Can We Even Talk About Abortion?

The answer to my question is: I’m not sure, but we should try. I shall be putting up a series of posts about abortion because it is something we all have to contend with. My own position, in case you want to skip the series and head straight to the hate mail, is that abortion should be highly restricted and only legal in a very few circumstances. (And just to make sure I get some hate mail from the right as well as the left: I support the wide availability of contraception, including methods that some consider to be abortifacient.)

In order to discuss a topic, we have to distinguish between argument and the premises of argument. Since premises tend to be unstated and only come out in the course of an argument, it can be confusing to figure out exactly what someone is trying to prove. As a teenager, for instance, I did not voice the premises that a living human should not be killed by another human, unless there are good and compelling reasons for killing, and there are scarcely ever compelling reasons for killing an innocent child. It seemed to me that people in favor of abortion were simply mistaken in believing that the baby is merely a clump of cells until it’s born, and I was surprised to learn that my prochoice relative agreed that human life begins at conception. I thought, somehow, that getting someone to admit that life begins at conception meant that they would abandon their support for abortion, and of course I was wrong.

We also have to realize that terminology becomes a rhetorical weapon, with different terms loaded with implication and meaning, but if we’re going to have any sort of useful conversation we must know what we’re saying and make sure that it describes reality as far as possible. I shall use “prochoice” and “prolife” to distinguish between those who believe that abortion should be legal in most or all circumstances, and those who believe that abortion should be illegal in most or all circumstances. In reality, opinions on the legality and rightness of abortion are on a spectrum; many commenters on an article about abortion identified themselves as “prochoice,” but were closer to my own position than I would have thought possible.

When I say “abortion,” I mean the induced abortion of a living human that has not been born. Miscarriages used to be called “spontaneous abortions,” though this terminology is rarer now that abortion is such an inflammatory word. A “therapeutic abortion” is done for the sake of the mother’s health. A “viable pregnancy” is one in which the embryo or fetus is alive and expected to remain so without intervention. “Viability,” on the other hand, refers to the age at which a fetus can be removed from the mother and remain alive.

Although “baby” or “child” can broadly be used to describe any young human being, or to denote the relationship between a parent and its offspring, I shall use the medical terminology for unborn babies—i.e., “embryo” for a child that has not reached 8 weeks of gestation, and “fetus” for a child between 8 weeks of gestation and birth. A child that has just been born is a “neonate” or “newborn,” and a “baby” is a child up to one year of age. I do not believe that using precise terminology for a human in a given state of development dehumanizes that child. In a similar vein, when I say “it” referring to a child, I’m using a very old convention; back in the day, babies and toddlers were dressed similarly, and were often referred to as “it” simply as the available neuter pronoun.

A woman who becomes pregnant is a mother.

Finally, an issue that I don’t think we appreciate enough when speaking about abortion is the ambiguity of discussing process and outcome. This will become clearer when I post about some of the “hard cases,” but a great many arguments boil down to which means may be taken to achieve a goal, and when inaction should be judged as action. Shooting a person to death is murder. Luring someone over a cliff (“Back up, this picture will be great!”) is murder. Failing to warn someone about a hard-to-see cliff—is that murder? I’m no lawyer, but I rather think any charge would be a lesser one, such as manslaughter; but if a man took the opportunity to fail to warn his enemy about that cliff in hopes that his enemy would fall off, I would consider that man a murderer, morally.

I would love for someone to read my posts and think, “You know, she’s got something here; I’ll have to support more restrictions on abortion.” I doubt this will be the case. But for all of you who belong to NARAL, please try to read the posts in good faith. I don’t really want to control women’s bodies more than is necessary to prevent someone else’s rights from being impinged upon. I don’t want to punish women for having sex. I do believe that sex should take place within the context of marriage, and that every time a couple have sex they should realize that a baby may follow, but I don’t want to criminalize adultery or fornication. Really, I do not care what you do in the bedroom.

It isn’t just embryos and fetuses who need to be humanized. Even people who may think very differently than you do on this topic—which is one of life and death, and liberty—are people. You may find their views morally repugnant, and indeed you can hardly fail to do so if you have any strong opinion at all. But they are still people. I hope you will consider this series with that truism in mind.

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Pure Egotism

The funny things my children say are not nearly as interesting to other people as they are to me. But what’s the good of having a blog if you can’t indulge in shameless egotism from time to time? And so….

While my 2-year-old was praying at dinner, his sister suggested that he thank God for the nice dinner Mommy made. He shook his head vigorously and said, “Not dinner. Yucky meal. Fank you for…honey badgers….”

His older brother’s prayers at age 2 weren’t much better. He used to thank God for Daleks and Cybermen. He had, however, at age 2 a perfectly decent answer to the Children’s Catechism question, “How do we glorify God?” (The correct answer is “By loving him and doing what he commands.”) Instead, my son said, “Patchry! Patchry!” This turned out to be the “Gloria Patri,” the song “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost….”

About a year ago, a police officer read stories to us at the library. On the way home, my daughter asked, “What if there was a good guy dressed like a chicken and another good guy dressed like a bad guy and the guy dressed like a chicken killed the other guy because he was dressed like a bad guy? How long would he be in jail for?” Uh, anyone know if being dressed like a chicken is a mitigating factor in sentencing?

Another one from my daughter, after I’d just made some banana ice cream: “I guess it’s pretty good, but not as good as usual ice cream.”
Me: “Oh, yeah? What would make it better?”
My daughter: “If it was made by someone who was good at making ice cream.” Ouch.

And a perfectly serious theological question from her: “Does Jesus poop and pee in Heaven?” We had just learned that Jesus ate some fish after he rose from the grave, so her question is a reasonable one. I do not know the answer–neither the Bible nor medical science provides definitive descriptions of the anatomy and physiology of the glorified body of the Lord.

While listening on YouTube to “Night on Bald Mountain,” which was accompanied by stills from Fantasia, my 2-year-old said “Can I ‘atch Turnobog? Turnobog go seepy-bye.” I couldn’t decide if that one was funny or horrifying. (Chernobog is the demon who hosts the Witches’ Sabbath in Fantasia.)

And finally, my 2-year-old and I were having a playful argument. I said, “You’re ridiculous!”

He giggled and responded, “You’re dickless!”

Well. He isn’t wrong.

May you all know and love children who delight you with mispronunciations, malapropisms, and other absurdities.

How Should I Harm My Children?

We, as parents, are called to harm our children.

This is a provocative way of stating something that I think is not controversial: Sometimes we must cause our children temporary and minor pain in order to prevent them suffering greater pain. When we deny them sweets, we are causing them the sadness of not eating something tasty that will give them pleasure; we do this not because we are sadists who like to see our children suffer, but because we don’t want our children to experience the ill effects of eating too much sugar. We deliberately expose them to the chance of minor adverse effects and the (small) chance of major adverse effects of vaccines when we take them to get their shots, because by doing so, we are preventing the much greater chance of them suffering the adverse effects of the illnesses being prevented. When we make our children turn off the TV and run around, we are preventing them enjoying the entertainment that TV provides because we want them to develop their minds and their bodies. When we delay gratification, we are teaching them an extremely important skill that will help them to make good choices in life.

The fact that parenting is a tradeoff between harms explains, I think, why there can be so much dispute over a particular decision that seems trivial to nonparents. Let us consider that battleground of parenting, The Juice Question. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a whole piece of fruit is much better for children than is juice, which is sugary and acidic and provides lots of calories without satisfying the appetite. This is a reversal of earlier opinion, which held that juice is good for you because of all the vitamins in it. Parents have the following sets of choices:

a) Allowing unlimited access to juice; if it’s real fruit juice, the children will be obtaining the vitamin C and other nutrients in the juice, but at the cost of wearing down their tooth enamel and taking in empty calories.

b) Allowing limited access to juice, which may include watering down the juice. Since children tend to enjoy juice, they may not replace the nutrients in the juice with suitable amounts of vegetables or even whole fruit, but they’re not expecting sugary drinks as a matter of course.

c) Never keeping juice in the house, but allowing it as an occasional treat at a restaurant or a friend’s house.

d) Treating juice like rat poison and going to extremes to prevent this liquid from ever crossing the child’s lips.

Now there are harms associated with all of these positions, but I would judge most harm occurs at extremes a) and d). Juice really is quite sugary, and in my opinion children shouldn’t drink it every day in place of plain water or milk. (But milk is another controversy.) However, making juice the Forbidden Fruit (drink) is likely to backfire; either the child may develop an exaggerated fear of juice, perhaps making himself unpopular as he lectures upon the evils of OJ, or the child may, upon growing up, overindulge in juice in an effort to make up for his deprived childhood. Or perhaps the child, never having acquired a taste for juice, may choose soda regularly instead, which has all of the detriments and none of the benefits of juice.

Nonparents may read this foregoing and think that the juice question is far too minor and petty to get worked up over. But at least in wealthy countries where children are highly likely to survive to adulthood, I do assure you that parents are constantly agonizing over parental choices, starting from infancy–breast, formula, combo? Sleep training or not? Feed on demand or a schedule? What about cosleeping? Sometimes the stakes really are high. More often a particular choice matters little in the long term, but as parents we are constantly aware that we are navigating sets of possible harms to our children, and trying to minimize harm while maximizing wellbeing. We put sunscreen on our children’s skin to lessen their odds of developing skin cancer, but ensure that they take in adequate Vitamin D to offset the harm done by preventing the sun from producing endogenous Vitamin D.

Differences in parenting are often explained by the different risk assessments parents have: One may believe that the psychological benefits of cosleeping may offset the risks of suffocation and SIDS, whereas another may come to the opposite conclusion. This also explains why parents can be so repulsed by parenting that is different than their own; if you really believe that vaccine-preventable diseases are no big deal and that the additives in the vaccines might hurt your child’s neurological development, then of course you’d be horrified that public health bodies so heavily encourage you to vaccinate your children. On the other hand, if you believe (as I do) that vaccine-preventable diseases can cause significant morbidity and mortality and that vaccines are safe and effective, then of course you’d be horrified that your friend is encouraging everyone to forgo shots in favor of essential oils.

Even when parents agree upon the same facts, they may still make different decisions for their children. Healthy adults harm themselves deliberately. Exercise involves straining one’s body, and causing small amounts of damage to our muscles so that our body may repair them. Without exercise, our bodies atrophy and become weak and dysfunctional. Arthritis makes exercise painful, but this exercise will help improve the arthritic person’s overall pain level. But a person with severe heart disease or some other condition that limits exercise must make different decisions to keep his body in the best possible health than someone without that same condition.

In the same way, the individual parents of individual children may decide to do something different than other parents, and believe that they are doing the best they can for their children without necessarily condemning others’ choices. Very generally speaking, all children need food, shelter, medical attention, education, love, and security. The ways in which these children will obtain the “best” upbringing, however, vary greatly from parent to parent, and from child to child. All of us parents–every single one of us, no matter how excellent and well-meaning we may be–will make mistakes with our children. But it is right and good that we consider how we may do the best for our children, and this world being what it is this means how we shall choose to harm our children.

Our Little Antichrists

It takes more than an f-bomb to shock people these days. Blasphemy doesn’t cut it. Racial slurs will, but if you wish to make an unacceptable sentence using nothing but common words, try the following:

“X is a bad child.”

NO! Children are not BAD. Not when little Finley is hitting smaller children than himself for his own amusement. Not when little Olivia is giving stickers to every single girl classmate except one, and taking pains to explain to that one that it is because she smells weird. Children cannot be manipulative, even when they throw enormous sobbing fits that disappear when they get their way. They aren’t brats when they boss around their classmates or gang up on the outsiders. They can’t be bad when they lie, steal, pull hair, mock their classmates, shove other children out of line, etc, etc, etc.

Now there are several understandable reasons to avoid saying that “X is a bad child” when all evidence suggests that this is the case. For one, our expectations for childish behavior are, quite rightly, different for young children than for adults; a two-year-old unable to understand another child’s pain is normal, whereas an 18-year-old with the same lack of empathy is probably a psychopath. Adults can’t effectively discipline or interact with a child if they don’t understand what a child should and should not be expected to master, and some cases of abuse occur when adults become frustrated with children for failing to do something that the child could not do. Children who misbehave more than is usual often have good reasons for doing so–trauma, a disordered home life, parents or guardians who aren’t nurturing them properly, lack of proper sleep and nutrition. Children do not have the same power of self-determination that adults do, nor enough experience and wisdom to know a) that Mommy stealing their winter coats to buy drugs is not normal or healthy; and b) how to deal with the feelings engendered by such actions. It is therefore more useful to say, instead of “X is a bad child,” that “X is a troubled child,” or “X needs help.”

It is also wise to avoid telling a child that he or she is bad because children generally try to meet expectations. A child who thinks that he is “bad” won’t try to improve his behavior, because he is just plain bad and cannot change his nature. This, too, has a certain amount of truth to it; I know plenty of adults who think of themselves as incapable in a certain area of moral, intellectual, or physical competence, and so never try to get better. “I’m bad at math” may be the truth, but practice will make progress even for the most innumerate dummy ever to be puzzled by basic subtraction. “I’m disorganized”–that’s me, with a vengeance, and so I’ve got to find ways to be organized because otherwise I hurt myself and my family and friends. And since children, as mentioned above, do not have a robust experience base, they are especially likely to conceptualize themselves in ways that can harm their development.

Nevertheless, I maintain that the taboo surrounding “X is a bad child” is exaggerated. Think back to your own childhood. Were there not children who were consistently mean, nasty little snots? They may have had excellent reasons for being such; they may have been the victim of adverse circumstances; but it takes a lot of ignoring of reality to avoid coming to the conclusion that Peter, who liked to kick other children in the back at my school and was expelled at age 8, was a bad child. Perhaps he did not stay such; he may have grown up to become a decent adult; I certainly hope so. There are, unfortunately, children who lack empathy and who grow up to be full-blown psychopaths.

Furthermore, it is ridiculous to avoid identifying bad behavior by children as such. “Oh, that child is only four–she cannot, by definition, be manipulative!” Bullshit. A child of four months cannot be manipulative. However, a child of four years–or 18 months–is perfectly capable of identifying a desired outcome and acting in ways that show indifference to the wellbeing of others in order to achieve that outcome. We do not need to equate “manipulative” with “this child’s actions are on the level of Ted Bundy,” or to assume that the child is acting with enough wisdom to choose malevolence over benevolence. We ought certainly show wisdom and empathy ourselves in dealing with our children as children, rather than as evil adults, but the fact is that children develop morality–and immorality–rather rapidly.

It is easier for adults to admit that children have some sense of morality when we are talking about the positive development of their sense of justice, which appears in infants as young as 8 months old. Babies show preferences for puppets that are nice to each other, rather than puppets who are mean to each other. Young toddlers are notoriously helpful, and we don’t insist that they possess some nuanced, mature understanding of helpfulness to recognize this fact. Just as we recognize the early appearance of these positive traits, we should also be able to recognize that very young children can also be manipulative racists. And seriously, can you spend any significant time with even a delightful little child and disagree that they are prone to evil in certain ways that differ from child to child? Recognition of children as moral beings–even as underdeveloped moral beings subjected to many outside pressures, which of course they are–requires the recognition of children as immoral beings, too, and not simply as amoral.

This does not mean that the next time you see your toddler take off his diaper and smear poop on the wall while singing “Wheels on the Bus” you call for an exorcist. It is probably wise to avoid saying “You are a bad child,” unless you’re a Calvinist discussing the universal depravity of Man’s nature. (Total depravity is a lot easier to accept when you have a child, incidentally.) It is the responsibility of adults to recognize the needs of those children in our care, and to help them with compassion and understanding when some aspect of their lives contributes to bad behavior. But refusing to recognizing that children can, in fact, be brats or bullies actually does its part in dehumanizing our young, by refusing them any moral standing at all. This is wrong.

 

On Building Cathedrals

There’s a famous story about a man coming upon some stonemasons and asking them what they were doing. One said he was cutting a block of stone; one said he was dressing a block; and one replied, “I am helping to build a cathedral to the glory of God.” I heard a variation of this story, in which the one who sees the “big picture” is an old woman sweeping up some dust from the construction, but the point is the same–that however humble one’s role in an enterprise is, it is glorious to help create something lasting and valuable.

I experienced the converse of this story in one of my college English classes, which focused on The Canterbury Tales. It was an upper-level seminar-style class, in which we tackled the Tales in Middle English, read some of the scholarship on the Tales, and were expected to produce some scholarship of our own. And after reading dozens of essays discussing gender role depiction, how Chaucer upholds and subverts the social structures of his day, what is the exact sexual status of the Pardoner, etc, etc, I realized that if every single one of those essays disappeared from the face of the Earth no one would be worse off. The Tales themselves are wonderful, and the linguistics work on Middle English is necessary both to understand the Tales and to trace how greatly Chaucer influenced the course of the English language, but the great mass of criticism on The Canterbury Tales appeared and still appears to me to mean no more than the speculations of “Sherlockians” who argue over how many times Dr. Watson was married, and to whom, and on what date(s).

This class heavily influenced my decision not to pursue a graduate degree in English literature, though I loved my English classes and was told I had some talent in criticism. Were I inclined to teach, I could put up with meaningless research for the sake of sharing literature with my students in the classroom–which I do believe to be a worthy and valuable goal–but I would be a very unhappy and ineffective teacher, which would serve no one well. What point would there be, then, in spending time and money to apply deconstructionism or structural analysis to the works of Dostoyevsky instead of curling up with Crime and Punishment?

My mother was disappointed that I took no steps to acquire impressive-looking letters after my name. She would very much have liked me to become a doctor, a lawyer, or a professor, and thought I was clever enough to become any of those things. (She might have revised her opinion of my scientific abilities if she had ever seen me foul up the simplest experiments in my chemistry classes, though I generally managed decent grades because of my test-taking and writing abilities.)  She did not often harp on this theme, to her credit, and I can understand her disappointment that her smart daughter did not become any sort of high-status professional; today, I am “merely” a stay-at-home mother, which is the sort of job a high school dropout can do with reasonable competency. Some high school dropouts are considerably better housekeepers than I am, in fact, and what a waste! With my brains! Even my piano teacher was disappointed in me.

Now, I do not actually know where I fall on the scale of human intelligence, but I have a large vocabulary and decent memorization skills. Let us put that aside and suppose that my abilities were indeed on par with my mother’s opinion of my braininess. In such a case, it seems to me that the most rational choice I could make is to evaluate my career options and choose the one that I think would lead to a useful, fulfilling life. I have tried to do this–first taking jobs in a field that I found interesting and worthwhile (medical publishing), and then having and raising my children. And frankly, sinking thousands of dollars and several years of my life so that I can say I have an advanced degree, or a prestigious career, strikes me as the height of foolishness. I do not at all mean to denigrate those who do have advanced degrees and belong to various professions–I have benefited immensely from doctors, teachers, and other professionals; but when I consider the course of my own life, I have tried to follow a path that allows me, as I am, to do the best I can in this world.

In the grand scheme of things, I do not know whether I am helping to build a cathedral or a Soviet-style apartment block, but it is not for me to judge the ultimate value of my life and work. I can only say that I have no regrets and a great deal of satisfaction.

When my children grow up, I am sure that I will have strong opinions on what they ought to do with their lives. I hope I shall be wise enough to offer only occasional, solicited advice on their career paths, and to recognize that they, too, will be trying to succeed–and that their definitions of success might be different than mine, without being wrong.

 

I’m a Figment of Your Imagination: Or, My Husband Doesn’t Post Often, But When He Does He Stirs Up Trouble

It is well known that Christian women who subscribe to traditional notions of marriage don’t actually have any of their own ideas, being no more than puppets of their husbands. Well known to everybody except me, apparently, as I learned with surprise that I was not in fact the author of the blog post “Counseling, Feelings, and the Roles of Husband and Wife” which I have also discovered promulgates a dangerous, harmful model of marriage in which the wife’s feelings are not the ultimate authority. And now, here to explain more about the kind attention lavished on my post is that prime example of toxic masculinity, my husband.

***

An opening salvo declaring my wife toxic, abusive, and unsafe to be around greeted me in a post titled “How Not to Resolve Marital Issues?” My wife had just forwarded me a link to the blog “No Longer Quivering” which purports to be “a gathering place for women escaping and recovering from spiritual abuse”, but appears to be nothing more than a venue for a woman named Suzanne to spew hatred against those with opposing views.  She had stumbled across one of my oppressed wife’s blog posts and had concocted a loathsome image of my wife from it.

I commented that my wife was none of those awful things and was actually quite great. Suzanne decided I, rather than my wife, was the one that wrote the post and she was “pretty sure [my wife] didn’t exist” My wife posted a single comment declaring she wrote the post and wishing everyone the same marital happiness she has.  Suzanne decided I was controlling my wife and advised her to divorce me. Then she banned both myself and my wife from posting further comments.

We were told we were too young to give marriage advice and threatened with an investigation from Child Protective Services. Suzanne lectured us about how the First Amendment gave her the right to say nasty things about us, and then deleted posts and banned users she disagreed with.  At no point was there a hint of civility or basic comprehension of anything my wife or I wrote.

That same day, on another of Suzanne’s blogs, she posted “Nothing Bitcher[sic]… than a man.  Currently my husband happens to be crankier and bitchier than two drag queens fighting over the last wand of mascara in Rite Aid. Or if you find that offensive two Trump fans fighting over the last MAGA cap if you like.”  She then explained how her elderly husband was recovering from pneumonia and how back in the bad old days at her old church, she would have treated and cared for him.  But now she realizes the error of her past ways and has a new philosophy: “That’s on him. Me, I’m moving through my day and tasks like a boss…  Learning that I am not responsible for anyone’s emotions but my own has been incredibly freeing.”  This is the abusive spiritual background she is a survivor of.

But mature adults understand that a successful family often requires self-sacrifice for the benefit of others. Once when my wife was blinded for a day after our son scratched her cornea, I took off from work and cared for my family. Following Suzanne’s advice, I should have walked over to her, shrugged my shoulders, and said, “That’s on you. I’m going to go through this day like a boss.” It’s obvious why Suzanne hates large families; she’s far too selfish to survive in such an environment.

As Christians, we are expected to minister to individuals like Suzanne. However, given the hateful nature of her comments, refusal to listen to the facts, and banishment of opinions different from hers, it is impossible to reach her. In this century, Christians have dealt with people like Suzanne by being civil or ignoring them, believing their incoherent and hateful ramblings to be no threat. But even people armed with fluffy pink hats will win when no one stands up to oppose them, and we have increasingly seen the insane accepted as normal and codified into law.

In contrast, we note Jesus talking about “broods of vipers” (Matt. 12:34) and Paul telling his theological opponents to castrate themselves (Gal. 5:2). Similarly, what a difference it made when Brett Kavanaugh and the Covington Catholic boys stood their ground. Their opponents concocted ridiculous attacks on them, mocked their responses to those attacks, threatened them and their livelihoods– and failed.

In the spirit of fighting back, having been banned from Suzanne’s blog, I present my replies to her commentary below on the topics of the existence and agency of women who do not parrot liberal talking points, Christian sex, Suzanne’s patronizing response to my wife, and the need for CPS investigations.

Is Heidi Dave’s Sock Puppet?

i do not existi do not exist 2i do not exist 3

i do not exist 4

 Note how the supposed defenders of women cannot believe that my wife can think for herself.  If a woman has a non-leftist thought, she has to be controlled by a man!  This isn’t even a conservative vs liberal issue here — it is the sane versus the insane.  My wife identifies as a classic liberal, but her thoughts are nothing like these leftist wackos.

 Marital Sex is Yucky

sex is yucky

Look, when you start off with calling my wife an abusive, toxic person, I think a little levity is preferable to recriminations. Plus, I’ll admit I know that the thought of a wife happily having sex with her husband is like kryptonite to leftists. The proper way is for wives to demean their husbands’ sex drive and hand out sex like candy when their husbands do what they want.

 Sex is a wonderful gift from God for married couples, yet these women are repulsed by it. We are not commanded by God to go to counseling. We are commanded to have sex with our spouse. Why is it that even Christians focus on watching movies together, watching sports, or doing other “bonding” activities and neglect this greater gift from God?

sex is yucky 2

 Disappointed she didn’t comment on my size—leftists can’t even insult correctly. It’s possible that this comment and another about enjoying 5 minutes of “joyless Alexander-style” sex were just throwaway insults, but this kook may really believe she can deduce our sex life from my wife’s blog.

sex is yucky 3

Suzanne Patronizes My Wife

(My comments are italicized)

“Thanks for showing up and replying. I was pretty sure you didn’t exist based upon several factors.

Factors like an affinity for incoherent conspiracy theories, poor reading comprehension, and shoddy analytical skills.

First, how old are you and how long have you been married?

Hey, you finally realized that you should just ask questions instead of making assumptions!

 Your advice to never to go to any type of counselor…

My wife and I never gave this advice.

…really sounds like something straight out of the mouth of someone younger, uneducated or very sheltered and male.

Zero for four; my wife is none of these things.

All this time I’ve been reading and approaching your words as something by someone at least 30….When you get to post 30 years and no divorce let me know and I might listen.

Done and done.

 Even Lori Alexander claims that only older women should be handing out life advice. I don’t necessarily agree with her, but I think if you are going to hand out marriage advice it behooves you to be married a long time successfully first.

Who’s Lori Alexander? (Note from Heidi: I read Lori Alexander, but Dave’s only heard of her from me.)

You need to gently remind your husband that the First Amendment exists

Thanks.

 and that disagreeing with someone on what constitutes healthy and unhealthy mental hygiene breaks no laws.

You learn something new every day.

As much as I disagree with much of what you say on your blog does not mean I would not support your right to do so. Any time you post on a public forum, like a blog, you are opening yourself up to public scrutiny.

Really, my wife was foolish not to expect to have been called abusive, toxic, and a danger to women.

Particularly in the press. As a daily columnist with Patheos I’m going to dissect why I think something does not seem right. I am all for healthy relationships and against anything that even gives a slight appearance of abuse.

Abuse like your blog posts?

You have two choices, admit and realize that not everyone is going to love you and applaud your words. Or go offline. That’s it. EVERYONE that writes gets enormous pushback and that’s how it is. Me, George Will, Patty Davis, Andrew Hall and all of the other Patheos writers and everyone else in the universe. It’s life.

I think Suzanne feels guilty about what she said to my wife, and she’s trying to deflect. Clearly, my wife knows that people were going to disagree with her, given that the first sentences of her blog post were “If you consider yourself a feminist, you won’t like this post. Be warned! Heck, maybe I’ll offend you if you don’t consider yourself a feminist….”

 This is not about disagreement. This is about basic civility.

Now that we have all of that out of the way I have to say I have some concerns.

So do I.

The big thing we’re for here in NLQ is keeping people out of abusive relationships of all kinds, spousal, faith community, you name it.

Relationships with Suzanne?

Here’s were [sic] I’m hoping I’m wrong.

There was something you weren’t wrong about?

But…. your husband is the one that reacts to disagreeing with your blog…

No. I react to you being uncivil to my wife.

…and his replies here seem to hold a hint of menace. I hope, and pray, that you’re not in a controlled against your will situation here. His making sure you post here seems rather convenient.

You just asked my wife to “stand up for her own words”! Now her reply suddenly means that I’m controlling her.

Please, if you are in a relationship that holds any manipulation, control or abuse, please do not settle for it.

Wow, that escalated quickly. You try to defend your wife, and suddenly you’re an abuser. She’s not making a strong case for counseling.

There are people that would be willing to help you.

Not you, since you banned her right after this comment.

Your words in your blog worry me because they seem to come from a place of control and manipulation.

No woman who thinks differently from you could possibly be thinking for herself!

There are very few women out there whose reaction to saying something is wrong react that sex is needed or wanted, or that a woman’s feelings do not matter at all. That’s what abusers say.

But that’s not what my wife said.

 CPS Investigations

call cpssuzanne like to call cps

“Hello, CPS? I’d like to report some children in danger from their mother. I’m not sure if she exists or she’s actually her husband, but the kids are definitely in danger.”

Forget Self Esteem; Self Respect is a Virtue

The idea that a high self-esteem is the key to healthy child development has, quite properly, fallen by the wayside. Indeed, it is foolish to imagine that trying to instill any one character trait–even if it’s something demonstrably good, such as resilience or perseverance–will lead to decreased crime, increased mental health, and other good outcomes. And the truth is, in Western cultures at least, society is only too happy to foster our narcissistic tendencies to believe that we’re pretty awesome; it is, fortunately, pretty rare for children to come from a home in which they’re told they’re worthless.

But in throwing out our notions of building up self esteem as the key to good parenting, I think we need to be careful not to throw out a similar, but not identical concept: Building self respect. That is to say, we recognize ourselves as a human being, and treat ourselves with the respect due a human being.

Merriam-Webster’s lists “self esteem” as a synonym for “self respect,” but “self respect,” to me, does not involve constantly telling myself or my kids that I am awesome, I am special, I have unlimited potential, or all the other crap with which the proponents of self esteem filled children’s heads. It is not inflationary, nor does it involve counting all that is owed to oneself. It is neither pride, which assumes that we are the center of the universe, nor vanity, in which our egos are dependent upon the praise of others.

Instead, self respect recognizes that, as a moral agent, we have obligations to behave to ourselves and to others in a decent way. Self respect means that we don’t sit around in piles of filth, because that’s no way to treat ourselves; instead, we clean up. We don’t moan and whine about our lack of talent in some area, but do our best. We don’t lie, rob, kill, gossip, or harm ourselves with drugs or alcohol because such behavior hurts other human beings, and also ourselves.

Self respect means feeling good about ourselves when we have accomplished something worthwhile. It also means that when bad things happen to us, we respond to them with sadness or anger or other negative emotions, but we do not allow these bad things to destroy us. It means that we can elevate duty above pleasure, and try to improve ourselves. It makes us accountable.

Now, all of the foregoing makes it sound as if we ourselves are the ultimate moral arbiters of this universe, and all good is to be judged by the good done to us human beings. I do not believe this is so; I believe that the ultimate standards of morality are those set by God, revealed in the Bible. But even someone who does not believe in God or the Bible has written upon his heart the notion that there ought to be some objective standard by which his actions are to be judged, and the common grace of God is such that for many of us, notions of self respect will keep us from being as wicked as we could be. It is an unconscious, and perhaps unwilling, acknowledgment of human beings as made in the image of God.

We can therefore see how damaging a childrearing philosophy is that consistently belittles the child, or humiliates or degrades her. And just as damaging is the idea that the child is a Little Emperor who can do no wrong, for in puffing up her self esteem we give her no chance to develop respect for those around her, or for herself. I do not believe that cultivating self respect is The One True Key to raising a good, happy, successful person, but I do think that we ignore this quality at our–and our children’s–peril.

 

A New Perspective on Dr. King

Race in America can be a tricky discussion, as can the part that various famous figures have played in American history. The latter tend to be flattened into caricatures, then either worshiped or demonized; thus, we have Martin Luther King Jr, a martyr for civil rights and the brotherhood of man, vs. Martin Luther King Jr, the serial adulterer who didn’t take proper care of his family.

This sort of caricature is necessary when introducing new concepts to small children, because a great deal of oversimplification is necessary for them to comprehend it. You can’t have a nuanced discussion of King’s place in history without covering slavery, in general and in American history; racial relations in the 19th and 20th century; the Civil War; the different perspectives of black American intellectuals; what is signified by “African American,” “black,” and “people of color”; the development of various theories of race, genetics, socialization, and types of capacity; Ghandi; Martin Luther; communists, the FBI, and Malcolm X; the subjective nature of historical scholarship; etc.

However, oversimplification can lead to outright falsehood, as in a discussion of the Pilgrims not even mentioning religion. (The King was being mean to some people, so they decided to go to America so he couldn’t be mean to them anymore.)

And then we have the children themselves, who show an amazing capacity for forgetfulness, distortion, and inversion, as one of my kids did this past Friday. I asked my daughter, “Are you still learning about living and nonliving things?”

“No…today we learned about…I forget his name….”

“Martin Luther King, Jr?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“So tell me what you learned about him.”

“Dark-skinned people used to be able to do all sorts of fun things, but then he changed that.”

“Fun things? Like what?”

“They used to get their own drinking-fountains, and they got to sit on the back of the bus. But then he had a dream and stopped that.”

“And was that a good thing?”

“Yes, because then the light-skinned people got to do fun things, too. And he’s not real…wait a minute, he’s real, but he’s not alive anymore, but his dream is still alive.”

I have read many essays on Martin Luther King, Jr, but this is the first time I have been introduced to him as liberator of the deprived light-skinned people. My first reaction is that no matter how you simplify a concept for a child, the child can still get hold of the wrong end of things. Ultimately, however, this little tale demonstrates that for a child, “learning” is something that takes place continually but not continuously; it occurs by fits and starts, new information supplanting, supplementing, and illuminating the old, until at last a child arrives at adulthood knowing, we hope, at least something true about the world.

For the Umpteenth Time, Folks: Children Are People

Commentator Matt Walsh discusses a highly restricted set of topics (transgenderism is sick, abortion is murder, men need to man up, feminists hate men, ADHD is overdiagnosed, the Left is hypocritical), sometimes combines arrogance and naivete in an unlovely mixture, and takes too many words to get to the point. Nevertheless, I enjoyed a recent article in which Walsh explains why Duncan Jones shouldn’t use Twitter to express regrets over having children, or moan about how awful it is to have to take care of children.

Let’s take a look at the tweets Walsh was critiquing.

I have 2 kids. 2 1/2 years & 9 months old respectively. I’ll tell you something I never see anyone admit… they are exhausting, frustrating & life-destabilizing. They are rarely fun. Sure, smiles are great, hugs are lovely, but it’s HARD & not obviously a good choice in life.

This is where people feel compelled to say “i wouldn’t change it for the world!” But you know… Of course I’d reconsider! It’s exhausting! Its banal! It’s like looking after a dog you can’t housetrain. What it is, is that it is. & they are mine. Hopefully they turn out ok.

In what circles does Jones travel, that he’s never seen anyone admit that kids can be frustrating and exhausting? I write this post having come back from the doctor’s office with an antibiotic for my youngest kid’s ear infection, as well as a nebulizer for his RSV. The nebulizer involves keeping a mask on the child’s mouth and nose for about 10 minutes, a few times a day. About the time that my husband and I were hoping to enjoy his birthday dinner in a nice restaurant, we shall instead be trying to restrain a screaming 2-year-old in an effort to clear his bronchioli. So yes, I, like Duncan Jones, like Matt Walsh, like just about every parent ever, am fully aware that taking care of kids requires enormous amounts of time, energy, and money.

This isn’t some grand new truth, but a cliche. But the more bothersome part of the tweets is that Jones seems to doubt that his becoming a parent was a good choice, because his kids just aren’t providing fun and amusement commensurate with the difficulty of raising them. And the heart of Walsh’s critique is that if we cannot find joy in our children, it is the fault not of the children nor of parenting, but our own selfishness.

“In my experience, kids are the most difficult when you try to relegate them to the background so you can do something else with your time. Of course, sometimes it is necessary to do other things, like sleep, or work, or have an adult conversation, or spend some time with your spouse, or watch a movie that isn’t about talking animals or princesses. That’s when they can feel especially frustrating and burdensome. But if you find that your children are always frustrating, always a burden, “rarely fun,” and generally “life-destabilizing,” that’s probably because you are trying to keep them in the background and out of your way far too often. If you find no joy at all in parenting, it’s almost certainly because you have made no effort to actually focus on your kids and invest yourself in them. You are trying to live as if they don’t exist. Children will absolutely “de-stabilize” that sort of lifestyle, and rightfully so.

“I’m not saying that we should be completely focused on our children all the time. They do need to learn that the world doesn’t revolve around them. But it doesn’t revolve around us, either.”

Now, I do not think that parents need to be their kids’ playmates very often, unless maybe the kid is an only child and too young to go play with other friends. But it is important to spend time with them and make them feel a part of your life and household, even if they’re “helping” with a chore that would take far less time without their assistance. It’s important to teach them, by precept and example.

It’s important to help them realize that they, too, are human beings–not accessories that can be put away when not in use; not little godlings to be fawned on and worshiped; not toys or pets or machines or anything but people. To treat them merely as expensive nuisances is to deny that their own viewpoints are just as valid as yours, and to regret their existence is repugnant.

 

What Do Children Know That We Don’t About a Silly Book?

I like some poems and can quote a fair number of them, but have no true “poetic” sense.  This left me feeling like an impostor when discussing poetry with others who do seem to have a proper appreciation of poems. I experienced a recurrence of this feeling when reading The Happy Man and His Dump Truck, a children’s book from the mid-20th century in which an unkempt man gives a pig and some other animals a ride on his dump truck. There is no conflict, no antagonist, no complexity to be resolved. The pictures are brightly colored, but nothing special. There is no seductive rhythm, no soothing repetitions, no rhyme or language-play. It is, however, a favorite of my children, it has stayed in print for more than half a century despite garnering no awards or critical attention, and I have spent far too much energy trying to figure out why. One review from Goodreads express the same sentiment:

“I have to admit, I am at a loss to explain the enduring popularity of this book at Goat Central. My wife, who originally had our copy when she was a toddler, tells me it was one of her younger brother’s favorites when he was two or three years old, and now the Bean can’t go more than two or three days without this one coming right back into rotation. It could be Tibor Gergely’s illustrations, which have an interesting, kind of Asian feel to them at times (the dog sliding down the dump truck has a definite Chinese dragon feel to him). It could be Miryam’s use of repetition, which effectively takes the place of the usual rhythm and rhyme one finds in Golden Books from the forties and fifties and does it one better, with more subtlety in diction (if not in content) than I’m used to. Whatever it is, the Bean adores this book. It may hold the current record for most times read. If not, it’s in the top five.”

Perhaps it’s the combination of dump trucks and animals (which make animal noises at the end) that enthralls? I’m not sure, because other books with trucks and animals have not enjoyed the same popularity.

I am unable to dismiss this book the way I do Brecker Bunny Asks for Help, which is a vilely-written, preachy, pamphlet-type “book” that employs some of the lamest, most wretched doggerel imaginable to teach children not to play with lighters. (After reading such gems as “Brecker and his buddies are just like you and me, and they are also super smart about fire safety” I wanted to light a pile of paper towels on fire out of sheer spite.) My middle son loves this book because it’s got bright illustrations and fascinating-to-him discussions about burning things, and I understand his liking even while having none of my own.

But it is not just my son who likes The Happy Man and His Dump Truck. My other kids do, as well. Kids who come over to our house and read this book like it. It’s got an average rating of 4 1/2 stars on Amazon. I do not hate the book the way I do some other children’s books–especially Brecker Bunny–but there’s clearly something missing in me that would allow me to respond with the same enjoyment that children do when they read this book. Perhaps it is merely that I know too much about what “should” make a good children’s story, but I can’t help feeling that if I’ve gained in literary appreciation I’ve also lost something as shown by my inability to take pleasure in the man giving farm animals a ride. Ah, childhood! Ah, adulthood!