Monday, October 20, 2008

Parenthood, flexibility, fear, and politics

I took a personal day from work today, wanting to rest, work around the house, and write. I've started the dishes, cuddled with the dog, read some blogs, and had some oatmeal and tea. A bit of writing, and then I'm upstairs to finish unpacking the bathroom. I want to spend as much time as I can preparing the house--I work slowly and deliberately--but it's felt difficult to do while working full time, caring for the dog, running necessary errands, getting enough rest.... I'm a Pisces. We're easily overwhelmed. Lately I've been thinking about this quality a lot and trying to find some value in it, rather than just hating it and wishing it weren't true. If I know that I get overwhelmed easily, and I'm practicing acceptance, what is the healthiest way to proceed, and what gifts can I discover?

Last night Adonis and I attended our first Birthing from Within childbirth class. I've felt so much serendipity around our pregnancy so far, and very little anxiety or fear. (I just want the house to be ready!) All indicators are that I'm healthy, the fetus is healthy, and things are proceeding normally; we've opted for very little testing or intervention of any kind, preferring to embrace the inevitable mystery of the process, and that feels like the right choice. We feel utterly blessed to be working with our calm, hugely competent, compassionate midwife and her apprentice, a Witch with something of an attitude. The childbirth class is just us and one other couple; the other pregnant woman shares a first name with me, is due a week before I am, and lives with her partner two blocks from us. Like us, they're first-time "older" parents. The teacher is certainly Pagan-ish if not Pagan. Both Adonis and I were relieved after the first class to have an intentional space for focusing on the birth. Sometimes little bits of doubt creep into my brain--maybe we should be doing things some other way, having sonograms, planning a hospital birth--but then I'll have an experience, like attending last night's class, that confirms for me the way we've chosen to do things.

My family has been relatively chill, for them, but it's clear that they're taking on the worry-work that is eluding me. That bugs me. I'm sure it's a good lesson for parenthood to be dealing now with disagreement, conflict, and their fear about my choices; there's going to be plenty about the way Adonis and I parent that my own parents won't like. But the shock for me has been how my parents apparently don't care what my reasons are. They don't want to be reassured. They don't want explanations. They don't want to--or can't--hear why I value what I value. They just want to express their own fears and opinions and then hope I change my mind. There's no dialogue, no conversation. I think of the premium I place on gathering information, thinking things through, listening to my intuition, consulting my values, consulting my partner...and I marvel that these people, my people, don't use the same methods or value the same things. Didn't they encourage me to think critically? Didn't they teach me to consult my own heart and conscience? I thought they did. Maybe I was wrong. It's unsettling and weird to realize--at my quite advanced age, I know--that in an important sense, they don't care what I think. They don't want to understand what I'm doing or why.

All of this led Adonis to make an observation with which I quickly and easily agreed, once it had been articulated: when we're parents, we want to engage our kid(s) in conversations about what they believe and value, and to listen and sincerely try to understand, even if we disagree. I feel as if my parents maybe tried to do this when I was growing up, but I haven't felt that openness from them in a long time.

Something that's very true for me, though clearly not for everyone, and probably doesn't have to be true for everyone: to love me means that you care enough to hear what I believe and why I believe it.

Is that quite right? Of course my parents love me; of course they care for me. Yet still I feel this lack--a fundamental way of being cared for that I get from my partner and many of my friends and teachers, but not from my family of origin. That care expresses itself in wanting to hear what I have to say, wanting to know what I believe, and valuing the fact that I value something. It's a way of taking me seriously. It is, I believe, what Iris Murdoch means when she talks about "loving attention." It requires curiosity and flexibility on the part of the parent, the lover, the one who cares, and it requires a temporary suspension of fear and ego.

Now all of a sudden I feel like I'm talking about reasons to support Obama over McCain this election. And I am. McCain is the inflexible, calcified, ego- and fear-driven, dismissive patriarch writ large. So is Sarah Palin, for that matter: age and sex don't define these things. While McCain and Palin are both so readily dismissive of women's health and other items on the "liberal feminist agenda" (not that he has a damn clue what that means; I was still shocked to hear him state the matter so baldly), Obama and Biden appear utterly believably as good dads--literally, not in an archetypal sense, though that, too, must matter. Obama is able to convey his flexibility, curiosity, and devotion to the best in people while running the most impressively tight and creative campaign for president I have ever seen. One of McCain's slogans may be "country first," but it's pretty clear he's really about himself first, foremost, perhaps only. Obama, on the other hand, really appears fearless, and he appears largely to set his ego aside in pursuit of a larger, shared good.


Livia Indica said...

It's a shame that your parents don't want to listen to you. Perhaps they are just so wound up and caught up in their fears that they can't imagine a better or different, but just as good, way of doing things.

Beverly said...

Greetings Inanna and congrats on your pregnancy!

I came from a very large family, the shy kid amongst a pack of loud and rowdy wolves. My parents weren't much interested in what I had to say or what I believed and even though I'm now 49 and realize they loved me the best they could they never really knew me. As a single mom of a 16-year old son, we share everything. We have an openness I had always wanted with my parents and it's this openness that makes him feel loved, accepted and worthy of respect, which I think everyone should feel. )O(

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post, it touched me very deeply. I also value being heard and hearing others. I am so happy that you and Adonis are becoming parents!

Inanna said...

Livia, I think you're right that fear is playing a large role in their response or lack thereof. It's hard for me to watch the people I love being so driven by their fears that they can't seem to take steps to assuage some of that fear.

Beverly, it's so great to hear about your doing things differently from your parents and the success you've had. I need as many stories like that as I can get.

Thank you, anon.