raped, you didn’t work hard enough to prevent it or you didn’t do a good enough job protecting yourself.
Of course doing certain things can reduce your risk of being raped, just as certain patterns of thinking can reduce your risk of feeling anxiety, but you can’t PREVENT it, short of living in an isolated bubble.
And as far as anxiety goes, you can’t prevent it even in an isolated bubble if you have a chemical or hormonal imbalance. The brain is a complex organ and there are real, true medically-sound ailments that can befall it. Even if you’re not suffering from a chemical imbalance, being anxious does not mean you’re a loser or a failure.
I spent a good portion of my life thinking that people with mental illness were somehow less, some way weaker than me. What happened after Magoo’s birth caught me completely off guard and made me realize for the first time that you truly do not have complete control of your brain, there are some things you can’t pray your way out of and medical treatment was invented for a reason.
Now to give Dyer the benefit of the doubt, I think he is referring to people who he thinks are popping pills like candy to deal with every little problem that crosses their path. Of course that’s not a desirable way to live, just as alcoholism, chocolate fudge sundae addiction or any other mind-numbing mechanisms are not positive solutions to a bad day at work.
However, I think it’s irresponsible to make blanket statements about mental health and leave no room for mercy for people in situations he seems to know nothing about.
Of course I want my children to live as stress-free and anxiety-free as they can, but I also want them to know that if they have a health or other problem, they can come to me or to a trusted advisor and seek help, not placing further anxiety on themselves because I have taught them that anxiety doesn’t exist and that they are weak for feeling it.
Now, I will keep reading and try to post something positive about the book next time. For every one thing that’s annoyed me about this book, there have been approximately 1.74 other things that I’ve found insightful. This means that in the realm of parenting books, I’d have to classify it as a success. You can’t agree with everything, right?