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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 . . ."

On his website, The Natural Child Project, Psychologist Richard Grossman presents the following imperative for raising healthy children:

“One of the most important psychological factors in raising a family is giving children ‘voice.’ What is voice? It is the sense of agency that resides in all of us, that makes us confident that we will be heard, and that we will have impact on our environment. Exceptional parents grant a child a voice equal to theirs the day that child is born. And they respect that voice as much as they respect their own. How can you give your child ‘voice’? There are three rules:

  • Assume that what your child has to say about the world is just as important as what you have to say.
  • Assume that you can learn as much from them as they can from you.
  • Enter their world through play, activities, discussion: don’t require them to enter yours in order to make contact.”

If you are a regular reader of my columns you know that I often focus on relationships – mainly, the parent-child relationship. I almost always emphasize the importance of respect as the key to lasting relationships. This column will be no different. While the connection between respect and health and fitness may not be immediately apparent, rest assured there is one.

I don’t recall ever having written about health and fitness, the theme of this month’s issue of Baltimore’s Child. I’ll start with a confession. When my children were young, I sent them to school with lunchboxes filled with white bread sandwiches, full-fat cheeses, potato chips, and pastry. (I just felt a chill go up and down my spine writing those words. But that was fifty years ago and that’s what we did in those dark ages.) I hasten to add, however, that our dinners were well balanced.

According to psychologist Leadership Professor of Psychology at University of Pennsylvania, Martin Seligman, pessimism is learned and it can be unlearned, and optimism, while it has many positive aspects, can also be modified by adding a dose of reality to subdue pie-in-the-sky expectations.

While we’ve been led to believe that optimism is a positive and pessimism a negative, we now discover that both attributes have their own roles to play. Nor are people strictly optimists or pessimists, but a mixture of both in most cases. The optimist is admired for his or her cheerfulness, positive outlook, and general pleasant attributes; the pessimist is perceived as a gloomy, defeated, depressed individual who sees no alternative to his/her negative views. Neither one is in and of itself good or bad; each has a complimentary role to play in the other. For example, the over-zealous optimist could dash headlong into a project without considering the possible pitfalls. A sprinkle of pessimism would bring out the drawbacks that could sabotage the optimists’ best efforts. On the other hand, the pessimist who sees only the hazards of a project and discourages him from undertaking it could benefit from the inspiration of the optimist’s can-do spirit.

In a discussion with a prominent, highly-respected clergyman about raising children, he said his position dictated that he “must be a role model for his children.” “So,” I said respectfully, “what exactly do you feel you must model for them?” Without hesitation, he replied, “How to do everything the right way.” “Hm,” I hmmed, “is that doable?” Again, quick to answer, he said, “It has to be doable.” “Uh,” I said with great hesitation, “do you feel this is a realistic picture of what it means to be a human being?” Hoping he saw a glitch in his thinking, I waited for him to say, “NO.” He said, “Yes.” More about this later.

Hurrah! A new year, a new beginning, a new hope! Have you made resolutions to do better and to be better this year? Did you resolve to break a bad habit and start a couple of good ones? Did you tell yourself you’ll be different this time, but by February (if that long,) are you back into your old patterns and grossly disappointed in yourself? So failure is a bad thing, right? Wrong! Look at the steps you took that led to failure, then look again and see that the same steps will show you what it takes to succeed. By examining what was wrong, you will know what to do right the next time. What’s more, if we do not examine our mistakes and learn from them, we are bound to repeat them over and over again!

You will find these (and more) quotations about children on the spiritual-quotes-to-live-by.com website. I love this stuff; in just a few short sentences the authors encompass the whole of the magic and meaning of children. Let their wise words guide you as you go through the daily rush of caring for your children. Let their kindhearted messages remind you how precious a treasure your children are and let their wholesome thoughts fill your heart, sink into your mind, settle into your bones, and uplift your soul.

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of meeting with 35 teenage girls from  the Girls’ Empowerment Mission, or G.E.M., a mentorship program now in its 11th year that continues to flourish under the leadership of founder Debbi Weinberg. This remarkable Living Classrooms Foundation program invites disadvantaged girls who attend Chesapeake High School in Essex into a nurturing, inspiring atmosphere that launches their future lives.

             Is there another sound as delightful as a baby’s laughter? The Internet is chock-full of videos of babies laughing their little heads off – some laughing until they cry, and some laughing and crying at the same time. Sure, they are fun to watch and listen to, but I’m concerned that some adult laugh-makers persist long after the poor little kids’ endurance runs out.

            Have you ever laughed so long and so hard that the muscles in your belly and face hurt so much that laughing became torture? Imagine then, not being able to get away or to stop the torture.

             My husband and I were seated comfortably in a half-empty restaurant, early in the evening to avoid the inevitable noisy crowd that frequents this place. The quiet was suddenly blasted away by a little boy’s shrill voice that seemed to penetrate the very marrow of my bones. Standing at the door, he shrieked with a sense of urgency his announcement that he had to go to the bathroom. The high ceiling and the shortage of diners transformed the room into an echo chamber and magnified his voice to a fortissimo high C.

            The voice on the phone sounded desperate. “You have to help,” she said, “it’s a matter of life and death.” At first, I thought my friend, Sarah was being melodramatic until she said, “My fourteen-year-old niece, Debbie says she wants to die.” Her words brought back my memory of a guest psychologist asking a classroom of teenagers how many had ever thought about suicide and almost all of them raised their hands. At a later meeting with the parents, he told them how their children responded to his question. After their collective gasp, he said, “Talk of suicide must be taken seriously, no ifs, ands, or buts!”

             In the course of my conversation with my friend, Joy, (a most fitting name for her,) she brought up the idea that people need to create inner space. If you think about all the “stuff” that crowds our minds and hearts, you can readily see why we need to clear it all away to make space within. Call it breathing room, call it respite from our worries and woes, call it peace of mind and heart, call it what you will, it is in those precious moments that we are willing to wipe away all the stressors, heartbreaks, disappointments, rambling thoughts, and the minutiae of the daily busyness of our lives. It returns us to the unburdened self, the uncluttered self. Many people achieve this “clearing out” by meditating. Others pray. And still others find ways to do it with imagery or listening to calming music. With a little creativity and practice, each of us can find a way to do it on our own.

as seen in Baltimore's Child Magazine