Parenthood: Choosing Our Risks

She's all about dat bass ...A wise friend once shared this statement from her husband:

“We will not parent out of fear.”

In that case, we were talking about their choice at the time to send their kids to public school – which seemed like their best option educationally – instead of homeschooling – which this mom was thinking maybe she should do because she was afraid the public schools wouldn’t be good enough or would corrupt the good morals she wanted to instill in her kids. I’ve found the statement very useful over the last few years.

Recently my sister and I had a chance to travel together without kids or husbands. In one of our many conversations during that road trip, she said something interesting that I’ve also thought about a lot since. She was talking about the vaccines, about how passionate people are on both sides of the fence, about how passionate she was in her opinion, and about how hard it was for her to find a way to live in peaceful relationship with someone who shares an opposing view-point. I mean, this is the world of mom wars and culture fights and political partisanship, right?

Charity said she’d come to peace with it recently when she realized,

“We’re all just choosing different risks.”

In her case, she’s chosen to risk the real but rare side effects of vaccines as opposed to the multiple diseases themselves. That’s the choice she’s made. Other parents prefer to risk that their child might be unprotected against those diseases and not have to worry about adverse side-effects of the vaccine. In both cases, we are choosing which risk scares us the most. In both cases, we have to live with the consequences of our decision.

And this is what parenting is about – choosing your risks.

We recently did this with our kids’ education. Until this school year our kids had been in private Christian schools their entire lives. But there was this nagging thought, what if public education would have the mix of excellence, opportunity, and mission we’re looking for? What if? It soon became apparent to us that we were more willing to risk the idea that public school might be as bad as we had heard more than we were willing to risk the regret we would feel for never trying it ourselves. We chose to risk being wrong over being ignorant (as in, personally uniformed).

Other parents make a different choice.

I know homeschoolers who are choosing to risk their reputations because they are not willing to risk what might happen to their kids in a structured educational system.

Couldn’t we apply this to almost any issue? Religion. Youth sports. Diets. (I mean, let’s be honest, I’m actually fine without super-flat abs if it means I still eat bread. I’m CHOOSING this risk!)

I think looking at issues in this way is helpful because it reminds us how much we’re all living in the same situation: there are pros and cons to every decision and only we know which risk is going to weigh on us the heaviest. The real point is, we’re all taking risks.

Likewise, we might do well to see our individual risk measurements and subsequent choices as one of the many ways unique perspectives contribute to our diverse world. What if the risks you are willing or not willing to take are part of are what makes you you?

There is the related issue of benefits. I let my kids listen to music of questionable moral content. Some of my parent-friends don’t. We’re each choosing our risks. I’m risking that my kids will buy into some crazy-town philosophy of living. But I believe the benefits include a kid who knows the culture around him, can converse with people about that culture, and therefore might someday be able to contribute to that culture in an effective, positive way. I think that benefit is worth the risk. But not all parents do.

I know a guy who likes to go sky diving. The benefit of an adrenaline rush and life-long bragging rights is well worth the risk. (Which is, like many less extreme things, of course, death.) For me? Not so much. That risk is not worth it to me. But I know plenty of people who risk death in different ways all the time because the other risk – that they might live a life of complete boredom and routine – is too much for them.

I have a friend who’d rather travel for days by car than to take even one short flight. And this is a good example with which to bring in the issue of statistics and numbers. It is statistically safer to fly than to drive (or so the fliers tell me). But do those statistics matter to the guy with a very real (though possibly irrational) fear of flying? No. No, they do not.

We’re all choosing our risks.

So I guess I write this instead of butting my head into another Facebook debate. I write this to remind you to be gentle with people who can’t live with the risks you’re taking. To remind you that they are taking risks of their own, too, even if you don’t get it. I write this to remind myself to be gentle with me when one of my decisions means I have to face a negative consequence. I want to remind myself, this was the risk you knew you were taking, and you did the best you could. That’s all anyone can do.

I know it won’t stop debate. It shouldn’t stop the sharing of information, the sharing of our lives. We have a lot to learn from each other. But there comes a point when the choices have been made and the only thing left to do is figure out how to be kind, compassionate human beings even when we disagree. I think that’s the time to remember we’re all choosing risks and let that quiet our arguments, our primal drive to always be right, to have the final word.

My friend’s husband is still onto something. We shouldn’t parent out of fear. But in a way, we do. We’re just choosing the fears that seem most immediate, life-threatening, or important. We’re choosing to live with the fears we can tolerate in exchange for the fears we can’t. It’s a hard, difficult balance with so many applications. But it isn’t without hope. Parents have been doing this for years and years with the same mixed results you and I are going to have. And let’s face it, that’s the nature of this thing we call life.

All the best to you, friend, in every risk you take!

And a Happy New Year!

We were actually stuck in traffic on our way to a New Year’s Eve dinner with friends. But while we sat, the city began a fireworks show. We watched it from our warm van through the Christmas lights draped on the trees in this part of downtown Omaha. It was perfection.

The scene also reminded me of the way we often view the New Year: through the sweet and nostalgic lens of the holidays. Just after the rush and crush of family gatherings and tables piled high with food, we get the chance to say, ah, yes, all things new. And new feels promising for me usually because old has been so sweet.

Sure, occasionally there are days we want to put behind us, as far behind us as possible, but usually we anticipate another year of goodness in most ways. The way a child believes six will be awesome because five had been the best yet. I hope that is how it goes for you. Luckily, the opposite is also true. Even if 2014 was a bust, 2015 could still be something entirely different. This is why we love a fresh start, a new morning.

Happy New Year!