Saturday, September 11, 2010

That Parenting Debate - a Ramble

Over on Facebook (you know, that alternate reality...), I've read two articles recently on parenting angst. If you have time, and are interested in this topic, then I'd encourage you to read them. The first is very long. (Click at the bottom of each page on the site, to get to the next page.) The second is, kindly, only one page. Here they are:

The "parenting-is-truly-horrible-and-we-can-only-enjoy-it-after-the-fact" article. This one is from New York Magazine by Jennifer Senior.

And the "for-goodness-sakes-it's-not-as-bad-as-all-that" article in Salon, by Gwynne Watkins. She doesn't offer an alternate guide, so much as holler at the other writer, "Loosen up!!"

I should have known right off the bat that the first article would be over-serious; the photographer put pictures of herself, her husband and their twins in as her contribution, all with sad-sack faces, but lovely lighting.

People are so stressed out over parenting these days. They're terrified of getting it wrong. Each new generation (and I mean about every 10 years) has a new, brilliant method for turning out the perfect child. It's hard to age 10 years and find out from all the know-it-all 25 year old moms out there, with 18 month olds on their hips, that you're so totally WRONG, and have permanently damaged your teenagers. But I digress.

Of course, I agree more with the second article, which says that all those uppity, ulcer-prone New Yorkers are over-thinking it (as usual) and looking for happiness in all the wrong ways. True 'nuff. If would-be parents think the happiness that's escaped them will be found in a 2 year old with a poopy diaper and a temper tantrum, they deserve the foolishness they get.

But in defense of the first article, I'll say that quite a lot of the joy of parenting IS found in later years. Much of what we put up with in younger children, we tolerate better because we believe we're training them for improved attitudes when they're older. Parenting is an arduous process of training OUT the bad, and training IN the good, with many mistakes along the way requiring forgiveness on all sides. (If you don't believe there's any bad in your child to train out, you're really sunk.) The end result, hopefully, is a young adult who is ready to meet the world and will thank you for your help. Is that so hard?

You see, the harder we try to keep them children forever, the more taxing we make our jobs. ( I can HEAR you out there, saying, "Wait! We don't want them to grow up too fast! They must relish their childhoods!)

We should desire maturity at all ages of our children's lives. I want a mature 2 year old who will quieten down when I tell her to. I want a 6 year old who will stay in his bed because it's required of him. I want a 10 year old who will do the math even though she hates it. I want a 15 year old who will comply with parental orders, even though he knows IT ALL, because he has learned that obedience is good. Those behaviors demonstrate maturity.

What I notice in the "bad" kids around me is that they are not mature; they are worldly. Not only are these terms not synonymous -- they are opposite. Worldliness produces the worst kind of irresponsible immaturity in young people. Maturity is characterized by some degree of humility, i.e., a child who realizes his place in his world, accepts it, and doesn't think the world exists for his happiness.

I'm so sorry to see young parents who seem to raise their children for their own gratification. What folly that is! They long for a deep, meaningful relationship with a 5 year old. Don't they remember what 5 year olds want? Fun, inquisitiveness, independence within reason, and a brief hug if it's absolutely necessary. People who are still carrying their 5 year olds around in large scarves concern me. The parents may want this; they may need this; they may have been convinced by some sociologist that it's good. That doesn't make it normal.

But who am I to say what's normal? One of the articles (I've forgotten which one. Both?) mentioned how parents raised kids 100 years ago. They went from the breast directly to farmwork, one would think. Rather brutal -- do we want to go back to that? Was it a golden age of parenting, the 1910's? The 1940's? Indian mothers with their babies strapped to their backs?

You see, both these articles seem to flounder around, searching for a standard. I will be considered abysmally old-fashioned for saying that the best standard is the Bible. Perhaps some aspects of daily life are absent in its litany of instructions, but parenting isn't one of them. When I look at how God "parented" David, the child after His own heart, the raw core of their tempestuous relationship is laid bare. What do I see? Great love, gigantic aspirations for his future, harsh punishments and harsher trials. Did David complain? Yes. Did he utterly trust God to do right? Yes.

Fellow-parents, we are not God, but we should strive to be like Him. I think in the end, I'd look to neither of these magazines for help in that regard. God keeps His eye on the long view, the end result. Enjoy your baby, enjoy your teen, enjoy the grandchildren when they come. But realize that one day you will be gone from the planet, and those lovely children and grandchildren you've produced will continue without you. You are not preparing them for independence; you're preparing them to be dependent on God when they're alone.

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