Darwinian Parenting

My desires define me, and my group, and my people.

From Dr. Tingley’s lecture on Postmodernism

I flew from San Francisco to Orange County airport, seated in 6B. Across the aisle in 6C was a mother, and beside her, in 6D, was her child, a four or five year old boy with big brown eyes, a friendly face, and a pleasant personality.

Nothing unusual there. Moms often fly with their children on airplanes and children at that age are generally cute. What was unusual was this: in 7C was another mother and beside her, in 7D, was her child, a four or five year old boy with big blue eyes, a friendly face, and a pleasant personality.

Have you ever flown with two little kids that close to you? I was mildly worried about how it would go, but much more interested than worried. I had, I felt, a self-created laboratory. So I listened.

To understand the point of this post, you must know that the mothers were basically the same in their approach to their children. My wife has a little plaque she keeps in the kitchen that I always felt a little uneasy about. It says,

Raising children is like being pecked to death by chickens

Both of these mothers had mastered the survival technique that all mothers master to endure the pecking.

They tune out.

This is one of the great mysteries of motherhood to the young father (next to our wonderment at our wives lack of fervently expressed gratitude when we clean up after their morning sickness). We come home from a long day of brutal, back-breaking work (do you know how uncomfortable an office chair is?) to our wives and children, expecting large smiles and fervent 50’s-TV doses of affection.

Instead we see mommy half-seated, half-lying on the couch, legs extended, the free arm hanging limply off the couch, a vacant gaze filling the inch or two in front of her eyes – not unlike the look of St. Theresa in Ecstacy. Next to her is little Johnny (or David or Matthew or Katie) saying, over and over, “mom, mom, mom.” Just like that. Staccato.

Mom.

Mom.

Mom.

And here’s dad, exhausted from a day’s labor, incomprehensibly looking at mommy, thinking, and sometimes foolishly saying, “Why don’t you answer the child!?”

Karen has described this condition to me. She tells me that she’ll sit for a while not hearing anything, then after a few moments a distant sound will rise in the deep cavities of her mind, a sound that gradually works its way toward consciousness, staccato, not quite an echo, not even insistent, though certainly persistant, until finally it touches on the conscious mind and just a little light enters mommy’s eyes.

Calmly, as though David had only said “Mom” once, she looks at him for a moment and says, “Yes.”

“Katie cut off her foot at the neck.”

“OK, tell her to go back to bed.”

This is a womanly gift we men don’t have and thus fail to appreciate.

Part of the gift is the female capacity to contextualize the unconscious. The children in this my account, remember, were on an airplane. The mothers knew this.

Another trait of parenting, and this one is shared by fathers, though from what I can tell, not generally as fully developed, is the feeling of deep shame over every public manifestation of childishness by a child. Everybody else on the plane thinks the kids are adorable, but the parent usually seems ashamed, so they shush their child and get angry at them for not acting like adults, which is peculiar since it means that we parents are acting like children by being angry at our children for not acting like adults.

The combination of these two paternal gifts led these mothers to an interesting challenge with a simple solution. They didn’t want to their children to embarrass them, but they didn’t want to be pecked to death by the chickens. What to do?

Solution: bring the pecking to consciousness a little more quickly.

It was fun to watch.

Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom.

Yes?

And this is where the paths diverge. These pleasant little, good-natured children were clearly brought up on different assumptions about what a human, and therefore a child, is. I could tell because of what followed when mom was brought back to herself and to her child.

From 6D: I want some water. I want to play so and so. I want to… I want…

Don’t get me wrong. This child was not particularly demanding or at all bratty, though he did let out three loud, manipulative wails. He was just a normal kid who had been brought up on the assumption that the appetites merit an awful lot of attention.

From 7D: I spy with my little eye… Look mom, the airplanes are playing follow the leader… We’re following the leader, the leader, the leader. We’re following the leader wherever he may go.

I’ve stood by while my wife raised five children (gave her advice on those rare occasions when I had something to contribute and she was willing to pay for it) and I have to tell you one thing I learned a long, long time ago. Most of what you do consciously and purposely as a parent has very little affect on your children.

What affects them is the things you aren’t aware of, the kind of person you really are (regardless of what you want to be, which they don’t take the trouble to figure out), the beliefs you hold in your subconscious and that express themselves in attitudes and tones and environment and games and pastimes and commitments.

But most parents are looking for clear parenting methodology, so they read books with the latest techniques for potty-training and watch videos explaining how to prepare your little girl for kindergarten or listen to lectures that show you how to make your child love reading or sports or cooking or single-sex parents or whatever.

There is no parenting methodology. There’s just struggling parents, hearts yearning toward their children, lacking in confidence to act on their principles and concentrate on character.

What matters most in a parent is who you are. And what matters second to who you are is what you believe your child is. I mean believe in your soul, not your conscious mind, believe in your heart of hearts, not by logical or empirical persuasion.

You might have worked out that he is the image of God, fallen and depraved. Or you might have resolved intellectually that she is as innocent as the spring flowers.

But what do you believe in your soul of souls? What do you think in your heart?

Do you raise them with fear and trembling. Probably not. The meaning of parenting doesn’t really sink in until it’s too late, because if it sank in while you were doing it you’d be so overwhelmed you’d be unable to parent.

But just a little fear and trembling is a good thing.

The child in 6D was brought up by a parent whose soul-belief was that her child was a cute animal, driven by appetites. The child in 7D was brought up by a parent whose soul-belief was that her child was something more, something with rational faculties worth cultivating, something that gained happiness from careful observation, intellectual activity, and gameful expression of his awareness to those around.

The first mother was a type for the practicing naturalistic materialist, internalizing the doctrines of Darwin. Most mothers today are – even, frankly, most Christian mothers.      

The second mother was a type for the practicing Christian classical supernaturalist. Her child did not begin intellectualizing the world that day. His rational faculties (the quest for pattern, for harmony, the delight taken in unity and surprise) had been cultivated, clearly, since he was very young.

One might well argue that he was not morally better. Just more human.

He might have been the best answer to post-modernism. He was not defined by his desires, or those of his people, but by his uniquely delightful and human faculty to reason. If you want to overcome the deadening impact of our culture on your children, if you want to push back all the arguments for the post-human world, remember what your child is: the image of God, a reasoning person with a will to cultivate.

Play follow-the-leader.

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6 Responses

  1. You mentioned this blog post during your chat. So much to chew on here. I am a parent who has read all the “right” parenting books. There are lots of things I need to re-think.

    Andrew you always help me understand many things and at the same time cause many more questions to form in my mind. I can’t figure out how you do that???

  2. So what kind of parent are you if you have multiple children and some seem to fit the “classical” model, and one seems to fit the “materialist” model? (Inconsistent?)

    • It’s the parenting style and modes, not the children’s activities that matter. Are you celebrating and cultivating their appetites through a regular diet of stimulus/response or are you disciplining the will and cultivating the reason?

      Do keep in mind that we share a lot of traits with the animals and that we do respond to stimuli. But our reason made wise is able to distinguish when we ought not respond to a stimulus.

      You cultivate the reason by memorizing great literature and the Bible so the soul has it available to till it into itself, by reading and narrating back, by gardening, by teaching arithmetic, by playing beautiful, harmonious music, by engaging in discussions and governing them with sound reason, by playing games like chess, and most of all by listening and talking attentively and with care. In other words, you cultivate reason by loving each other and the gifts God gives us.

      I’m pretty confident you are parenting in a non-materialist mode!

  3. Where can I get one of those plaques?

    Thanks for the post, it gives me something to think about and reminds me of how to be a better parent (hopefully).

  4. I knew there was a reason I liked Karen so much. So level-headed.

    Seriously, though, this is great observation. I once tried to communicate this idea to a mother in a restroom whose child was demanding that she look at his product. I said, “You don’t have to.” I didn’t really understand everything you just communicated so well, but I knew it was probably better for the child if she didn’t.

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