We had the rest of the festival of Eli here this weekend with a kid party of 10 thirteen year olds. It began with skating and ended with the barbarians staying up all night. I woke up once when the house was finally quiet, and after checking discovered that they’d headed down to the Dorset Green to perform for the Inn’s webcam. One can only imagine what antics they got up to in front of that camera. I am almost afraid to go the post office where I will surely hear. I may wait a couple of weeks until whatever they did blows over and someone else’s kid starts a round of gossip about them and their parenting instead of mine.
When did parenting become a verb? We had dinner with some folks this weekend who were longing for the days of benevolent neglect and kids running wild and enjoying their teenage years without the benefit of much adult intervention. I could not relate. Well, sure my own teenage years were a mystery to my mom as I wandered in and out of trouble that she never even knew about. My dining partner this weekend supposed that the entrepreneurs and artists and problem solvers were being squelched by all this silly attentive attachment parenting. I disagree.
Everyone I know has at least a couple of marriages under their belts. We joke that we are the Prozac nation and how many families are gearing up for holiday celebrations with dread? The radio call in programs are filled with people wondering what to do about their sister or their Aunt Harriett and looking for permission to run away to a cabin in the woods instead of celebrating with the relatives they can barely stand. Alcohol sales are steadier than ever and yet this fellow cannot see how adult tending and intervention in kid’s lives is important let a responsibility.
Now we were all dining with close family friends who have lots of kids and are close to a big extended group who come for every holiday and email all the time about a cool new ice cream flavor or the boy they love madly and want to break up with simultaneously. In short they are connected.
And we are a family of five. Our oldest is twenty three followed by a nineteen year old and a thirteen year old brings up the rear. We parent all of them all the time. The oldest is living in a house on a lake with his buddies, and the middle one is in a college dorm. That doesn’t stop them from calling most days and asking us to look over a paper, or to give them a recipe, or just to tell us about their date last night. We too are a close and connected family and our intimacy seems to offend some people. We began dinner by telling about Eli’s blessing party and I think my dining companion, who has on occasion been disconnected from his own kids, was feeling threatened. The proximity in our lives got challenged as too much dependence as opposed to a joyful sharing of triumphs and concerns. Now this same fellow shares his own hopes and dreams and worries when he has them with his friends. Yet it seems weird to him that some families function that same way.
He didn’t say any of that though. He pretended to want to have a philosophical discussion about over parenting in our society and cited our refusal to let our thirteen year old date as a prefect example. (He was twelve when two girls asked him to “go out”. He was glad for an excuse to tell both no. In fact he had to come in from a fast game of capture the flag with his pals to take the call. Dating is hardly in his current developmental realm)
I tried to entertain the conversation as theoretical, because I really like this man most of the time. But with a night’s sleep under my belt I wonder why I didn’t say what I know to be true. There is not enough parenting in the world is what I think. Parenting is a verb. You cannot be a proud parent if you never do it. Giving them money or good schools is not the same thing. Being their friend is not parenting them. Dropping them off in the morning and picking them up at night is not parenting. Parenting takes time and lots of it. Loving is a verb too. It includes telling them no, listening always to the real need behind their words, nurturing them, and giving them the benefit of your sense of perspective and wisdom. (By the way, this fellow does parent. But it is an area of worry and it is not been simple for them. When is it???)
What I did say was that I think there is a wide range of what’s okay and a narrow range of what never is. But my friend was intent on spinning it another way. Parents cannot be loving if their limits are not his. He even suggested that another family whose conservative Christian beliefs have them segregating their young teenagers from co- ed parties must be molesting them or have been molested somewhere in their past. The strength of his argument felt bizarre to me.
I am trying to remember that we are the sum of our frames of reference and our choices. Real understanding has majesty. It takes only a casual skill to win an argument. It takes something much bigger and kinder to try to understand. I am working on it….