Wednesday, December 1st, 2010
Parenting Against Society
Okay, having spent 800 words convincing you that I don’t wander into people’s homes to judge their parenting, now I can start playing Solomon—cut that baby in half! Let the judgment begin. For the record, often I don’t feel like I have a philosophy until someone else’s parenting is counter to it. Sometimes it surprises even me the things that I disapprove of but I have racked up a list of questionable behavior over the years. I figure I would start with the people I’m less attached to and work my way towards the references on my resume, right?
I interviewed to work for a family. The mom looked like a young Christy Turlington. The dad had a surfer chic. They had recently relocated from Los Angeles. “We wanted out of the rat race,” the mom intoned. “When — was born we looked around and thought these are not the values we want to teach our child.” The child in question was a twenty-two month old with mussed sandy blonde hair who was playing with wooden pieces that when fit together formed a train track. He handed me a piece for which I thanked him and when he gestured that he wanted it. I promptly gave it back. The mom said when she saw the exchange, “We are trying not to use the possessive form around him. So no mine, his, hers, ours, theirs.” I looked around at all the lovely things that were in fact theirs. The light poured in from the windows and shone onto a low Danish-style cream colored sofa, a nubby soft rug, pine shelving. I doubted they would like it if I walked out with one of the nice potted plants that sat on a nearby counter. I thought about how with any regular playground exposure all their hard work would be erased. One afternoon in the sandbox another toddler would grab the truck or shovel that little Kai was holding, or maybe little Kai would reach to grab his and the magic word, with all the power of an incantation, “mine” would be said and then it would be over. There would be no going back once he knew it was an option. Well, it would take years of academia and disillusionment with the bourgeoisie to change his mind back. I of course didn’t say anything like this. I nodded my head and thought how silly and played some with the kid. They thanked me for coming by, paid me even, which was generous, and then never ended up calling me. That night I remarked to my roommate that I thought first-time parents were hilariously naive.
I read a New York Times article recently that focused on language and how, while it didn’t limit us in regards to what we could think, it did shape how we thought. This means that folks in the desert can conceive of snow but aren’t likely to think of it regularly. An example given had to do with languages in which objects are gendered. In Spanish, a pen is feminine, “la pluma,” while the pencil is masculine, “el lapis” for instance. If in those countries with gendered languages you ask people to describe these objects, they reflexively attribute qualities of that gender to the object itself. A chair is more feminine in the countries where it is female, the theory goes. I thought about how there are languages without the possessive form. In those cultures, what the well meaning folks I interviewed with were trying to do would seem reasonable, they wouldn’t even have to try. Our culture however is one in which we daily emphasize to whom objects belong. Many a time have I told a toddler who was veering towards the door handle of an expensive foreign luxury vehicle, “You can’t touch that, it’s not yours.” This wasn’t because I was maintaining the status quo about possession as much as it was trying to keep us both from being confronted by an angry yuppie. If our kids are struggling to share on the playground it is a reflection of what our society is struggling with.
Which brings me to a question I promise to return to repeatedly. Do you raise our children for the society we hope one day exists or with the skills to fit into our current one? Where is the balance struck? There were times when I wished my parents had helped me dumb myself down to the lowest common denominator. Certain grades of school might have been more pleasant that way. I was a big fan of pointing out people’s ignorance, which garnered me no popularity; no third grader wants a lesson on the etymology of the word “faggot,” I’ve found. There is no easy answer to how to prepare children to navigate a world filled with racism and sexism along with private property and ownership. If we teach them race doesn’t matter, for instance, it is flying in the face of what they will actually experience in a world in which race definitely factors in to how people treat each other. If we teach kids that there is no personal property, we are denying reality and yet, I see why as parents it is tempting to try and start change right where it is closest and most malleable. God bless those pseudo-hippies wherever they are.
© 2010 – 2013, Kellen Kaiser. All rights reserved.
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