Baltimore's Child Magazine - February 2008
Interview with Joanne Giza
Local publishing house, Sidran Institute Press, recently released 27 Secrets to Raising Amazing Children by local author Molly Brown Koch. Interviewing Molly was like talking to an old friend - not because at 80 Molly is old. Anything but! But because the give and take came from a place of respect, the kind of respect we hope we share with our true friends.
For decades now Molly has led and continues to lead a variety of parenting groups that have included mothers in public and private schools, mothers returning to society following incarceration, and mothers parenting in situations where there had been domestic violence. [More recently, she has added parents of inner city school children.] Out of those groups, Molly has learned the keys to successful parenting.
"You see," says Molly, "I came to my groups not to teach, but to listen and to learn. My role as I saw it was to help parents find their own answers within themselves. The diversity of their backgrounds, history, customs, experiences, and feelings and the ways in which they dealt with the trials and tribulations of parenting as well as its joys and satisfactions gave me a wide-lens picture of what it means to be a parent. The parents who were already raising amazing children taught me what it takes to succeed, and I pass their secrets along . . ."
JG: Let's start with the title of your book. You talk about 27 Secrets. But really is there one primary secret that supports and underlies all the rest?
MBK: Respect. All the other secrets are ways of expressing respect.
JG: Can you define respect?
MBK: To see each child as he and she is, to see them as they are for who they are and not as you want or need them to be.
JG: That's so good. Can you say it again?
MBK: To see each child as he and she is, to see them as they are for who they are and not as you want them or need them to be. Also, to refrain from interfering with [who they are.] I love that one.
JG: Sticking with the title, what do you mean by Amazing Children?
MBK: Children who are amazing are not carbon copies of their parents, but are their own unique and precious selves. They will amaze you with their natural capacity for compassion and love, for their kindness and inner strengths, for their warmth and sensitivity toward others. They will amaze you with their willingness to forgive, their ability to learn and grow and change and accept whatever life hands them. They will amaze you just because of who they are - and who they are is like no other person on earth.
JG: Does giving respect start with infants?
MBK: Absolutely! When my daughter Jessie was born, my sister and I both had the same pediatrician. Her baby was two years older. And the doctor, like so many others of the time, told us not to breastfeed and not to feed [our babies] between the four-hour feedings. Keep them on that schedule. How do you respect a baby that way? How do you respect the babies' right to eat when they are hungry? Dr. Spock came along [with his self-demand feeding] and said don't do what these guys are saying. I think that was one of the breakthrough moments of respect for infants. To respect who they are, these little human beings that have a right to eat when they are hungry.
JG: Does respect translate into permissiveness? Let's say it's freezing outside and 3-year-old Rachel refuses to wear a coat. Isn't it the parent's responsibility to make Rachel wear her coat?
MBK: Not necessarily.
JG: Not necessarily? Let her be cold?
MBK: Let her be cold. And if she's cold enough, she'll put on her coat. There seems to be something in the air anyway with this generation of kids who don't wear coats.
JG: Do you consider yourself a parenting expert?
MBK: I don't consider myself an expert in anything. I consider myself a good listener. And I learn; I listen to learn. I never went into a group to teach. I went in to learn which is what I hope parents will do when they listen to their children.
JG: So after respect - giving it and expecting it - I'd say the second most important secret is listening. How do we know when we're listening?
MBK: There's a clearing [out] we have to do first. In order to really hear the other person, I must set aside what I think. We have to make ourselves open. We have to get rid of our opinions, feelings, biases, prejudices, . . . for the moment. We need to take the ego, the ME, out of it [the moment.] The more self-aware you are, the more open you can be.
JG: And the greater your capacity to listen. The book is filled with real life anecdotes that parents brought to their groups. Can you tell the story about Charley? I think it speaks to the issue of listening.
MBK: Six-year-old Charley came home from school one day and announced to his mother, "Nobody likes me." "Don't be ridiculous," his mother said. "Everyone loves you. I love you. Daddy loves you. Grandma loves you. Have a cookie and forget about it."
What Charley's mom needed to do was listen. I'm reading a book that I recommend to you. It's called Healing Through the Dark Emotions by psychotherapist, Miram Greenspan. What she talks about is the medical model of getting rid of negative emotions - grief, despair - so you take a pill and you feel better. She says there's an alchemy that can happen when you deal honestly with these emotions, that you can come out the other side with greater sensitivity, greater joy, greater gratitude. I love this book. And I think I tried to do that in my book. That you deal with what is. You don't make it better. It isn't yours to make better. Children have a right to cope with the low points of their lives as well as the highs. We don't want to cause them to suffer, but life brings all kinds of painful experiences, and we need to allow our children to handle them. As the book says, comfort them, but not so much that they do not learn how to nurture themselves.
JG: How should parents view their mistakes?
MBK: Okay, what is a mistake? It's an action we take with an assumption that we're going to get a certain result. When we don't get that result it turns out to be a miss-take. That's all it amounts to. And we can always redeem ourselves because kids are quick to forgive.
JG: We get a do over.
MBK: Yeah. We come back the next day and we say, "Listen, you know what I did yesterday? I didn't mean to do [or say] that. I hope you'll forgive me.
JG: And that's really pretty mcuh what it takes?
MBK: That's all it takes.
JG: Which is what we'd want anyone to do to us. Apologize.
JG: It's pretty simple, really. And yet so difficult to do because of that ego always getting in the way.
MBK: . . . that's where self-awareness comes in - when you realize you are placing yourself in the important position and not realizing that it's the child who is in the important position. Until you understand that, you're going to do whatever your ego needs dictate, not what the child's needs are. The challenge of being a parent has little to do with the child but everything to do with self-awareness. That's my sense of it. In a self-published book, the author referred to the parent as "Me, Incorporated." Ego makes parents assume they know how to parent. None of us do - especially because we have some strange little creature we never met before and we have no understanding of who or what he or she is and we proceed with techniques and methods that may or may not work. [And when the child doesn't turn out the way we expect,] the bewildered parent wonders, "Where did I go wrong?"