Saturday, December 20, 2014

What I forget to thank my conservative parents for

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In typical liberal university student returns home to conservative small town family fashion, I am three days into my winter break and have already thrown down in three screaming – yes, full on screaming – matches with my parents. There have been conversations about race, abortion, campus rape, general gender equality, and almost every politically charged topic we could possibly bring up. And it’s only been three days.

I guess I should preface all of this by saying my parents are incredible people and are not the neocon conservative nutcases you may be imagining right now. They are not the type of people who believe that “the gays can be cured,” or are personally bigoted towards any sex, race, or class. They are tolerant, self-reflexive, intelligent individuals who long just as deeply as anyone else for equality. But they are the products of their generation: tentative and cautious in their entrance into this sometimes overwhelmingly leftist world of liberal criticism. They are not ignorant, they just did not grow up in the same age that I did, and oh the drama that can spark.

Last night, in an unnecessarily heated argument about racial equality (the escalation was definitely initiated by yours truly, for the record), my mother made the comment that even if she can’t change the world, she considers one of her greatest contributions to it to be her children. That despite her sometimes old-fashioned understandings of today’s social issues, she was still somehow the mother of two incredibly socially liberal and conscious children.

So I thought on that for a while.

There are thousands of things we are too quick to demonize and never to thank our parents for. We lament all the vegetables we were force fed as children instead of appreciating our parents’ concern for our nutrition. We go crazy over nagging about how to do laundry, cook dinner, and properly clean things, even though we secretly didn’t actually remember that toilets need cleaning at all. And for many of us who are much more liberal than our parents, we become far too easily enraged or just disappointed by our parents’ seemingly ignorant and calcified biases without ever thinking to appreciate our parents for engendering tolerance in us.

I feel grateful that I was raised in a family, and a country for that matter, where I am free to express beliefs contrary to those around me without risk of repression or harmful repercussions. I feel grateful that I was taught to intake information critically and output it conscientiously and bravely. I am grateful that my parents, no matter how much further right than me they may be, are always willing to listen to where I’m coming from, even if we never find compromise in the middle.

It is easy to forget that though sometimes wearisome or downright exhausting, critical thought, and the capacity to formulate our own opinions is a blessing that not everyone is given. Not all children are taught to challenge norms and truisms and not all parents are receptive to contrary ideologies. It can be miserable sitting around wondering what to do about all the bad in the world, but it is a great privilege to be able to see bad and feel as though challenge is possible. Cynicism does not just manifest at birth, it is often taught. And no matter how much more conservative than us our families may be, for all of us who feel that way, we were at some point taught to be critical. Whether it was in school or at home, that teaching is something we ought to be thankful for, and something that was often enabled by our families.

While it may sometimes seem like re-wiring the ideas of older generations is an impossible task (and perhaps it truly is), it is still amazing and so important that parents are raising their children to be skeptics and problem solvers, even if sometimes our parents are part of those problems.

Parenting is hard, or at least that’s what I hear, but I am so grateful that I was raised the way I was. That I continue to be able to hold meaningful and engaging conversation with my parents, and that under their guidance I was taught to stand up for what I believe, even if it is my own mother or father disagreeing.

Compromise, progress, and all forms of change are hard, but they are made possible when people open their minds to perspectives that inject uncertainty into their own. My beliefs are made better, stronger, and more tolerant by encountering my parents’ beliefs, and for their willingness to engage, I am so truly thankful. Mom and dad, thank you for listening to me and for letting me learn from you. Y’all are the greatest parents around. Thanks for doing what you do.


Happy holidays to you and your families – however crazy conservative they may be. 

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