Thursday, June 23, 2016

Raising Children is an Economy. (Or creating a life worth living.)

No wonder I married him.

The single most influential experience of my adult life was working at the Minneapolis Crisis Nursery.

I worked there from January of 1991 until July of 1995. The philosophy taught there shaped how I think about most everything. It shaped how I raised my kids, how I encountered yoga, how I am/operate in my current living situation. It affects my beliefs of health and wellness. (It is also how and where I met my husband and very many of my best friends.) It has been many years and I cannot say whether it is the same place it used to be, it was changing even as I was leaving, but I will forever be grateful for the way my point of view was trained by that resource.

The Minneapolis Crisis Nursery provides respite for parents in times of crisis by taking in children between the ages of zero and six years old. Crisis was defined by anything that challenged the functioning of the parent.

Think of normal everyday things like moving from one apartment to the other, or a break-up, depression, and illness. The whole point was to take in the kids from families whose resources were limited by factors beyond their control, in order to give parents time and space.

These kids, who under different circumstances might have gone to stay with grandparents or an aunt and uncle, could come and stay at the Nursery. As a Crisis Care Provider, I worked eight-hour shifts and provided around the clock care. Back in that day it was housed in an old convent building. There was a cafeteria and a playroom with an infant area and rocking chairs and the kids rode trikes and climbed the jungle gym in the old chapel. Essentially it was a daycare where the kids came and stayed over night.

All well and good.

The most important part was how staff was oriented towards parents and families we served. It was made clear that these parents were brave. That the act of asking for help is to be encouraged, rewarded, applauded. This was a cultivated point of view. Their bravery in seeking help was the cornerstone that made what we did a true resource.

As staff we came to love the families that came back with their kids. We understood them and knew which kids would require which adult, where they would need to go, what volunteer supplied what kind of care, being “in ratio” meant a many and varied measurement of factors. Some of which you could never account for before hand. Children and adults were cared for and supported and it was a fast paced and graceful chaos. Staff learned how to pay attention to language, what not to say to kids and when not to say it. When to pick your battles. When to let them go. And on the other side of the hall, the family counselors did the same with the parents.

It was complicated and it was messy but it worked. Everything I ever needed to know about life I learned from balancing the energies at play in that delicate system.

And it is impossible to see the complete ecosystem it takes to raise a child.

These particular structures are built through years of meeting the changing needs of interdependant individuals. A family cannot be understood from the outside.

And the understanding doesn't come any easier from the inside.

Experience is often felt more than it is understood, and the meanings that make these feelings are chemical reactions that have no words at all, just a pattern of interactions, feeling then response.

So glad I know this.

And what I can also see is how the phrase “protecting young children in danger of abuse and neglect” is a commerce in itself. It builds that feeling in people - mother-bear-righteous-protective-anger - and as a result produced funds in the form of donations so necessary for such a resource heavy service.

Cue Cyndi Lauper here: Money changes everything.

The words themselves make it seem like there is only one thing at stake, the physical body of a child, and what the Nursery taught me is that there is so much more going on than meets the eye.

Wanting to “save” these children is most of the problem, because you can’t “save” children from parents that are in the process of doing just that. The phrase that creates an energy that inspires people to give, also turns on the beneficiaries of that gift. It becomes the means of action at the same time that it is the trap. This dichotomy is the very way you grow as a community of caregivers and care receivers.

The phrase becomes a warning, "abusers" are in our midst but without the danger, you could not persist.

This energy (this commerce/this money) can be harnessed with respect. When we respect how difficult parenting is, with or without resources, we are acknowledging all the things that we cannot possibly know and account for. When we respect how brave the act of asking for help is in and of itself; when we respect the work it takes to make things better, or different at all, we acknowledge that transformations require the breaking apart of things before they can be reformed and are necessarily painful. When we respect that infrastructure already exists to support the life that currently lives and breathes in front of you, we acknowledge something somewhere is supporting that life in a real, day in, day out, way.

And shall we remember that respect goes both ways. And I mean this in an Escher-like way, that however we are respecting the survival choices of the animal across from us, we are also required to turn around and respect ourselves. Doing everything on purpose, the best way you know how, is one way towards freedom. At some point you can no longer do the "good" work because of the "bad" feelings created. And then you pick yourself up, hold yourself close and do what you need to do to keep going, realizing you are doing the very best you can.

Civil society works, but only when there is mutual respect and a nod toward faith (otherwise known as flexibility/lovingkindness/we can't know everything/there is something bigger out there/ greater good/whatever).