Over Earnest

Naomi Klein is the grown-up red-diaper baby of a red-diaper baby- leftist, anti-free market (although much of what she criticizes isn’t a free market), and probably somebody with whom very conservative homeschooling families would have little in common. But this excerpt from a much longer article looks very familiar to me:

Naomi recalled that when she was eight or nine she spent “an entire journey through the Rockies conducting covert makeovers on everyone in the car. My father would lose the sandals and get a sharp, dignified suit, my mother a helmet hairdo and a wardrobe of smart pastel blazers, skirts and matching pumps.” She fought with her parents all the time. “Since I was an impeccable liar and rarely got caught,” Naomi recalled, “our fights were less about actual transgressions than about my silence, my sullenness and, as my dad was always fond of putting it, my ‘refusal to be part of this family.’ ”

Naomi spent her adolescence in her room writing poetry or experimenting in the bathroom with makeup. Bonnie was appalled. She worried that Naomi was turning into a brat, thinking about clothes, spending time in front of the mirror. “I think we were overly concerned about the kind of typical teen-age stuff she was into,” Bonnie says. “She read Judy Blume! I was beside myself. I was a feminist—I wanted my daughter to be good at math.” “They had imagined themselves to be breeding a new kind of post-revolutionary child,” Naomi wrote in her twenties. “Hadn’t they diligently mushed their own baby food? Read Parent Effectiveness Training? Banned war toys and other ‘gendered’ play?” Bonnie says now, “I think she thought, ‘What’s wrong with having a good time?’ And there was something in us—although I don’t like to admit it—something of the overearnest, you know? We were always fighting something. There were always people who were the bad guy.”

That last paragraph smarts. How many homeschoolers proudly imagined ourselves at some point to be ‘breeding a new kind of’ post-government institutionalized schooling, non peer dependent child? We also mashed our own baby food, ban the sugar (and Judy Blume), banned a number of toys, go to special seminars to learn the Right sort of parenting (God’s Parenting), and we have sometimes been known more for what we are against than what we are for. There are those among us who ban the sugar, the Disney cartoons (satanic), Cabbage Patch Dolls (demon-possessed), the rock music (back-beat, you can’t use it and be a Christian), the fantasy books, and the word ‘kids’ with over-earnest zeal. There is no sense of proportion. We are just as zealous to eliminate sugar as we are to eliminate lying and we are as zealous to prevent immorality as we are to prevent the reading of a fairy tale.

I wrote this last year about an unhappy wedding we attended (and that marriage has already ended), and while I wrote it specifically about a situation where a rebellious and wayward young person was marrying somebody most unsuitable, the general principles apply to several situations, and I’m reviving it slightly for this post:

I am seeing an awful lot of defrauding going on- and it’s the parents defrauding their children.

The time to raise objections, to point out possible character flaws, to object to a relationship that you believe may be toxic- even if you are right, dead on target, and absolutely correct in all your judgments is before there is a relationship to cloud judgment, before saying these things will cause a fatal wound in your child’s relationship with you, and this is especially true if you allowed that relationship to develop in the first place.

Do not let your most fondly cherished hopes and dreams for how your child’s marriage will happen come between you and your adult Progeny, whether they share those hopes and dreams or crush them under foot.

I have conservative views on mating, dating (we don’t believe in it) and courtship, views shared by my husband happily, still shared by our Progeny- but those views are not more important to us than our children themselves.

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love….

All my earnestly held beliefs in the world will not matter a fig if I conduct a slash and burn policy towards a wayward child and use my convictions as an axe against the root of our relationship in such a way as to drive my adult son or daughter away from me. In fact, in several instances I can think of, parents have attempted to bludgeon adult children into compliance with their own cherished convictions, only to see that weapon shift in their hands and become a catapult which only serves to launch that young person as far away from his parents as possible, often into the arms of any waiting other.

It is possible to speak winsomely and gently of those convictions, to explain them sweetly when leavened well with humility.

But too often we prefer to pontificate proudly and strut and huff and puff about them, sure that we are producing a new breed, if only that breed will shut up and get in line, we mean, obey their spiritual heads, and then it is of no matter how pleasing to God the convictions themselves may or may not be, our hearts are poisoned in His eyes, and we are acting in such fashion as to poison any future relationships with unsaved in-laws and grandchildren.

It is a tragedy to see parents angrily but sincerely pleading, insisting, that their children return to the fold, something they truly desire with all their hearts, while all the time they are pleading, they are choosing words and actions that are akin to pouring gasoline on the bridge between them and their loved ones and then setting it afire.

Related: Who’s Your Guru?

When the Gurus Change Their Minds

Homeschool Leadership (revised from the earlier post, but with some new thoughts.

Patriarchal Dysfunctional Families, part 2

Patriarchy, the Pearls, and Truth, by Spunky

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  1. Annaberri
    Posted December 5, 2008 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    I’m not the parent, I’m the sibling, and I’m handling it less well than my parents, I think, when I see the train wreck coming that my sister is participating in. How do I manage that gracefully? How do I just smile and nod and not warn her? I already have, and she just attacks me instead of thinking perhaps I love her and have seen this kind of thing before and do not want it for her. I’m done pointing out the train wreck, but it hurts to watch. Any advice on that count?

  2. Headmistress, zookeeper
    Posted December 5, 2008 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

    Annaberri, I’m not an expert, and I don’t know, really, any of the participants, and while I know I sound like I know what I’m talking about, I really get scared when people act on my advice as though I know what I’m talking about, so with those caveats, here are simply some thoughts that may or may not apply at all.

    In general terms, I think it’s important to acknowledge to ourselves that we could be wrong. We could be wrong about it being a train wreck. Or maybe it is one, but it’s a trainwreck they need to experience. Or it’s a trainwreck that will cause incredible heart-ache, but later something good and important will come from it- something good you may never see.
    That humility is important. I think it’s important that the people we’re worried about recognize that, too, so maybe it’s possible to say to your sister something like, “I’m not trying to make you mad, I’m not trying to run your life, and maybe I’m horribly wrong, but I worry about what’s happening here so much that it makes me sick and from *my* perspective this is what I see and why, and I would appreciate it if you could tell me from *your* perspective why I’m wrong, and even if I can’t agree with you, please believe it’s because I love you.

    Not knowing what the train wreck is, it may or may not be possible to ask her, if she doesn’t want your input, what does she want from you?

  3. Faustus
    Posted December 6, 2008 at 12:17 am | Permalink

    Since you “refreshed” the article, I decided to go back and re-read the original. Unfortunately, relation keeping is not nearly as easy as you allude it might be. Our situation was similar to Joyce, with a child forming a relationship without our knowledge, then asking for our blessing after the fact. The relationship was already formed. When we realized the situation, we advised caution, caution, caution, and clearly expressed the rules we expected to see observed.

    What were we thinking? The child had a mind and will of her own. It was not the willful disregard of our clearly expressed rules, that applied IN OUR house, that strained the relationship (although it did not help), it was the deception and lying. More than once, the children told us one thing and then did another. We were devastated to see our trust abused.

    At one point, as the situation disintegrated, the child defiantly proclaimed that she was of majority and could do as she pleased. Of course, my reaction was, “NOT IN MY HOUSE” (realize that some of this behavior was taking place under MY roof). She decided to exercise her adult privilege; she REALLY could do what she wanted and she promptly moved out, although ran away would be a better description.

  4. Headmistress, zookeeper
    Posted December 6, 2008 at 2:01 am | Permalink

    If it seemed to you I thought relationship keeping was always easy, then I did not communicate well at all. I am a bit confused, because I just reread both posts, and I don’t see me saying that relation keeping is always easy, or even always possible. It’s only possible to make sure you have nothing to reproach yourself for in your reactions.

    To be a bit more specific, in the specific instance referenced in that story, the *parent* allowed the immoral relationship to begin, was dishonest with the child and with others (I sat in my living room and watched the parent deny having done something that adult child was upset about, and when the child left, turn to me and admit that yes, the child was right, and then justify both the action and the lie), and after the marriage banned the spouse ever visiting the house- when married child came to visit, even for an afternoon, the spouse was forced to sit outside in the car and wait. The time to ban him the house was before the marriage, not afterward.

    In other cases I know of, the parents first approved a relationship, and then changed the rules afterward for very shoddy reasons (in one case, they changed their minds because they decided they did not like the career choice of the young man- a missionary. They knew he was a missionary when they approved the relationship).

    Living at peace with anybody always requires the willingness of *both* parties and humility on each side. In some cases, it’s the parents who lack humility and who would prefer to have their own way in everything no matter what the cost, while in others it’s the young person who refuses any compromise, and in others it’s both.

    But even when it’s primarily the young person’s willful disregard for others, I think it’s possible for the parent, who cannot prevent a breach, to not burn the bridge to the point where a near miracle would have to take place for the relationship to be healed.

    Your daughter left, and there was nothing you could do to stop that. There are things you could have said and done in your own pain and frustration that would have been so hurtful and spiteful that you would only ensure she would never speak to you again, even if she came to regret her other choices.

  5. Annaberri
    Posted December 6, 2008 at 2:25 am | Permalink

    Thanks, DHM. I do realize not all advice is meant for me, but I often see that we think alike, but you are older than I, so I feel you are very helpful to at least give me food for thought.
    That being said, our family has not cut off anyone, and no one has run away, but we see that the relative is manipulative and so is the boyfriend. We really don’t know if one is worse than the other, but we know where dishonesty leads, because we’ve seen it with the siblings of my parents. It’s hard to watch, but not all is lost. I had a wonderful conversation with someone while praying outside a clinic one day. She said her sister finally gave up that deceitful way of life after 30 years of her being there for her. And I realize that’s all I can do. I just wish it didn’t cause my parents pain. They are very kind about it, though. They stand their ground, but they don’t blow their top.
    Thanks for the perspective. She doesn’t tell me enough for me to know what she wants. I ask a question, and she simply does not answer it. I don’t really know why. But I’ll keep praying. God has his own ideas about how her life is supposed to go, and I need to keep remembering that. Thank you for the post. I’m sure a lot of people needed to read that. EQ’s post was important, too.

  6. Malcolm Kirkpatrick
    Posted December 6, 2008 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    Just the last line in this poem by Delmore Schwartz…

    Take care.

  7. Barbara H.
    Posted December 30, 2008 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this. I have seen just such damaging responses in parents or authorities I know.

    I’ve often been struck by the fact that some of God’s tenderest expressions of love for His people are in the prophetic sections where He has to deal firmly with their sin. Sometimes when we humans deal with the issues we forget the whole point is restoration, and our harshness makes that restoration even harder.

  8. Posted July 5, 2012 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Wait…what’s wrong with the word “kids”?

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted July 5, 2012 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      Some people think it is demeaning and compares kids to baby goats. It’s not- it’s from the German kinder.

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