Parenting DOES Matter

Note: This post contains references to suicide, parental abuse, and queerphobia.

I read the blog Fearless Formula Feeder from time to time, and sometimes check out the facebook group. Generally, the submissions are personal stories that I don’t really have anything to agree or disagree with- these are people recounting their experiences, and that’s valid. But recently one person said something that really rubbed me the wrong way, it got under my skin. This is the quote I had a problem with:

I have very little control over how my child will end up “being” and I’ll probably serve them and myself better if I accept that from the start. That’s not to say that I planned to be a negligent, inattentive parent.. but basically that kids (and the grown people they turn into) are a lot more sturdy and resilient then they get credit for much of the time. http://www.fearlessformulafeeder.com/2014/05/fff-friday-my-breasts-belong-to-me-and-your-breasts-belong-to-you/

This is a recurring theme mentioned, directly or implied, a few times throughout the post. To a degree, it’s true. There are many things in children we simply cannot force.  Who knows that better than the queer community? We can’t force our children to love who or what we want them to, there are aspects of personality that are innate and not really effected by outside forces. But at the same time, external forces do have a great impact. Abuse and neglect have the most obvious impacts. I suppose you could argue “well, good parenting it doesn’t really matter what you do…”- okay, then you have to be a good parent. What does a good parent look like? We don’t really know.

Well-meaning parents can do damage. Parents who try to do their best can do damage. Again, who knows this better than the queer community? Our youth are being driven to suicide by their own parents, and I’m sure this isn’t the only situation it happens in- it’s just the only one I can find anyone acknowledge this painful reality. These parents often mean very well, care about their children, truly want what’s best for their children- and tragically have very inaccurate idea of what’s “best” for their kids. Parents can still find psychiatrists to tell them that their transgender children should be forced to be cis, and while I haven’t heard of psychiatrists saying it about LGB kids- you certainly can find pastors, teachers, and other authority figures who have this view. Dead Poets Society features a teen committing suicide due to his father controlling his life. Again, the father likely thought he was doing what was right for his son- stopping him from “throwing his life away” on a career that wouldn’t get him anywhere, pushing him to “make something of himself” and to have a life where he’d likely never want monetarily.

Parents trying to do what’s right for their kids can do damage. There is no magic ball that tells us what’s right and wrong, we’re making this up as we go. Experts constantly disagree on what the right and wrong choices are, even the studies aren’t always conclusive. Damage done by parents isn’t always physical violence or extreme neglect. It can be parents desperately trying to protect their children from harm, and going too far. It can be parents refusing to accept their children for who they are, trying to force an idealized life on them that just doesn’t fit.

The damage also isn’t always as extreme as suicide. The damage can be hitting your first real challenge and failing miserably because no one prepared you for difficulty.  The damage can be getting into a loveless marriage to please your parents. The damage can be going to school for something you don’t truly want, burning out and dropping out (possibly with a mountain of debt). The damage can be broken self-esteem. The damage can be mental and chronic illness brought on by the stress.

Yes, people are resilient. We can dig ourselves out of the deepest holes…. with adequate resources. Resources that many people don’t have, especially when those resources won’t come from a family that has disowned them. Is that really what we want, though? For our kids to spend the first years or even decades of their adult life digging themselves out of a hole we put them in? It’s certainly not what I want for my children. And what about the kids who don’t get out of those holes? The ones who kill themselves, the ones who just never get the resources they need to improve?

I know, there’s so much pressure on parents already. But that’s because we have a big damn job. We’re responsible for a tiny, unformed life. We’re responsible for growing and molding it at its most vulnerable and malleable. And if we brush this responsibility aside with “well, kids are resilient, it doesn’t matter anyways”- we’re far less likely to notice the warning signs that maybe we aren’t doing what’s best after all.

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One response to “Parenting DOES Matter

  1. Nik

    Hi there, I’m the author of that submission. It’s funny you mention suicide because my parenting philosophy is intimately shaped by suicide as my mother killed herself with me there to witness when I was 3 years old. I know kids can be resilient because I was one. I also know the risk of pushing too far- I seriously attempted suicide when I was only 12 years old. I don’t think, however, that looking out for my own mental and emotional well being implies I will be negligent to my son. I tried to make it clear that I know I need to be healthy to be that good mother I never had. The “science” behind breastfeeding benefits simply don’t outweigh the pretty objective risks of letting myself spiral into deep depression. I trust myself and more so I trust my son that we will be okay. I’m sorry you found that “fearless” part of my FFF story unsettling, but I’m not sorry that I won’t live my life in fear. And I don’t think that makes me a bad parent or my kid more likely to kill himself. Thanks for the feedback though and it does give me things to think about!

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