Thursday, February 18, 2010

raising them right. i mean happy!

We are born utterly dependent; from the moment we pop out, a social relationship becomes essential to living, namely the relationship with our mother (as well as other family members). Through that dependency—for physical survival and mental, social, physical, and sensory stimulation—we form connections with other people who become significant in shaping our view of ourselves and of the world around us. That socialization process also structures the brain in important and enduring ways. Through the complex processes of socialization, families can create in their members, and especially in their children, either susceptibility or resistance to depression that can last a lifetime.

Long-term epidemiologic studies show that depression intensifies from one generation to the next. Today's parents represent the largest group of depression sufferers raising the fastest-growing group of depression sufferers. We are on average four times more depressed than our parents and ten times more than our grandparents.

michael yapko & hara estroff marano, secondhand blues, psychology today

so, there's actually a lot i don't like about this article. (to begin with, "pop out"? seriously? where is the editorial support?) but i've been thinking about in terms of another question that's been on my mind-- when do you know that you're ready to have kids? i know that this question usually refers to things like, when do you have enough money? when do you have enough time? when have you accomplished enough of your own goals? and the answer that people generally give-- and rightly, i think-- is that you're never really ready in any of these senses, so you just have to do it, and you figure it out, and you learn as you go.

but how do you know when you've worked through your own bullshit sufficiently to actually avoid the egregious repetition of the past? how do you know when you've found the calm center from which you can...i don't know, not just parent responsibly, but bring up happy kids? i know that it's easy to group these kinds of questions with the others, but i'm not inclined to. the best of lives can be lived on not enough money and short of time-- you could imagine, even, wishing these kinds of material limitations for your children, that they might learn to thrive in more interesting and satisfying ways. but it's hard to see how we might analogously wish for them the constraints congenital loneliness or persistent anxiety. and yet, with the best and clearest intentions, and with the sincerest love, we seem to be handing these things on at a rate that's approaching the exponential. we have one life, and we give one life to our kids, their entire experience of which will be filtered through the lens that they construct from observing our own daily approaches to life.

it seems to me that the question deserves a different kind of reflection than the others. a friendly pat-on-the-back-and-you'll-figure-it-out approach makes sense if you're urging someone to put aside pragmatic questions for the sake of jumping into the wonderful business of family, and it makes sense as a way of saying 'look, these are the problems that have been faced time immemorial'. but here i think the question isn't pragmatic-- it's a matter of ultimate concern. and this seems to be a uniquely modern epidemic-- which is not to say that this, too, is not an age old question of parenting, but the risks seem uniquely high: "The World Health Organization recently declared depression the fourth leading cause of human disability and suffering and predicted that by the year 2020 it will be the second leading cause." high risks, ultimate ends. the stakes are high.

this has probably begun to sound awfully pessimistic, but i am, in fact (foolishly, i'm sure), brimming with optimism. but it seems so crucial to know: how will you know that you have in yourself the critical mass of peace, that warm solid center, that frees you up to do it right? or is the fresh start we seem to need more fruitfully thought of in terms of external conditions? what will a good place to start look like?

No comments: