June 22, 2012

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Speaking of contradictions, take life itself

Cynthia DewesLife is full of contradictions. There’s a cliché for you, one we recognize more and more often as we go through life.

Anna Quindlen, an award-winning writer and Baby Boomer, has come to the same conclusion as she explains in her memoir, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake.

The contradictory opinions she held as a young person, versus those of her present middle age, are amusingly right on target.

Contradictions can be instructive, puzzling, disappointing, all kinds of things.

Sometimes they’re funny. Here’s one example of a life subject which produces fierce contradictory opinions—“How to Parent Correctly.” It also produces in me the “obvious choice” response.

There is much publicity lately about parenting, which includes breastfeeding children until they are age 3 or even older, and feeding them “when they’re hungry” at any age.

It’s sleeping together in a “family bed” with mom, dad, brothers and sisters all nestled in one big, comfy pile. For those of us who parented young children back in the 20th century, it sounds like Dr. Spock on steroids.

Parents who embrace this philosophy claim that their children are thereby made to feel secure and worthy. They become confident of their assured place in the family and also in the world. They feel the undying affection of their parents, and of their ability to succeed in just about anything they wish.

I’m not sure anyone has mentioned this, but these folks might well become the “helicopter” parents we also hear about. They are the ones who hover over their children through college and into young adulthood trying to protect them from real or imagined harm or, more important, from failure of any kind.

All this has made me examine my own attitudes toward parenting which, admittedly, took place long ago. Talk about a contradiction.

I thought parents should be parents until their children were grown up, and then they could be friends with them. I thought children needed their own space just as parents needed theirs. And I thought parents needed sleep to handle the whole project, and children need sleep to grow up. All this was definitely not possible by extending children’s dependency or in a communal bed.

Still, reflecting on this gave me a twinge of guilt. Perhaps I wasn’t attentive enough or maybe I didn’t breastfeed as long as I should or maybe, maybe, maybe. Perhaps the parenting methods that I chose were not the best.

But then I returned to my senses, aided by the realization that the children my husband and I parented our way turned out to be

self-confident, capable and caring. In fact, if you looked up the Boy Scout oath in the dictionary, their pictures would be there next to it.

In turn, they parent the way we did, and their children are likewise solidly embarked on satisfying lives. None of them suffers from self-doubt or an inability to succeed if they so choose. The beat goes on.

There are certainly many more contradictions. We enroll in an exercise class then eat half a bag of potato chips while watching TV in the evening. We complain about the demise of the traditional family, but rarely sit down together at family dinners. We provide every kind of luxury we can think of for our aging relatives and friends, but never find time to visit with them.

We humans need to deal with contradictions by remembering what really matters in life. We need to keep our eyes on the prize and ignore the fads.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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