Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Great Experiment: Parenting

After coming back from holiday vacation, I find it’s difficult to transition my headspace back into real life. My mind is still lost in the place I visited. We drove eight hours to Chicago and stayed with college friends and their four children, all under eleven, for three days over Thanksgiving weekend. Today was my first full day at home trying to work and write again, but all I could think about was being back there, all the thoughts and revelations and conversations and observations of their family and family life.

I was very impressed by our friends' parenting style (also it’s been so interesting to see friends you met in college develop over a decade into responsible parent types). Naturally, my friend L has to be at the top of her game all the time with so many kids running around. She homeschools them too, and I don’t know, has this bearing of order even though it understandably gets chaotic at times. Anyway, ha ha, it’s a different parenting style from at our house with my own son which ends up being very laissez faire out of necessity because of my health conditions and my husband being in a PhD program. L has to have a military lineup in order to feed them all, whereas we’re like, kid, go find yourself some dinner in the fridge! Um, yeah. Her kids eat better.

But more than that, it’s just the different cultures of families. We think a lot about multiculturalism and the differences in cultures and the difficulty this creates in communications between ethnicities (I’m not just talking language wise), but this weekend made me think about the vast differences in the home lives of families, which affects how the kids will see the world their whole lives (whether they retain the views or rebel against them). Her children are growing up copying out Bible verses and with a religious lens to everything in their world. Because L homeschools them, she’s able to discuss world events and history and science and economics influenced by their family's sense of morality. My son is a lot more influenced by forces outside the home since he spends the majority of his time at school and an afterschool program. He’s in fourth grade, out in the world of social strata and bullies and the drama and trauma of all that and then he comes home to our little haven, an only child, where we all spend two hours a night together, eating and maybe watching a show.

I’m not saying one way is better or the other, but it was startling to me for some reason to witness such a different way of doing things. Which is an obvious thing, I know. But how often do you get to get a close-up view of another family, sleeping in their living room and observing them morning to night for half a week? And while parents might be on best behavior, children under ten don’t quite get the concept, so it all tends to hang out. You see it as it is. I felt like there were a lot of things I could learn from L. Other things I felt I was contented about at home. Other things that make me feel intensely curious about the true home lives of other people, which you rarely get an honest picture of even in a memoir because few people are willing to be so honest (unless your name is Karl Ove Knausgård).

So my overall thoughts were ultimately about the quandary of marriage, when you get two people together who come from these opposite little orbits, these mini-cultures of their families growing up who then meld into their own new orbit trying to come up with their own new customs and laws and language and how strange and awkward and rocky it is at first trying to navigate together. Just ask anyone in their first year of marriage! Especially if they haven’t lived together beforehand. I think about my son’s future partner and wonder about all these strange little habits we are forming in him both good and bad and then I just laugh and hope I’m just not screwing him up too badly. The rest I leave to his future therapist.

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