Friday, July 03, 2009

Diet for a Small Planet

In this week's New York Magazine, Anthony Lappe, interviews his mother, Frances Moore Lappe. She wrote the book, Diet for A Small Planet, a book about how our eating habits affect both our own health and the world. She wrote it in 1971 and it is credited with being the first large-scale attnetion that Americans paid to the subject. I haven't read it but a fair number of first edition paperbacks used to float through the re-use center I worked at on the island.

It's a short little interview and sweet. What drew me to notice it out of my other breakfast reading was that Ms. Moore completely embodies my parents' parenting philosophy. Her son pokes at her a little bit, trying to get a rise out of her because he became a carnivore later in life. He implies that she loves her other child more because she is still vegetarian. (That favoritism thing is an awesome trick, by the way, guaranteed to make my mom go nutso.) But his mom replies, "Well, I’d love you if you ate Big Macs, honey. That’s the definition of unconditional love."

Until I started quoting her, my mom said more than once in kind-of mock frustration, "We taught you kids to think for yourselves and now we don't like what you think!"

I know that there are people who firmly believe in authoritarian parenting where the parents make the rules and the children obey them. For many of them, that works. But I am so grateful that my parents chose the authoritative route, trying to work with us as partners with wisdom in our upbringing. They didn't always succeed but for the most part, we have been able to skip that stage of rebellion where I discard everything they've ever taught because of my inevitable disillusionment when I discovered that they were human because obeying their rules actually screwed me up since they are human and imperfect when making the rules in the first place. Or, at least, that's the pattern that I see a lot between authoritarian parents and their kids. After that estrangement (which varies in degree from kid to kid), these families have to live the rest of their lives being constantly disappointed in each other. The parents are always taken by surprise and upset when the kid has a new idea and the kids always feel like their parents don't approve of them.

It wastes a lot of time that they could be enjoying each other.

Let's me be clear: I don't think my family is better than those families. I think I'm lucky to have ended up in one that complemented my inborn personality so well. A million little things could have changed the circumstances I was born into dramatically. I'm just lucky.

But this feels especially like grace when I talk to people about their wedding experiences. So many parents make so many demands and, in the process, push their children away. Because who wants to feel bad? And if your parents are making you feel bad, you're going to limit the time you spend with them. Duty and guilt have to be really powerful to overcome this basic human desire for comfort and well-being.

I have heard and read some really sad stories about this lately so I wanted to take a moment and just thank my parents for loving me regardless of the choices I make. I want to take a moment to thank them for having no expectations for me except that I should be content and happy. I believe this rises out of a security in their own identity so that they don't need me to be a certain way in order to make them look good.

Thank you for that. Because of your parenting choices, I do not have the emotional turmoil that so many brides and grooms have, trying to please their parents while still being true to themselves. I will love you whether or not you eat Big Macs, too. But we can be friends because of your parenting choices and that makes me content and happy.

6 comments:

Emily DeWan Photography said...

I too am very grateful for my non-controlling parents. I remember when I moved out to Chicago, a few people told me I was lucky for not getting guilt trips moving so far from home. It never even occurred to me that parents do that.

accordionsandlace said...

Thank you for this. "these families have to live the rest of their lives being constantly disappointed in each other." Yeah--what is frustrating is that these behaviours never allow us to actually know each other. My parents complain a lot about how they don't know me, and of course for me, opening up to them seems like masochism. I like the "authoritarian v. authoritative" distinction. I hope that I can practise the latter when I have kids of my own.

Jake and Jess said...

"We taught you kids to think for yourselves and now we don't like what you think!"

I've heard that more than once...

Anonymous said...

You are welcome. You were an easy child to raise. Love, the mom and dad

LPC said...

I agree. Authoritative works. And we too, me and my siblings, we absorbed our parents' values precisely because we were allowed to question them. But not to get up from the table without saying excuse me...

PrincessMax said...

Definitely not allowed to get up from the table without saying excuse me. The only other hard and fast rules were that we couldn't say "shut up" and that we had to put a new Coke into the fridge when we took out the old one.

Don't think that "easy child to raise" statement isn't coming back to haunt you, Dad. :-)