Reading the Catholic Exchange article I’m Positive about Parenting made me think about my own experiences as a parent, and how I share them.
The author, Dr. Gary Welton, explains that the message people are sent by the culture in which they live matters due to” a social psychological phenomenon known as the self-fulfilling prophecy. When we as a society come to believe that a certain outcome is inevitable, then we tend to act in such a way as to create the very outcome that we expect.”
He goes on to cite recent research conducted by the University of Virgina using the principle of the self-fulfilling prophecy to prevent binge drinking among incoming students by attempting to change their expectations about the amount that college students typically drink. If this negative behavior is expected to be less popular, students could be less likely to engage in it.
Dr. Welton later points out that “We as parents are also tempted to exaggerate the negative.”
Let’s take the same train of thought in a slightly different direction. Parents exaggerate the negative about our children to ourselves not only to ourselves, but also to potential parents. Childless young couples hear, “enjoy your life now, it all changes when you have kids,” so often, it’s hard not to believe that having children means the end of enjoying life.
I’ve found that sentiments gets even louder and more in-your-face it once a young woman without a child in tow is visibly pregnant. Now that I’m obviously expecting and carting a toddler around, complete strangers feel free to shout ideas as, “you think this is hard, just wait until the next one comes.” While such comments mean no harm, could they be destructive regardless?
The ratio of “kids will drive you out of your mind” remarks to those like “my kids make my world a better place” ones seems awfully high, from television and magazines to friends from my church. I don’t have statistics on this, and maybe it’s just a phenomenon in my corner of the world, but I doubt it. Even the commercials that are aimed at my demographic give only a negative view, like the ones for Gerber Graduates (toddler food).
Since 1960 the average number of child per household has dropped dramatically according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. Could some part of the reason why Americans are having fewer children be related to expectations our society gives us that having kids is a primarily negative experience? (The most popular TV programs from 1960 and 2008 reveal a lot about how society felt and feels about children.)
As Dr. Welton’s wrote, “My father-in-law, … once said to me, ‘If I had known how well my kids would turn out, I would have had more.’”
Crazy small world personal note: I read this article on Catholic Exchange without paying any attention to the name of
the author. I started to write about it without reading the name of the author. I glanced back to see how to spell his or her name and literally gasped. (It would have been far more dramatic had I not been the only one here.) I’ve not only read Dr. Gary Welton before, I’ve written for him – to grade, anyhow. Dr. Welton taught several of my classes at my alma mater, Grove City College. I actually still have the notes I took in his Child and Adolescent Psychology class. Anyhow, thanks Dr. Welton, for giving me a little more to think about.