Raising your children to be good people

helping old lady cross the streetMy parents raised me to be academically successful.  They came from a European milieu that valued intellectual elitism above all other things.  That was my value too, and one I applied to the people with whom I chose to surround myself.

As the years went by, though, I realized that intellectual elites often aren’t very nice people or even very smart people.  All too often, they armor themselves with degrees and disdain.  Some are nice, some aren’t, just like all other people.  When it comes to the ones who aren’t nice, though, what’s so interesting about the intellectual elite is how easily they rationalize away their meanness.  Their knowledge doesn’t lead to morality, it leads to a moral narcissism that sees them as the ultimate arbiters of what’s “good.

Having concluded that my parents’ European elitist values didn’t lead me to the people and places that would have worked best for my life, I’ve tried extremely hard to raise my children to be “nice.”  To me, that word contains within it such  notions as kind, honest, moral, helpful, and loyal.  You don’t have to be the top student or the best athlete, but you’d better not be the kid picking on the unattractive girl or the dorky boy. And when someone asks for help, you give it.

For the children’s entire lives, I’ve operated on the principle that, when it comes to them, I have to “catch them being good” — and that means catching them when they’ve been kind to another person or done the right thing.  I never let such incidents go without saying.

In other words, I agree with Rabbi Joseph Telushkin:

But here’s something depressing: It didn’t work. For their entire lives, I’ve been doing the right things — modeling good behavior (sometimes with great effort, since I’m not an innately nice person) and catching my children (and their friends) when they were behaving well — but it didn’t work. The hardest thing about the last several weeks hasn’t been the inconvenience of crutches, it’s been the fact that my children have been completely unwilling to step up and help out. I have been beyond disappointed. Despite all my efforts, I was unable to counter other influences in their lives, influences that revolve around grades, money, and self-fulfillment through selfishness.

My only hope now is that, once they’re on their own and life has its way with them, my children will discover the same life lesson that I learned: that at the end of the day, the behaviors that you will value most in yourself and in others are the ones that are rooted, not in money or prestige or transitory pleasures, but in innate decency and goodness.

On raising boys *UPDATED*

Boys playing cops and robbersOn my Facebook page today, two of my friends put up links with advice for parents raising sons.  One link came from an ultra liberal friend and the other link came from a solidly conservative friend.  There is a vast chasm between the two sites when it comes the types of men each post is trying to create.  I therefore thought it would be interesting to offer the two sets of advice side by side.  Please note that I’ve only included the headings.  You should visit both sites to see the specifics behind each heading.  (My comments, which I hope clarify the more cryptic headlines, are in parentheses.)

First, from “Raising Boys,” a subset of “The Good Men Project”, comes a post entitled Seven Memes That Will Change The Way You Think About Raising Boys:

1. We Need To Teach Boys That Being “A Girl” Is Not An Insult.
2. All Boys Are “All Boy” (e.g., it’s not just rambunctious, athletic boys who are “all boy”).
3. But They Should Not Get Away With Bad Behavior Just Because They Are Boys.
4. We Believe In Men, Their Maturity And Compassion
5. Teach Your Son to Respect Women
6. We Need to Showcase More Multi-Dimensional Boys and Men in the Media (e.g., not just vampires)
7. And One Day Soon, We Will Be Using the Expression “Boys Will Be Boys” To Describe This: (followed by a picture of a trio of boys sitting quietly on the floor pretending to give bottles of milk to dolls)

Second, from “Belief Net,” comes a post entitled Ten Things Every Dad Should Tell His Son:

1. Do Courageous Things
2. Work Harder Than Anyone Else
3. Hang with the Wise
4. Stay Away From Porn
5. Reflect True American Character (i.e, fulfill the Founder’s vision)
6. Assume a Gift Is Hidden (i.e., you have to work to get the good things out of life)
7. Remember that Everything Counts (i.e., don’t live your life making careless choices because you assume something isn’t important)
8. Know that Marriage is a Covenant
9. After You Screw Up, Step Up
10. Focus on Stewardship

I’ve often said that the Left wants to feminize boys, while conservatives should have as their goal taking boy’s behaviors (their energy, their loyalty, their drive to leadership) and channeling them into virtuous values and conduct. These two lists seem to exemplify those different ways of thinking about transitioning boys to men.

This is not to say that I reflexively disagree with the first list. Indeed, I strongly believe in several of the items on that list. It’s just that the list’s purpose doesn’t seem to have as its primary purpose taking ordinary, generic boys and turning them into ordinary, generic, and good men. Instead, its primary purpose seems to be to validate those boys who don’t have an excess of what I call “boy energy” (and I live surrounded by lots of very boy energy) and to insinuate that the best boys are the ones who, rather than channeling their boy energy to a more noble way of being, simply sublimate it altogether.

I probably would endorse the first list if it were merged into the second.  If one successfully raised a boy with all of those principles, what would emerge would be a fully-rounded man perfect for romance novels:  tough, but sensitive….  Back in the real world, however, which is where I live, if I were parenting a completely generic boy (which I actually am) and could pick only one list to use to raise my child, I’d pick the BeliefNet list.  I like that list because it recognizes the reality of boys, rather than trying to force boys to conform to a theory.

I’d also pick the BeliefNet list because the good parts of the “Raising Boys” list can be incorporated as subsets of the ideas in the BeliefNet list.  For example, items 4 and 8 from the BeliefNet list (“stay away from porn” and “marriage is a covenant”) incorporate within them the notion that “girl” is not an insult, that men should be compassionate, and that men must respect women.  Likewise, items 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, and 10 readily encompass “believing in men, their maturity and compassion,” because guys who step up to the requirements in the BeliefNet list will be mature, reliable, honorable and, one hopes, compassionate.

In sum, for me the BeliefNet list looks at boys as they actually are, and prepares them to become the men that they should be.  Meanwhile, the “Raising Boys” list looks at boys as girls are, and prepares them to become the men that, without being homosexual, nevertheless most closely resemble girls.

UPDATE:  With perfect timing, one of my “real me” Facebook friends posted this on his wall today:

Gentleman

UPDATE II: You may also want to read Kay Hymovitz on the damage single motherhood does to boys.

Who died and made you queen?

My daughter has frequently come home from soccer fulminating about certain girls on her team who keep “yelling” at her.  I have to admit that I didn’t initially take her complaints very seriously.  Being a teen she (a) has thin skin and (b) is prone to exaggeration.  Also, in a good soccer game, there is lots of communication going on.  “Mary, be open!”  “I got it!”  “Watch out, Jane!”  It wouldn’t surprise me if my daughter took “Watch out” as an insult.

And then I saw her team play.

In fact, my daughter was absolutely right.  There are a handful of girls who have taken it upon themselves to tell everyone else on the team what they’re doing wrong.  In shrill, teen girl voices they scream out “You shouldn’t have missed that.”  “You’re in the wrong place.”  “You’re doing that wrong.”  “I told you to be mid field [never mind that the coach said something else].”  As the game goes on, they get more and more shrill and dictatorial.

The person mostly at fault for this is the coach, who should squash this type of behavior immediately.  He doesn’t, though. and the fact that this is a recreational league staffed by parent volunteers means that there’s not a lot other parents can do.  I’ve advised my daughter to pull a sweet-tempered “dumb blonde” in the face of this hectoring.  She should, in dulcet terms, keep saying “I’m sorry, I can’t hear you,” until those girls are embarrassing themselves by screaming at the top of their lungs.  Meanwhile, my daughter should pay attention only to the coach.  Whether my daughter has the guile and self-control to pursue this approach is questionable.

Why am I writing about this if I can’t change the passive coach and it’s unlikely that my daughter will do anything other than get angry?  I’m writing because I find it almost incomprehensible that there are people out there who think that they have the right to yell at anyone.  This kind of narcissism is so alien to me.  There are certainly situations in which one has the right and even the duty to tell people what to do and to tell them what they’re doing wrong:  a parent to a child, a teacher to a student, a sergeant or chief to a new recruit, an employer to an employee, etc.  What my daughter is dealing with, though, are just ordinary girls (usually popular in school) who believe that they are entitled to tell everyone else not just what to do, but what they’re doing wrong.

It’s narcissism, plain and simple.  One of my favorite romance novels (you know I like them), involves a woman escaping from an abusive relationship to a narcissist.  In Lisa Kleypas’s Blue-Eyed Devil, Kleypas has as good a summary as I’ve ever seen of what a narcissist is, how he or she thinks, and how he or she controls people:

I was welcomed into a small, cozy office with a sofa upholstered in flowered yellow twill, by a therapist who didn’t seem all that much older than me. Her name was Susan Byrnes, and she was dark-haired and bright-eyed and sociable. It was a relief beyond description to unburden myself to her. She was understanding and smart, and as I described things I had felt and gone through, it seemed she had the power to unlock the mysteries of the universe.

Susan said Nick’s behavior fit the pattern of someone with narcissistic personality disorder, which was common for abusive husbands. As she told me about the disorder, it felt as if she were describing my life as it had been for the past year. A person with NPD was domineering, blaming, self-absorbed, intolerant of others’ needs . . . and they used rage as a control tactic. They didn’t respect anyone else’s boundaries, which meant they felt entitled to bully and criticize until their victims were an absolute mess.

Having a personality disorder was different from being crazy, as Susan explained, because unlike a crazy person, a narcissist could control when and where he lost his temper. He’d never beat up his boss at work, for example, because that would be against his own interests. Instead he would go home and beat up his wife and kick the dog. And he would never feel guilty about it, because he would justify it and make excuses for himself. No one’s pain but his own meant anything to him.

“So you’re saying Nick’s not crazy, he’s a sociopath?” I asked Susan.

“Well . . . basically, yes. Bearing in mind that most sociopaths are not killers, they’re just nonempathetic and highly manipulative.”

“Can he ever be fixed?”

She shook her head immediately. “It’s sad to think about what kind of abuse or neglect might have made him that way. But the end result is that Nick is who he is. Narcissists are notoriously resistant to therapy. Because of their sense of grandiosity, they don’t ever see the need to change.” Susan had smiled darkly, as if at some unpleasant memory. “Believe me, no therapist wants a narcissist to walk in the door. It only results in massive frustration and a waste of time.”

(Kleypas, Lisa, Blue-Eyed Devil (pp. 92-93). Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

When I look around at the number of people, from the White House down, who believe that they exist on a different plane and are therefore entitled unfettered right to criticize others, I have to ask whether this was always the case, or if the last fifty years — since Marxists took over parenting ideas and education — have created a generation of self-righteous narcissists.  What do you think?

Oh, and here’s just the right video for this post:

That certain something . . . the body language of popular kids

I attended a graduation yesterday and, this being Marin, it was a very ritzy affair.  The boys were nattily attired in suits (with a surprising number of bow ties popping up amongst the newly minted graduates) while the girls were wearing skimpy dresses, many of which obviously cost more than I spend in an entire year on my clothes.  (Of course, since I hate shopping, that’s not saying much.  But they were really, really expensive dresses.)  Kids in this community have clear skin, white teeth, expensive hair cuts, and loving (although often divorced) parents.

What fascinated me was watching the kids walk onto the stage to get their diplomas.  One could tell in an instant, especially with the boys, which were the popular kids.  Their body language was different.  While the other kids looked apologetic for occupying their physical space, the popular kids (and I had someone near me identify them as “popular” so I wasn’t guessing), seemed completely comfortable in their own bodies.  They had a physical assurance about them that was attractive.  Even sitting in the back of a crowded school auditorium, I could see their aura.  And even I, an aged parent, thought, “Wow, that kid looks cool.”

I’ve told my kids over the years not to slouch, and they both have lovely posture.  Looking at these popular kids, though, I could see that more than carriage is involved.  I think it’s innate.  That is, you can’t say to your kids, “Don’t slouch and, of course, carry yourself with relaxed self-assurance so that you’ll look popular and it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”  Like Clara Bow’s elusive “It,” which was a 1920s euphemism for sex appeal, you either have “It” or you don’t.

 

An excellent forum at the Watcher’s Council regarding the decision to let 15 year olds buy Plan B over the counter

As the mother of the Obama government’s Plan B (aka “Morning After Pill”) demographic, I have strong feelings about the move to let 15 year olds just go to the store and buy the stuff.  The Watcher’s Council has a forum up on that subject and, as always, Council members say the most interesting things — and that’s true whether or not I agree with their conclusions.  You can read it all here, but I’m going to reprint my contribution below:

As the parent of minors, I think it’s appalling. The Left will always justify this kind of rule-making or legislation by pointing to those teenage girls who have dreadful home lives, and are at risk of being physically hurt if they confess to a pregnancy. Yes, those are real situations, but I’ve never seen any evidence that they are anything but a small minority. In the real world, parents whose daughters come home pregnant are not going to be happy, and they may yell at their daughter, but they don’t abuse her. They rally around her. In other words, they are family and they are there for her. (In this regard, I think the movie Juno was pretty accurate.)

The facts on the ground mean that the state’s motive in making birth control and abortifacients available to ever younger girls isn’t because it’s trying to protect a small minority of at-risk girls. Rather, it’s trying to break down the family unit. Sex is a great way to force that schism because, next to hunger, sex is the most powerful motivator. By promising children sex, and lots of it — without any messy consequences such as disease or pregnancy — the state ensures that children look to the state as the bountiful provider. The message is a simple one: We’ll make you happy; your parents will make you sad.

Of course, no one is looking at the very real consequences of the state’s handing out sex like an addictive drug. The state pours toxic hormone soups in adolescent bodies; treats those young bodies with powerful antibiotics; alienates young minds and emotions from those who are most likely to love them; and sends the message that human sex, rather than creating powerful, life-long emotional bonds, has no more meaning than (and about as much charm as) bovine, canine, or feline sex. No wonder the girls who graduate from the hook-up culture in college don’t feel liberated but, instead, just feel used and emotionally frozen. They have been used — not just by the men who get the girls, but by an all-powerful state that has as its goal the end of individuals’ control over their own bodies.

Lastly, there’s also something profoundly wrong about a government that, even as it criminalizes adult men and women who have sex with children, does everything it can to encourage children to have sex. I don’t have a good word to describe that. Revolting? Hypocritical? Sleazy? Obscene? Immoral? I think all apply.

Coincidentally, I just opened an email from a friend alerting me to an article that Melanie Phillips, a brilliant British conservative, wrote about the reason that Big Brother has it in for families. Please read it. It’s very important, and provides a counter-narrative to the state’s claim that parents are a child’s natural enemies, rather than their most loving supporters (in most cases).

California taxpayers are funding free condom deliveries to children as young as 12

(I was halfway through writing this one before I remembered that it was for Mr. Conservative and not for my own site.  Now that it’s up there, though, I can reprint it here, and make my friends a part of the conversation.)

You know what your 12-year-old daughter needs? Free condoms. Even better, she needs to have those free condoms delivered directly to her in discrete packing, along with lubricants and other items to facilitate her burgeoning sex life. And you know what would make this free delivery service best of all? If it by-passed parents entirely.

If you’re writhing in agony reading those words, be grateful if you’re not living in California. The California Family Health Council (CFHC) has a Condom Access Project (CAP) that mails condoms to children 12 and over for free. Put another way, California taxpayers are funding a program that purchases, packages, and ships condoms to underage minors. Think about that for a moment: If an adult has sex with underage minors, it’s statutory rape and the adult is imprisoned and reviled. If a state facilitates sex for underage minors, it’s Progressive and admired. Go figure.

An obviously excited CAP recently issued a press release boasting that its program is expanding to teens in Fresno and San Diego counties. All that the kids need to do is go to a snappily designed website called “teensource.org,” fill out a form, and they’re in business.

Showing the cognitive difficulties that afflict career Leftists, that buzzy little CFHC press release is a classic case of the “Butterfield effect.” For those of you unfamiliar with this term, Fox Butterfield, a well-known Progressive journalist, gained notoriety for writing several articles in which he discussed what he thought was an inexplicable paradox: even as prison populations rose because of tougher sentencing rules, crime rates fell. He couldn’t even imagine the possibility that the tougher sentencing rules caused the falling crime rates.

In its press release, the CFHC proudly notes that it’s expanding its condom program, even as it says that “STD rates among California’s youth ages 15-19 are increasing.” Hmm. Could that rate increase be because the State of California is actively encouraging teens to have sex? (Not to leave the feds out of this equation, they used $423,500 in stimulus dollars to study “correct condom use.”) And could it be because teens, once allowed to do risky, are notorious for being irresponsible even if you give them all the necessary tools for playing it safe? This is why young teens don’t get driver’s licenses and older teens have expensive insurance: no matter the rules and the safety devices, teens are careless.

The announcement about the free condom program arrives at the same time that the FDA ruled that girls as young as 15 can buy the “morning-after pill” without parental consent. The morning-after pill is a powerful hormone cocktail that causes the uterus to reject a newly implanted zygote. In most states, teen girls cannot get their ears pierced, shoot paintball guns, or get a fake tan without parental permission, but they can put toxic quantities of hormones into their growing bodies, all without their parents knowing what’s going on.

Leftist governments hate families. The family unit is the strongest statement of individualism. The way to destroy the family is to use that most powerful of all human motivators – sex – to seduce the child away from the family and into the arms of the beneficent state. The state, which doesn’t love you, still gives you what you need for sex (condoms, The Pill, lubricants, instruction books). Then, because you’re a teen, when all those fail the state gives you the toxic medicines (hormones, antibiotics) and risky medical procedures to save you from your mistakes.

Conservative parents understand the message: “Mom and Dad are so yesterday. Turn to the state, which will give you everything you need.” Are those truly loving parents who happen to be Progressives ever going to wise up?

The Left uses sex to break up American families

I had an interesting conversation with my mother, who may be 90, but is still sharper than most people you’ll meet.  We got to talking about the Gosnell abortion/murder trial, which came as something of a surprise to her.  Despite the fact that she watches the news and reads the newspaper, she hadn’t heard a thing about it.  That wasn’t a surprise to me.

From there, the conversation wandered to the moral merits of abortion.  My Mom came of age in a time and place when abortion was neither approved of nor frowned upon.  It just existed.  In the turmoil after the war, when people were starving in cities decimated by fighting, having a baby seemed like an impossibility — and it could be a death sentence for both mother and child.  Nobody approved of abortion in war-torn streets, but they didn’t stop it either.

For that reason, it’s always been hard for my mother to understand the fervor Americans feel about abortion.  To her, it just . . . is.  (That’s probably the case for a lot of people who aren’t committed to one side or another of the abortion debate, which is why the media couldn’t risk the Gosnell trial coming into the open, in case it swayed indecisive people into the pro-Life column.)

While Mom couldn’t quite get the morality of abortion, I was able to get her to understand that the modern American state uses abortion to separate children from their families.  We’ve talked before here about the fact that, in California, youngsters under 16 or 18 can’t play paintball, get their ears pierced, or get a fake tan without a parents’ permission.  They can, however, get birth control, get abortions, and get treated for sexually transmitted diseases, all without a parents’ knowledge.  Putting aside the invitation to the worst kinds of child sex abuse, what’s happening here is that the state promises children the keys to the kingdom of pleasure.

Food and shelter are necessities.  Good food and good shelter are pleasures.  But sex . . . there’s the ultimate endorphin rush.  Mom and Dad, being mean, spiteful people, won’t let you have it, and they’ll give you Hell if there are consequences because you ignored their strictures.  The state, though, it puts no obstacles in your path.  Indeed, it helps you along with condoms, birth control pills, patches, and morning after pills.  If you get pregnant, you get the Morning After pill or an abortion, and if you get an STD, it gives you antibiotics — all without the knowledge or consent of the people who, in 90% of all cases care about you most in the world.

The Left claims that this legislated immorality is to protect young girls from abusive parents who will leave them homeless or beat them if they come home pregnant.  (Again, let’s ignore the fact that everything the Left does actually encourages the sexual abuse of children.)  Using an argument that focuses on an extreme minority, the Left has put us in a position that sees all girls and boys in America get to have free sex courtesy of the State.  The state has driven a wedge into the family unit, using the most potent endorphin driver available to motivate and reorient young people.

When I put it that way (as opposed to debating abortion’s morality), my mother suddenly sat up very straight, looked me straight in the eye, and said “But that’s socialism!”  I practically jumped up and down applauding that she had realized what was going on. It turned out there was a reason for her insight.

I’ve mentioned before that my Dad came from a Communist milieu and, while he eventually voted for Reagan, his sister remained a devoted Communist until the day she died.  Although she escaped Nazi Germany and eventually ended up in Palestine (and, after the War of Independence, in Israel), she decided that this young socialist state wasn’t properly committed to true Marxist socialism.  She therefore returned to East Germany, where she lived out the remainder of her life.

She was still living in Israel, though, when my Mom and Dad got married.  One day, when my Communist aunt was present, the subject of children came up.  Mom said that she wanted to wait until she had a nice home of her own and some security before she had children, so that she could have the joy and comfort of really raising her own family.  My aunt was shocked.  “No.  That’s wrong.  The children belong to the State.  You do not have the right to withhold them from the state, which should raise them.”

With this conversation living in her memory, my mother immediately understood the ramifications of a government severing the ties between parents and children.  In some places, such as Mao’s China, it uses coercion.  In America, it uses sex.  No matter the method, the goal is socialist.

Keeping in mind the above, it’s understandable why people who fear socialism (as I do) greeted with howls of outrage the MSNBC contributor who said quite clearly, “All your children are belong to us.”  Melissa Harris-Perry framed it cutely as it takes a village to raise a child, but that soft overlay covers pure, brute-force socialism.  Villages are voluntary communities that share values.  Homes are the ultimate refuge of the individual.  Socialism holds that individuals have no value, except to the extent that they provide bodies to power the socialist state:

The up and coming generation — scarily passive sheeple

When I was growing up, there were quite a few slogans young people were urged to remember:  “Question authority.”  “Never trust anyone over thirty.”  “Power to the People!”  “Tell it like it is.”  “Do your own thing.”  Especially after Watergate, we were a generation that was warned never to trust the politicians.  We were supposed to question everything.

In retrospect, of course, we were being manipulated.  We weren’t really supported to question all of the authorities in our lives, nor were we supposed to disbelieve every politician.  Instead, we were being steered into questioning and challenging a traditional status quo based upon the constitution and Judeo-Christian values.  Nevertheless, the notion of questioning authority was very real.  We didn’t assume our teachers were right.  We were sheeple (all young people are), but we were sheeple that still tried to run in the opposite direction of the existing political class and its agenda.

Today’s generation of young sheeple has no desire to create a break-out herd that challenges the political status quo.  Modern young sheeple do not question their teachers or their politicians.  Instead, they accept hook, line, and sinker every fact — and it’s always Leftist facts — thrown at them.

The best example I’ve seen of sheepleness — the current generation’s complete and mindless acquiescence to the anticapitalist, environmentally insane, politically correct, anti-white racist stuff constantly being thrown at them — is a truly clever, marvelously done video by Jon Cozart, a sophomore at the University of Texas, Austin.

Jon is a talented lyricist and a wonderful singer, with a great range from almost bass all the way up to tenor.  He’s become something of a YouTube star, and it’s quite obvious why.

Jon’s latest effort is “After Ever After — DISNEY Parody,” which uses familiar melodies to imagine what happened to the Disney characters after the movie ended.  It’s good, really good.  Clever lyrics, wonderful performance.  The only problem with it is that it’s a perfect encapsulation of sheeple subservience to PC, Leftist crap.  (Pardon my language.)

In my youth, which wasn’t that long ago, the rhetoric of our time (“question authority,” “never trust anyone over thirty”) would have had us challenging all the stuff that was spewing from Washington, D.C., and inundating us from the front of the classroom.  We would have sneered with youthful cynicism at the Climate Change stuff, the anti-American stuff, the non-gays are evil stuff, etc.

This generation, however, cannot hop on the establishment bandwagon quickly enough. Today’s young people have no curiosity.

If you’ve ever read Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time Trilogy, you must surely remember, in the first book, the way Meg, Calvin, and Charles are transported to the planet Camazotz, which is completely controlled by the evil IT.  What makes IT so evil is that IT demands complete conformity.  IT punishes anyone who dares to try to be an individualist.  In doing so, it stifles everything that is good and loving.  We have turned our young people into children straight from the school of Camazotz.  They swear a lot, drink, and do drugs, but they are incapable of independent behavior, thought, reason, logic, or analysis.

The Left — criminalizing childhood

The news is filled with stories lately about the way in which Progressive-managed public schools are behaving insanely when it comes to kids and faux-guns.  My friend Mike McDaniel, whose regular home is Stately McDaniel Manor, has an article up at PJ Media today which combines surreal (yet sadly real) stories about teeny-tiny kids caught in their school’s anti-gun cross hairs.  To the extent the world is going to hell in a hand basket, I can only say that the Progressives are making the trip there a whole lot faster and uglier.

Parents are good for children, and children are good for parents (especially selfish parents)

Having babies used to be biologically inevitable.  If you were a woman who had sex, the possibility of pregnancy increased automatically with every act of sexual intercourse.  People have always had birth control (withdrawal, the rhythm method, vinegar-soaked sponges, primitive condoms, etc.) but their success rate was random and limited.

Then came modern birth control — pills, diaphragms, IUDs, quality condoms, etc. — and, for responsible women, sex stopped leading to pregnancy unless they wanted it to happen.

The societal assumption when birth control use surged in America was that women who used birth control would invariably have children.  They’d simply do so on their own time-table, rather than on Nature’s.  Some women waited too long (or just had problems with conception), but science had an answer there too, with increasingly successful fertility treatments, implants, and even complex surrogacies, using a combination of egg, sperm, and womb.

What no one predicted was that, given the choice, women simply wouldn’t want to have children.  This isn’t just because they’re Malthusian environmentalists who are afraid that children will destroy the world.  It’s because they don’t see children as part of their happy (and sometimes selfish) life plan:

For many individual women considering their own lives and careers, children have become a choice, rather than an inevitable milestone—and one that comes with more costs than benefits.

“I don’t know if that’s selfish,” says Jordan, the daughter of an Ecuadoran and an Ohioan who grew up in the South Bronx, explaining her reasons for a decision increasingly common among women across the developed world, where more than half of the world’s population is now reproducing at below the replacement rate. “I feel like my life is not stable enough, and I don’t think I necessarily want it to be … Kids, they change your entire life. That’s the name of the game. And that’s not something I’m interested in doing.”

I totally get that.  As I hit my 30s, I was living the lush life:  good job, good income, nice apartment, quality boyfriend and, when the long work hours were over, a lot of “me” time.  I had no biological clock ticking away.  I didn’t want children.  In general, I’m not that fond of them.  Yet here I am today, completely defined by my status as “Mom.”  What the heck happened?

What happened was that my boyfriend (now husband) wanted children and I wanted him.  The other thing that happened was that I took a long, considering look at all of the older childless couples I knew, who voluntarily stayed childless, and I didn’t like what I saw.  Without exception, these people were more affluent than their peers, they were well-traveled, well-dined, and well-groomed.  They were also rigid, humorless, thin-skinned, and unable to deal with even the most minor crises.  I realized that it’s not just that (g00d) parents are good for children, it’s that children are good for parents.

I hated the baby and toddler years, and they definitely accelerated my aging (chronic sleep deprivation did not agree with me).  I also hated the schlepping, the endless frustration of dealing with toddlers, and the chaos in my once-quiet house.  I don’t like irrational creatures and there is no creature more irrational (from an adult perspective) than a toddler.  Toddlers, of course, function in a completely rational world, defined by their immediate desires, limited understanding, and somewhat magical thinking.

It got easier as the kids grew up, and now I’m in a really great position where I’m optimizing the benefits that come with being a parent.  I enjoy my teenagers, a great deal.  They’re intelligent, loving, funny people and, while I like it when I’ve got my house it myself, I certainly don’t dislike it when they’re around.  I like their friends too, and am very happy to have (no kidding) the most popular house in the neighborhood.  My son, bless his heart, told me that all his friends like to be here because I’m the easiest-to-get-along-with parent they know.  I’m not a pushover — it’s just that, as with politics, I’m laissez faire.  I have a few fixed rules but otherwise, if the kids are not hurting themselves, each other, my dog, or my house, I leave them alone.

Meanwhile, they keep me young.  I hope I’m not mutton dressed as lamb, but I know the games, music, movies, language, clothing (which I don’t copy), and the general culture of youth.  I am not calcified and I am not rigid.  I don’t get hysterical if there’s no blood or vomit involved in whatever crisis arises — and I don’t even get hysterical about blood or vomit.  I just move a bit more quickly to cope with it.

My point is that the selfish person should want to have children.  I believe that my children benefit from my selfishness, which leads me to a benign neglect that keeps them from trying to grow under the shadow and endless wind of a helicopter parent, and I get to stay young, agreeable and adaptable.  It’s a good deal for me, even though the upfront costs (two miserable pregnancies followed by years without sleep, rest, or privacy) were high.

Is common sense reasserting itself?

Since I like to keep up with current music, when I’m in the car I often listen to Sirius XM Hits 1 (channel 2), which tracks the Top 40 songs.  Weekday mornings, Hits 1 offers the Morning MashUp, which consists of two guys and a gal chatting together about celebrity gossip and taking listener phone calls.

Today, much to my surprise, I tuned in to hear this trio talking about the case of the seven year old boy who was suspended from school for lobbing an imaginary grenade at an imaginary box of imaginary bad guys.  Even more to my surprise, the Morning MashUp gang was infuriated by the suspension.  Their attitude was that kids have to be kids, that children should be allowed to exercise their imaginations, that children have always played cops and robbers, and that the school massively overreacted.

I agree completely with the Morning MashUp gang.  I also wonder if (or, perhaps, hope that) they are the tip of the iceberg, with the iceberg being a backlash against the stifling conformity and inanity of the various liberal ukases that control more and more of our lives and of our children’s lives.

As an aside, I’m also willing to bet that there is, or easily could be, a study showing that destroying imaginary bad guys, whether by lobbing pretend grenades or having a wild game of cops and robbers, isn’t a psychologically necessary way for children to deal with fear.  Children are certainly fearful.  They have very little control over their lives and their world is peopled with danger, both real and (because they are children) imaginary.  Being able to throw a grenade at the bad guys sounds like a perfectly therapeutic imaging exercise designed to empower a fearful child.

Education for the brainwashed generation

I know I’m just grumpy, but this promotional mailing from Ithaca College rubbed me the wrong way:

Ithaca flier

Ready to write environmental wrongs.  Ithaca College will turn your academic passions into unforgettable experiences — and make you ready for the adventure of your life.

I know that the first sentence is meant to be a clever pun, but it’s not.  At first glance, I thought it was a typo or blatant grammatical error.  On second reading, I thought Ithaca was promising to teach students how to plan to create environmental wrongs.  On third reading, I realized that Ithaca is offering to teach students how to “list” environmental wrongs, although I suspect there’ll be a fair dollop of creative writing (i.e., anthropogenic climate change) thrown in.

The whole thing — with the smug girl and the promise that documenting, or making up, environmental wrong is the “adventure of your life” — made me queasy.

Am I overreacting?  I probably am.  But as Kurt Schlichter said about Lena Dunham’s and HBO’s vile, nihilistic show Girls, we need to know what’s out there, because it is out there, and it’s aimed at our children.