I want to make it up to my sister-in-law. In a recent post she might come off as a little too uni-dimensional. And to be fair, the the post was about 2/3 factual and 1/3 story. I think I wrote 5 emails to her instead of 3. Also, the whole thing stemmed from some problems I was having at the time in my love-life. There is an old writing lesson that goes like this: exaggeration trumps truth. I hope someday the blogging world also understands that omission (and good ol’ fashioned editing) can sometimes trump exaggeration.
But she did do something very important for me in being so dismissive of my rationalizations. Emotional choices do have to be understood on at least some emotional level.
So I want to bring up this story where I defend her, as a kind of thank-you for being understanding and patient with the family she married into. She’s likely heard about this already. I love her and want to make sure she knows that she has taught this distracted observer to think about things right before his eyes as much as things just beyond his vision. This one is a mix of fact and story too.
My brother and sister-in-law have two beautiful, healthy, smiley and active children that suffer only from the lack of nothing. I think the two parents are enjoying every moment of it, even the pains and catastrophes and blunders. But their parenting, being the personal and ever-changing pursuit that it is, has been the inspiration for a few criticisms now and then.
Parenting is a funny thing, eh. We’re not supposed to judge how other people raise their kids, and yet we can blame a lot of our social problems on ‘bad parenting’. We can’t really offer much advice when it comes to parenting because it means we are butting in or being rude, and yet mountains of parenting books are available and recommended daily. Is parenting like the weather? Everyone talks about it but nobody does anything about it??
A few years ago, when the children were quite little, a certain conversation came up when my brother and sister-in-law weren’t around. Now I won’t name names, but a little bit of worry came up from a certain someone about how these two young parents were getting along.
“She’s giving them too many choices. She’s giving in too much! She’s trying to negotiate and coax too much! She has to get control of that young boy before he gets out of hand!”
I was listening and nodding through all of this and about to give a standard, “Yup, absolutely!” when a short moment of awareness hit me. Normally, I agree with a lot of what this certain someone says. It likely isn’t that surprising, since I tend to think a lot like this certain other someone. Generally speaking, we tend to pay attention to what confirms our thoughts and dismiss things that we don’t want to hear anyway. But being my usual self didn’t seem the right response for that moment.
I thought about my sister-in-law in her kitchen. A quick picture came up of her slicing up an apple and a peach for her children. She had made them first sit at the table, then decide on the snack they wanted. She then continued to talk to them while preparing the fruit, keeping them engaged and focused, though just sitting at the kitchen table. Everything was smooth and fluid, and I was able to realize just how well prepared and happy she was.
“You know what,” I blurted, “I trust her completely with those two kids. She’s wanted children all her life, she wants to be a good parent and she is thinking about it every day when she looks at them.”
The conversation softened. Some words of consideration came up, minds began to change, and in a short time we were talking about something else entirely.
What struck me as important at the time was that my trust in her actually came from the realization of how different we were. I pictured her in her life, not me in her life. She is a public school teacher that believes in her work and believes in her ability to do her work. She has always wanted to be a parent and she has worked at it consciously. And she does have incredible control over her children. They adore and respect her as much as she adores and respects them. (Well, they aren’t teenagers yet… he he…)
There is an old business lesson that goes something like this: don’t hire yourself. You will do the jobs that you like to do. Hire someone very different from yourself, as opposite as you can find. They’ll want to do the jobs you don’t like to do.
I think this is a moral lesson as well, a community lesson. We are far beyond the historical point where everyone in the family or the group has to be the same. In fact, it can be disastrous now to put such expectations on people. Forcing parenthood upon unprepared and uninterested people is a sure-fire way to cause bad parenting. (Just an aside here, but I find it funny how much is said about the effects of bad parenting, but so little is said about the causes of bad parenting…)
There are rewards now in trusting those people that are different precisely because they think and want different things, just as there are rewards for letting people pursue their own career paths (and social paths and family paths).
It might mean more debates, and some bickering, and even some over-philosophizing, but people do all that anyway.
What do you think?