May Day: honoring change, forgiving ourselves

What is May Day for if not to celebrate a change in the season? Or changes in the ways our lives are organized? Or in the new ways we might view our children?

We came together as a school last week, on May 1, to circle around the maypole and to eat pizza out of our community bread/pizza oven. Our delightful afternoon was a pause; a moment to enjoy one another and to stop the quickening time that spring seems to bring. One parent ran the pizza oven, others helped organize the ribbons around the pole, grandparents looked over us, children played in the mud, a daughter placed one perfect pizza after another into the burning hot oven. We did not discuss world events. We shared pizza toppings and recipes, considered ways to spend time together over the summer, shared information on musical performances happening in town, and ways to cook our dinners together in the bread oven.

Spring brings a change in schedules, feelings for our town, our houses, the ways we work, and the ways we relax. It is a chance to offer new ideas for supporting one another in this “raising children” project. It offers us chances to sit outdoors together discussing our daily challenges and to laugh about the multiple ways we “get it wrong”.  How do we get it wrong? Oh, in so many creative ways. Our latest book, The Coddling of the American Mind: how good intentions and bad ideas are setting up a generation for failure, helps us to see the errors in our ways – and to continue the work of parenting together.

One chapter in particular, “Paranoid Parenting”, holds up a difficult mirror:

“Paranoid parenting is a powerful way to teach kids all three of the Great Untruths. We convince children that the world is full of danger; evil lurks in the shadows, on the streets, and in public parks and restrooms. Kids raised in this way are emotionally prepared to embrace the Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people – a worldview that makes them fear and suspect strangers. We teach children to monitor themselves for the degree to which they “feel unsafe” and then talk about how unsafe they feel. They may come to believe that feeling “unsafe”(the feeling of being uncomfortable or anxious) is a reliable sign that they are unsafe (the Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings). Finally, feeling these emotions is unpleasant; therefore, children may conclude, the feelings are dangerous in and of themselves – stress will harm them if it doesn’t kill them (the Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker).”(177)

Children who grow up with these guiding principles are more likely than others to believe that ideas can hurt them, or that feeling uncomfortable in a classroom is a reason to vilify a teacher or professor publicly. This young “iGeneration”, now in college, is more likely than any other to believe that they cannot engage in critical debates for fear of being hurt, literally. This, of course, makes us parents uncomfortable, for how do we allow our children to navigate the challenging terrain of people we don’t agree with, who may be too pushy, who might always seem to get their way, or manage to constantly be the center of attention, or who we just don’t understand?

Meanwhile, the children continue to play in the mud, set up a bucket/rope/shovel experiment, climb the tire swing and take turns with who stands on top, organize a “family of puppies” with mama and daddy in charge, all without the help of any adults, who are still busy eating pizza and sharing recipes.

It’s not that we parents should not be concerned about the real dangers out there in the world, but rather, how do we allow our children the necessary space and time to develop their own tools for navigating a difficult world with abiding faith that they can do it. We just need to continually practice letting our children find their own boundaries (within ours) and forgive ourselves endlessly!

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