Entry #12A Set and Setting
Yasik was now a Canadian Vincent. It was time to move from his Russian nurture to his nurture in our family, not ignoring that he would be bringing his Russian-transferring-to-Canadian nature along.
Even though Dr. Spock said parents know more than they think they do[i], let me begin this group of posts about parenting by straight up saying Dave and I had the awareness of Donald Rumsfeld when we took on parenting; there were “known knowns” and “known unknowns“, but then there also are those “unknown unknowns”.[ii] The “known knowns” would be similar to what SNL suggested Kevin Federline might have known: 1. Always feed your children. 2. Children are ‘babe magnets’. 3. For the rest, Federline suggested parents should call him to babysit.[iii]
We didn’t have Federline’s phone number so that was a non-starter. But like Federline, Dave quickly picked up on how much of a babe magnet Yasik was for women gave him their seats on the bus and fawned over Yasik. So that was good. And we did know to feed our kid. But maybe for that one we were simply following the Golden Rule of ‘do unto others as you would have done for yourself’.
But from where did we know to do the other things we so quickly fell into doing? I ‘conducted’, or less pompously, ‘asked around’ about the assumption that we parent like our parents which perhaps more pompously is called the ‘intergenerational transmission of parenting’.[iv] The responses I got ranged from vehemently ‘Never’ to ‘Yes, my parents’ way worked for me’, but most also added on reflection, that the times are different. In the everyday details of life which have been part of our society for a century or two, Dave and I did things as our parents did: maybe hugging was not yet a comfortable expression of love for our parents but feeding, clothing and sending us off to school was held as a daily routine; vacations were pilgrimages to visit the relatives or combine fruit gathering or job hunting with some relaxation.
Whether I was comfortable with it or not, I know for a time Yasik carried my little Bible around and sat with it on the couch watching TV. He prayed with me at night – “Dear God, named all his cousins and aunts and uncles, Amen” and made us laugh. It seems to me that was a holdover from my childhood and my own religious upbringing although, of course, perhaps Yasik went so willingly along with prayers and carried the little kid size Bible like a toy or icon because of some religious activities encouraged in the orphanage.[v] Dave has always found a tool box to be a special kind of candy box, so whether he worried about his tools or not, he may have passed the toolbox’s wonders on to Yasik. Or did Yasik come from a long line of mechanics? It is hard to be definitive about where our inclinations have come from, but for both Dave and I some childhood experiences were valued and continued: eating the evening meal together (when work schedules allowed) was important for it was the time of togetherness and laughter. Going to the lake or going for drives up the mountains were also important as were weekend get-togethers with family and friends. Having parents equally involved in our home care was also respected. If my Mom was working, then my Dad burnt the pancakes. Dave’s dad cooked with the salt and pepper shaker. In both families, gender did not dictate chore assignment; each kid was expected to wash dishes or mow the lawn. Wearing hand-me-downs was a given; no noses got stuck in the air when we were offered hand-me-downs for Yasik. Interests were encouraged as far as the dollar could reach. Pets and bicycles were musts, even if it meant an opportunity to encourage sharing. In my family, all four of us truly tried to ride our lone two-wheeler together. Dave’s dad bought a bike for each of his kids. Dave’s mom bought art supplies for him and even sent one of his cartoons into a drawing contest. I still hear the Hallelujah chorus when I remember the day my Mom took me to the library.
Like it or not, consciously or not, we fall back on neuronal pathways well-trod unless the experiences associated are too negative or rendered useless by the march of time. Gabor Mate in The Myth of Normal: trauma, illness & healing in a toxic culture, in a tone that sounds quite confident, says, “It turns out that our innate parenting instinct is perfectly calibrated to ensure the provision of the thing many “experts” would have us ignore: the child’s developmental needs”.[vi] And Mate is backed up by Bruce D. Perry who says
The brain is an historical organ…. Our life experiences shape who we become by creating our brain’s catalog of template memories, which guide our behavior, sometimes in ways we can consciously recognize, more often via processes beyond our awareness…. Since much of the brain develops early in life, the way we are parented has a dramatic influence on brain development. And so, since we tend to care for our children the way we were cared for ourselves during our own childhoods, a good “brain” history of a child begins with a history of the caregiver’s childhood and early experience.[vii]
According to the Pew Research Center we would more easily recognize that we do indeed parent like our parents at times if we see categories of parenting.[viii]
Dave and I were middle-aged parents who had lived in a variety of environments. We had whatever our parents had taught us, and we had ample time to observe ways that other parents parent; we must have had some trending input from reading or other media. We had also taken the 9-week adoption prep required by BC’s social services: about all I remember from that seminar was information on the adoption process for domestic adoption and struggles adoptors may experience with special needs children. I recently found notes Dave made at the orientation meetings. Turns out we were given a basic overview of Attachment Theory. Perhaps abstract notes could not secure solid ground in our hearts and minds amidst the case histories of families with special needs adoptees or the boggling but potentially exciting procedural information for the adoption process. In the flurry of such an experience and despite the advice of adoption experts, “The adoptors who were most successful were prepared, had educated themselves, and had ties to support services”[ix], parenting as a life challenge I was about to engage in and more specifically, Attachment Theory, sounded like ‘news to me’ when I began reading in adoption years later. I also now know we were not the only not-so-super parents out there for Scott Simon in Baby We Were Meant For Each Other: in praise of adoption takes pains to note that some otherwise excellent parents showed neither interest nor made the time for books or support groups while raising their very happy child.[x]
But now I am taking a backwards look. Recently I was taxiing the neighbour kids to the Dollar Store, a trip the neighbour, in the house between us and the kids, said they made sound like a trip to Disneyland. They range from 2 years old to 15. On the way I asked them what they thought a parent was. The 11-year-old without hesitation listed off pretty much everything a Google search would offer: protect and provide. The 15-year-old topped the list up with “and have fun”.
Google offers up numbers, letters and alliterated titles like 1,2,3 Magic Parenting, the 3 As of parenting: Authoritative, Attachment, and Acceptance or the 3 Fs of Positive Parenting: Firm, Fair and Friendly or the 3 Ts Parenting: Tune In, Talk more, Take Turns. Actually 3 seems the favourite as it often is in many realms, for here is yet another 3, 3 Principles: Love, Limits and Latitude. The # 4 offers some competition with 4 Cs: Choices, Consequences, Consistency, Compassion or the 4 Rs of Parenting: Respect, Responsibility, Reciprocity, and Restraint in the process of raising children. Gentle parenting is built on 4 Basic Pillars: Empathy, Respect, Understanding, and Boundaries. The 5Cs of Neurodiverse Parenting are Self-Control, Compassion, Collaboration, Consistency and Celebration. And then there are the 6 Parenting Dimensions: Warmth, Rejection, Autonomy support, Coercion, Structure, and Chaos. And so it goes until at least 10 unless you consider Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life but only one of those rules is directly related to parenting: #5 – Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them. No, that is not true. # 11 also applies – Do not bother children while they are skateboarding.[xi] Is it all summed up in the Parenting Golden Rule: “Treat your child as you would like to be treated if you were in the same position”, which is apparently simple, straightforward, and effective? Ok, like the kids said, protect, provide, and have fun.
I heard Dr. Phil once say, in a context I may be misconstruing, that it (life/relationships) is all about perspective or perception. It seems to me that life’s experiences have another and equal dimension. More specifically for this post, adoption has another and equal dimension. And let me say right here that this could get a bit messy as I worked this out in the middle of the night, but at the time it sounded sane to me so here goes. Set, as in ‘mindset’, and setting are terms for a theory that refers to the psychological, social and cultural parameters which shape the response to psychedelic experience.[xii] I would like to apply that thought to adoption as family with ‘mindset’ being both the genetics and the perspective or perceptions the adoptee brings to family and ‘setting’ as all that impacts the development of the adoptee’s ‘mindset’: social, cultural, historical, political, physical, economic and spiritual environment that impacts the relationship (even with a list like that I probably missed something). Or as I put it in Entry #11 (with help from Google) we as persons are physical and mental beings who develop networks of beliefs that impact how we calculate and think about our environment and social relationships, using reflection and language to make autonomous choices and engage in actions, with the right to be accountable for our choices.
To have a good trip both mindset and setting must be taken into account. Jerome Kagan, a developmental psychologist at Harvard, put the idea this way: “Genes and family may determine the foundation of a house, but time and place determine its form” for as Dr. Nicole Letourneau says on the preceding page, “Genetics may determine how easy it is to push a person’s buttons, but the finger that actually pushes them belongs to the early caregiving environment – how a person was parented.” ” … regardless of who raised them“.[xiii]
Dr. Nicole Letourneau and Justin Joschko explain it as entwined in this way:
To divide traits into genetically determined and environmentally determined compartments is to misunderstand how genes work. Consider hair colour, a trait that, on the surface, seems to be determined solely by a person’s genes. A child’s hair is seldom a colour that does not have some familial precedent. By contrast, the influence of the environment on one’s hair seems nonexistent. Blonde Nordic children adopted by Chinese families do not spontaneously develop black hair. However, this does not mean genes alone are responsible for a person/hair colour. After all, genes can really only do one thing: instruct cells, by way of an interpreter called RNA, to create a series of amino acids, which then link together to form proteins. Now, this one function is extremely, unbelievably important. Proteins are the body’s proletariat, the workers who carry out the myriad tasks which all us, the society in which they dwell, to function. But genes cannot on their own, dictate, the colour of a person’s hair. Hair colour is determined by melanin, which is the end product of the amino acid tyrosine. Now, genes do code for tyrosine, hence the genetic influence. However, in hair the degree of melanin accumulation is decided in part by the concentration of copper to the cells producing that hair. When that cell has more copper, the hair is darker. Should the intake of copper be reduced to below a certain threshold, hair generated by the same follicle will be lighter than it was previously, when copper supplies were plentiful…. Such is the case with thousands of environmental factors we take for granted. It isn’t until a radical change in the environment depletes once-plentiful resources that we realize how much those resources contributed to our development…
I guess all of this allows me to continue to use the set and setting metaphor but with the caveat that mindset and setting are both taken into account. We have considered the world Yasik came from and how that was impacting his mindset, and now we will begin to consider the world Yasik moved into with adoption, our family, with Dave and I as parents. As we strove to parent in a way that we thought offered love and care to Yasik, what perception was he forming of family? When we took Yasik to the park to ride the teeter totter, he was a tidy little package of 40 inches by 40 pounds and whichever one of us got on the opposite side of the teeter totter that stood a mere 2 feet above ground was north of 3 times 40 by 40. Sometimes Yasik was in danger of being tossed into the air; other times he could be stuck on the ground as we and all that pertained to his new world of family strove to find a good experience on the teeter-totter of life. The parent-child relationship works for a balance with those dynamics. Riding together with tiny on one side and extra-large on the other can still be wonderful fun if extra-large is caring and responsible and the mechanism that holds the teeter totter together and the playground it has been set in are copacetic (a weird word Dave used to love).
I will look at our set and setting in the next posts by laying out our setting of family via adoption with the hopes of culling some awareness of the perceptions Yasik was developing.
Maybe the only gift is a chance to inquire,
to know nothing for certain.
An inheritance of wonder and nothing more.
― William Least Heat Moon[xiv]
Footnotes at the end of Entry# 12D