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All Things KidSidered

Here's where I try to find a way to be me.  I try to talk about parenting, with side nods to my academic work, and (always) side nods to the unshakable beauty I think is in the world.

Other People's Parenting: Part III: Death and Self-Sufficiency

Elizabeth B

Bronze Woman statue by Cécile Nobrega. (Stockwell Memorial Gardens, London)

Bronze Woman statue by Cécile Nobrega. (Stockwell Memorial Gardens, London)

Before I address the questions I raised in Part II, more needs to be said about death.  In Death and Life: An American Theology, Arthur McGill argues that in America death is God - we worship death as the ultimate power and authority.  He suggests that meticulously groomed lawns and plastic surgery and the removal of aging people from sight all point toward one profound fear, avoidance, and worshiping of death.  He calls Americans the "bronzed people."

From this brief snapshot, Freire and McGill might seem incompatible.  After all, in Freire's argument, unlike McGill's, death appears to be completely negative.  It is in contrast to true communication and true encounter. McGill, however, doesn't villainize or marginalize death, but emphasizes it.   Rather than seeing it as an alien force, he suggests that self-divestment is at the center of loving others.   That is, he sees self-death as a hugely important part of life.

In sum: Freire thinks that people in power should abdicate authority and release control so real education can happen - so that we can address real problems in society together creatively and cooperatively.  McGill ALSO thinks we should abdicate authority, but in a different way.  Freire emphasizes a kind of meeting in the middle.  McGill emphasizes a kind of radical self-loss.  In many ways, ironically, what McGill describes is in line with how we envision parenting - suggesting that it is already counter-cultural.

I want to go further, however, and think more about how loss figures into our ideas of parenting.  Parenting is often billed a loss of self - and mocked for being so.  We have almost no positive framework to think about the kind of loss McGill is discussion.  Our critical concerns about parents being friends with their children reflects this. We are worried about power and discipline, about authority.  We fear children won't get the structure they need to become successful.  We're afraid they are losing out, that we are missing chances to develop them.  Yet the impulse toward intentional friend-parenting is also based on the fear of loss.  We fear children will be damaged and stunted, will learn to repress their feelings and the likes.

For Freire, death is metaphorical or (maybe?) existential.  Intellectual concepts that are "dead" are fixed, immovable.  It means they do not allow for the full realities of being a human being to enter into the picture.  For McGill, in the same way, our cultural obsession with perfection is a problem because it doesn't allow for growth and movement.  He argues that life is only true life if it begets life. 

Freire is very clear that the kind of death he's talking about is oppression:  that when we compress information (and kill it), we have two groups of people - those who know and those who don't know.  Conclusion?  Problem-posing education resolves this because different parties engage around real live problems rather than "dead" concepts. In this system, he suggests we don't have oppressive structures and that students become student-teachers and teachers become teacher-students.  

Is it possible to accept Freire's distinction - and still have authority over children?  What would it mean to cooperate with children - giving them full authority and agency, while still giving ourselves full agency and authority?  When we discuss the "friend parent" we often suggest that parents are giving in to children based on fear.  (See at right.)  This suggests that parents are abdicating authority for the wrong reasons.  (Freire and McGill suggest we should abdicate for the right reasons.)

In my own experience, I have to say that some of my worst parenting happens when I am acting strong, confident, and in charge.  (All the things culturally I'm supposed to be in order to be a good "adult.")  But when I'm "strong" and "independent" as a parent, I often rush and think through things poorly.  In light of this, the idea of the parent-child and the child-parent is hugely appealing to me - because it represents the possibility of meeting my child, rather than dictating to them (when - let's be honest - I often don't know what is best).  I would suggest this perhaps this is different from being 'friends' with a child, but that on the outside they may look similar.  This is being a human being with your child. It's not the kind of "weakness" we associate with friend-parenting.  After all, if anything takes strength and resolve in this life, I'm fairly certain it's being a genuine human being who can work on problems honestly and earnestly.  

Although the negative friend-parent model is of wimpiness -  being afraid to say no - surely we should cut other parents slack as the friend-parent model is also one of bravery. Being sensitive about a child's sadness is not equivocal to being a weak parent. (But sensitivity, like everything needs to be in balance.) Our culture doesn't give us support to refigure ideas of authority - and many parents are being brave in the face of that.  The supp

However, our cultural notion that parents should be self-sufficient is turning this courage into a problem.   The simplification of the idea of the friend-parent relies on thinking our interactions with children are simple and that we as adults should just "do the right thing," and that we as parents should somehow know the right things living and parenting in isolation.  I suspect that this nonsense comes from the standards we have for what an adult should be - wise, in control of themselves, able to immediately know what is best and act on it.  (Ummm...maybe you're way cooler than I am, but this does NOT describe me.)  

To Freire, the death of banking education is the teacher who is "right."  Surely the need to be "right" as a parent is, likewise, a source of death.

In the final installment of this discussion, I will examine the possibility of (and our great need of) feedback, suggesting that our urge to think about other people's parenting - which is naturally a part of us thinking about our own parenting - can have positive social affects rather than just lead to gossip.