Tuesday, July 11, 2006

What do you need, kid?

Over at the largerfamilies blog, they're talking about what kids NEED.

Forgive me if I am . . . a little unimpressed by the topic, and how roundly everyone so far seems to be missing it.

As far as I can tell, what kids NEED is pretty simple. They need a sense of stability in their lives-- knowing where they're going to sleep that night, trusting that they'll be taken care of. They need food to eat, clothes on their backs, and a safe place to rest and play. They need love.

And, mommy bloggers of the world, calm yourselves before you work yourselves into a tizzy arguing about what is the BEST way to give a child all of this. Because there are millions, millions, and millions of children in this world who are lacking one or more of these things. The fact that mommies like us have the luxury and the resources to blow time blogging on the internet about the Right and Proper Way to Parent just shows how little danger our actual children are in of being one of those kids.

You see, the thing is, you can't just "give" these kids what they need. You can't swoop in, superhero-esque, and give a child a sense of stability, a parent who has their head screwed on right, and the financial resources to keep them safe and comfortable. All the arguments about whether or not wearing disposable diapers instead of cloth will scar a child for life seem pretty ridiculous when you think about the children out there who are left in one diaper all day because their parent is mentally ill, drug-addicted, or just plain neglectful.

You know what the funny thing is? These kids are growing up, right alongside our own kids, and they too are forming the next generation, as they form part of our own generations. People might not talk about it much, but this is real life, real history, and the real world to a lot of people. And some of those neglected kids will end up in prison, some will end up on the streets, but a lot more of them will end up just living alongside our own kids, working and struggling, raising their own families for better or worse, and trying to feel their way through things the best they can. And some of our children, even if we give them the "best" parenting, the right toys, read them the right books, shuttle them to the right activities, and in general play along with the current middle class mores and ideals about parenting, will STILL end up in prison or on the streets. Some of them are going to get hooked on drugs. Some of them are going to have relationship problems of the epic and tormented sort. We're clinging to an illusion that if we give our kids these things they "NEED" that they will be okay, that we'll be good parents, that everything will be all right.

Mommy bloggers, much like politico bloggers, have an unfortunate tendency to choose one side of an issue, be it breastfeeding, diapering, homeschooling, or dairy products, and make that the Right Side, the Cause, which they then defend with all the vigor that any Southerner ever displayed against the Yankees. Instead of becoming more flexible, more compassionate, and more adaptive, they become more rigid and hysterical about the virtues of their choices and beliefs. Which, I hate to say, is about the opposite of what I have found about truly good parents.

The good parents I have met and talked to are open about the fact that most of raising children is a mystery, a gift, a strange bizzarre fruit that you try to nurture as best you can, but which still produces an unexpected bounty some years and some years is barren. They're flexible, realizing that there is no One Right Way to do anything, that humanity's greatest asset over the milennia has been its very adaptability. Some of them did not realize this until late in life, when their grandparenting years came along and they saw their own children repeating the cycle of rigidity and worry.

I suppose the thing that bothers me is that no one I have read recently among the mommy blggers has seemed torecognize and appreciate the basic . . . luckiness . . . that we all display. We're all firmly middle class-- we own computers, we have internet service, most of us have hard-working well-paid husbands who give us the luxury of not having to work to help support our families. Raise your hand if your husband is making $10 an hour while you stay at home homeschooling your six children. Anyone? Whomever you are, I salute you for mad bravery. The rest of us are home because our husbands are making enough to support our families while we blog, carpool, and act virtuous because we cook more than we eat takeout.

We're the lucky ones. We're not working two minimum wage jobs while we try to raise our children, we're not deciding if the electric bill gets paid or the groceries get bought for the next week, we're not scraping together pennies from between the cushions of the couch to try to get enough money together just to buy that bag of generic disposable diapers. We should be giving thanks every day, even the days when everything seems to be a hellish daze of disasters. It could be a lot worse. For a lot of people, it is a lot worse, every day. And we should be sparing a lot of compassion for other people-- we're women, we're mothers, we are supposed to be fountains of mercy and compassion. Spare some for the women who can't imagine themselves breastfeeding, who have to go to work when their children are infants, who make choices you think are crappy.

And relax . . . your kids don't need any of that stuff. Just love them, care for them, and let them develop into the people that they're going to be. We can list the consumer excesses that we commit while we're claiming that we're really cutting back, honest. But in the end, wouldn't you rather have your kids say about you, "Yeah, you really need to meet my Mom. She's a great person to talk to, she doesn't just tell you what she thinks you should do, she really listens and cares."

That doesn't take money, friends.