Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Parenting, I think

Last night, while a colleague and I were holding forth on GEN Y and parenting and related mysterious phenomena before a generous crowd of parents an hour away, my own kids were experiencing an airport nightmare--no crash, no injuries, but far too many hours strapped into a plane that went nowhere for far too long. As these words appear on the screen before me, I'm still not certain they're home. But I think so. At least they're closer than they were they started out yesterday, their two little kids in tow, at just about this time.

We were doing a presentation the two of us have given before--some earmarks of kids these days, techno-savvy, Facebook-loving surfers, whose reading habits and abilities are being transformed by internet, the medium I'm using right now. We talked about trying to understand them, but neither of us--this old prof or my youthful teammate--are into ladling out answers; both of us, academics, of course, rather like the questions, a fact which can be--and was--a little annoying to some members of the audience. One of them even mentioned it. "Look," he said, "you've been telling us all the good questions, now how about some answers." He said what he did only half in jest.

I have no doubt that if I'd google "parenting" right now, I could find a couple hundred well-meant sites pro-porting to give six or eight or twelve steps toward good parenting. Writ large, of course, answers are obvious: you want good kids, love 'em. Start there. But after that, all bets are off. Two kids come from the same parents, grow up in the same house, hear the same values and see them acted out everyday of their lives; but the same two kids depart in wholly different directions. Go figure.

Love 'em--sure. But how? Well, give them some leash to grow on their own, even to fail; but don't give them too much. Don't build a fence around them, but on the other hand don't allow them so much pasture that you suddenly realize you don't have a clue where their minds and souls are ranging. Don't be helicopters, but stay close by.

Parenting, like life itself, is more of an art than a science, it seems, and when the two of us left the parking lot last night, we agreed that the only rule we'd agree to was not to trust anyone who tells you exactly how it's done. The human character has too many variables, and successful parenting is more a mystery than the very best whodunit. I'm no expert, but I am a parent.

Besides, what exactly is successful parenting?--that we grow clones? Doesn't happen. Neither nature nor nurture are replicators, despite the valuable insight we're gaining from advances in DNA research.

When Native people saw white folks grab their kids by the ears or slap them up in public, they were horrified by Anglo barbarism. Attacking kids that way seemed a violation of something sacred.

Who was right? Isn't that a wonderful question. Just don't ask me to answer it.

Recently, a representative of a group who supplies China with English teachers came recruiting at the college where I teach. She talked about how China's one-child national policy, created to limit population growth, was just now beginning to have profound effects on China's educational system. A nation of "only children" is going to be a whole lot different than a nation whose families had multiple kids. Families are at the heart of life itself.

Parents and kids. The oldest of my colleague's three kids is six. My youngest is 30. But really, our collective wisdom is no more than anyone else's. All I know for sure is that I never realized, when I was a kid, how much parents worry. Just one of the sins I may well have to account for someday is not knowing, not understanding that reality. But then, that's hindsight.

For awhile yesterday, I didn't even tell my wife about our kids' airport problems. When you're locked up with the airlines, there's nothing anybody can do anyway, including the passengers, our kids. By not telling her, I assumed I was saving her the misery of worry. I should have known better. The truth will out, and did. Last night I'm sure she didn't sleep well. Wouldn't be the first time.

Eli's kids were out of control--remember the Bible story? David's son took after his father as if the King was the root of all evil, but when Absalom hung by his hair from a nearby tree, his father was so inconsolable it took his bloody field general to get the king to return to life and rule. The Bible says our own famous forebearers, Adam and Eve, had two kids, one of whom offed the other. More often than not, Jesus's words have some bite; but we read again not long ago his injunction to those who wanted to follow him to cut loose their parents.

But it strikes me sometime that the scripture can be, really, great comfort in that way--not so much by its textbook answers, but by the gallery of examples the stories in its pages offer, enough at least to make clear--amid our worry and care for our kids, our undying love and concern--that for thousands and thousands of years people have walked the very same roads, felt similar shivers, wondered just like we do how to answer the questions that plague us all about our kids--and all of that long before the internet.

Our preacher--bless his heart--is fond of saying now, at Advent especially, but throughout the church calendar, that the message of the angels to those unkempt shepherds somewhere on the hills of Galilee is the heart of entire gospel--two words: "fear not."

This morning, I just hope my kids are home.


Real Live Preacher said...

Easy answers: the big American temptation.

I've been tempted to put together my list of parenting tips, each one more outrageous than the next.

Like this:

Children want to be miserable. They love misery. If it does not come to them they will seek it out. If you buy your daughter one barbie she will be happy for a time, then want another barbie and be sad that she doesn't have it. If you buy her 50, she will be happy for a time then want another one and be sad that she doesn't have it.

So give up thinking you can make them happy. Give them what they need and let them learn to live with a modest form of misery, lest they seek out more exotic forms of misery in response to your over-zealous attempts to rescue them.

RickNiekLikeBikes said...

Worry makes a man normal, but you know that. Quid Pro Quo. Ya always get something for something. I'm not a parent but that basic philosophy works I think. Technology changes but one can parent a child to learn, to read, write, know God and do the right thing (doesn't every good CRC'er?). The fact that we all end up different stands as one of the very few things that probably has nothing to do with parenting. Whadda I know? I don't care what letter I am. It's just a thought.