I expect that my son will bury me someday, and not the other way around.
Anything can happen, of course, and nothing is guaranteed to any of us, but as a mother in the United States in 2017, this is a fairly reasonable thing for me to believe.
I have the privilege of assuming that I will not have to bury my child.
What got me thinking about this less-than-cheery idea was a truly terrible book about parenting around the world that I just finished reading. It’s badly written and weakly argued, but honestly, the central thesis just made me angry: these people actually had the audacity to argue that North American parents are too uptight in our parenting because we’re so worried about our children’s futures, and that we should just cut it out. Now, that in and of itself isn’t so terrible, and might very well be true–the problem is why these authors came to this conclusion. They said that we North Americans should loosen up because parents in the developing world don’t stress nearly as much about how their children will function in the future, and are almost entirely focused on teaching immediately applicable skills.
Forgive me for being blunt, but it seems fairly natural not to stress about your child’s future if you harbor no certainty that he or she will actually have one.
When I played “The Oregon Trail” as a kid, my characters died of cholera with annoying frequency; that is the closest that disease has ever come to impacting my life. This year, the World Health Organization estimates that anywhere between 21,000 and 143,000 people will die of cholera worldwide. My computer game inconvenience will rob thousands of real mothers of their real children in 2017…and that’s just one disease. Never mind HIV/AIDS and parasites and droughts and famines and unspeakable violence and lack of even basic medical care and, and, and. UNICEF says that 21 children die every single minute, almost entirely in developing nations.
As a mother who has the privilege of assuming that my child will bury me, I find it patently absurd to hold up a woman in the developing world who does not have that privilege as a standard by which to measure my parenting. Hold her up, in the holy name of God hold her up, but hold her up as a sister for whom my heart should break. Hold her up as someone to speak out for, to fight for, to sacrifice in order to help. If she is unconcerned about her child’s vocabulary because she is too busy showing him how to find enough food, I don’t think I should stop worrying about my child’s vocabulary–I think I should start worrying about why her child isn’t guaranteed enough to eat.
This has been gnawing away at me all day, ever since I finished that book–be proud of me, I didn’t actually throw it across the room even though I really super wanted to. I don’t know what to do about these staggering numbers of tragedies oceans away from me. Merciful God, I can’t even stop the heartbreaks of people I see and talk to every day. I pray, and I give money, and I have fought on the front lines of death and loss and anguish, but no matter what I do, no matter what small victories I help achieve, I cannot bridge the gap between how things are and how they ought to be.
Since before Asher was born, Dave and I have prayed that he would be someone who holds a candle in the darkness. He will be no more able to bridge the gap than I am, but I hope he will try anyway. So, maybe that is how we should try to raise him, in light of all those parents in the developing world: to be brave enough to fight in a battle he absolutely cannot win. Perhaps I should worry a bit less about his future well-being, and focus instead on how he will choose to use the future he is very likely to have.
This is little consolation, but it is all I have in the face of just how broken this world is. Holding even a small candle in the darkness, and teaching my son to do the same, must be better than holding none at all.