"Sh*t!" my daughter exclaimed as she dropped her iPad to the floor. A little bit of context; my daughter Victoria absolutely loves her iPad. And as I watched her bemoan the possible destruction of her favorite device, I thought to myself, "If I were in her position, I'd probably say the exact same thing."
In the Rastegar family, a word is only a bad word if used improperly. This is a concept that has almost become a family motto. Because in our household, we do things a little differently. To put it frankly, our practices are a little unconventional. Completely safe, one hundred percent responsible- but sure, a little unconventional.
And that's because my husband Ari and I have always felt akin in one major life philosophy; we want to live our lives our way. We have dedicated ourselves to a lifetime of questioning the world around us. And it's that philosophy that has led us to some unbelievable discoveries, especially when it comes to parenting.
Ari was an English major. And if there's one thing that can be said about English majors, it's that they can be big-time sticklers for the rules. But Ari also thinks outside of the box. And here's where these two characteristics meet. Ari was always allowed to curse as a child, but only if the word fit an appropriate and relevant context. This idea came from Ari's father (his mother would have never taken to this concept), and I think this strange practice really molded him into the person he is today.
But it wasn't long after we met that I discovered this fun piece of Ari Rastegar history, and I got to drop a pretty awesome truth bomb on Ari. My parents let me do the same exact thing…
Not only was I allowed to curse as a child, but I was also given a fair amount of freedom to do as I wanted. And the results of this may surprise you. You see, despite the lack of heavy regulating and disciplining from my parents, I was the model child. Straight A's, always came home for curfew, really never got into any significant trouble- that was me. Not trying to toot my own horn here, but it's important for the argument. And don't get the wrong impression, it's not like I walked around cursing like a sailor.
Perhaps I was allowed to curse whenever I wanted, but that didn't mean I did.
And this is where we get to the amazing power of this parenting philosophy. In my experience, by allowing my own children to curse, I have found that their ability to self-regulate has developed in an outstanding fashion. Over the past few years, Victoria and Kingston have built an unbelievable amount of discipline. And that's because our decision to allow them to curse does not come without significant ground rules. Cursing must occur under a precise and suitable context, it must be done around appropriate company, and the privilege cannot be overused. By following these guidelines, Victoria and Kingston are cultivating an understanding of moderation, and at a very early age are building a social awareness about when and where certain types of language are appropriate. And ultimately, Victoria and Kingston are displaying the same phenomenon present during my childhood. Their actual instances of cursing are extremely low.
And beneath this parenting strategy is a deeper philosophy. Ari and I first and foremost look at parenting as educators. It is not our job to dictate who our children will be, how they shall behave, and what their future should look like.
We are not dictators; we are not imposing our will on them. They are autonomous beings. Their future is in their hands, and theirs alone.
Rather, we view it as our mission to show our children what the many possibilities of the world are and prepare them for the litany of experiences and challenges they will face as they develop into adulthood. Now, when Victoria and Kingston come across any roadblocks, they have not only the tools but the confidence to handle these tensions with pride, independence, and knowledge.
And we have found that cursing is an amazing place to begin this relationship as educators. By allowing our children to curse, and gently guiding them towards the appropriate use of this privilege, we are setting a groundwork of communication that will eventually pay dividends as our children grow curious of less benign temptations; sex, drugs, alcohol. There is no fear, no need to slink behind our backs, but rather an open door where any and all communication is rewarded with gentle attention and helpful wisdom.
The home is a sacred place, and honesty and communication must be its foundation. Children often lack an ability to communicate their exact feelings. Whether out of discomfort, fear, or the emotional messiness of adolescence, children can often be less than transparent. Building a place of refuge where our children feel safe enough to disclose their innermost feelings and troubles is, therefore, an utmost priority in shepherding their future. Ari and I have come across instances where our children may have been less than truthful with a teacher, or authority figure simply because they did not feel comfortable disclosing what was really going on. But with us, they know that honesty is not only appreciated but rewarded and incentivized. This allows us to protect them at every turn, guard them against destructive situations, and help guide and problem solve, fully equipped with the facts of their situation.
And as crazy as it all sounds- I really believe in my heart that the catalogue of positive outcomes described above truly does stem from our decision to allow Victoria and Kingston to curse freely.
I know this won't sit well with every parent out there. And like so many things in life, I don't advocate this approach for all situations. In our context, this decision has more than paid itself off. In another, it may exacerbate pre-existing challenges and prove to be only a detriment to your own family's goals.
As the leader of your household, this is something that you and you alone must decide upon with intentionality and wisdom.
Ultimately, Ari and I want to be the kind of people our children genuinely want to be around. Were we not their parents, I would hope that Victoria and Kingston would organically find us interesting, warm, kind, funny, all the things we aspire to be for them each and every day.
We've let our children fly free, and fly they have. They are amazing people. One day, when they leave the confines of our home, they will become amazing adults. And hopefully, some of the little life lessons and eccentric parenting practices we imparted upon them will serve as a support for their future happiness and success.
It is terrifying when you do not have all the answers, especially when you are a parent and your children are looking to you for safety.
We are living in a very chaotic time due to the fear of the unknown while a feeling of powerlessness and despair creeps over us. Some of us have many questions while others are not sure what to ask or what to do during this difficult period. The issue is that human beings seek comfort and once they receive that comfort, they either experience life lessons, are destined to repeat patterns until they learn from the lesson, or never understand the lesson at all.
While in crisis mode, we have the opportunity to recognize how to make improvements in our lives, but once the crisis is over, we often return to our typical behaviors such as disconnecting from face-to-face communication and quality time to focusing on technology and "socializing" online with strangers. As we are currently being asked to avoid unnecessary trips outside, the universe is asking us to go inward and identify areas in need of our attention that we have been neglecting. Now comes the test of our inner abilities of adapting and handling change as well as dealing with being out of control and powerless. We are going back to an era where family is a necessity for survival. Some families will break down further, while other families will rise to the occasion and hopefully work through their differences by focusing on what is most important to them.
Bear in mind that panicking is not equivalent to being prepared. Fear can result in illness. We highly recommend that you utilize this time wisely. First, it is imperative to do what we call a "self-check-in," to identify personal concerns and worries in order to avoid instilling those fears in your children and others. Once identifying your personal concerns, fears, thoughts, and feelings, we recommend that each household establishes routine family meetings with age-appropriate information. Prior to providing information to your children, we recommend asking them what they have already heard, what they are thinking and feeling, and whether they have any questions they would like to ask prior to adding more to their plate.
From there, you can provide a general overview of the situation such as stating, "There is an illness going around. Many will recover as there are many helpful nurses and doctors but some will have it worse than others, so it is important to be careful not to spread germs." An overview of proper handwashing would be beneficial as well as teaching ways to interact with others while promoting social distancing, i.e., staying six feet away from one another, waving hello rather than shaking hands, etc.
It is important for children to have guidance and the facts as well as a safe place to share their own concerns and fears. When researching answers to questions that you or your children may have, utilize credible sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as additional .gov and .org sources. Be mindful of overexposure for children, as the media can sensationalize these situations. Keep in mind that even adults can be overexposed to the chaos, so take breaks from the news for your own well-being. Some healthy ideas for taking breaks would involve quality family time such as: playing board games, building an indoor fort, reading, doing a puzzle together, cooking a meal, exercising, going for a walk, drawing or painting, etc. Children can also be encouraged to identify creative and healthy activities that they would like to do on their own as well as with their siblings, parents, and additional family members.
Should you want to process your concerns and fears with a professional, we highly recommend that you reach out to local therapists and mental health/family therapy centers in your area, as many have established telehealth sessions to accommodate the needs of the public.
This piece was cowritten by Hara Wachholder.
Hara Wachholder is a licensed mental health counselor with the State of Florida and received her master's degree in counseling from Nova Southeastern University. It was after the resolution of the long-winded custody battle between her parents that Hara recognized her calling to help others going through the same struggle. Hara Wachholder is currently the clinical director for a family therapy center located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Karen Kaye, LMHC and Hara Wachholder, LMHC are a mother-daughter team of therapists as well as coauthors of My Parents Are Getting a Divorce . . . I Wonder What Will Happen to Me, an interactive discussion book that helps provide a bridge of understanding between parents and their children based on the personal and professional experience from the authors. The book creates a safe space for children to share their innermost thoughts and feelings while also teaching healthy coping skills for children to empower themselves during a chaotic and confusing time in their lives. The goal is to take children out of the middle and provide them with a voice as well as the tools that will allow them to grow into healthy, balanced individuals. For further information, please visit www.imstillmebook.com.