Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Parental Preoccupation

I don't understand other parents. Now that my elder son, Avery, is in Kindergarten we have more cause to come into contact with other parents. Since Stacia and I had kids younger than many in our peer group most of my friends have not had children. Interacting with other parents of a variety of ages I am frequently confounded. It seems that I just don't think like them. Here are some examples:

Many parents appear to believe their own children are innately good. While I am extremely proud of my boys and tentatively think they are growing into fine human beings, I definitely don't regard them as little bundles of innocence. They are often selfish and sometimes violent. If an adult behaved as they do I would be horrified. Clearly they deserve extra license for being children, but that is just my point - why should we regard children as little angels when they're not? They require more tolerance than adults.

Many parents appear to center their lives around their children. The most important relationship I have with a human being is with my wife. I love my kids very much, but I also want them to grow up and leave my house and lead lives of their own and form bonds to people they love that supercede their relationship with me. They will hopefully outlive me and not be devastated by that fact, because though they love me I am not the most important person in their life. While they are young, of course, the parental relationship is paramount, but even at this age it is good, in my opinion, for them to know that the world doesn't revolve around them.

Many parents experience anxiety about their children suffering. I just take it as a given that my children will suffer. I don't see my primary role as a "protector". Yes, I want them to survive in good health and sound mind into adulthood. I'm not saying I don't care if they get hurt. I'm just saying I don't have any illusions that I'm going to be able to protect them from most pain and I don't have any guilt or worry about that fact. More than anything, actually, I want my children to be able to empathize with people who are suffering and how can they do that if they never suffer themselves?

Many parents say what they want most for their children is for them to be happy. What I want most for my children is for them to be good people who make the world a better place. I suppose you could say that true happiness comes from virtue and so these two things are the same, but I think the first one often gets expressed in ways I disagree with. For example, "I want my children to be better off than me financially," or "I want my children to have a better education than I had," or "I want my children to not experience the pains I have experienced (divorce, alcoholism, depression etc...)." I think it is possible to conceive of a person who is "blissfully ignorant" - someone who feels emotionally content, but is blind to their own complicity in evil. I want my children to grow up into adults who are both happy and good, but if I were forced to choose between the two, I would rather they were good than happy.

Perhaps more parents than I realize feel the way I do, but they just don't say so. Or maybe I am very deficient in parental affection. I don't bring it up to criticize other parents. Most of them are probably better than me. I guess I bring it up because it bothers me a bit to feel so out of sync with what a majority of parents seem to believe.


Doug Hagler said...

One of the things that freaks me out the most about the prospect of being a parent is other parents. As a third party watching them watch each other and comment on each other, I really appreciate that I am not involved. But there is just this thrumming vibe of comparison when parents gather. I just get this sick feeling in my stomach.

Particularly in Marin County, there is the phenomenon of grown adults negotiating with toddlers and small children. No, negotiation takes place between equals. It is really clear that little kids run things around here (as you may recall). If I ever end up begging a child to stop having a tantrum, put me out of my misery.

Aric Clark said...

I think most of the phenomenon of parents observing each other is innocent. There is no universal instruction manual for how to raise kids and much of it is just curiosity - how do you handle this situation? There is also puberty-esque comparison going on, which is a bit more obnoxious.

As for the negotiating with toddlers bit - yeah it's out of control in my opinion. I understand why it happens. Some good reasons - wanting to avoid abusive violence or yelling, trying to give children a certain amount of respect, treating them like human beings. Some bad reasons - embarrassed to discipline your children in public, afraid of your kids, misconceptions about child development. It is actually effective to give children small choices in select instances - give them a sense of control, but not when they are throwing a tantrum. That is exactly the wrong time.

Andrew Irvine said...

If Stacia had to choose between you and the boys, I wonder who she would.... I'm not sure about this, but gender may also be at play in our notions of reasonable parenting. Though I go along with most of what you said!

Aric Clark said...

Though I strongly resist rigid stratification of gender stereotypes I suspect you are right Andrew. There are obviously exceptions, but in general it seems true that many women in our culture would prioritize children over spouse, whereas many men would do the reverse.

Obviously, in no way, am I saying that EITHER children or spouse are unimportant, and hopefully our time and energy are given generously to both relationships, but if priorities were to be stated...

Paul Wise said...

If only children came with instruction manuals, this might be easier to sort out. :P

reborn1995 said...

Fantastic post. Kudos.

i remember hearing a sermon a couple years ago that got me thinking. i'm embellishing quite a bit--but the thought was about what is it i find most important to exemplify to my son? Do i model to him that it's important to guard my physical safety from the world which is full of dangers that we ought to let limit our lives? Or should i model to my son that i am willing to follow Christ wherever He may lead no matter what that means to my safety, health, pocketbook, etc.? If we're biblically honest at all, surely it's the latter. And yet, we live in a culture where viewing so much of the world (our neighbors, other cultures and sub-cultures, certain parts of town, etc.) through lenses of fear and mistrust is a perfectly acceptable way for "good, Christian people" to live.