* Editor’s Note * We began this project one year ago in July 2011, in order to show the strength and diversity of today’s families, mothers and fathers. Through the stories contributed here we have learned a powerful and universal truth: parenthood will bring out the best — and the worst — in you.
This week we present, in four parts, the story of California mother and teacher, Benita Scheckel. We found Benita’s frank assessment of herself and her relationship truly compelling. In her story we witness the highs and lows of a vulnerable young mother and wife. We watch breathlessly as she moves from her Worst parenting moment to her Best. In her story, we live the unexpected days and heartbreaking nights that is parenthood and marriage. In her story, we see ourselves.
If you missed Part One click & read here; then stay tuned through Thursday and cheer along with us for Benita’s very happy ending.
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* PART TWO *
NAME Benita Scheckel
HOMETOWN Pasadena, CA
NUMBER OF CHILDREN Two
DAY JOB Teacher/Actress
RELATIONSHIP STATUS Married 22 years this summer!
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WHAT IS YOUR BEST PARENTING MOMENT?
I think my best parenting moments are when the girls are successful and happy in their endeavors and my husband and I can look at them and know, “we did that.” We gave them a safe, sturdy foundation on which to build their own lives.
WHAT IS YOUR WORST PARENTING MOMENT?
I’m not sure if this is the worst but it is certainly a defining moment.
First let me start by saying that when I was growing up in the ‘70’s parents still believed “spare the rod, spoil the child.” I grew up in a “children are to be seen and not heard” environment. This was the pre-seat belt, wear a helmet, meat-will-kill-you era. So needless to say, my brother and I were spanked and sent to our rooms often.
Of course, I grew up with the determination to never hit my children. It is barbaric and wrong. Children just need to be reasoned with and understood and they will behave. And with this ideology, off I went into the parenting realm. My theory held up for several years. Madison was bright, mostly happy and responded quite well to time-outs and losing privileges as a means of correcting her less than desirable behaviors. For her, she seemed to defy the typical markers of “bad” behavior. There was no “terrible twos.” We slid right past this common parenting nightmare, smugly believing that our parenting style and good luck had created a model child who did not seem to need to act out in that famous toddler way.
But at age four, we were in for a treat. Everything we’d heard, read, seen about two-year-olds surfaced at four. It was so bad in fact that we started calling her (not to her face, mind you) “fourible!” But still we were triumphant in our endeavor to never strike our child. We firmed up our time-out techniques and happily moved into five. We were completely unprepared for the next stage, fourth grade.
Now by fourth grade, Madison was huge. She was taller than me, with size 9 feet. A gargantuan child with a huge intellect and a sour disposition. Every day, as I picked her up from school, she would slide in the front seat, wave and smile at her friends as I pulled out of the parking lot and then begin a full-fledged meltdown. She would kick the dashboard, scream and cry. “I’m hungry! What’s for dinner? What are we doing when we get home?” and on and on and on. It was unnerving! I found myself weak from the drama. I began to loathsomely anticipate the picking-up hour. I read articles and books on parenting and discovered that our darling girl had a problem transitioning from school to home. I also discovered that she kept her behavior in check in public but let all her anxiety spill out when she felt safe with her family. Lucky us!
I tried all kinds of tactics. I kept healthy snacks in the glove box to offer when she got in the car. I tried soothing classical music, speaking quietly to her or even just ignoring her. Nothing worked. I got more and more upset and she got worse and worse.
Then one day, I picked her up as usual, and she began her tirade. I spoke calmly, I cajoled, all the while my hands shaking on the steering wheel from anxiety. As we were driving, my own little Linda Blair, picked up a plastic water bottle that was between us on the console and threw it at my head…
I went all white noise for about 60 seconds — then I back handed her firmly across the face and pulled the car over to the side of the road.
Her glasses fell off and she looked at me, stunned. She didn’t cry or even say a word. I screamed at her in that scary mom voice, “You don’t ever throw things at your mother! Do you understand me?” She nodded her head, replaced her glasses and we drove home. She never again threw a fit after school, nor did she ever, as of yet, throw anything at my head.
I cite this occurrence because it was a huge parenting revelation for me. I realized that parenting is so reactionary. Whatever is done to us, we either replicate or discard when we have our own children. But “good” parenting, whatever that means, has a balance, a rhythm to it. You can’t simply decide anything. You can proceed with a particular paradigm and then allow your children to show you who they are and what they need.
This did not, by the way, open up the gateway to child abuse or even any more hitting. It was a boundary setting moment.
I thought about other primates. The baby silver back will push the limits with his mommy gorilla. She will nudge him away when he is annoying her. But every now and then, when the baby is out of bounds, the mother gorilla will bear her teeth and topple that youngster to the ground. With this act, the child sees his mother’s strength and power. He feels comforted in knowing there is a potency to his mother and he is happy to be her child.
Human children need to see and experience our power to feel truly safe.