Before I jump into the new series of posts, I read something this morning that necessitated a response:
A friend of mine on Facebook shared an essay published on the Quartz blog entitled How American Parenting is Killing the American Marriage. The post itself is related to an article in the New York Times in 2005 by Ayelet Waldman, where she discusses ideas like not liking her children, telling them that she loves her husband, their father, more than them and that this is a good thing. The authors of this post took Waldman’s views and analyzed them a step further. In doing so, they make some important mistakes.
I’ll respond to a few of them here:
They talk about the current focus on children and call it a religion. They say how we shoot down anyone who dares utter a disparaging word about their offspring. To site their own words:
The origins of the parenthood religion are obscure, but one of its first manifestations may have been the “baby on board” placards that became popular in the mid-1980s. Nobody would have placed such a sign on a car if it were not already understood by society that the life of a human achieves its peak value at birth and declines thereafter. A toddler is almost as precious as a baby, but a teenager less so, and by the time that baby turns fifty, it seems that nobody cares much anymore if someone crashes into her car. You don’t see a lot of vehicles with placards that read, “Middle-aged accountant on board.”
I wonder if they’d ever spoken with someone who had lost a teenage child in a car accident, or their husband, wife, mother, or father. Yes, we value babies and toddlers, but all human life is precious. Talk to the family supporting their elderly parents in hospice care and ask about the value of their lives. You know what the Baby on Board signs did? They made money for their inventor, that’s it, not as signs of the start of a plague on modern parenting.
Another sign of the parenthood religion is that it has become totally unacceptable in our culture to say anything bad about our children, let alone admit that we don’t like them all of the time. We are allowed to say bad things about our spouses, our parents, our aunts and uncles, but try saying, “My kid doesn’t have a lot of friends because she’s not a super likable person,” and see how fast you get dropped from the PTA.
We can admit we don’t like our kids all the time. Carter and Aiden press our patience often. I would never, in my life, utter the final quote in the paragraph. Even if your kid wasn’t “super-likable”, wouldn’t that be something you’d want to work on as a parent? How responsible is it to make that claim in the first place? Kids take effort and that conclusion is equal to throwing your hands up and saying, what the hell, and moving on. As a father, that possibility never crosses my mind.
Mothers are also holy in a way that fathers are not expected to be. Mothers live in a clean, cheerful world filled with primary colors and children’s songs, and they don’t think about sex. A father could admit to desiring his wife without seeming like a distracted parent, but society is not as willing to cut Ms. Waldman that same slack. It is unseemly for a mother to enjoy pleasures that don’t involve her children.
I’m not sure where they’re getting this idea. Mothers should think about sex. I’ve posted about this more than once. Women should live well-rounded lives with their own passions and exist without condemnation. A healthy marriage, with equal parties, allows it to happen.
In the 21st century, most Americans marry for love. We choose partners who we hope will be our soulmates for life. When children come along, we believe that we can press pause on the soulmate narrative, because parenthood has become our new priority and religion.
We can easily lose ourselves in parenting, but, it is not because children are a religion. They are part of us, a creation with a purpose to draw us closer as spouses and families. Carter and Aiden enhance our marriage. The trick is to find a balance. We must build up our children. I spent time working in Alternative Education and had more than one conversation with a child ripped down and abused by the parents. I’ve looked in their eyes and seen the weight of their disappointment, anger, and rejection. Children need our love, not our worship, but not our outright dislike either.
Kids are a project. They take effort, time, emotion, and patience. Marriages take the same. Children should enrich our marriage experience. The bottom line of the Quartz post is a cry of selfishness. Perfect love is selfless. Parenting is selfless. When we serve each other, we can make a difference. When our children see our selfless love, they will learn a model of servanthood drastically needed to change society. Change is possible, marriage can be saved, and parents will take a vital role on both fronts.