Saturday, August 25, 2012

Quote of the day

"Certain forms of perplexity - for example, about freedom, knowledge, and the meaning of life - seem to me to embody more insight than any of the supposed solutions to those problems."

Thomas Nagel in The View from Nowhere

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The biblical definition of the family unit

Up til now I've found this whole Chick-fil-A thing unworthy of comment.  But yesterday I heard a fleeting mention of the story on the radio, in which Dan Cathy's quote was repeated again. You know, the quote about how they "are very much supportive of the family -- the biblical definition of the family unit."

The problem is, I grew up in one of those fundamentalist churches where you really read the Bible a lot. From front to back, over and over again. And for the life of me, I don't know what to make of this phrase. Is there a single coherent biblical definition of marriage or the family? There are so many different families that take so many different shapes in the Bible.  At times the family members do shocking things to each other, and they rarely seem to suffer any consequences for this. Thinking over just a few of the examples, I'm at a loss for what the biblical family unit looks like, but here are some possibilities:

Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael, and Isaac
Genesis 16:  Now Sarai, Abram’s wife had borne him no children, and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, “Now behold, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will [a]obtain children through her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. After Abram had [b]lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Abram’s wife Sarai took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife. He went in to Hagar, and she conceived...
Genesis 21:  And the Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did unto Sarah as he had spoken. For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac....And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away: and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba. And the water was spent in the bottle, and she cast the child (Ishmael) under one of the shrubs. And she went, and sat her down over against him a good way off, as it were a bow shot: for she said, Let me not see the death of the child. And she sat over against him, and lift up her voice, and wept...
 Judah, Er, Onan, and Tamar
Genesis 38: ...And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Tamar. And Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord slew him. And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother's wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother. And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother's wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased the Lord: wherefore he slew him also. Then said Judah to Tamar his daughter in law, Remain a widow at thy father's house, till Shelah my son be grown: for he said, Lest peradventure he die also, as his brethren did. And Tamar went and dwelt in her father's house. And in process of time the daughter of Shuah Judah's wife died; and Judah was comforted, and went up unto his sheepshearers to Timnath, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. And it was told Tamar, saying, Behold thy father in law goeth up to Timnath to shear his sheep.
And she put her widow's garments off from her, and covered her with a vail, and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place, which is by the way to Timnath; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given unto him to wife. When Judah saw her, he thought her to be an harlot; because she had covered her face. And he turned unto her by the way, and said, Go to, I pray thee, let me come in unto thee; (for he knew not that she was his daughter in law.) And she said, What wilt thou give me, that thou mayest come in unto me? And he said, I will send thee a kid from the flock. And she said, Wilt thou give me a pledge, till thou send it? And he said, What pledge shall I give thee? And she said, Thy signet, and thy bracelets, and thy staff that is in thine hand. And he gave it her, and came in unto her, and she conceived by him. And she arose, and went away, and laid by her vail from her, and put on the garments of her widowhood. And Judah sent the kid by the hand of his friend the Adullamite, to receive his pledge from the woman's hand: but he found her not. Then he asked the men of that place, saying, Where is the harlot, that was openly by the way side? And they said, There was no harlot in this place. And he returned to Judah, and said, I cannot find her; and also the men of the place said, that there was no harlot in this place. And Judah said, Let her take it to her, lest we be shamed: behold, I sent this kid, and thou hast not found her. And it came to pass about three months after, that it was told Judah, saying, Tamar thy daughter in law hath played the harlot; and also, behold, she is with child by whoredom. And Judah said, Bring her forth, and let her be burnt. When she was brought forth, she sent to her father in law, saying, By the man, whose these are, am I with child: and she said, Discern, I pray thee, whose are these, the signet, and bracelets, and staff. And Judah acknowledged them, and said, She hath been more righteous than I; because that I gave her not to Shelah my son. And he knew her again no more. And it came to pass in the time of her travail, that, behold, twins were in her womb.
King Solomon
1 Kings 11: ... But king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites. Of the nations concerning which the Lord said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love. And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines...
And then, of course, there's Lot's traditional Biblical family...

Which of these, exactly, is Dan Cathy supporting? It would be interesting to know, wouldn't it?

The Parenting Project

Is it just me, or is the news consistently full of pieces that smugly accuse us all of being helicopter parents, or offer advice on how we can be even more involved in our kids lives, or showcase in juicy, pearl-clutching detail the most recent high-profile "neglectful parent" story? As if the ongoing message to parents is "you are all ridiculously neurotic about your children, and here's the 5-step plan to becoming even more neurotic, because look what happened when those parents over there weren't neurotic enough - they neglected their children to death." Basically, parenting is the kind of thing you just can't get right. It's as if the plethora of news stories and parenting books exists to repeat this message over and over again - you're doing it wrong.

Boy hung on clothesline by his clothing
And from what I can tell, most of the dominant parenting philosophies out there are doing it wrong. The much maligned Attachment Parenting allegedly produces overly-involved parents who have no lives of their own, fail to establish healthy boundaries for their kids, and are so involved in their children's lives that they end up implicitly communicating to the child that the child is too incompetent to do anything on his/her own, all while heaping on empty, meaningless words of praise. The Tiger Moms (and dads?) are even worse, and run their kids lives like drill sergeants, not allowing any time for creative play or relaxed, unscripted fun with friends or siblings. On the other side of the spectrum, Free Range Parents and Idle Parents are allegedly under-involved and let their kids run wild in the world with no supervision or boundary-setting.

This summer I've been reading skimming through a bunch of parenting books from both ends of the spectrum (including some that aren't on this spectrum - like Simplicity Parenting), and it seems to me that, as is generally the case, the more extreme theories clearly do get it wrong. But not because of anything actually contained in these ideologies themselves. The problem is their focus and outlook. The problem is that most parenting philosophies tend to be about parents. They're not about kids. But good parenting is about kids.

In my experience, the more dedicated a parent is to a particular parenting style or a vision they have of their child, the less tuned in to the actual child they are. And being tuned in to your child is probably the single most important skill any parent can have. Being accepting of their individual interests, talents, and personality quirks (rather than the interests, talents, and characteristics you want them to have), and willing to establish healthy boundaries that work for you and your child, takes hard work and thoughtfulness and respect for your child's autonomy. It may seem easier and less risky to address conflicts and behavioral issues with some kind of formulaic response learned from a book, or consistently allow the kids to run your life and your household. But what takes real work - and will ultimately result in a stronger  parent-child relationship - is being focused on your child and tuned in to what's going on with her.