image by sarah mccoy photo

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Spreading the Sugar Around

I know it’s Thanksgiving.  And this is a post about Christmas cookies.  But you’ll soon see why, and perhaps be thankful!

There’s this problem when you have tiny kids who must be taught sugar-limits, and a husband who prefers more steak for dessert.  And when at the same time, you can’t nix any of the traditional recipes from your cookie repertoire, and when you also really want to try new recipes.

Besides the massive workload involved, you just can’t eat them all while they’re fresh.

Last year, I tried making all kinds of dough in advance and freezing it to bake at the last minute.  But because an oven holds only so many trays, this had the effect of creating MORE days of baking chaos, some of stirring and mixing in November, and others of rotating trays and icing things in December.  And in the end, I still had way more than I could reasonably eat. 

Odds are, I eat more cookies than you on any/every given day of the year, so I speak with some authority as a consumer of sweets.  Here’s the authoritative new plan.  You can thank me later.

All those once-a-year recipes that you’d be so sad not to sample?  I started making those in October this year.  Not just the dough.  The cookies.  I make a batch every Monday.  One week we had snicker doodles.  The next it was Rugelach.  This week it’s jam thumbprints.  Next week, I think I’ll make snowballs.  This way we have time and stomach-space for thorough enjoyment.  And I always have something spectacular to dip in my coffee during naptime while I ignore the chores.

When Christmas comes, I’ll probably only make the sugar cutouts (can’t skip those with kids!), and then the standby favorites, toffee oatmeal and chocolate chip.  Everything else?  We’ll have enjoyed those oh, just the other week.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wandering Inwardly

If you’re under 30, you might be caught up in it.  If you’re under 25, almost definitely.  There’s even a term for it: emerging adulthood.

Popping up in articles and blogs, this term refers to the putting off of settling, committing, and generally being a grown-up.  We go back to school over and over (or just never leave in the first place), we take our time moving out of Mom and Dad’s and try on a new career or path or partner in search of the mythical perfect fit.  We are always looking for ourselves.

Of course this phenomenon is cousin to that of entitlement complex, and we can blame some of it on the Me culture I love to rant about.  It’s the lie that parents have recently been preaching to kids, and kids to themselves, of attainable (and even soon-attainable) perfection.  So a perfect marriage is something to seek, not to make.  The perfect time for kids is awaited, not created.  And so on.

We seek not actual growth (which is painful work) but to tailor a world to our specifications.

“Emerging Adulthood” is euphemistic.  It sounds like a celebration of immaturity.  So I propose that “lagging adulthood” more aptly describes this ever-lengthening phase of life.

The Biblical treatment of youth entertains no such nonsense.  In Ecclesiastes, having established the pointlessness of everything outside of our ultimate purpose, the writer exhorts the young in particular not to lose time, to waste their lives.  Paul encourages Timothy to be bold and decisive in leadership despite his youth.

I think there is only one solution, and it is to be found in Thomas the Train movies.  On the imaginary Island of Sodor, the worst sin imaginable is to “cause confusion and delay.”  Conversely, the ultimate goal is to be a “really useful engine.”  Notably, the usefulness is not defined in terms of self-fulfillment, but in terms of the larger operation and community.  And what happy little engines they are.

As a cure for lagging adulthood, apathy, lethargy, or entitlement, we won't go wrong embracing the Sodor notion of industry and broader purpose.  These are the real tools that turn a career, a relationship, a life, into a success.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Over the Wall: Part 2 of 2

Netflix and the Art of Empathy

Context: I’ve been watching a whole lot of Sister Wives this week.  This provides a perfect follow-up to the interview I linked to the other day because it involves another of those sin-categories that Christians like to rank high on the Ex-Nay scale.

Something I hear occasionally in Christian circles, usually in reference to the various deviant sexual lifestyles out there, is how “this just sickens me.”  On one hand, we hope that as we get to know God better, we get more sensitive to what hurts him.  But I’d love to hear more people say “this just sickens me” about the sin in their own lives to which they’re suddenly more attuned (you know, hypocrisy, greed, jealousy, gossip, pride, white lies, gluttony—all things that hurt God, too).

It’s easy to have radar for the logs in the eyes of others.  At the same time, it’s easy to rationalize our own specks.  (Well, of course I struggle with xxxx, but it’s understandable, right? Now look what HE’S doing—inexcusable!)  Before we get too busy categorizing and rating what all amounts to the same spiritual bankruptcy, let’s ask a question.

How can a Christian reach out to, pray for, or love a person about whom their primary feeling is revulsion?  I believe that the Bible calls polygamy and many other creative family arrangements sinful.  But if we’re to be Jesusy in this world, we should want to know what moves people, hurts them, makes them smile.  We should see in them a reflection of our own needs and ultimate desires for acceptance, love, and stability, as well as our own brokenness.  We should feel a little bit sickened—by our own shortages of grace—and only then be ready to love and reach them effectively. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Over the Wall: Part 1 of 2

This is a really thoughtful interview with a gay Christian that I think any Christian could benefit from reading.  Here’s why.  He takes a controversial issue and coolly identifies a Side A and a Side B, both thoughtful theological positions on homosexuality and the Bible.  Ultimately and definitively, I disagree with the writer, Justin.  Even so, by approaching this issue with sincerity and engaging the Christian community with patience and poise, he is bridging a cultural gap between homosexuals and the Church. 

If you know me, you know I don’t buy a “You’re cool, I’m cool, We’re all cool” kind of theology, but the key point of Justin’s message here is that you don’t have to equivocate or water down your doctrine to open dialogue, love and minister to people, or just to listen to someone’s story. 

I think sometimes the Church is content to let the gay community be marginalized because it removes some sticky awkwardness.  But Jesus never avoided sticky.  So without converting to Justin’s particular exegetical stance on the subject of homosexual relationships, I think he addresses a big failing in the Church and offers helpful ways to better engage individuals who have been hurt many times over by the Church and by Christians.

Read the interview here.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Halloween Omen

I don't look for signs.  Certainly God can communicate however he likes.  I have even on rare occasions felt a compulsion to do something brave and out of character that I am convinced came from God.  Or I may sometimes think that an opportunity is too perfect not to be from God.  But my tendency is not to concern myself too much with this stuff because ultimately it doesn't matter; God won't send me a private communique beyond the scope of the Bible in its completeness, so I've already got what I need, and more than enough against which to weigh any feeling or inclination I may have.

When I hear about people who rely on extrabiblical signs and vague feelings of peace to guide decision-making, I feel sad.  Like they missed a crucial memo or something.  John Piper feels sad too; to give special honor to a personal, mystical communication is a denial not only of the Bible's completeness, but of its personal nature.  God speaks individually to anyone who reads it.  This is, of course, one of the big differences between God and J.K. Rowling.  As much as I want to be a Hogwarts student, not one of those books was written just for me (and everyone else) by someone who knows me (and everyone else) implicitly.

Piper writes, "The great need of our time is for people to experience the living reality of God by hearing his word personally and transformingly in Scripture. Something is incredibly wrong when the words we hear outside Scripture are more powerful and more affecting to us than the inspired word of God. Let us cry with the psalmist, “Incline my heart to your word” (Psalm 119:36)."

And yet...

I can't resist the hilarity of how much glass I have broken in this week leading up to Halloween.

We haven't broken a glass in years, despite the frequency with which Songbird now uses them.  In two days, I've broken five.  Well, Cook broke one because he was the one who placed the message board precariously.  I broke the second one by knocking a goblet into a bathroom sink in the dark.  Then, today, Gale Force, who can now reach blindly onto countertops, pulled a drying rack full of forks and wine glasses down onto her little barefooted self.  The forks (and Gale Force) survived intact. 

So without in any way robbing the Bible of its thoroughly personal beauty, I'm having this feeeeeeeling, this strong, magical impression.

That I should buy Corelleware, because I'm sure the plates are next.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

To Cut Down a Tree With a Herring, Part 2

You thought I’d forgotten, but no such luck, dear reader.  We’re back with day two of A Leisurely Glance at Logic.  I’ll paraphrase from the website of the writing center at UNC to preface: when making an argument, you need premises that are true, that actually support your conclusion, that are adequate in their totality to support the argument, and that are specific.

Fallacies are the places where your premises or their connection to your main argument fall apart.

Here are two of the most common:

  1. The conclusion drawn from inadequate personal experience.  Like, "Most reputable medical journals and studies have ruled out a link between MMR vaccines and Autism, but my friend's kid showed symptoms after getting a shot, so there MUST be a connection."  Whether or not there is a connection is not the point; carefully designed studies use large samplings and control groups and try to rule out other variables, so you need a lot more evidence than your friend’s gut.  This is a hasty generalization from a small sample, but it’s also a post hoc fallacy, or assuming causation because something happens after something else.

  1. A cruddy syllogism.  A syllogism is the kind of proof where you take one big [true] statement, and then one smaller one, and from them draw a concluding statement.  Like:  All vegetables are food. Corn is a vegetable.  So...Corn is a food.  A cruddy syllogism is one where a false statement mucks up the flow, and renders the conclusion invalid.  Like: All Italians are criminals.  The Wife of Leisure is Italian.  The Wife of Leisure is a criminal.  Now, I may be a criminal, but you wouldn't know it by this logic, because you can hardly prove that all of us Wops are truly living lives of crime.  Also, I’m only half Wop.  There are lots of other ways you can screw up your syllogistic argument, but this is one of the most common, and after all, this is a leisurely approach to logic.
That’s enough for today but for a disclaimer.  I actually love a good generalization.  They are useful and the less sensitive among us recognize that they are often rooted in truth (which is why my thoroughly patriotic Syrian-American friend is not offended when he is often singled out at airports for a pat down.)  But if you know that your conclusion rests on a loose generalization, just put it out there.  “I know not all Italians are criminals, but I still wonder about my neighbor who calls himself Giuseppe the Boot…”  This way you’re covered.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Feeling Blue Over Pink

In my defense, I have had family members who suffered from breast cancer.  I appreciate that generous donations to cancer research may have helped them beat it.  But I have long since reached my pink saturation point.

This month a magazine I read highlighted some of the best of Breast Cancer Literature because it is just so hard to wade through the glut of books on the subject strategically releasing this month.  Believe it or not, one such book talks about how the breast cancer “culture” may actually be hurting more than helping.  I don’t recall why; maybe because the support becomes more trendy than substantive.

Whatever the reason, it made me want to shout, “You have a whole culture! If it’s become such a hindrance, please, do share the love!”  After all, no one needs a field guide to navigate the Tay-Sachs section of Barnes and Noble.

While all of Hollywood and Nashville and the NFL are waving the pink banner, it would be good if the regular joe looked further to those suffering from a multitude of afflictions with less cool-factor and smaller lobbies.  The needs are endless, this and every month.  Here are just a few off the top of my head; a little research will go a long way if you need inspiration.

Tay-Sachs, a sometimes deadly genetic disorder that often affects children.  If you want to help, you can trick or treat or just shoot things in New Jersey this month, bid on stuff with Eric Steinbach and the Browns in Ohio, or adopt a research mouse anytime.  

Rett Syndrome- A disorder of the nervous system that causes regression in hand use and communication in little girls.  There’s a Strollathon and picnic fundraiser this month, right here in SoCal!

Multiple Schlerosis- Autoimmune disease affecting the central nervous system.  There's a double-your-gift event going on now,  or find a bike, mud run or walking event near you.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

To Cut Down a Tree With a Herring

A recurrent theme in my book reviews and posts, especially on education, is my fondness for a crisp logical argument.  This is not to say that I am any kind of master of these arguments, or even that I can always identify the type of reasoning being applied in my reading, but only that when I do spot it, I enjoy it.  A lot.

If you’re going to try to sort out fact and fiction on any topic, you also need to be systematically improving your logic-sleuthing skills.   

Pop Quiz: who knows anything about formal logic?

Well, I know I need a brush-up, so as I study, I’ll add posts to reflect my very first-grade grasp of it all.

To start, let’s just talk about a few common types of fallacies that people make in an argument.  We hear a lot in a day from the media, friends, eavesdropping in coffee shops, and the overgrown hippie holding signs on the street corner.  It’s therefore useful to amass some tools of discernment, if only so you can scoff inwardly and feel really big while you sip your latte.

Logical fallacies fall into two categories.  A formal fallacy is fun because you don’t even need much, if any, knowledge of the subject to spot it.  It’s an error in the way the argument is made that undermines it.  What they’re saying may still be true, but the form doesn’t work.

An informal fallacy involves some issue with the content of the argument.  Like if you quote someone out of context to distort his meaning, the substance of your argument is suspect.

In the next few posts, I’ll give common examples of each type until I get bored or finish a reviewable book.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sifting Friends from Enemies

This is all the fault of Fox.  While most TV shows post to the internet within a day of airing, Fox waits an entire week.  And Cookie simply cannot wait a week.  And so it was that I was staring at the edges of the laptop screen while Cookie-of-the-IT-Degree flipped rapid-fire through websites trying to find a passable download.

And I saw an ad.

“In Survivor World, will you have friends or frenemies?”

First, I refuse to google Survivor World even to confirm that it is an online game or some such nonsense.  Second, I had two amusing thoughts.  Amusing to me, that is.

Why the current obsession with word melding?  In an era where most teenagers have miniscule vocabularies to begin with, wouldn’t it be better to simply learn some real words?  To bring back evocative, exciting terminology?  Never, when we could have a smashing good time calling couples Brangelina and Bennifer.  I secretly think that when people stop using specific words with specific connotations, their thinking may also lack nuance and sophistication.  But I won’t say that, lest I make some frenemies.

Which brings me to thought #2: is it sad that the two options here are Friend or Frenemy (read: tricksy person who feigns kindness with intent to back-stab)?  Where are the straight-up bad guys?  It would be refreshing if a person who hated me could say so without compunction.  But I’m afraid the social implication of the Survivor World ad is probably spot-on.  We’re a duplicitous people.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Orientation of Obligation (Part 2)

Just a few more thoughts to follow up on Tuesday’s diatribe.  You see, the orientation of our sense of obligation has a lot of more mundane implications for our daily behavior, and a Wife of Leisure has time to sit and ruminate on these.

For instance, does an ethic of obligation to others mean a life of overcommitment, an overstretching of energies?  Perhaps.  This is like legalism.  We take a good thing (I care about others) and turn it into an absolute dictum (I should spend all my energy on others) or worse, an idol (I get my highest satisfaction from appearing selfless).

We all know people, or have been people, who stretch ourselves too thin.  Time is like money, to be budgeted.  There is only so much to go around, so when we allocate it, we expose our priorities.  In my case, this explains the number of hours each week spent in making brownies versus practicing the piano.

And now the reverse: what does an extreme of obligation to self look like?  Besides the dramatic examples in part one, here are some thoughts.

What if someone told you something juicy and added, “Please don’t tell anyone”?

If you then told just your mom or your best friend, but added “she said not to tell anyone, so don’t tell anyone else,” would that be ok?

If you start from a premise of obligation to self it might seem fine to tell just one person.  You could even try to sanctify it by passing it along as a prayer request.  A good test: would you want the friend to know you’d told?  One of the most astounding facets of old English novels like those of Austen or Dickens or the Brontes (yes, this is a sad addiction of mine) is the way characters keep painful secrets indefinitely.  They value trust even when it causes long-term discomfort.  It strikes me profoundly precisely because it is a value so absent today.

Or what if you really loved someone who wasn’t your spouse?  You’d again have a choice determined by the primary direction of your sense of duty.  To tell the secret you are bursting to share or not?  To follow the tug of breathless and forbidden romance or not? 

Obligation to self above others is essentially license to do whatever we want, regardless of whom we hurt.  “I only told one person!” will not assuage the anger of your betrayed friend.  “I’m a better mom when I’m happy” may work better for mom than for the kids who forever after straddle worlds.  And where is God in any of these calculations of emotion?  We can’t please everyone, but we can be honest about to whom our greatest obligation is due.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Orientation of Obligation (Part 1)

I stumbled on an Atlantic article written in the early 1990s discussing the various negative effects of family disruption (to include death of a parent and births out of wedlock, but also any combination of co-habitationàmarriageàdivorceàre-co-habitation/remarriage of one or both biological parentsàpossible subsequent divorces of those parents, and so forth) on the well being of children.

Even then, the author acknowledged that the data could rarely be discussed (or the crisis level of the numbers addressed) because of the simultaneous outcry that such data put undue stress on single mothers doing their best, and that all family structures ought to, in an age of Holy Egalitarianism, be considered equally beneficial.  Today, I’m sure the objections on these grounds are more, not less, adamant.

The author, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, posited:

“There are several reasons why this is so, but the fundamental reason is that at some point in the 1970s Americans changed their minds about the meaning of these disruptive behaviors. What had once been regarded as hostile to children's best interests was now considered essential to adults' happiness…At about the same time, the long-standing taboo against out-of-wedlock childbirth also collapsed. By the mid-1970s three fourths of Americans said that it was not morally wrong for a woman to have a child outside marriage.”
This brings me back to the original quote that had me googling Whitehead to begin with.  I failed to note where I’d seen her quoted (probably on one of the sites in my blogroll) but her observation was that our sense of ethical obligation had shifted; obligation to others had ceded primacy to the now sacred obligation to self.

“Once the social metric shifts from child well-being to adult well-being,” Whitehead continues, “it is hard to see divorce and nonmarital birth in anything but a positive light.”

It’s all about priorities, then.  Aren’t decisions always?

And yet it’s not always a decision, is it?  “To be sure,” the article adds, “not everyone exercises choice in divorce or nonmarital birth. Men leave wives for younger women, teenage girls get pregnant accidentally—yet even these unhappy events reflect the expansion of the boundaries of freedom and choice.”

So for me, that’s where it lies.  The worship of Choice.  It’s a natural extension of the obligation to self-fulfillment.  We seek total control over every area of our lives. 

And so we have new ethical dilemmas, like given that it’s now A-ok to selectively kill off embryos from in vitro fertilization, can we also selectively kill a natural twin in utero?  This is discussed here, as a weighing of natural squeamishness against the ultimate need of the parents to control their comfort level in life.  But no matter the ethical issue, if we know the cultural temperature, we can predict the outcomes.  In a few years, I promise no one will squirm about natural twin pregnancy “reduction” because the equation is formulaic.  Obligation to self yields subordination of the interests of others (so, subordination of child’s well-being to parent’s romantic life, or of child’s life to parent’s projected inability to juggle busyness).

Question: is there any data to support the notion that seeking one’s own interest at any cost actually even leads to satisfaction?  Because my observations suggest just the opposite.  A wish-list grows fangs when paid too much attention.

Perhaps we could simply reframe this whole thing as cultural acceptance of the ancient wish to be God.  Now.  Does anyone know how to RE-stigmatize something?

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Leisurely Welcome...

On a personal note, it's been a week of momentous happenings.  A judge signed into permanence what we've all known since Tet and Bubs brought her home seven months ago: that Dumpling is part of the family!

Not to be outdone, this little Rose Petal (our brother's newest addition) made her appearance two days later.  Two more neices; there'll be no shortage of playmates for Gale Force in years to come!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Thoughts for September (Part 3)

Says Dorothy Sayers,

"Are you occasionally perturbed by the things written by adult men and women for adult men and women to read? We find a well-known biologist writing in a weekly paper to the effect that: "It is an argument against the existence of a Creator" (I think he put it more strongly; but since I have, most unfortunately, mislaid the reference, I will put his claim at its lowest)--"an argument against the existence of a Creator that the same kind of variations which are produced by natural selection can be produced at will by stock breeders." One might feel tempted to say that it is rather an argument for the existence of a Creator. Actually, of course, it is neither; all it proves is that the same material causes (recombination of the chromosomes, by crossbreeding, and so forth) are sufficient to account for all observed variations--just as the various combinations of the same dozen tones are materially sufficient to account for Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata and the noise the cat makes by walking on the keys. But the cat's performance neither proves nor disproves the existence of Beethoven; and all that is proved by the biologist's argument is that he was unable to distinguish between a material and a final cause."

If this makes you giggle, or you want to hear Dorothy criticize more people and ideas, or you want to know how all this relates to Classical Education, here's the whole essayThe Lost Tools of Learning is the most concise, convincing, and sometimes hilariously scathing assessment of educational methods you can find.  Observations like those in the sampling below are probably more distressingly reflective of today's world than the one in which it was written. 

"...The stock argument in favor of postponing the school-leaving age and prolonging the period of education generally is there there is now so much more to learn than there was in the Middle Ages. This is partly true, but not wholly. The modern boy and girl are certainly taught more subjects--but does that always mean that they actually know more?

...Has it ever struck you as odd, or unfortunate, that today, when the proportion of literacy throughout Western Europe is higher than it has ever been, people should have become susceptible to the influence of advertisement and mass propaganda to an extent hitherto unheard of and unimagined?

...Have you ever, in listening to a debate among adult and presumably responsible people, been fretted by the extraordinary inability of the average debater to speak to the question, or to meet and refute the arguments of speakers on the other side?

...Have you ever followed a discussion in the newspapers or elsewhere and noticed how frequently writers fail to define the terms they use? Or how often, if one man does define his terms, another will assume in his reply that he was using the terms in precisely the opposite sense to that in which he has already defined them? Have you ever been faintly troubled by the amount of slipshod syntax going about? And, if so, are you troubled because it is inelegant or because it may lead to dangerous misunderstanding?

...Are you often bothered by coming across grown-up men and women who seem unable to distinguish between a book that is sound, scholarly, and properly documented, and one that is, to any trained eye, very conspicuously none of these things? Or who cannot handle a library catalogue? Or who, when faced with a book of reference, betray a curious inability to extract from it the passages relevant to the particular question which interests them?"

Why yes, Dorothy.  Yes I am.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Different Defense of Marriage

Russell Moore packing a punch...

"Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson said a man would be morally justified to divorce his wife with Alzheimer’s disease in order to marry another woman. The dementia-riddled wife is, Robertson said, “not there” anymore. This is more than an embarrassment. This is more than cruelty. This is a repudiation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Few Christians take Robertson all that seriously anymore. Most roll their eyes, and shake their heads when he makes another outlandish comment (for instance, defending China’s brutal one-child abortion policy to identifying God’s judgment on specific actions in the September 11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, or the Haiti earthquake). This is serious, though, because it points to an issue that is much bigger than Robertson.

Marriage, the Scripture tells us, is an icon of something deeper, more ancient, more mysterious. The marriage union is a sign, the Apostle Paul announces, of the mystery of Christ and his church (Eph. 5). The husband, then, is to love his wife “as Christ loved the church” (Eph. 5:25). This love is defined not as the hormonal surge of romance but as a self-sacrificial crucifixion of self. The husband pictures Christ when he loves his wife by giving himself up for her."  Read more.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Thoughts for September (Part 2)

Today brought an end to this:

And a beginning to this:

Truthfully, part of the motivation to homeschool in California is the theoretical possibility of more beach time even during the school year.  But here are some more cerebral inducements, particularly of the Classical method.  The best part is, if you like some of them, you can work them in even if your child goes to a traditional school.

First, if Classical education is as foreign to you as it was to me last year, here’s a really rough overview.  You cram lots of information into the little brains while they are in that sponge-for-memorization phase.  Latin conjugations, historical facts, mathematical laws, more historical facts, Bible verses.  They can cite the primary inventions that catalyzed the industrial revolution, explain the use of a guillotine and list the seven types of biomes, whether or not they know what that even means. 

Understanding comes in phase two, when they begin to integrate subjects and put the knowledge to use through writing, debate and discourse.  In the final phase, they demonstrate mastery through teaching back the information.  The idea is that through this process a kid learns how to learn.  He acquires the tools to master any subject he chooses.

Here are some of the ideas (none of them mine) that I’m excited about:

1.  Memorizing a Timeline.  We do this at home, but my friend whose daughter goes to a private kindergarten also uses history flashcards on the side to cement in a broad overview of world history.  This way, anything our daughters one day read, even novels, will have a ready context to fall into in their minds.  If it has a place to file mentally, whatever they read will stick.

2.  Mapping.  We trace maps daily: American states and capitals, geographical features, the continents, the countries of Africa or Asia or what have you, over and over in colorful dry erase marker.  Kids like it, especially if you put on music for them, and over time, they develop an internal picture of the whole world.  Can you conjure an accurate map of Europe and commit it to paper?  I don’t have that power, but I love that Songbird will.

3.  Reading Biographies.  Kids love to read and be read to.  A mom in our group recently suggested that biographies, unlike dry treatments in academic texts, make historical figures as large and colorful as Captain Jack Sparrow.  History that engages the imagination makes a lasting impact.  So between Charlotte’s Web and Harry Potter, squeeze in a little Teddy Roosevelt and Clara Barton.  How simple!

In the spirit of  educational fun, here and here are some most ridiculous biographies available in board books!  I don’t think the humor is intentional, but we have been laughing (and giving them as shower gifts) for years.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Thoughts for September (Part 1)

Will every blog on the Internet choose to center its theme on educational topics this month?  I can’t account for them all, but this one will because I like having a subject provided, and also I’m just really, really excited about school this year.

Songbird starts her K4 year tomorrow in a classical home school program, and both kids start Italian classes in a few weeks.  Add soccer and Sunday School and the Zoo and you’ve got the kind of do-it-yourself hodge-podgey lifestyle that inspires me.  Also, it lets us sleep in.

We’ve been doing a lot of thinking and talking lately about various types of schooling and the merits of each.  Having attended both a terrific public school and a great private prep school myself, and having chosen yet a third option for our kids, I’m not one of those who is passionately devoted to one educational style as likely to make or break a child. 

Cookie and I obviously believe there is merit in both homeschooling and in classical methodology, else we wouldn’t have decided on it for our family.  But, at the risk of alienating some of my more dogmatic homeschooling peers, I’ll agree with William P. Farley when he suggests that the success of our parenting (read: teaching) won’t hinge on any classroom experience.

What is the goal of Christian parenting?  And what is the goal of education?  For us, those goals are one and the same: that our kids would become effective ambassadors of Christ in the world.  Of course, we have also done enough research to be confident that our kids’ education will put them in good standing for college and career paths, but I know in my heart that money and prestige are at best incidental to contentment, at worst an impediment.  So while we’ve chosen classical homeschooling, the best part about its academic rigorousness is that it prepares our kids to be leaders and communicators—for Christ.

But here’s why in another sense, it doesn’t even matter too much.  Most of my schoolteacher friends will tell you that it’s not the curriculum or the Smart classrooms or the removal of sugary sodas from school lunches that make education stick.  Success or failure nearly always comes down to the parents.  The ones who rely on the schools to impart knowledge and wisdom, to teach ABCs and values all together, are the ones whose kids struggle.  The ones who read books at home and puzzle out homework together are the ones who succeed even in lower rated districts.  The parent is the primary teacher, every time.

And what if your hopes for your child’s spiritual development trump even your goals for his SAT score?  The same holds true, it seems.  Farley, a pastor whose kids have experienced the gamut of educational options, writes of other Christian families he’s known,

“Some children thrived. Their youthful faith blossomed in adulthood…Others did not fare so well. Many have completely abandoned their parents’ faith. Why? …The results appear to have nothing to do with where the child was educated…The common denominator between success and failure seems to be the spiritual depth and sincerity of the parents, especially the spiritual depth and sincerity of the father. There seems to be a strong correlation between the faith, commitment, and sincerity of the family’s head and the spiritual vitality of his adult children” (Gospel Powered Parenting).

When the gospel invades family life, spilling into conversation and informing decisions, children see that it is genuine and powerful.  The evidence of the parents’ lives bolsters the words spoken.  What is genuine is respectable, and a parent who is respected gains his child’s ear.  He gets to convey his values, his insights.

Ecclesiastes 7:12 predicts, “…the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money, and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.”

Knowledge can be found in a public school or private, Christian or charter.  But the wisdom to wield knowledge, that is the duty of a parent to impart. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Excuses and the Art of Base Jumping

“Submission does not limit a woman's gifts, but provides a safety zone in which they can flourish...In some cases, submission means that at we heed our husband's encouragement to step out and use our gifts, even if we are hesitant or afraid.”

Yes, ladies of girltalk, from whose current series I drew this quote, YES.  Submission is such a many-faceted subject that any five women might find five separate aspects to hate and squirm under.  This quote is, I think, intended to encourage those who balk at being led.  To me, it is a challenge.

You might say I am great at submitting.  I relish the chance not to decide.  This is not to say that I lack opinions or any force of conviction to back them up.  But I like to have the burden of expression, of execution, of responsibility for the results, removed when possible.  I like to think quietly to myself, “I think we should play a C# minor there,” while saying aloud, “What chord were you thinking of playing?” so that if the choice is C# minor, I can say, “That’s what I thought!” while avoiding the blame if another choice should end discordantly.  I am a coward.

For a coward, the part of submission that pinches is the part that edges her out of the safe enclosures of indecision and inaction.  I think the trick is for the godly husband to throw the unwilling wife out there while also tossing the safety net beneath her.  Cookie may say, “Your songs are better than so-and-so-on-the-radio’s.”  He might also say, on first hearing my new song, “I just don’t really like it.”  Shrug.  Or, “If you’re not going to go out and play, stop whining about how other people are out there playing.”  Or just, “Go practice.”

So tonight, I came into my bedroom with my hair in a towel, novel in one hand, wine glass in the other.  “I think I won’t write tonight after all,” I said, flopping on the bed.

“Have you written in a while?” he asked, eyes on his laptop screen.

“Well, not in a few weeks.  My brain is fried.  I should probably read more, don’t you think? Get my thoughts coherent or something?  Get some sleep?  Can I legitimately call myself a Wife of Leisure if I choose to write when I want to read?”


He never did look up, and may not have yet, but as you can see, I did decide my wine might be better sipped at my writing desk.

The thing about leadership and cowards is that sometimes when you’re being a coward, what you really need is to be told that you’re being a coward, or a sluggard, or whatever you might be, and that somebody else knows it.  Then the whether or nots of having slept or read or gotten a babysitter or myriad other obstacles to action fall away.  The choice becomes, to cower or not?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Challies on Churchy Drama

Maybe you've heard of the drama with Sovereign Grace Ministries.  Maybe you haven't.  Maybe you've never even heard of Sovereign Grace Ministries.  Suffice to say, there be drama.  And where there is drama, there is internet chatter.  And while mostly I like to avoid drama and also chatter, which is often a euphemism for gossip, I did stumble across this piece by Tim Challies that offers a thoughtful biblical perspective not just on the SGM situation, but on the issues surrounding conflict between Christians in a cyber era.

Even if you're unfamiliar with the particulars of this case, it's worth a read for its sober and methodical discussion on reacting biblically in major conflicts.

Below is an excerpt; read the rest here.

"Here are the kinds of questions I have been asking myself: What are we to think about a wikileaks-style revelation in the Christian world? When a document like this one surfaces, how are you and I to react? Is it public—something we can and perhaps ought to read? Is it private—something we should  deliberately avoid? What does the Bible say about wikileaks?"

Monday, August 1, 2011

Tactics: A Book Review

My friend Steve works small miracles.  A campus minister with a book coming out soon, he takes time each week to host a coffee-shop discussion group on Biblical topics.  This would not seem particularly extraordinary unless you were to survey the regular attendees.  Agnostics, Atheists, Hindus, Muslims, and Christians alike come repeatedly to hash things out with Steve.  How does he engage them long-term without equivocating?  Well, maybe Steve is just a naturally diplomatic ambassador.  But for people like me who lack his skills and gifts, there’s Tactics by Gregory Koukl.

This book is a systematic approach to discussing faith in a way that keeps the conversation open.  It is as much a way of listening as anything, of distilling an argument and uncovering flawed logic and errors.  Titling each approach with a memorable name, Koukl teaches how to question graciously rather than to preach.  If the Bible is true, arguments against its content will contain discernable flaws.  If we can root these out gently, we clear a path, so to speak, to the cross.

Books of this nature raise two mental objections for me, and Koukl addresses both early on.  First, while the questions seem simple and artless, it takes a trained mind to pinpoint logical fallacies and practical errors in even the most common argument against Christianity.  I may even have a Biblical answer for, say, the problem of evil, but can I turn it into effective evidence for the existence of God?  Can I do it under pressure?  Systematic reasoning takes practice, and Koukl doesn’t paint the learning process rosy.  Instead, he offers encouragement for the task and practical steps for self-educating.
Second, it is easy to write out a deconstruction of someone’s thinking.  It is harder to imagine the person gratefully capitulating on the spot, though.  Here, too, Koukl strengthens his credibility by reminding us that “closing the deal” is not the goal.  Tactics challenges, but replete with maneuvers for handling the worst gracefully, it is also realistic.  I recommend it as a launching point for your continuing education, a framework for applying your zeal and knowledge effectively.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Building Identity: Part 8 of 8

Identity in the Church: Community

What is our community identity?  Many moons ago, when my weeks were distinguished by my Pee Wee soccer schedules, my mom brought us, shin guards and all, to prayer meetings to plant a church that we didn’t have to drive an hour to.  You should worship in your own community, she said.  In college, I was part of a budding church called Liberti that still calls itself “a church for the city.”  The theme came up again last year when a group I was in did a Tim Keller study on living out the gospel in our cities.  And now, my latest church is a west coast plant of Keller’s Redeemer in New York City, so each week I hear the familiar catch phrase, “in the city, for the city.”  Maybe someone is trying to tell me something.

Or perhaps it’s just a resurgence of what the church was meant to be: local, on-the-ground living.  The great part about picking the neighborhood congregation is that you get un-gentrified really fast.  In a city you can see this played out most colorfully, but the point is the same everywhere: heaven is going to be a funky, diverse place.  In community, we can start to look more like that now, finding our similarities in Christ where before we’d have seen differences in our educations, languages, and hairstyles.

When our church identity is intertwined with our role in the community, we build intentional relationships.  Maybe you want to reach out to that crazy dude playing checkers on the corner, but he ends up teaching you something too.  Maybe your kids see that dude as more than background noise when they see you see him as more.  You might get to play pied piper one day, leading a trail of neighborhood kids to VBS, or you might just join the regulars at happy hour and meet your neighbors where they are.  We change the world one person at a time.  Local, on-the-ground living.

There’s a lot to this identity thing, and in eight posts we've only begun to explore it.  But here’s one thought to take from this series: in putting yourself out there as a Christian, a spouse, a parent, a pencil sharpener, a book-reading piece of tinder, and a neighborhood pied piper, there won’t be too much room to worry about what else the whole world is expecting of you.  You might discover a very full you.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Building Identity: Part 7 of 8

Identity in the Church: Growth

What is our growth identity?  We talked recently about our responsibility for growth as individuals within our marriages.  Well, growth is a major component of our church life, too.  Sunday attendance is not our penance or a favor to God, and it’s certainly not the sum of our Christian lives.  Our Sunday attendance is our equipping for our Christian lives.  It’s a lot like a cell phone charging station, really.  Plug in and go forth.

In Tactics (which I’ll review here next week), Gregory Koukl highlights seven church friends that call themselves Women of Berea.  Regular women, mostly housewives and moms, they meet for the purpose of encouraging each other in serious reading and study.  Church was their launching pad from which they spur each other on in growth and knowledge of stuff that really matters.

Koukl writes, “You can’t start a fire with wet wood. You must begin with dry tinder. In nearly every church there are brothers and sisters who share your hunger, but have yet to share your discovery. They are dissatisfied, yearning for something more substantial, but do not know where to turn. These people are your dry tinder.”

Some churches do a better job than others at encouraging personal reading, mentorship, and individual growth.  But as I like to tell Songbird, “you’re the boss of you.”  When I say this to her, I usually mean that she is responsible to put on her shoes when asked without stopping to play with toys on the way, but I’m telling it to you now and here’s what I mean: don’t wait for someone else to say “let’s read more about sanctification,” or “let’s get together and talk about election,” or even just "What did you think of the sermon?"  Be a fire starter in your church.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Building Identity: Part 5 of 8

Identity in the Church: Service

Here’s the final angle we’ll take for now at forming an intentional, healthy identity.  To determine whom we are, and want to be, in our churches, we’ll look at our role in three areas: service, growth, and community.  And yep, I'll drag this series out a few extra days so that we can digest these three areas one at a time.

So what is your service identity?  When I start attending a new church (which, being a USMC wife, I do pretty often) I tend not to let on that I sing and play instruments.  I just don’t bring it up, and I volunteer for pretty much anything else.  I’d been at one church for several months when my [worship-leading] parents visited.  I saw them talking to my worship leader in a hallway after the service and sure enough, later, she sidled up to me and gave me a smirk.  “I knowww,” she said.  And the next week I was on the schedule.   

It’s not the hours (you have to get up early for Sunday practices) or the strain on Cookie (he has to braid hair and tie bows and keep the oatmeal off the polka-dot satin).  It’s just that it feels self-serving to waltz in and put yourself up on the stage.  I would gladly assert myself with a less spot-lighty gift, like sharpening pencils in the office.

“You gave me away! I was in hiding,” I complained to my parents.  But Mother says my reasoning is stupid.  It’s ok, she says, to serve where you’re gifted.  In fact, we’re supposed to.  That’s why God put arms, legs, necks, and spleens in the body of Christ.  If we all sharpened the pencils, who would answer the phones?

That’s not to say that we can’t also serve in places we haven’t considered our areas of expertise.  The best thing about small churches, in particular, is that the needs are greater, so you can serve in ways that really stretch you to your limits.  I’ve worked with teens and preschoolers when there was a need, and I’m sure kids of every age could confirm that I have no gift for it.  But I did learn a lot of patience and how to churn out piles of grilled cheese sandwiches quickly. 

If you’ve been at a church for a while but still duck out without socializing after service, don’t be shocked if you feel a little underfed.  The quickest way to feel purposeful and needed (and to make friends) is to serve.  We all get gushy feelings about the Early Church, like it was a big artist’s colony of daisies and happiness.  In reality, it was a sharing-stuff, dining-together, caring-for-widows group.  Want that gushy feeling?  I guarantee that you will not get turned down if you ask your pastor where you can help out.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Building Identity: Part 4 of 5

Identity in Marriage

On this subject, I’ll write primarily to wives and try to weigh our expectations for our marital roles from both Biblical and cultural perspectives.  My conclusion is applicable to both men and women, though: that fulfillment in marriage is predicated on fulfillment in Christ.

With trepidation we approach the subject of marriage roles because we know we’ll have to grapple with what may seem an odious and antiquated idea: submission.  So let’s grapple quickly!

It’s important to analyze why the idea grates on modern women.  Besides the fall and our grasping little natures, are there cultural values that undermine our pursuit of godliness as wives?  Maybe it’s a matter of definition.  Individual happiness is, perhaps, the highest cultural value today.  In marriage, though, you vow to give up watching your own back as you instead watch your partner’s.  He vows to do the same for you.  Marriage is antithetical to individualism.  Submission of one’s will to anything external defies the ideal of My World, My Way.  There is a definitional conflict.  And so these vows are a choice; we know that at various points, each of us will fall back into self-preservation mode and upset the balance.

But what if we stay in self-preservation mode?  Eventually, the pursuit of individual bliss, the cultural imperative to never be uncomfortable, must trample on relationship, which requires compromise.  So in marriage, we choose between self and selflessness, and only one route leads to satisfaction.  Happiness itself is just a weak destination.

But so far, this sounds mutual.  Why do women draw the submission straw?  Well, we shouldn’t underestimate the amount of give required to love and respect, as men are commanded to do.  But practically speaking, maybe it’s also the wrong question.  Does it matter why we get green pinnies or blue if it makes the scrimmage work?

In the obvious analogy, ballroom dancing doesn’t flow when everyone’s the leader.  Yet the man is also a frame for the purpose of displaying the skill of the female dancer.  It’s an interesting duality of purpose.  Submissiveness, rather than veiling the woman’s identity in the man’s, yields a partnership that fosters the development of a woman’s BEST identity.  If you’ve ever tried to follow, you know it’s not passive.  It’s extremely difficult, and the more gracefully it’s done, the more grueling the dancer’s effort has been.

Is our status then just that of hard-working subordinate?  I think that subordination is more of a choice than an identity.  Even in marriage, our primary identity must be that of Christian, and the requirements of Christians in any relationship are both practical and sacrificial.

So part of the secret to satisfaction in our marital roles is the development of our identity in Christ.  This means that even if your spouse is not a Christian, or if he is less bold in leading your family’s growth than you’d like, you’re not off the hook.  “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” Peter exhorts all believers (2 Pet 3: 18).

Salvation is like starting blocks.  Your race and your spouse’s will be judged one day, and if your spikes are still in the blocks, you won’t stand up to fire-testing.  You’ll still be saved, “but only as one escaping through the flames,” (1 Cor 3:15).

The good news is the transformative power of identifying with Christ.  As we deepen our knowledge of him, our desires will reflect not the ideals of our society, but the role God has designed for our good and his glory.  Submission and noble character and sacrifice, and especially the harmony they produce, will look more appealing.  We will find that yielding to the demands of partnership frees us up to be our best selves.

For a more in-depth treatment of submission and what it is and isn’t, GirlTalk blog happens to be running a series on that subject.  Here’s the first installment with links to the rest.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Thoughts on Reading

Since moving to California, I have found myself more devoted than ever before in muddling through non-fiction books on subjects ranging from Middle East politics to tactical evangelism.  And when I say devoted, I mean I am finishing books.  To what do I owe this miraculous turn of events?

Though it's hard to isolate the variables, here's a guess:

I have no friends.

Having frequently neglected duty to finish works of fiction, and having occasionally neglected duty to spend time with friends, but having almost never (before this month) finished non-fiction books in a timely manner, I must conclude the following... 

That I prefer socializing to reading serious stuff, and that I prefer a thrilling novel to both.  Lacking both fiction and friends, I am making serious headway through my personal library.

From lemons, lemonade!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Building Identity: Part 3 of 5

Acting: A Role and A Context

Have you ever noticed how many unpleasant personality tendencies this world offers?  Passive aggressive types.  Super-duper sensitive types.  Super-duper sensitive types who are also insensitive to others.  Hoarders.  The worst part is, you and I probably fit loosely into any number of unpleasant categories ourselves.  [Maybe I shouldn’t lump you in.  You might be terrific.  But I am idiosyncratic, and this is my blog.]  So once we get honest about how freaky and offensive we can be, there are two ways in which to process that information.

Option 1: “I may act this way, but it’s not who I am!”
This is the positive take.  It’s also not really true; they way you instinctively act probably IS who you are (sorry).  But on the bright side, to view our tendencies this way requires nothing of us!

Option 2: “I recognize that this is who I am, but it’s not who I will decide to be.”
This is the negative angle, the one they won’t print in SELF magazine.  It’s realistic, though, and goal-oriented.

The best part about deciding to be less [insert flaw-y adjective] is that the plan is mapped out for us, the role model designated.  It’s delightfully one-size-fits-all.  No matter what your brand of imperfection, you are just as hopeless as everyone else.  And in my personal version of hopelessness, I can exclaim, “YES! I am a people pleaser with irritating nervous twitches, but I am getting a little more like Jesus every day!”

In the day-to-day of it, though, it’s hard to leave behind your snobby/aggressive/over-sharing/mouth-breathing ways.  One practical way to envision this problem is as improv theatre.  (I just wanted to say “practical” and “theatre” together in a sentence.)

I’ve never been in an improv because they usually end in chase scenes, and also I’m not funny.  But I did lighting for one once, and it seems that they usually work off a loose script or outline.  The details, the punchy lines, the parts where Jimmy Fallon drops character and laughs, may be more off-the-cuff.  Here’s what this means for a people pleaser or a Sensitive Sally. 

We have a role within a context.  We are part of a complete story.  So situations change, but the purpose of our dialogue is constant.  We have meaning and order within the chaos of the unknown.  We have a loose outline: we are to glorify God and testify to him with our reactions and behavior and speech.  The scene may play out in spontaneous ways, but we know the general punch line we have to deliver, so we have a security, even an adventure, within the chaos.

What’s our role?  We were passive aggressive low-talkers who always took the last brownie.  But now we are Christians.  And our context is the story of a fallen world’s redemption.  It’s an identity worth hoping for.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Building Identity: Part 2 of 5

What Do You Do?

It happens all the time when you are a stay-at-home mom.  You chat in line at the coffee shop, or you visit a new church, or you are introduced at a cocktail party.  You get through the exchange of names gracefully, and then comes the dreaded question:

“So! What do you do?”

We can pop shrimp in our mouths to obscure our answers, but when alone, we also ask ourselves, “What will I do when the kid leave home?”

So we develop hobbies and volunteer and take online courses so our resumes sound current.  There is a huge upswing among stay-at-home moms in crafty-ness (and blogging about their crafty-ness), in knitting, in Little House on the Prairie-inspired baking and the sewing of pillowcase dresses.  These are all good things that make parenting fun and fill mornings and hopefully keep our minds active.

But it’s also good to occasionally contemplate the effect of competing values on our contentment.  If we are able to stay home, we are making a sacrificial choice in terms of income, but we’re also making a sacrificial choice in terms of worldly prestige.  It’s just super unlikely, whatever continuing education courses I take, that I will be able to launch into a big-deal career the moment my youngest child leaves the nest.  I like to think that the things I do now (aside from making zucchini bread and sock puppets) will enable me to find a gig I like and that makes an impact when the time comes.  But I can’t do well the job I have now if I stress over the “What will I do” question in the meantime. 

At the root of this conflict is the assumption that there is a lesser value to some jobs than others.  So who defines worth? 

Maybe it’s God.  Maybe it’s just us.  Maybe it’s our husbands, our families.  Maybe it’s Pretty, Popular, Powerful People.  Maybe it’s some materialist standard. 

First, I should note that work-as-basis-of-identity is not a universal value.  The German philosopher Josef Pieper wrote that the ancients wouldn’t even have understood our conception of work as being the sum of our person. Some of the ancient words for “work” would actually be translated more like “non-leisure.”  Their paradigm was quite unlike ours.

But what does God say about what we do?  Well, he says a great deal to women in particular, just as if he knew we’d struggle with this issue.  The Proverbs 31 wife with her myriad homemaking accomplishments is “worth more than rubies.”  When wives are again addressed in 1 Peter 3, it is the woman’s gentle spirit that is of “great worth in God’s sight.”  God is telling us how to identify ourselves to his satisfaction, and if Proverbs is to believed, that of our families as well.

That leaves us to please only the pretty, popular, powerful crowd and materialism.  It’s interesting that the 1 Peter passage ends with a warning.  If we would be counted the daughters of the godly women of old, we must “not give way to fear (v. 6).”  God knew that there would be external pressure to seek something different or something more than the portion we’ve been given right now. 

He also tells us we don’t have to wonder what the world will think.  We can rest assured that if we are in Christ, we will be reviled.  So yay!  That’s settled!  Maybe too much enthusiasm for the derision of our peers, but it does put perspective on our striving.

So back to the cocktail party question, “What do you do?” 

Nothing here gives me a smooth response.  I can’t cry, “I don’t get out of my pajamas much, but I am a new creation!”  Biblical accuracy is not the point of this query.  If you’re like me, you may have secretly wanted to bolster your “I stay at home” with some reference to your unused degrees or other sellable qualities.  I think if we redefine our goal, we can pick a better answer.  We want to invite conversation, relationship.  We want to be true to ourselves and the choices we’ve made in good conscience.  We’d prefer not to look idiotic.

I try to think more of my delivery than my wording.  “I’m at home with my kids. We’re starting a home schooling program in the fall,” is true.  But if we add “just” to our “at home” or qualify it with an apologetic shrug and a “but”, we’re indicating that what we do is a lesser thing.  If I am straightforward and engaged, even proud despite my lack of an impressive title, then I project how I feel about what I do, and how God feels about it, and not some assumption of what the world thinks of me and my just-mom-ness.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Our Kids, Our Masterpieces?

I interrupt myself today midstream in my Identity series to bring you this article, How to Land Your Kid in Therapy, from The Atlantic (thank you Rachel for the tip!).  I read it to a loop of Natasha Bedingfield's "These Words (I Love You)" and in the spirit of the vamping declarations of amor in the background, I loved I loved I loved author and therapist Gottlieb's informed take on modern parenting.  Have kids?  Plan on kids someday?  Just know anyone with kids?  For the love of, well, our kids, read this piece!

Lori Gottlieb:

...Here I was, seeing the flesh-and-blood results of the kind of parenting that my peers and I were trying to practice with our own kids, precisely so that they wouldn’t end up on a therapist’s couch one day. We were running ourselves ragged in a herculean effort to do right by our kids—yet what seemed like grown-up versions of them were sitting in our offices, saying they felt empty, confused, and anxious. Back in graduate school, the clinical focus had always been on how the lack of parental attunement affects the child. It never occurred to any of us to ask, what if the parents are too attuned? What happens to those kids?

...the underlying goal of good parenting, even during the heyday of don’t-hug-your-kid-too-much advice in the 1920s (“When you are tempted to pet your child, remember that mother love is a dangerous instrument,” the behavioral psychologist John Watson wrote in his famous guide to child-rearing), has long been the same: to raise children who will grow into productive, happy adults. My parents certainly wanted me to be happy, and my grandparents wanted my parents to be happy too. What seems to have changed in recent years, though, is the way we think about and define happiness, both for our children and for ourselves.

Nowadays, it’s not enough to be happy—if you can be even happier. The American Dream and the pursuit of happiness have morphed from a quest for general contentment to the idea that you must be happy at all times and in every way. “I am happy,” writes Gretchen Rubin in The Happiness Project, a book that topped the New York Times best-seller list and that has spawned something of a national movement in happiness-seeking, “but I’m not as happy as I should be.”
How happy should she be?

...“Happiness as a byproduct of living your life is a great thing,” Barry Schwartz, a professor of social theory at Swarthmore College, told me. “But happiness as a goal is a recipe for disaster.” It’s precisely this goal, though, that many modern parents focus on obsessively—only to see it backfire. Observing this phenomenon, my colleagues and I began to wonder: Could it be that by protecting our kids from unhappiness as children, we’re depriving them of happiness as adults?

Read the full article here.