Monday, December 20, 2004

Our Forefathers Would be Puzzled

Last week a woman in Toronto killed her child and then herself. This was not the first time such a horrible tragedy has made the news. A few years ago a woman (a doctor no less) took her baby and jumped in front of the subway train. Of course, these are exceptional occurences and the women involved were obviously mentally disturbed and in need of serious help. But what about the rest of us parents? We all suffer from some kind of stress related problems. Don't we need help too?

Apparently we do. Big time. In fact, I think we're in big trouble.

Have you noticed that every time these rare parental murders happen in our society, journalists and talking heads are all over the media waxing philosophically on how tough it is to be a parent and how understandable it is that many people are unable to cope with the huge and unmanageable job of caring for one or two children. Therapists and psychologists fill our TV screens and newspapers. Teary eyed victims mesmerize us with their sad stories of depression, despondency and emotional breakdown. We watch them and cry with them. We understand. Really we do. Because we are just like them.

It’s pretty sad, really. But it wasn’t always this way. Once upon a time we could actually control our emotions. Of course, back then, we didn’t think of ourselves as the centre of the universe, like we do today. We were able to put our self-centered, self-absorbed, introspection aside, get on with our lives and take care of our families. Imagine. How on earth did we cope? It's almost as if these proud, strong people in our history were a completely different species from us.

When I was growing up in the sixties in Sydney Mines, Cape Breton, my town was full of large families. My next-door-neighbor had twelve children. (Honest to God.) One of my friends had four brothers and three sisters. Another had six siblings. My grandmother’s sister, who lived just up the road, had nine kids. For a couple to have a mere two children was relatively rare.

And guess what? None of these mothers (or fathers) went on a killing spree. And none of them, to my knowledge, came down with crippling depression. Maybe they got depressed – most of us do from time to time – but they pressed on with the business of working, living and taking care of their families. That’s what people did. No heroics. No exceptional feats of courage. Just ordinary people living ordinary lives. They struggled sometimes, but that’s the nature of life isn’t it? Back then people still had the basic understanding that life wasn’t supposed to be easy. They measured their lives in terms of their day to day existence, not in terms of how many DVD players they had. And yet, they were like us in one major way - they spent every waking hour working and taking care of the home and kids. How could it be then that, unlike us, they had so much less time to wallow in self pity?

Our swift descent, as parents, into emotional vulnerability and defenselessness should really be of concern to us. Procreation and parenting are things we must do to preserve our species, our culture and our way of life. They are the very reason we are here today. And yet we seem to be so much less capable of dealing with the stresses and difficulties that come with these simple and natural functions than the generations that came before.

We need to be asking ourselves why this is. And we should all be alarmed at how quickly we have gone from being a nation of proud, emotionally strong and independent people; to a nation of pathetic, powerless, parental weaklings. Perhaps our benevolent and all-knowing government could sponsor a report analyzing how did we got this way. They could start by drawing a parallel between the creation of our federal welfare state and our descent into helplessness, self-absorption, and emotional frailty. Both seem to have occurred around the same time.

It is not an act of courage to be a parent. It is a natural part of being human. Sure there are stresses, tensions and frustrations, but, for most of us, these are more than overshadowed by the love we feel for our children– a love so poignantly intense so as to make any other life experience pale in comparison.

And yet somehow, over the past three of four decades we seem to have lost our resilience and our ability to cope as parents. We gaze at our navels and wonder if we have the strength to go on. We don’t live in a war zone, we are not starving, and we are not oppressed. Our fridges are full, our homes are warm. We eat more restaurant meals and have more ‘stuff’ than any generation in the history of our race. And yet we act like victims, constantly second guessing our lot-in-life, incessantly crying out for affirmation and desperately reaching out to government, Oprah and other strangers for help and guidance. I wonder how the world’s real victims – the people in Rwanda, Sudan, Tibet, Haiti, the list is endless – would look upon our self-created, artificial, victimhood. I bet it would sicken them to see people with absolutely nothing to complain about whining about how hard life is.

We really need to get a grip. We are creating a culture of helplessness here in Canada. Everyone's a victim. Every little challenge – things that would have been taken in stride by our great grandparents - is seen by today’s generation as a full blown crisis. We are continually bombarded in the media with images of weak, sensitive, trembling people crawling to therapists and counselors to help them navigate through the tumultuous seas of parenthood. What we really should be doing is telling people that they have nothing whatsoever to complain about and that they need to get off their buttocks, hold their heads high and just get on with it.

Of course, this wouldn’t be seen as particularly sensitive. And it would likely hurt some people’s feelings. But it’s something our grandparents would have understood, and it’s something I’ll relate to my kids if the need arises. Is it so wrong to believe that people with stress issues should be treated like adults and given a little nudge in the right direction and firm words of encouragement. Instead, our society treats them like helpless, dependent invalids and gives them a patronizing pat on the head and a pitying, understanding smile.

People can often tend to rise or fall in accordance with the expectations of others. Is it not, then, a disservice to them to expect so little?


Blogger Brian McNamee said...

You write very well. I have ear-marked your page for future reading because of some of the thoughts you have put down. I read your most recent post about the fore-fathers and the tragedies that occur daily. I was hooked when I heard your opinion on good ol G "Dubya" B. George Bush is a tyrant. I could go on about that forever. I really think you should open up your page to allow anonymous comments. I think you would have a lot of comments. Please feel free to browse my page. I do not write about such serious topics, but I do think I offer some interesting insight to random topics from time to time. Nice page, keep up the good work.
I'll check back in again sometime soon.


8:57 PM  
Blogger Travis said...

Hey Lon:

While I generally agree with you that people really need to learn to control their emotions a little better, women have actually been killing their kids shortly after birth for a long time. This is a result of post-partum psychosis: a rather extreme form of the "baby blues" caused by giving birth. The fact that this never happened in Cape Breton is probably explainable by the fact that T.O. has 6 million people, and Cape Breton has... less.

But I certainly can't explain road rage. Those people should all be run over.


9:12 PM  

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