Monday, July 13, 2009

Overfeeling Parents

If it's possible to overthink a problem, then it should also be possible to overfeel it.

Meaning, that it is possible to take normal good feelings, question them, flay them to within an inch of their lives... thereby to diminish the everyday joys of parenting.

Take a normal parenting event. Last week Emily Bazelon described how she discovered that her 9 year-old son throws a baseball better than she does. He catches better than she does too.

She learned this when her son began explaining that she was supposed to catch the ball in her glove, not in her bare hand.

Worse yet, Bazelon learned that she throws like a girl. I hope she was not surprised. Link here.

Of course, this is a charming anecdote. But Bazelon is a writer and thinker, and did not want just to leave it at that. So, she questioned her feelings.

Her overfeeling began with a question: "How are you supposed to feel as a parent when your child surpasses you?"

She knows that she is proud of her son's achievements. That sounds normal enough. But then, overfeelingly, she submits her feelings to psychological litmus test. Are hers the right feelings? Are hers the feelings that experts think she should be having?

Here we see an instance where the therapy culture has worked its ill effects on human experience. What else would cause a normal parent to question her normal joy?

Joy alone is not enough, so Bazelon must confess to feelings of competitiveness. She is embarrassed because her son has to teach her how to throw and catch a baseball. Worse yet, she is slightly embarrassed that this same 9 year-old can beat her-- a writer, no less-- at Scrabble.

Why might Bazelon feel competitive when playing Scrabble with her son? Might it not be because Scrabble is a competitive game, and normally provokes feelings of competitiveness.

Given that the boy is her son, she has mixed feelings. When he boy wins, he is not just another competitor; he is also a teammate. When her child wins, she wins too.

Such common sense explanations do not seem to satisfy Bazelon's need to overfeel. She asks whether her competitive emotions have a deeper meaning.

And she answers by linking her feelings of competitiveness to the story of the Greek god Chronos, who devoured all but one of his children.

As you know, Freud, his followers and his detractors, taught us that the most horrifying mythic analogies are necessarily closest to the truth. Thus, Bazelon is indulging a mental habit that the therapy culture has taught us.

Obviously, the analogy is overkill, both mythic and rhetorical.

While it is true that some parents are threatened by the successes of their children, these are aberrations and exceptions, not the basic truth about human motivation.

Mythologizing emotion leads people to overfeel, to indulge feelings that have less to do with the situation at hand and more to do with wanting to belong to the therapy culture.

A day after Bazelon's column was posted, Samantha Henig responded and took the discussion to a stranger level still. Link here.

Apparently, Henig's mother taught her that parents should never take pride in their children's achievements. Her mother believed that "pride was just a way of taking ownership of your kid's success?"

This is simply silly. When you take pride in your child's success, you are happy to see your child accomplishing something on his own, and are justifiably proud that your considerable efforts are bearing fruit.

Henig, however, analyzes the life out of the feeling of pride and concludes that it is: "really stifled envy-- a way of turning that uncomfortable sense of competition into feeling better about yourself."

Translate "stifled" into "repressed" and you have yet another instance of the Freudian effort to demean and degrade human emotions. By this reading you can never ever be really happy for your child.

Is it any surprise that the therapy culture should have produced so much narcissism?

The truth is: parental pride, or disappointment, motivates children to compete, to succeed, and to excel.

Pride needs to be rigorously distinguished from love. Parents love their children regardless of whether they succeed at school or on the playground. But they feel pride when their child learns to throw the ball or does well on an exam.

Without that pride a child will not be motivated to work hard to succeed. And he will not be able to feel that he really owns his success.

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