Saturday, June 9, 2012

Stop the Pity Party

About three years ago I happened to be in a conversation with another woman about child-rearing. I was pregnant with my first and so it weighed on my mind. I don't remember exactly what topic we were discussing but as I told about my childhood bouncing from home to home of relatives while my parents traveled in Europe for their ministry. When I got to the part about my parents always traveling together meaning that sometimes my siblings and I would be split amongst several homes I was suddenly cut off with, "Oh, you poor thing."

Her response completely and totally took me off guard and I didn't know what to say. I had not been lamenting about my past, merely stating facts. I had not even implied that I had had a difficult childhood. In fact, the conclusion to my tale was to talk about the strength of our family and the kindness of those who took us all in while my parents travels. If you'd have asked me my opinion of the way I was raised I would tell you it was pretty good and out of the blue, for the first time in my life, I was being pitied for it.

She took my stunned silence as que to go on and said, "How horrible to be abandoned by your parents like that--to not have the stability--and to be ripped away from your siblings, too." Gasp, "You are such a strong woman to have overcome that."

More stunned silence.

I guess if you were to erase the "missionary" part my story would sound a little bit like the tale of a foster child: parents coming and going, being farmed out to relatives or the occasional stranger (to me at least), living out of a suitcase from time to time.

Horrible, awful, tragic.

Funny it took me until I was 23 to have some stranger tell me how bad I had it. If it wasn't for her I would have thought I'd had it pretty good.

Today, with the invent of Facebook, email and other instant sharing services, it seems downright impossible to keep news and articles out of view. And since I am a mother of two now I am subscribed to a couple of mom sites that share articles to make you feel guilty about seemingly relevant articles about parenting and child rearing.

I have read three articles in as many weeks blasting parents about the ways they are ruining the lives of their children. There was the article about the Mom on the cover of Time magazine and how her son will forever be scarred by his mother's selfish need to be in the spotlight. There was the article about how primitive parenting is better than modern parenting. And another about the long-term negative effects of spanking. Or there are the countless posts and tweets and blogs and blerbs from people more than happy to tell you badly you are parenting and how horribly scarred your child will be.. FOR LIFE!

Imagine being constantly told how bad you have it. Imagine being at an impressionable age and reading how horrible mothers are for not breastfeeding and finding out your mother didn't breastfeed you. Imagine constantly being bombarded by statistics saying that you will be a failure or more prone to some untoward behavior because of something your parents said or did. I'd imagine that it would only take so long before you starting wondering if you were really as screwed up as you were being told you were.

If being farmed out to other homes while my parents traveled was the worst of my life, yeah, I had it pretty easy. The truth is there are some darker events in my past as well, many of which transpired while my parents were away attending to the duties of their ministry. If they'd been home would I had been spared some hurts? Absolutely. But certainly not all. My parents were/are human. They made mistakes. But they love me and they did their best to raise me to be the best I could be. And I didn't only survive, I flourished. I'm happy. I'm loved. I got it great!

I don't blame my parents for anything bad that has happened as a result of living on this earth. You can't walk through this world without getting a little bit of its ugliness on you. If your life experience is summed up in all the parental negatives you can pin-point and sift through and point your finger at then you're going to have a pretty miserable existence indeed.

You also can't expect these doctors and psychiatrists and child-rearing experts (what the heck is that anyway?) to be infallible in their recommendations and diagnoses and statistics and theories. They are human, too, and I'm sure a few have had kids that have both suffered and succeeded with or without their parental guidance.

Instead of droning on about how badly we parents are screwing up our kids, why don't they talk about the amazing ability of individuals to overcome their environments? Instead of telling kids how horrible their lives are because of their parents, why don't they tell them it's up to them to choose whether or not they are going to let the good outweigh the bad? Pity and guilt and blame won't get anyone very far.

Sooner or later you have to stop blaming your life on your circumstances or upbringing or whatever and take responsibility for your own choices and outcome.

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