August 24, 2011

End of the Month Controversy - Mythology

DD and SI at the beach
I'd like to take this opportunity to finally start a monthly feature over here I've been dying to get into for ages now.

I'd like to start stirring up some controversy.

You see, parenting is hard.  Really, really effing hard.  It's not the individual tasks, for the most part, it's the fact that it never ever stops.  Not while you're sleeping.  Not while you're eating.  Not ever.

No matter how hard a day job is, no matter if you're working 80 hours a week, you still get to stop.  Sometimes.  Even if you're on call every single day, you get to take a few moments to STOP being a doctor, or an engineer, or a teacher.  You get to breath for a few minutes and pretend that whatever happening somewhere else just plain isn't your problem.

Parenthood isn't like that.

While you're asleep, things that are ABSOLUTELY your problem can still happen at any moment.  While you're in the bathroom, you know that somebody's going to get hit with a toy truck or fall off of a piece of furniture.  If they're at school or with a sitter, you keep a phone handy so that the seemingly inevitable emergency looming over your offspring will come to your attention immediately.  Even once your kids move away, I can't imagine you ever stop worrying.

As a result, there are no simple answers.  There's no right way to do absolutely anything.  But as any parent will tell you, there are a million WRONG ways to do things.

There's an old Jewish proverb- "There is only one perfect child on this earth, and every mother has it."

I'd extend that to say, "There's only one perfect mother on this earth, and every child has it."  In her own opinion.  Or at least, as close as it gets.

This can lead, as I'm sure you might imagine, to a huge amount of inter-mother conflict.  I've written about it a great deal, here and here for example.  Moms are constantly attacking each other for their beliefs- not about life, God, or politics, but just about plain ol' parenting.

The same thing that people have been muddling through since the dawn of human history.

So for my first controversial topic, I choose the arguments of how one is to best raise their children.

Every choice that I make is an indictment of every choice that contradicts it that another mother has made- IF that mother chooses to see it that way.  And it's hard not to.

Circumcise your kid?  You're a monster of a woman.  Feed your child Froot Loops?  You're a horrible parent.  Let them play with frogs and bugs?  They should lock you up.  Mothers are always attacking other mothers.  Not everyone, of course.  Not always to their faces.  But somewhere in our lizard brains, I know we're all doing it.  Taking other parenting choices personally.

I had a professor once who described mythology as, "Somebody else's religious beliefs."

People take religion VERY personally.  If I say that my religion is what I believe, and it contradicts your religion, that means that one of our religions is wrong, doesn't it?  It means that either I'm going to Hell, or you'll miss the nice hike to Jerusalem once the messiah comes.  But it can't be both.  Our disagreement is absolute.  Unless we make a very conscious choice to find common ground.

Bad parenting could probably likewise be described as, "Somebody else's parenting mistakes."

But "mistakes?"  Totally objective.  Do I think it's a mistake to postpone potty training?  Maybe.  For me.

That phrase, "for me," that's what's most important.  It would be a mistake "for me."  For that family?  For that parent?  For that child?  Who am I to judge?  If I say that my parenting choice works for me, and you say that yours works for you, where is that conflict?  Who's to say that they're not both perfectly good?  Who's to say that my child wouldn't be just as healthy if they weren't vaccinated, or that yours wouldn't be just as well adjusted if you had?  These are choices that are not so black and white, that we should have to work towards an understanding.  We should just be able to nod and say, "Yeah, it's hard, and you've made a decision that works for you."  Whether we agree with it or not, this much is true.

Towards the end of each month, I will write on a topic filled with controversial potential.  Circumcision, vaccination, abortion, home schooling... my list is long.  Some of them still create disharmony in my own home with my own husband.  And all of them are related to parenting.

All of them come back to one fundamental idea- is somebody else's parenting choice a mythology or a theology?  How respectful can we be of different ideas- my own included- without feeling that our own emotional security is threatened?

It's a really difficult job, respecting different parenting choices.  It's hard to avoid hurtful language when disagreeing.  It's hard to tell somebody you do things differently without saying that you do it better.  And that's what makes people crazy.

They've got to know that they're doing better than the person who does it differently.  Because for some reason, we seem to believe that there's only one right answer.  That's what religion tells us, it's what mathematics tells us, and it's what our innate fears tell us.  But it's not true.  It's almost never true in the life of living creatures.  We make choices between perfect alternatives every day, without even thinking about it.  But we put so much thought into parenting, so much work, so much worry...

If you do it one way, and I do it another... can we both be right?

I think we can.  But we don't get the answer until our children grow into functional individuals within their own new adult society.  And people become functional adults all the time- regardless of how badly their parents screwed up.

So yes, we can both be right.  Or we can both be wrong.  But neither of us has any clue which it's going to be, so we might as well be civil about it.

2. There is no one "right" way to be a good mom...

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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I would agree with some of what Ruby said, in that there are some Universal Truths regarding things that are always Good or always Bad (like racism and genocide). But what about the "smaller" stuff, like when to start potty training, co-sleeping, which bottle to use, etc? I would agree with Becoming SuperMommy there on the idea of "right for me" or "mistake for me". It is always bad to starve your child deliberately, but choosing which baby food to start your child on when she is old enough for solids is definitely relative (for me).

  3. I certainly look forward to your upcoming controversial posts. Stir the pot, mama!

  4. @RooPlusTwo: I agree that there are some absolutes, but parenting has very few of them. And your examples illustrate very clearly one of them (which will be discussed at length in the future).

    Beating up your kids? As far as I'm concerned, that's black and white. But then there's the question of what IS hurting your kids. Is it hurting them to send them to school? To give them vaccinations? To make them watch Caillou?

    I'm looking forward to having this conversation in more depth. :)

  5. Caillou! NOOOOOoooo, he's sooo whiney! lol. XO

  6. Could you write about homosexuals? I am interested on what you have to say - both of my sisters are lesbians.

  7. Yeah, I love this idea, cant wait for your 1st controversial post!

  8. There are many right answers, and what's best differs for each child. I'm not the perfect mother, but I'm happily learning from experience. (I do, of course, have one perfect child.)



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