How to handle prejudice — kid’s edition

When I showed my kids my last post they said I should write about some of their experiences.

I should post a picture here of my kids. I know they don’t look like your typical Mennonites, but neither do they look very asian. But, yes, I’m biased and I see them every day, so I could easily be missing something.

First there is the silly, thoughtless racism. Kids are still saying “Ching Chang Chong” to anyone they think of as Chinese. The first time a kid said this to my wife I was surprised. She gave them quite a tongue-lashing, though. I’m surprised that my son reports kids’ say this to him. This is, as he said, just ignorance.

Some people are simply curious. My 7-year-old daughter says a boy asked his brother to ask her if she was Chinese. This isn’t really prejudice, just kind of cute curiosity.

One guy really annoys Ginger with his stupid, racist comments like bugging her about Miss May, a Chinese substitute teacher as if Ginger knows this person’s personal details. Even though the school offers Chinese as a spoken language (what one of her friends called “chink” accidentally before correcting herself) for students to learn, some still ask her if she can speak “Asian” — as if it were one language. They also think that my children all go to the same church with the other Asian children.

Which is weird because even though we have a Mennonite background and name, we attend a Greek church.

I think a lot of this comes down to tribalism. Just by getting married, Alexis and I haven’t stuck with the tribe. And when we started going to a Greek church, that was yet another non-tribal activity. In a small town like ours, People aren’t used to those who don’t stick to their tribe’s customs, and they’re curious and (sometimes) rude as a result.

Nuture Shock for Parents

American culture — especially American middle class white culture — is neurotic about parenting. From the idea of permissive parenting that Doctor Spock supposably espoused to the use of Baby Einstein to increase language — because a 1997 study suggested that language development was aided by the sheer number of words a child heard. The funny thing about both these ideas is that neither one is true. Dr Spock said “I’ve always advised parents to give their children firm, clear leadership”. Later studies (as Nurture Shock shows) showed that direct interaction with a child — not the number of words heard — helped language development. But even the revelation that scientific studies show children do not recognise recorded speech as words will not affect the sale of Baby Einstein products. (For its part Disney, the makers of Baby Einstein, has distanced itself from any claims that its products provide an educational benefit.) Myths about parenting continue to live and get spread through parenting culture. Which is why every parent should read Nurture Shock. Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman take on a number of subjects that many parents think are settled issues — spanking, for instance — and show how empirical studies have flipped conventional wisdom on its head. I think, though, that much of this book is aimed at relatively affluent, white, middle class parents. When I shared some of the bits about race or sibling rivalry with my wife, who was born in Vietnam, she laughed at the “crazy Americans”. Vietnamese culture does not share some of the foibles the book addresses. But there is a lot that any parent, regardless of cultural background or parenting style, will appreciate. In a chapter titled “Can Self Control be Taught?”, for example, the authors reveal how a new program, Tools of The Mind, is enabling pre-schoolers to develop intrinsic motivation and self-regulation far sooner and far more predictably than previously thought possible. Even better, the chapter titled “Why Hannah Talks and Alyssa Doesn’t” shows a nine-month-olds vocal skills and, later, vocabulary, can be improved just by providing an immediate response (like a touch) when they burble something. For those who want to go further, the book provides 80 pages of end notes and references. But, since they avoided marking up the text with footnotes or super-scripts, it doesn’t affect the readability of the book at all. If you’ve got a child living at home — or if you’re just interested in child development — you should read this book.

HOWTO: Write without offending

It is very difficult to write about a moral position without offending someone. is probably right: I should just keep my mouth shut, or, in the case of this blog, not purposefully post incendiary statements. I’ll try to do that more in the future. For now, though, and I have been having a very heated discussion about what I wrote. While she agrees with my practical reasons for two parents, she disagrees with the way I expressed it. She and others said I came across as “smug”. This leaves me confused. I don’t think I’m better than others. I admit I’ve had a blessed, and, in many ways, privileged life. I don’t think this makes me better than anyone else. I don’t think this makes anyone else less “worthy” than me. But still, that seems to be the sentiment I convey to many people. It could well be that I’ve been so isolated in my experience that I can’t convey to others the practical reasons for two parents, so I’ve challenged to do it without offending people. Her background is completely different than mine. She may have a better chance of writing about this subject without offending others. I still think it is nigh-on impossible to write that children need two parents without offending people, but if she manages to do it, I’ll gladly admit it. (Update: She did it.)

Radioactive content

I’m going to take this from “hot-button” to radioactive. Children deserve a resident father. Women do not deserve to have children simply because they want them. … There’s a difference between what adults want and what children need, and children’s needs trump adults’ wants.

(from Are Fathers Optional?)

In case you hadn’t caught the clue, I’m what most people would call a social conservative in almost the strictest sense of the word. When we make decisions that affect other people, we should consider their needs. When we’re thinking about bringing life into the world, we need to be especially sober. Twelve years ago, Dolly was created and cloning became something that people began to think about as a possibility. Articles were written about the possibility of men and women having themselves cloned so there would be mini-me‘s running around — blatant testaments to their parent’s vanity. Imagine! I could raise my genetic offspring without having to put up with a woman! seemed to be the gist of some of them. But I do not recall the obvious narcissism being discussed. Suppose it is possible in a few years to have a child who shares all my genetic characteristics without the bother of first developing a lasting relationship with someone else — or, for that matter, having much of any interaction with anyone else at all. The narcissism seems so obvious. Perhaps it is because we celebrate narcissism in our culture that this doesn’t bother us. Even many “christian” leaders seem to have discarded the idea that pride is the root of all sin and promoted their face and personality more than they’ve demonstrated humility. I suppose it shouldn’t be any surprise that, here in America, men and women feel the right to pursue their desire to have children, without intending to have any sort of relationship with the child’s other parent. This is, after all, the land of individuality and self expression. Why not buy a child to raise as my own if I can? I don’t think it would be profitable to start legislating my morality — how far would an anti-pride/anti-narcissism ordinance get, and would I be the first one charged? When I read the statistics of how many people are being voluntarily raised by a single parent, whether that parent has 14 children or one, I feel like I am, as Father Stephen writes, standing on the edge of cultural disaster. We’ve been here before and we’ll move on. Life will continue despite a world that seems to be falling apart around us constantly, whether the immanent danger is climate change, abortion, or economic collapse. (Update: The quote that started this post used to include a bit about “stigmatizing women” who choose to have children without fathers. People ended up responding to that, thinking I was directing my ire to women in particular, instead of anything else I said, so, even though I liked the responses, I took it out. I want to make it clear that anyone, man or women, who sets out to have children by themselves, intentionally depriving them from the start of their other parent, is wrong.) Added: No one “deserves” to have children. No one has the right to have children. Parents have an obligation to provide the best household they can for their children. Going into parenting intending to short-change your children by eliminating one parent is not in their best interest and is an avoidable decision.

Ubuntu: Rite of Passage

My son was annoyed that his school-provided laptop includes NetNanny configured in such a way to keep him out of game sites like PopTropica. Now, I understand the desire to censor our children’s forays onto the Internet. There is a ton of stuff out there that is a lot easier to get to than when I was a kid. And, often, as adults our first instinct is to protect them from where we know their curiosity will lead them. But blocking game sites? Now you’ve gone too far! Since I like to pretend I’m somewhat subversive, I was completely ready to let him install Ubuntu on the laptop. It plays into one of my goals for 2009: teaching my kids to program. I mean, sure, you can do it under Windows, but I’m just so much more comfortable with Linux. There was one snafu: I neglected to backup and defragment the disk before starting, so we lost some files. But, once his sisters saw the wobbly windows they just had to have it installed on their laptops, too. So now every laptop in the house runs Ubuntu. My daughter summed it up nicely: “I just feel so grown up now that I’m using Ubuntu like Mom and Dad!” As if to make sure I wouldn’t become too proud, she did add that she became acutely aware that I wasn’t quite the Super Geek she imagined me to be when I managed to lose her weather charting homework. Win some, lose some, I guess. But I count this as mostly a win.

Out There: People Who Live Without TV:

“I interviewed one guy who was 31, single, an artist living in Boston, who saw himself as countercultural,” Krcmar told LiveScience. “The next day I had an interview with a religious woman with ten children who lived in the Midwest. These people seem like they would disagree about almost everything, but if you ask them about television the things that came out of their mouths were almost identical.” […] “It’s sort of counter-intuitive, because people think their kids would drive them nuts without TV,” Krcmar said. “But parents found that kids became very good at entertaining themselves and didn’t need to be entertained all the time by something that was lively and active. They didn’t complain about being bored.

Oh how I wish I didn’t have one (sometimes). (Just realized: I got this from Dan Lyke.)

Parenting Guilt ain’t Real Guilt

Jim pointed to this article on Mommy Guilt and wondered if mothers in his own church would concur. Well, I’m not a mother (but I’m married to one) and I’m not in Jim’s church, so what I say will be absolutely meaningless.  Still, I can’t shut up.  So here goes. There is so much in the Ms. McCleneghan’s piece that I want to take issue with.  Where to start? First, I should point out that fathers have guilt, too.  We don’t have a cute name for it, at least I’ve never really heard other fathers complain about “Daddy Guilt”, but, all the same, I imagine most dads from the last 20 years feel a little guilty.  For me, I wonder “Am I spending enough time with the kids?” (I work at home, for pete’s sake!) or “Am I providing enough stimulation for the kids?” And lets not get started on the unfortunate fact that I accidentally broke my 11-year-old daughter’s nose this spring.  So, yeah, dads get guilt. But you know what?  Most of it is bogus. If I feel guilty about repeated physical abuse of my children, that’s one thing.  That is valid guilt.  I should feel guilty. And the guilt should be my sign that I need to turn around and do something differently. But disposable diapers? Formula vs. breastfeeding? The world isn’t perfect and we can’t live perfect lives.  And we shouldn’t feel guilty because of that.  But I’m sure I don’t need to tell an ordained minister that. Which brings me to my second point.  I’m gonna go out on a limb a little here, but I feel it is a sturdy one. Prayers of confession should not be done corporately. If the only time for you to practice confession is in a corporate setting, then you’re doing it wrong.  In the Orthodox church, everyone is encouraged to go to a spiritual director and (perhaps separately) individual confession. The spiritual director will tell you “Why are you beating yourself up about this?”  And then your confessor, if you really feel the need to confess your guilt about disposable diapers, will patiently stand with you and listen to you confess your guilt over disposable diapers to God. And then he’ll tell you Now, having no further care for the sins you have confessed, you may go in peace. See, corporate prayers of confession are wrong because they’re generic.  They don’t address my guilt or the things I need to change.  No wonder Ms. McCleneghan is tuning out.  It should be her sign that something needs to change. (Of course, I had to go look up the Methodist Prayers of Confession and I suppose that in some ways they are similar to the prayers prayed during Forgiveness Vespers so you can see I’m even more full of nonsense than usual, but I still maintain that the missing piece — private confession — would be a great way to get rid of silly parenting guilt.  Guilt needs a release valve.  Confession is meant to be that valve.)

There are crazies out there

In this excellent little message to baby boomers and gen-xers, Steve Olson writes:

When I mention that you refuse to let your kids ride their bikes to the park, you say, “Things are different today. There are more crazies out there.” Yep, and the crazies are us. Middle-aged people are so riddled with anxiety we are eating Paxil, Zoloft, and Prozac like Copenhagen at a rodeo.

He points to Mike Males op-ed on risk-takers:

Today, the age group most at risk for violent death is 40 to 49, including illegal-drug death rates five times higher than for teenagers.

I knew this generation was more protected from risk than those before it. I didn’t realize that the older generations were still taking (and losing) such big risks. (via) Now, don’t misunderstand me. I think people should take risks. I think young people and children should be allowed to take more risks. I think my children should be allowed to take more risks, but I’m not the only one who has a say in that.