I recently met the son and daughter-in-law of a rabbi. She is not Jewish. Because the marriage is interfaith, the father declined to officiate a Jewish wedding service solemnizing their union. How could he decline to perform other weddings on the grounds they violated his deeply held religious tenets but perform another simply because the couple asking for an exception was related to him by blood? I heard this story from the daughter-in-law, who was probably expecting me to denigrate the rabbi. But I didn’t. I thought it admirable that he stuck to his religious views. She and her husband did, too, and have a wonderful relationship with him.
Now let’s look at two stories featured in national newspapers this past weekend. The first appeared in the Washington Post:
Jeremiah Heaton was playing with his daughter in their Abingdon, Va., home last winter when she asked whether she could be a real princess. Heaton, a father of three who works in the mining industry, didn’t want to make any false promises to Emily, then 6, who was “big on being a princess.” But he still said yes.
So he did the completely normal thing American parents do these days. He found an unclaimed 800-square-mile patch of arid desert along the Sudanese border, planted an actual flag of his family’s design, named it the Kingdom of North Sudan, and declared himself king and Emily princess:
“I wanted to show my kids I will literally go to the ends of the earth to make their wishes and dreams come true,” Heaton said.
What a maroon, right? How could this be good for a child to think this is realistic behavior to expect from family or loved ones?
Over at the New York Times, we have a profile of a Methodist pastor who had similar sentiments. There we learn, in the gauzy language we’ve come to expect in mainstream media treatment of anything supportive of same-sex attraction and attendant sexual behavior, that Tim Schaefer was special:
His father, the Rev. Frank Schaefer, a United Methodist minister, thought of his eldest son as a miracle child, saved by some combination of medicine and prayer, saved for something special.
Tim decides he wants to solemnize his union with his same-sex partner:
“Who wouldn’t want their own family member to perform the ceremony; it’s so much more special,” Tim Schaefer said, explaining his decision to ask his father to officiate, despite the risks. “My only pastor, ever, had been my dad.”
Schaefer performed the service. The same-sex union didn’t last but the father was later defrocked and, later still, reinstated. The whole affair caused major disruption in the denomination, a disruption that has been seen in other church bodies that follow late-blooming cultural trends over the teachings of the ancient Christian faith. There’s no discussion of doctrine in the piece or even an even slight journalistic skepticism or critique about doctrines changing only when one’s own children — but not other people’s children — want them to change. So it’s impossible to know whether Rev. Schaefer had any good or even bad doctrinal reasons for subverting church teaching.
But leaving aside all that, isn’t it interesting how parents now think the loving thing to do with children is, as Heaton put it, ‘show [your] kids [you] will literally go to the ends of the earth to make their wishes and dreams come true’?
When did that become such a common thing that it’s presented so breezily in these national newspapers?
See, my parents went to the metaphorical ends of the earth to teach me that I’m not in any way a special snowflake who could get them to do, well, anything. And I love them for that. My parents would never engage in acts of imperialism for me. They certainly wouldn’t change their confession of faith because of emotional ties to me.
Because they didn’t view their job as making my wishes and dreams come true — but, instead, to raise me into an adult who didn’t think that the world revolved around me — we have an excellent relationship.
Is such parenting becoming rarer? I recently heard of a college administrator who met with a student and her mother regarding plagiarism charges. Much to the administrator’s surprise, the mother calmly explained that the daughter should not be punished because … wait for it … it was the mother who had plagiarized when she did the child’s coursework for her.
It sounds ridiculous, and it is, but I have friends who constantly make excuses for their children. I catch myself doing it at times, too. And the birthday parties many of us throw for our kids are fit for royalty. A quick trip to a restaurant, grocery store or mall will feature more than a few parents struggling to say ‘no’ to their children. So while it’s easy to point and laugh at King Heaton’s extremism, perhaps we should all look at the ways we roll over for our children at the expense of greater good and reconsider whether that’s the best parenting strategy.