PWW entry -Quote Prompt-Jan/Feb 2013 1634 Words
“Because to take away a man’s freedom of choice, even his freedom to make the wrong choice, is to manipulate him as though he were a puppet and not a person.” By Madeleine L’Engle
Parenthood or Puppethood:
A Question of Control
I watch you toddle, nearly fall, and I lurch to catch you, but hold back. Wait. You balance, correcting yourself again. I feel a pang of uselessness mixed with pride, pride that I left you free to learn how your own body works. Uselessness, for at barely one year old, you are no longer a puppet under my control, but a boy, holding your own strings while I hold the crossbars to guide.
I wonder sometimes, who holds our cross bars? Employer, spouse, church, state or national government? Our past, our family of origin, our past mistakes, our station in life? And do we hold our own strings, or cut them despite ourselves? It struck me then, how like parenting, this business of governing a country can be.
“Arab Spring” they call it, a spreading series of struggles in the Middle East that became a pandemic of sorts, a virus of hope. Some met with open minds, many meet with iron fists and fire. However, these growing pains were not so unlike our own Revolutionary War or Civil War, otherwise known as The War of Northern Aggression by those in the Southeastern USA where memory is long, despite our good manners. These wars were our own battles for self-determination, our teenage years of a nation. Teenage years and, for some ancient lands, elder years also, when grown children shrink their parents’ world with “you shouldn’t or you’ll break a hip” which rings in the elder’s ears, a reprise of their own words, “you better not or you’ll end up…in jail, kicked out of school, pregnant.”
As a social worker, I’ve known children whose parents were so devout in their religion, the children had no opportunity to try their wings and when they finally learned they could fly, did not return home. I’ve known children whose parents grew them “free range” and they grew up directionless and frustrated as no one pushed them enough to try, and without trying, they never learned to fail. In a similar way, governments of world regions seem to struggle with a similar predicament. After all, we are all children, all citizens of some group, religion, state, city, family. We drag our past behind, chase our future, trip along the way, and the consequences of our actions make more sense to us if they are natural consequences, cause and affect, so that we learn to do things differently next time. If there is a next time.
To parent harshly erodes the sense of curiosity, the willingness to color outside the lines, to try and risk failure. To parent without a map, without some direction, to let the child hold the crossbar and wander out in the road alone will only get him killed. The middle ground, it seems, is to set up a structure where laws are reasonable, consequences natural, known, understood, and consistent, and not so cruel as to stop someone from having the chance to show they have learned to make better choices next time.
I am thankful, or at least hopeful, that my sons will grow up in a land with laws to guide, but also the opportunity to succeed or fail in their journey through life. As a parent, I must do the same. I can guide, but I cannot prevent my sons from experiencing the consequences of their actions. I can lead by example but I cannot live one way and tell them to live another, not without losing their respect.
But even in a free land such as America , where anyone can worship freely, some are still reaping suspicion after 9/11. Even in a free land, where citizens can drive freely across borders with only a driver’s license to prove we have earned the right to drive rather than having to prove the right to cross the state borders, this too is in question when those who have made a life here for 20 years are denied green cards year after year while their children live in fear of parents’ deportation, or their own. Even in a free land, we also have the choice to hold someone else’s crossbar, to dance them around with malice, or to be the one danced around, allowing others to pull the strings. Even in a free land, there are those who choose to hunt deer and those who choose to express themselves in a movie theatre with a machine gun. And even in a free land, children and young adults die from consequences of their own actions, although many are random accidents that could only be prevented if the parents had tied the children down, wrapped them with cotton, and denied them the chance to fly too near the sun. What life would that be, though? Protection from harm and death, in essence, is protecting them from living life.
As parents, we have the choice to smother, to dictate, to guide, or to let roam without moral compass. As a country, we have the choice to allow our citizens to live a full life, to be creative without fear of reprisals, to share with others without looking over our shoulders, to have laws that are the same for all who follow or cross them and consequences that are reasonable and known. But parents, and their children, will make mistakes. We will hold too closely for fear of loneliness or for the sake of pride, we will neglect our duties when our attentions are diverted, we will let things go that should be punished and punish when the child is innocent. It happens to us all. It’s only in the degree to which this happens that has the most noticeable effect.
Two days ago, I learned that the 4 year old ring bearer in our wedding 13 years ago, died two hours before the call we received Sunday night, January 27, 2013. He had been hunting the day before, shot his first deer, and was out with friends when an ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) he was driving rolled over him and crushed him. He was 17 years of age. He was a good student, marching band member, oldest son of a married couple, and was not into drugs or alcohol. He had proven he could be trusted to hunt, to drive the ATV, to make good choices. And still, this happened. As a friend of the parents, my heart grieves. As a parent, I rack my brain for what I can learn from this situation. As a daughter, I think I know. I must not keep my sons tied to me too tightly. I cannot protect them from all harm. I must spend time with them and get to know them as people. I must do everything possible to be there for the important things, but also I must savor everyday moments. And I must trust that what we have and will teach our sons, and what we will allow them to learn for themselves along the way, as they grow up will help guide them to walk the tightrope between actions they must avoid and reaching for the stars.
And I wonder, as a country, if we will reach that same balance between protecting our citizens from harm and protecting their rights to save or harm themselves. Seemingly senseless death is painful, and the younger the ages, the more it seems to hurt. The more random the tragedy, the less control we feel, and the more we question God, our country, and ourselves. Also, the more we tend to seek someone or something outside ourselves to blame, the more we persecute those we find are different from us or somehow similar to those we believe responsible. The more we blame ourselves, the more we rush to seek some law or measure that could prevent this from happening again.
May we use the measuring stick of parenthood to guide us when we, as a country, choose or maintain our methods of governing. Will we lean towards being a neglectful parent, a “helicopter parent,” or will we strive to keep that balance between, to teach our citizens, gently guide, and then provide a set of laws good for all and a list of consequences fair enough not to ruin but strong enough to make the point. And may we be open minded enough to admit when we have strayed off balance without the knee-jerk reaction in the opposite direction we tend to do here in America. When some tragedy befalls our people, we all feel that collective helplessness that many of us recognize as a parent when we see our child toddle and fall or when we see our teens spiral into their own methods of self-destruction. We know our children will face many challenges and hardships and, within reason, we must love them enough to let them struggle and succeed, or perhaps to fail a few times and then, hopefully, to grow from the experience. This must be done for our children and our citizens to learn how to stand up on their own two feet. Only then will we truly know the pride of seeing what amazing talent and resources we have walking around in this country, a country full of all nationalities, races, and economic backgrounds, many of whom, like the legendary Phoenix, have managed to rise from the ashes of tragedy to make something of themselves.
In memory of DWH, 11-10-95 to 1-27-13. RIP