Monday, April 23, 2012

Unanswerable Questions

Hindsight is not 20/20. Claiming this is akin to claiming you can see the future. Do I know unequivocally that this or that decision would have led to a better future? I will grant that sometimes hindsight can be clear in negative cases, as in: I should not have stayed up all night watching Seinfeld reruns...Or, driving drunk on those mountain roads maybe wasn't such a good plan...(I have not done either of the above, although I did stay up all night once at All-State Jazz band to watch Office Space. Totally worth it.) Even so, let's dispense with the notion that hindsight is 20/20.

And if that is so, then how much MORE so is foresight less than perfect. This is parenting. We do not, cannot, know what effect our decisions will have on our kids in the future. This is what makes parenting so individual, aggravating, and hopeful. We all have to hope that what we are doing is best...but there is absolutely no way to know.

I have considered this from the perspective of someone who works with kids who are not my own. As a percussion instructor and soccer coach I am put in the uncomfortable position of trying to recruit kids into my programs. This is problematic for many reasons. First, it comes awfully close to viewing kids as means rather than ends. Of course I want my teams to be successful and win games/competitions. But I can never sacrifice a person's (I could use student/player/etc. here but I prefer person, as person-hood is antecedent to any other label we may or may not have) intrinsic value for the success of a program.

Second, even if we claim to want 'what's best for the kids', how do we know? Certainly we can look at statistics that show kids who are involved in stuff generally do fewer drugs and that music is good for the brain (and the soul? unmeasurable for sure but undeniable as well!) and athletics are good at keeping people healthy. But is participation or non-participation in any one activity ultimately beneficial in the life of a person?

That is an unanswerable question.

Coming at this from the perspective of a parent, one could argue: "The best we can do for our kids is give them the most and best options available," which is a very American way of viewing society as a group of individuals each seeking his/her own good, which may or not be related to the good(s) of others. I think this is woefully inadequate when we consider that we are talking about our children, however.

These thoughts make me really appreciate the new 51 movement. This movement is in response to research that shows that youth in America are essentially being systematically abandoned by the adults and support systems that are supposed to help them into adulthood. So the 51 movement is challenging adults to create systems of support for kids where every kid has 5 non-parent adults who love them with no-strings-attached. Of course in today's world it seems unwise, even reckless maybe to encourage (or even allow) your child to have a relationship with just about any adult. 

So my hope, as a parent and a responsible adult, is that I can push back against the tide of systematic abandonment and viewing kids a means rather than ends. And I am calling all parents to view their kids' friends (our daughter just had a sleepover at a friend's house whom we don't know very well. I can't believe how anxious I will I ever let her go away to college??) the same way: not as unmanageable threats but as kids who need to have adults care for them, no-strings-attached.

Because who knows, you just might have that opportunity to help a kid keep her head above water a little longer. There's no way to know, but we have to try.


  1. It takes a village to raise a child. I love that expression because it is so true.

  2. Funny how sometimes proverbs are based in truth, but we hear them so often they lose their potential power. Thanks for the reminder!