Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Can Open Minds Be Contagious?

This weekend’s New York Times Magazine echoed a theme of a great new book: Is happiness - or it’s opposite - catching?

In the Times, researchers say that the company we keep matters a lot -- it drives our health habits and our moods. And in Hell is Other Parents, Deborah Copaken Kogan shares engaging and often hilarious tales that show the same is true of parenting.

From labor and delivery in urban hospitals to the micro-politics of playgrounds, Kogan explores the transmission of parental anxiety. The sugar-phobic mom covering her kid’s ears lest existence of cookies be revealed. The dad who is so eager to make a point he’s happy to insult your child’s hero to do it. Parents who see every test of grade school as a verdict on their own worth.

As a mother of young kids, reining in my own child-rearing neuroses is a 24/7 job -- at which I frequently fail. But Hell is Other Parents reminds me to keep trying. The best thing we can do for our kids is to build a positive culture around them. The Times talks about playing up-beat music on the way home for family dinner -- to get our own contagious moods in the right place. Quarantining our parental angst can help a lot too. Letting go of our personal dogmas makes room for a healthier habit: Opening our minds.

At our Getting to 50/50 book talks, we get two reactions about men and women re-negotiating the work/life split. When we say men can be equally good parents (and that women’s jobs are equally important), we hear either “that’s obvious” or “no way.” We think it’s neither - not a snap nor impossible. In our own lives, it takes daily re-examination of how we do things. But that’s the fun of it.

“”I will not be domesticated,’ my husband actually said that to me early in our marriage” a mother of young kids told me today. But with an open mind, this working mom evolved her approach (less particular, more encouraging), saw her spouse would willingly do domestic stuff if free to use his own style - and bit by bit her welcoming approach paid off in a husband who supports her career and happily does his part with their children.

Maybe we parents will have less hell and more haven this way: Drop our judgments and certainties (with our spouse/siblings/friends) and make broadmindedness among parents a viral virtue.

By Sharon Meers

1 comment:

Ann said...

This book looks great - thanks for blogging about it Sharon! The title itself makes me chuckle - such a true statement! I have those same child-rearing neuroses too, but luckily I married someone who has none - so he balances me well! Keep fighting the good fight toward 50/50!

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