Calm Down

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I’ve been reading the Motherlode blog from the New York Times lately. My guilty pleasure, though, is reading the comments section. It’s like the car wreck I can’t take my eyes off of…like many parenting related blogs, forums, articles, etc. on the internet, the amount of sniping, grand-standing, self-righteousness, you name it, is astounding. And Motherlode is actually one of the tamer forums.

If you start research anything on the internet related to parenting: breast or bottle?; disciplinary techniques; how to get a kid to clean their room; potty training; setting limits; allowing children to wander the neighborhood; schools; pregnancy; birthing; tweens; teens; music lessons; sports; safety…anything you want. Anything you research and it won’t be long before you stumble upon some pretty heated debates. Some of them downright ugly.

(Side note: The tamest I’ve discovered recently: Ravelry, a web-community devoted to knitting, has a some parent related chat groups. I was poking around there for information on knit diaper covers, and discovered a thread on cloth diapering and circumcision. If you don’t know, circumcision is one of the most heated internet parenting debates. These lovely knitters managed to have a conversation thread that was completely non-judgmental about each other’s decision. It was so refreshing that someone actually posted in the thread to comment on the wonder of it. Perhaps knitters are just nicer people…or calmer…)

Most people probably know about the phenomenon of “mommy-wars” in our culture, usually in the version of debate about whether moms should stay home or work. And which is better for kids.

But the truth is this is not just about mommy working or not working. We will debate anything about parenting (by “we” I’m going with middle class Americans, the people who have the time and resources to debate this).

And I am convinced that many of these roiling debates are really about our anxieties about our children. As a society, we are WORRIED about our kids.

There’s nothing wrong with being concerned and engaged. But where’s the line? Is there a point when we are so worried about our kids that we tip over edge and are driven not by logical or even loving thinking, but by our anxiety? And, when we get to this place where it’s all about our own kids, rather than taking any consideration for the community into account?

Parenting has become a topic that some people avoid in polite company for the same reasons that we avoid politics and religion. We’re worried that it will spark debate. Ugly debate.

As a pastor, one of the things I want to be is what’s called a “non-anxious presence”. In other words, the person in the room who is calm. Because I lead better when I’m calm. And I can take care of people better when I’m calm. And I understand what’s really happening better when I’m calm. I’m not there yet, but I hope I’m getting better.

So what about non-anxious parenting? While I would say it’s one of my UTMOST goals to be a calm parent, let’s just say from the get-go that I’m not an expert. In all truth, I spent huge portions of Zora’s first days curled around her, muttering, “It’s going to be all right, baby. Somehow, it’s going to be all right.” Not because she was crying or out of sorts, but because I was an anxious wreck. For no particular reason. I hope I will behave differently with number 2. But who knows what happens when that amazing hormone surge and drop happens when he makes his appearance? And all bets are off when my kids become teenagers.

It’s hard, though, to be calm when the culture that surrounds us is constantly pushing us to be more and more and more anxious about our kids. When asking other parents for advice can turn into sniping. When, rather than affirming each other’s decisions as parents, people are prone to defend their own choices.

Church, at least, is more like the knitters…people stay calm, overall. But we get sucked in, too. For instance, even in churches with lively youth and children’s ministries, I know that there is anxiety about those ministries. I’m not talking exclusively about my own church…a frequent topic of discussion among youth and children’s pastors is about the perils of trying to keep everybody involved in the ministry happy and calm. True of many ministries areas in the church, but when it’s about people’s KIDS, well, the stakes are a lot higher.

I don’t know what the solution is here, but I wish people were talking about how to take the conversation down a notch, be open with each other, and simply calm down!

One Response to “Calm Down”

  1. sko3 Says:

    For even more fighting—try an adoption forum! Hoo baby, those are ugly!
    My theory is this: child-rearing used to be (as in my grandparents era) pretty uniform. People did mostly the same stuff–yes there were variations but not that big. And now, it seems like families vary drastically, and child-rearing theories vary widely and there’s just no “right.” And, you’re right—we worry. The anxiety level is out of control. (ahem–including me)

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