Stop Telling Me I’m Under Attack

noWhen my kids were little and we told them no, they would often complain that “all their friends were allowed to do it.” Like most parents, we pulled out the old “If all your friends jumped off a bridge” fallacy. Interestingly, such a comment was instinctual and required no real thought on our part. (You would think that parents would have come up with a better statement by now.) My sons, as smart kids are wont to do, pointed out that he wouldn’t be friends with anyone who would willingly jump off a bridge.

Eventually, the kids would point out, as if it was their ace in the hole, that since their friend’s parents said yes so should we. They would get that little gleam in their eyes as if they had entangled us in some Gordian knot. The clear implication was that we are so far out of the mainstream we better change our minds or risk being ostracized. No more neighborhood picnics for us. I guess they imagined us cowering in the corner, worried what little Billy’s mom will think of us.

The goal for the little darlings was to create doubt, to chip away at our confidence, and to portray us as somehow outside the mainstream. We were (and probably still are on some days) the worst parents ever and a threat to their own future as human beings, they might tell us.

Raising kids, as any parent knows, is a bit like playing chess. (It’s also exhausting like watching chess.) The kid opens with the classic Ruy Lopez move and the parents counter with the Caro-Kann defense. Can’t you just hear the announcers whispering commentary? “Look at the brilliant end-around he employs be texting the grandmother,” the British (because it would have to be) announcer might say.

Except, at some point, logic and reason give way to our inner-middle schooler, and we counter the obvious “peer pressure” gambit from our kids by noting that when their friend’s parents start paying the bills around our house they can start making our parenting decisions. Unlike chess, though, these games only last about two moves in our house before I lay down the “Might Makes Right” move: “Because I said so, damnit! Now go get me a beer and leave me alone.” (I don’t actually say the second part but I always want to.)

What we really try to explain is that we have to make decisions based on what we think is right. “While your friend’s parents might think letting their 14 year old son have unlimited access to the internet on his phone or in his bedroom is a good idea, we don’t think you are ready for the responsibility and we aren’t prepared for the expense.” At least that’s what my wife says. I tend to blurt out things like “I’m not giving you unfettered access to pornography in the privacy of your own room! If you want to look at naked women, your going to have to earn it old school. Make friends with someone who has an older brother. Hang out behind Hastings when they throw out old magazines. Sneak into rated R movies. But I’m not paying for it. And get me a beer!” (I don’t say that last part, but it would be fun.)

The essence of the conversation is obvious. We try to teach our kids that raising them is our responsibility (whether they like it or not) and we will make decisions based on our values and our goals for our children. We fully expect their friend’s parents to do they same thing. While their permissiveness might make our house a little more uncomfortable at times, they aren’t a threat because we aren’t going to parent based on neighborhood polling data. In fact, there are times when what other parents do is a great opportunity for us to reiterate and explain our values and ethics. “We say no because . . . ”

These are, in the popular parlance of the day, teachable moments.

And so I’m always amazed when I read comments from people like Jonathon Saenz, president of Texas Values, who argues allowing gay parents to both be listed on a birth certificate is an attack on “mothers and fathers.” The gay community, Saenz claims, wants “special treatment” because of their different lifestyle.

If a birth certificate was solely for determining age and genetics, one might make an argument that only the biological father and biological mother were appropriate. In such a case, a birth certificate would always have the birth mother (regardless of birth option or adoption) and birth father (regardless of circumstances) and nothing else.

But, a birth certificate notes legal and genealogical responsibilities, also. It serves as a tool by which families bind themselves together to create shared memories and long- term identities. Birth certificates define our nationality, our eligibility for certain social and civil programs, and, in many ways, establish our place in the world.

More importantly, the people listed on the birth certificate are supposed to accept the sacred responsibility to help the child grow and become an adult. These guardians agree, by placing their names on the document, to feed, to love, to teach that child regardless of the biological history. They agree, in essence, to be a family. I might disagree with some of those values just as I fully expect them to disagree with some of mine. But unless they are raising their kids to eat other children for breakfast, I’m fairly certain it’s not an attack on me as a parent.

And I’ll thank the self-professed values monitors to stop telling me I’m under siege. If I want someone to comment on my parenting skills, I’ll talk to my teenagers.

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About John Wegner
John Wegner is a Professor of English where he also serves as the Dean of the Freshman College. He and Lana, his wife, have been married over 25 years. They are the parents of two great sons who (so far) haven't ever needed bail money.

2 Responses to Stop Telling Me I’m Under Attack

  1. There’s a lot of crazy mixed-up feeling going on, and honestly, a lot of people are changing more than they know.

    I know of a church who watched a couple split up when the wife came out as a lesbian, and began living with her new significant other. At first it was scandalous, of course. But then a couple of the old ladies started to say how sad it all was… because the two women had stopped coming to church.

  2. jmgoyder says:

    Yes, yes and yes!

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