Saturday, June 30, 2007

Kids And Parents

Well, here's something to think on. I've been working on this thought for a little while. I'm not even sure I'm getting exactly to the point I want to get to with it. It came out of two places. One, I've just plain been thinking about it for a long time and now I've got a little more life under me to have a better opinion about it. Two, a conversation that I began with a friend. So read on and have at it. It's messy. There are logic holes, I'm sure. But that's OK for now. Look at it for now as a conversation with me while I'm being really long winded. Your thoughts will really help me with mine, so opinions welcome. Have fun!

Should a person in our current world willingly produce their own children? Maybe. I think there are a lot of people who go ahead and have children without ever really thinking it through. Especially in America, we live arrogantly. We believe that we have the right to have kids, and we do, but we should also be responsible about it. It is a complicated issue. There are many sides to it. More than I really want to research to find the answer. Besides, I think I would only find out what is the answer for me. I’m not sure that on a topic like this one that there is in fact a universal answer.

When I decided to have my children, I was whole-heartedly living the American lifestyle. I was not a Christian. I believed what I read in the paper. I bought into the media spin. I had stopped thinking unless it was about how I could get more of what ever it was that I wanted or believed I needed. Now my road to children was not easy, and I’m not sure that I could even put a reason on paper as to why I decided to have children, but I did.

My first pregnancy ended in the miscarriage of twins. My second pregnancy was utterly horrible. I gained enough weight to essentially double what I currently weigh. There were many issues, a complicated birth and ultimately a child with Autism. After all this, I went ahead and got pregnant again. This third pregnancy again was complicated, had an emergency c-section birth and brought me a second child with Autism. After this birth, I was informed that getting pregnant another time could in fact end my life.

In between these boys I became a Christian. It changed the way I see the world. Now, this isn’t so much about religion as it is about how I took my head out of the sand and really saw the world I was living in. Being a Christian just gave me the courage to look long and hard and honestly at what was around me. Faith brings with it hope. That hope lets you look and see.

Being a parent is something awesome to experience, regardless of how your children come to you. You enter a realm of learning that you could never otherwise experience. It can not be bought in any book or class. It can not be learned in any sermon or TV talk show. It comes only through living it.

What a parent learns are the things we all think we already know. And we do know them, just not to the full. As a parent you learn so much more about grace, humility, love, forgiveness, sacrifice, self-control, mercy, and patience than you ever thought was possible. What is fair suddenly seems different. What is right or wrong seems instantly clear even when you can’t articulate it well. The world is suddenly crystal clear, and very ugly. A scary world gets balanced with the blessings of life with kids. Kids bring their own style of joy to your life.

Or at least, that is what I believe parenting should be doing for you. My problem is that I see and meet a lot of parents who never made the leap. Parenting did nothing to change them. They are still living self-fish, unthinking lives, and now they are dragging along a few children behind them. It’s utterly wrong, arrogant and self-centered.

But, this is one of my personal pet peeves in life. A person who goes along day after day, year after year without ever really thinking about anything makes me crazy. I’m not saying everyone should spend all their free time listening to opera and reading the classics or doing chemistry and calculus for fun, but, there is a consequence for never using the brain that holds up your skull. I’m also not saying that we should never have fun or do frivolous things, just admit them for what they are. I know all kinds of “smart, thinking” people who watch lots of TV or read romance novels when they’re on the beach or subscribe to “junk” magazines or go to the movies—and I don’t mean the smart foreign kind! We all need to do fun stuff, to give ourselves a break, but we still need to tune back in later.

I suspect that this issue of non-thinking parents is bigger than just one generation. It’s not really limited to just my generation and the ones to follow. It’s part of a pattern that started long ago. When? I don’t know and I’m not sure I ever will want to spend that much time to find out. What I do know is that the pattern is there; it exists and continues to get worse.

The pattern I see is this. We have parents with kids who are over involved in activities, stretched in academics and pushed from birth to become great adults. A little of all of these are ok, but what’s missing is not ok. These kids have no real relationships with their parents. It used to be that when kids hit the teen years there would be rebellion and defiance and the famous line “You don’t even know me or anything about me!” I think most teens have screamed this at one or both parents at least once. The real problem is that this is a real problem!

I believe that there are parents right now who really, truly don’t even know their infants, let alone their teens. If you give birth to a baby and hand it off to someone else to care for it six weeks into its life, you are basically hiring a stranger to do your job of getting to know this child. Maybe you’re giving this child over to a close relative or family friend, fine and dandy, but you’re still putting your responsibility of intimately knowing your own child onto someone else.

I’m not saying that child care is bad or unnecessary. We live in a brutal and unfair world. There are plenty of families where they literally do have to have everyone working to be able to make it, but shouldn’t that have been a thought somewhere in someone’s mind before having a child? I mean, don’t we look at our lives closely before we decide to buy a car or a house, and that’s a lot less of a commitment than a lifetime of a child.

So the parents are partially having a problem getting into relationships with their children because of child care. What else is going on? There are lots of families that use child care and still have “normal” relationships with their kids. So what else is there? I think these parents are having a hard time modeling good relationships for their kids because they don’t have any of their own.

When divorce was less common and more taboo, there was an advantage on the relationship front. Now, I’m not talking about marriages with abuse that stayed together and everyone came out damaged in some way. What I’m talking about here is the marriage where the love had worn down. The marriage with a low level of bickering that was as constant as the TV in the background. Marriages that we today would quickly say are dysfunctional and should end in divorce.

The advantage of a less than perfect marriage was that everyone had to work it out. At least on the most basic low level of minimal civility, the mom and dad had to work it out. What you had were families that were far from perfect, far from what we today would consider a good marriage, but at the same time a family full of people who had really learned how to work things out with each other. Those kids were able to in turn make friends in the neighborhood without a supervised and superficial program. They were able to survive in a classroom with all levels and kinds of kids. They survived the playground. And the lunchroom. And gym. They were able to get and keep jobs because they were able to work with people above and below them in the structure. They were able to work with customers.

As time has gone by though, there has been so called progress. It’s easier than ever to get married and divorced. It seems as though a lot of people don’t even care. It’s an archaic tradition. An unnecessary formality. Then there are all the deviations on the original.

This progress in divorce territory has really led to disposable relationships. It gets a little hard, people cut the cord. I don’t know too many people who like to work hard, especially at something like a relationship.

So if kids are 2nd or 3rd generations out of divorces or no marriage backgrounds how does it affect them? Does it? Most people will argue that there is really no effect. Nothing happens. I’d argue differently. In fact, I will.

I think if you allow this constant stream of child raising without families, there is bound to be trouble. This is marriage and extended family. There is great benefit to family. It is sticky and nasty, messy and dirty. They can be mean; they can make your life difficult. They can be the biggest blessing in your life.

Life in a family, even the most minimally functional family, produces people who are capable of so much in life. Being a part of a family will force you to learn about others and about yourself. When there are spouses who work at getting along, or even don’t work at getting along, they are setting a stage for their kids. Children are learning there is more than one way to solve a situation. They learn that at times, relationships can be uncomfortable. They learn that it’s ok for everyone to have their own thoughts and be their own person, while still being a part of a group.

That’s the bit we’ve messed up. We’ve lost it. We have spent so much time and energy in the last few generations focusing on the individual that’s it’s become impossible for anyone to feel good about being a part of a group. Even a part of a couple. Think about for a minute. What do people say when they’re splitting up? “I need my space.” “I wanted to do my things.” “I just couldn’t be who he/she wanted me to be.”

Somehow, this has filtered into everything. Schools and sports are often all about making each person feel special. Kid’s sports teams don’t keep score anymore because they don’t want anyone to have hurt feelings. How does that help you as an adult in the working world? No company that I’ve ever heard of says everyone gets a raise because we don’t want anyone to have hurt feelings? Come on. Think about academics for a minute. How many kids are getting passed into the next grade so they won’t feel badly instead of because they have done the work, learned the lessons and are now qualified to be in the next grade? Sounds harsh, doesn’t it? But do you want one of these kids who got passed along grade after grade so he wouldn’t feel bad to be the Dr. in charge when you have terminal cancer or perhaps even be the next president? That’s where we’re heading.

We have whole generations of children who are now adults that were raised with this attitude. They were special. They were individuals. It’s good to pat kids on the back now and again, especially when they deserve it, but it’s been over done. Now we have adults that are so focused on themselves, they can’t possibly be in a meaningful relationship with anyone else. They aren’t even able to see themselves in a truthful way. They have only the delusional vision given to them by well meaning parents.

When you can’t see yourself truthfully, you can’t be truthful in a relationship. Now, I’m not saying that everyone is running around lying to each other, but if you really don’t know what makes you tick, how are you ever going to even care what makes your spouse tick, let alone even think of figuring out what makes your kids go. See how this works?

It just continues to spiral on and on. Much like this thought has. As you can see, it’s something that I’ve been thinking about and working on. It needs a lot of work yet. That’s where you come in. Rip it apart. Tell me what you’re thinking. Why bother? Well, either you can prove me wrong and gloat or you’ll help me figure out my arguments and point out the holes in my thinking.

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