Category Archives: parenthood

Parenting The Popular Crowd

It began in Kindergarten. 

Raising my three children into adulthood, I can trace the threads of the social hierarchy back to the earliest days of elementary school. At age 5, some kids mocked others, refused to play with them — and The Cool Crowd was born. Standing in a pack of parents, watching the playground from the sidelines, waiting for the opening bell, I was always struck by the way the children’s behavior was reflected in the parents. A clear social hierarchy existed among the moms and dads and unsurprisingly, the kid and adult hierarchies often mirrored each other. 

I remember a group of children loudly reliving a birthday party, making sure those who weren’t invited heard every enviable detail. One girl who was excluded began to cry. I waited for parents to step in, which they did, but not in the way I hoped. Instead, a posse of adults launched into a discussion of the same party, putting on a show for the excluded parents. As a mom with kids in different grades from the grand event, I watched the drama unfold from an emotional distance. Still, I was appalled. The cool crowd was alive and well, rejecting and mean, spanning generations.

An elevated seat on the social food chain makes people of all ages feel safer, stronger, less vulnerable. When rising up is based on pushing others down, the resulting sense of security rarely lasts. The shot of power is temporary, the vulnerability resurfaces, and the need surges to find a target again and again. 

Parenting the popular crowd was a challenge, no matter where my kids landed on the hierarchy. With parents endorsing Top-Of-The-Food-Chain behavior, The Cool Crowd was clearly here to stay. My job was to help my kids feel steady, to behave with decency, whether or not they were tagged as “cool” or “uncool.” Sometimes my task felt effortless; other times, it felt impossible. 

I carried my prototype of popular from personal experience. Nope — I wasn’t Cool-Crowd-Material (much too nerdy), but I met my role model for cool in high school, taking a ceramics class to fulfill an art requirement. The students were randomly assigned to tables of six, and I found myself seated with one of the school’s most popular girls. She was so beautiful that I could barely tear my eyes away from her to work with the clay. On the first day of class, she looked around our uncool table, and didn’t balk for an instant. She was kind, inclusive and she proved that being popular does not necessarily entail being mean. In a run-down classroom, bottom-of-the-line equipment, age 16 — she showed me that using popularity as an excuse to hurt others is just that: an excuse. There’s nothing wrong with being well-liked and respected, and there’s nothing wrong with being cool or popular. There’s everything wrong with using social status as a weapon. 

I’m sure that girl doesn’t remember me. I was the quiet one at our table. I watched, listened, barely spoke. I finished my art requirement, and barely gave the class a thought…unless I was thinking about her. She showed me the definition of popular that, decades later, I handed to my children.

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Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author. Her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, was written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school. The story follows Caroline Black through tenth grade, with her circle of friends, as her new high school opens her world. Tightwire, Amy’s second novel, continues to follow Caroline, this time as a rookie psych intern treating her first patient — a stormy, brilliant, troubled young man who ran away from the circus to find himself. Amy’s blog includes posts about parenting, gender equality, LGBTIQ+ ally support and racial equality. Amy collaborates with educators who include her books and essays in their classrooms.

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Filed under parenthood, parenting, The Cool Crowd, The Popular Crowd, Uncategorized

Back To School — For Parents

School is the best and the worst…for parents.

Our kids, with their triumphs and disappointments, can send us into the extremes. When Nasty Ned kicks our daughter, we want to crush his face, even though he’s three years old. When Beastly Beth spreads a mean rumor about our son, we wish her a tortured existence that includes never hearing Beethoven and expired library cards for this life and all hereafters. When the fourth grade teacher praises our daughter’s art project, we glow. When the drama coach doesn’t give our son the coveted role, we seethe.

All of this is completely understandable…and entirely ridiculous. So what’s going on? In a nutshell: Our own pasts are ganging up on us.

Each time we were hurt or rejected as children, each time we were embarrassed or mistreated as teenagers – it all floods back. Every unresolved issue crouches in hiding, ready to pounce. When our kids go through an experience that reminds us of our own history, the emotional echoes and whispers grow to a rustling crescendo. Before we know what’s hitting us, we can find ourselves trying to deal with the present, neck-deep in feelings from the past.

When I think about my own childhood, the vivid details astonish me. I remember the purple ribbons in one girl’s blonde hair. She pulled me aside in first grade, whispered that she wanted to invite me to her 7th birthday party, but she couldn’t, because then her friends would know she liked me, which could never happen, because I wasn’t cool. I remember the bracelet my 8th grade French teacher wore every day, the teacher who wrote in my semester evaluation that I should “adjust” my goals because she “feared” I “didn’t have what it takes” to be successful academically. And to be clear, these tragic incidents took place decades ago.

Our children provide fertile ground for us to rocket off the rails, and school provides the perfect storm. Each time one of our children is hurt or disappointed, we have the potential for that knee-jerk, exaggerated reaction. Anger crosses into rage, disappointment into despair, pride into hubris. Looking back over my children’s years in school, I can’t count the times I needed to call a time out – for me, not for them.

Sometimes I’d catch myself before I went spinning into the ozone; other times, I’d find myself floundering in my own emotional undertow before I realized. Either way, I knew it was time to hit the emergency override button. I’d clutch perspective in a tight fist, and renew my vows to reason. I’d breathe deeply, and listen as the echoes and whispers tapered. I’d feel the internal shift of memories moving back where they belonged — into a quiet corner of the distant past. I’d feel the boundary falling back into place, a clear affirmation that my children’s lives belonged not to me, but to them.

I wish your children a wonderful school year. And you as well.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a novelist, blogger and mother of three grown children. She has written two novels: Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, about a girl’s first year of high school – Tightwire, about a rookie psych intern treating her first patient, a stormy young man who grew up in the circus. Amy blogs about a variety of subjects including parenting, LGBTQ+ and a Rolling Stones Concert. Amy also enjoys collaborating with educators who use her novels in their curriculum. Before Amy began writing, she was a psychotherapist for 25 years, which taught her that compassionate parenting holds no judgments about development, change and diversity. 

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

 

 

 

 

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Confused Children (Or Not…)

What is it about lesbian moms and gay dads that sends thoughtful and rational folks off the rails? I’ve had versions of the following conversations too many times.

Conversation #1

I draw the line at gay parents.”

Why?

“Because the children will be confused.”

Conversation #2

Children need a mom and a dad.”

Why?

Because the children will be confused.

Conversation #3

“It’s one thing to be gay, and another thing to impose it on children.”

Why?

“Because the children will be confused.”

At this point, faced with a National Epidemic of Confused Children, I ask the same question: “Do you know any same-sex parents?” Almost always, the answer is NO.

But I do. I know families with two dads and two moms. Down the line, the kids are quite clear about the identities of each parent, about their own identities, about their places in their families. Of course the kids have issues, and if you’re bound and determined to Blame The Gay, then I can’t stop you. But honestly, all kids have issues; it’s the nature of growing up.

So let’s reconsider. Are these children truly confused?

NO. And YES.

As a parent of three, I’ve seen the world through the eyes of two developing boys and one developing girl. I’ve learned that the world is a confusing place. Why do we eat in one room, but not another? Why are some words fine at home, but forbidden at school? Why do we say “thank you” to a friend for candy, and the same “thank you” to our doctor for a shot? If kicking is wrong, why isn’t soccer illegal? How can bite and sight possibly rhyme, and what in the world is an irregular verb?

Every day presents challenges, and many are confusing. But the issues that confuse a child are not always the same issues that confuse an adult. If you know any kids who have two moms or two dads, then you know that these children are not at all confused by their family constellation. However, other people’s reactions are quite problematic. Other adults look in, hunting with determined tenacity until they find a sign that the child is somehow at risk, or the parents are somehow deficient. The issue here is not a confused child, but rather a confused adult. What confuses the child are the baffling reactions of these adults, and of the children who follow their cues.

Each subculture has its own set of unspoken, unwritten, complex rules and expectations. But same-sex parents are just moms and dads, raising their kids, forming a family. As a mother of three grown children, I can count on parenthood to remain extremely straightforward and totally confusing. I’ll always welcome all parents of any gender to help me figure it out.

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Amy Kaufman Burk is an author and blogger. Her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, was written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school, and follows one family’s journey after their daughter comes out. Her second novel, Tightwire, includes a strong friendship between a gay man and a straight man, as well as a two women, a couple raising 2 children, who become role model parents to the main character. Amy’s blog has several posts written in ally support of LGBTQ+. 

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

 

 

 

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Filed under family, LGBT, Marriage Equality, parenthood, same-sex parents

Waiting To Forget

When I entered my final trimester of my first pregnancy, I craved every detail of my friends’ birthing experiences. Some shared their stories frame by frame. But I heard from many moms that they didn’t remember much and that I, too, would forget the hardest parts of labor. I was told that the pain would fade, and I’d hold onto the positives: the excitement of beginning contractions, my newborn in my arms. I do remember those wondrous moments. But I also remember the feeling that I’d never get through, the exhaustion with no end in sight, the panic that I’d turn out to be a medical miracle: the only woman in history whose labor lasted forever.

This was nearly 24 years ago, and I’m still waiting to forget.

My first labor lasted forty hours, and I worked with two labor nurses, both extraordinary. My first nurse brought me through endless contractions while my cervix stubbornly remained three centimeters dilated. A doctor examined me around 12 hours into my labor, and I remember his voice: “You’ll feel some pressure.” I answered, “Go right ahead. You could drive a tractor in, and I wouldn’t feel a thing.” To my complete surprise, the doctor, my husband and my labor nurse all laughed. I hadn’t meant to be funny; I was speaking a simple truth.

I remember exactly what my contractions felt like. The tightening in my outer thighs, radiating to my inner thighs. Then, like a vise, clamping my entire pelvis in a slow-motion internal stretching. Stress to pain to something beyond impossible.

I remember when my first nurse left with the change of shift. I lay in a haze, and realized I was feeling a new set of hands. I was spent, wracked, beyond speech. My second nurse recognized I was in an alternate space, unreachable by the spoken word, so she placed her hands on me. Eyes closed, panting quietly, I thought: “These are the hands of a healer.”

Thirty-eight hours into my labor, I remember gripping my husband’s hands – large hands, with hair on the back – and thinking I had never known such comfort. I remember the moment when the head crowned, thinking through a shock-wave of pain: “It feels like a burning bowling ball.”

When my baby was born, they nestled him in my arms. His eyes were wide, and we stared at each other. He stopped crying immediately, his warmth mingling with mine. Tears filled my eyes — not from pain, not from exhaustion, but from wonder.

For years, I waited to forget the hardest parts. Finally the obvious hit me: I’d never forget because I didn’t want to. Sure it was tough; it’s called “labor” for good reason. But labor was a crucial part of my journey. I’ll never forget because remembering is woven into my fabric. It’s with me, in me, here to stay. Exactly where it belongs.

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Amy Kaufman Burk is an author, blogger and mother of three grown children.  Amy wrote her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school. Her second novel, Tightwire, follows a rookie psych intern through her first year of training. Tightwire was written as a voice against the stigma of therapy, and to demonstrate the human capacity to heal. Amy blogs on a variety of subjects including parenting, LGBTQ+, gender equality and a Rolling Stones concert. She also collaborates with educators who include her books in their curriculum.

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

 

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Filed under family, motherhood, parenthood