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Adventures of a stay-at-home, skeptical, homeschooling dad (etc.)


We turned out OK (except for all those problems)

As parents, we make thousands of decisions every day which affect our children. Some of theses decisions are very simple and some are complex. Some are active decisions, and some are passively made by just taking the "default" action. Even not acting at all is a decision. And no one ever wants to get called out for making the wrong parenting decision: after all, making wrong decisions is what bad parents do, and I'm not a bad parent!

So when I explain that I'm trying to do something, anything, a little differently regarding raising my child, I often hear something along the lines of "Well, I did X when I was a child and I turned out OK." Usually with a tinge of defensiveness, especially if the person has children on their own. Everyone wants their parenting decisions validated, and when someone else chooses something different, many people feel it is an implied attack on the choices they have made.

I don't intend to attack anyone or the choices they have made: I understand that, mostly, we do what they think is best for our kids, and are making our decisions with the best of intentions. In many cases we are raising our kids either by following the example of those around us, and/or by following the example of how we, ourselves, were raised.

In other words, in many decisions, we choose the "default". The "default" is simply "what everyone does" and/or "what was done before". But that doesn't mean I have to agree with another person's decisions merely because those decisions line up with the "default". When someone "chooses" the default choice, it usually goes unquestioned. This is not the case when you avoid it…

The default changes over time. When I was a kid, we rode unbuckled in the cargo compartment of our station wagon and in the bed of Dad's pick-up truck. To my knowledge, no one ever said anything negative about that or hinted it was unsafe. That's just how it was done back then in our rural area. It was the default: it was unquestioned. Now a person would be shouted at and shamed into buckling up their kids, and rightly so. Buckling them up is better. It is the new default.

To this day my mother still gets a little defensive about doing that and is more than a little dismissive about the need for buckling. "I did that with you kids and you all made it out alive," she'll grumble. Of course, we were never in a car crash: if we were, that grumble wouldn't apply.

Again, the fact I say that is not an attack on my parents' decisions per se: she simply chose the default action. Buckling up was considered non-essential, and only over-protective parents did it. You can't do that now: you'd be (rightly) shouted and shamed into compliance.

So now, when I mention (when the subject comes up) that my daughter gets only about an hour of TV/media a day, sometimes people will say things like "We watched hours of TV a day as kids and we turned out OK." Or, when I limit her sweets or cut down on the processed junk, I might hear "I was raised on that! And I turned out OK!" Or, when I mention I'm homeschooling her partially to avoid some of the negative aspects of public school education and socialization… Yup: "I turned out OK!"

Come to think of it, I watched hours and hours of TV a day as a kid, and I ate far too much bread, potatoes, frozen pizzas, breaded-deep-fried food, and desserts, and I went through the local religious and public schools, with the bullies and cliques and cafeteria food and gossip and orderly desks… And I, too, turned out OK.

Except… did I?

I've been overweight or obese most of my life. I had severe attention, behavior, and learning problems in school, and would probably still classify as adult ADD. I'm almost cripplingly shy, and disastrously socially-awkward. From time to time I've been clinically depressed, and an insomniac.

Am I saying these problems were definitely caused by choices of food, too much TV, or public school? No, of course not, I can't say there's a cause-effect relationship: I'm merely pointing out that, clearly, "I turned out OK" doesn't 100% apply. The argument is flawed:

A. I was in a situation which some consider harmful.
B. I turned out OK.

C. Therefore A is not harmful.

I'm not saying the conclusion C is certainly wrong, I'm saying premise B is wrong, therefore the whole argument is meaningless and unsound.

It's like having a car that takes 3 or 4 tries to start, sputters, leaves oil stains on the driveway and has all the dashboard warning lights on, and then bragging about how even though you've never done any of the recommended maintenance "it turned out OK!". Maybe the regular maintenance wouldn't have changed anything, but the car is not in a state I'd call "OK", so you can't use that as support for your decision.

As a whole, in society, we're not all that "OK". Depression, anxiety disorders, obesity, ADD, ADHD, OCD, binge drinking and drug abuse, eating disorders, xenophobia, sexism, racism, tribalisms, homophobia, narcissism, consumerism, unrealistic ideas of beauty, unrealistic ideas of morality, etc. You name it. Chances are, right now, everyone reading this has some neurosis or another twitching just below the surface. We keep them down, mostly, but is that "OK"?

I used to work with a guy who, when viewing a picture of Alicia Keys, said "She's alright, but she needs a boob job." This same guy was an exercise nut to the point of narcissism, and judged his (thin) wife just as harshly as poor, poor small-chested Alicia, complaining that his wife had "let herself go" after three children. I'm sure he qualifies as "OK" as well, but how and when did that crap get wired into his head? When did he acquire such a ridiculous standard of beauty? When did any of us? I don't know, and you don't either. The point is that if that is "OK", I don't want it, so don't offer that to me as the evidence that we're "good enough".

Again, I don't have direct evidence that A causes B causes C, but please notice that the people pushing A and B don't offer much in the way of evidence either. They just seem to offer "Well I turned out OK"… Which isn't worth one whit to me.

So, when I choose to do things a differently, when I choose to moderate the images pumped into my daughter's head, when I choose to moderate the food that goes into her body, when I choose to discipline her differently, when I choose to educate her differently, when I try to encourage her in different things, when I want different things for her, it's because "OK"… isn't.