Hostages to fortune
February 24, 2010 5:35 PM   Subscribe

How can I maintain some optimism about my child's future, given the crappy crappy world we live in?

I have a wholly delightful baby daughter, and since her birth have been overwhelmed by the intensity with which I desire a good future for her. More than anything, I want her to grow up happy, smart, good, strong, and, you know, whole.

Unfortunately, I don't necessarily see that happening. Maybe I just spend too much time on the damn Internet, but a lot of what I see and hear these days makes me think we just may be approaching the shrieking, cacophonous end of of rationality and responsibility, truth and beauty and order and inquiry and growth-- in short, a whole lot of what, to me, makes existence worthwhile. Certainly no crazy apocalyptic visions or conspiracy theories here, but on a human level I don't hold out a lot of hope for what the next century will bring. Despite my best efforts, it seems inevitable that the cultural environment's going to chew her up and spit her out, mess her up and prevent her from realising her full potential.

This freaks me out on a weekly-to-daily basis, and my husband is sick of the panicky pillow talks every time I see a scary news article or dip into a particularly nasty thread here or elsewhere. I don't see my mind changing on the global prognosis, but I'd really like to find a way to be more upbeat about the situation.

I guess I'm asking a non-gendered version of this question, but the rationales offered there-- "Well, you've enjoyed your life, haven't you?" and "Maybe she'll work to make the world a better place" just don't cut it in this case. True, I had a pretty rad childhood, but the world is different now in so many ways from when I was growing up. And while I'd like to tell myself that she'll grow up to fight to better the world, as someone with quite a bit of historical training, I know that this has been a loooong time coming, and I have no illusions about one person being able to turn back the march of Western civilization. It's hard to get excited about sending my kid forth to fight a battle that's all but lost, or to spend her life effectively rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.... and since I'm not about to go the full-on Bubble Girl route, I know she'll end up being raised more by the world than by my partner and me.

I'm not looking to be persuaded that things aren't as bad as I think (especially since I'm guessing my specific concerns differ from those of most of the community members here), but pessimism is so common across the ideological spectrum today that I thought perhaps someone could share some ideas on how to deal with these kind of thoughts. How do you not get overwhelmed by big worries, so that you miss the joy of parenting? And how do you hold out hope for your kids, when you don't have much hope for the world?

Throwaway email is itstheendoftheworldasiknowit @ Thanks!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (43 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Have you seen the movie titanic? You can have a pretty good time in a doomed world.
posted by phrontist at 5:41 PM on February 24, 2010 [6 favorites]

(You may also enjoy the YA novel Feed)
posted by phrontist at 5:42 PM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Fundamentally, the real counter to this type of pessimism is the reassurance that we can't know the future. It's not that things aren't as bad as you think, but rather that divining the future simply is not possible.

The future may be better or worse than you imagine. It will almost certainly be different than you imagine. Looking back in history, there's no reason to believe that now is a unique time, either in our ability to correctly analyze our future, or the changes we face. [yes, or course, the present is different than the past. That, however, has often been the case.]

The solution for you and for your daughter is to enjoy what you can day in, day out.
posted by mercredi at 5:55 PM on February 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

Think about it this way: the world has, for the most part, always been a crappy crappy place. That didn't stop generations of parents from raising their children.

It's easy to get pessimistic about the future, but remember that the future is not established. You don't know that your child is going to grow up to have a horrible life. Try not to fixate on that while raising her - you can't change the tide of Western civilization, so just do the best that you can.
posted by vanitas at 5:56 PM on February 24, 2010 [7 favorites]

Uh, the world was messed up when you were a kid, too.
posted by delmoi at 5:57 PM on February 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

Not to make too many assumptions but I struggled with the same feelings of hopelessness when I was suffering through a major depressive episode. Therapy helps.

Also, keeping in mind that what you read/see on the internet is just the biggest and baddest and not necessarily representative of life in general helps. What helps more is getting off the internet and doing things to make the world better. Even if its just making cupcakes or paper snowflakes or going for a walk.

Finally bear in mind that your perspective may be skewed. I was a child 30 years ago and while some things are a little different, watching my daughter grow up has reinforced to me that childhood hasnt really changed that much.
posted by lilnublet at 5:59 PM on February 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

How do you hold out hope for your kids when you don't have much hope for the world?

Can you be more specific about your scenarios, either with us or with yourself? Because (barring apocalyptic scenarios, which you ruled out) I can't honestly imagine a scenario in which good parenting wouldn't stand a good chance of instilling enough grace, strength of character, kindness, and smarts for someone to navigate a changing physical and cultural environment. I'd think it through bit by bit, in extreme specifics, to try to shift your focus from the big picture to more concrete worries that you could better address.

The best way I know to deal with worries is by taking active steps related to the things I can control and then accepting that there are many things I can't control. Since I'm worried about water shortages, I probably won't raise kids in the Southwestern U.S. But there are so many other things I can't do anything about (e.g., national politics), so I actually only read the local section of the newspaper. When I was getting really overwhelmed by the state of the world, that helped me a lot.
posted by salvia at 6:09 PM on February 24, 2010

I can't help but feel optimistic when I think of all the cheeses, recipes, artists, books, jokes, sweaters, boardgames, songs, towns, lovers, friends, and loose change under seat cushions I have yet to discover.
posted by HotPatatta at 6:15 PM on February 24, 2010 [32 favorites]

Some argue this is the most peaceful time on earth (Stephen Pinker I think.)
Technology is changing more rapidly than ever before. While right now that looks like more stupid cell phones, it could mean wonderful advancements in things like biology or pharmaceuticals or who knows what? There are always 'game changers' that happen and make the world a better place in ways that are hard to imagine before it occurs.
posted by SouthCNorthNY at 6:22 PM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree you should try therapy.

And maybe take the Pollyanna approach--think of all the times in which she could have been born, which would have made her life far worse. A particularly nasty thread on the internet is nowhere near as bad as being female in Salem, MA in 1692. Or being alive in Europe during the bubonic plague. Or, you know, living during slavery.
posted by sallybrown at 6:25 PM on February 24, 2010

From a human perspective, the best thing about this world has generally been human children. Blink back your fears and tears, and launch your children into the world they'll find, to happily and nervously discover this ancient truth, for themselves. And, then, with courage, join the long gray line of those who've gone before, into quiet, eternal fearlessness.
posted by paulsc at 6:29 PM on February 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Meh, when I was a teenager, I actually wondered quite frequently why my parents decided to bring me into the world because it was so fucked up when they had me (I was born during the Reagan presidency before the end of the Cold War). Now I study history, and I get it. There are always screwed up things, but every kid brought up in a loving home by open-minded parents is a step in the right direction.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:30 PM on February 24, 2010

Look back at history. If you can find one period in time when the world was as flexible, tolerant, educated, and healthy as today, then that'd be something, but... there isn't such a time. Sure, there's crap in the world, and uncountable suffering in places; but I think on the whole, and certainly for the lucky few with caring parents who are born into the first world, now is the best there's ever been. Tomorrow could be an inconveniently-timed dystopia, sure, but the chances are that it won't be. It's certainly not inevitable.

I'm a girl studying to be a scientist, just because I think it's interesting and might be a good career for me. When in history would that have been as easy as it is today, if even possible? Without today's medicine, neither of my parents would have been alive to have me. You enjoyed your childhood, but if your daughter ends up falling in love with someone of the same sex or another race, the future would be the best time for her to do that, not the extensive stretch of the past.

Sure, there have been some major ups and downs in history, wars and oppression, but I really believe that the general trend is towards more tolerance and more opportunities to live in a world that offers unimaginable bounties of information and contact with other ideas and cultures.
posted by you're a kitty! at 6:36 PM on February 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

To expand a bit on what I said earlier: The world has always been a messed up place, but in fact it's been getting better and better over time, at least for the vast majority of people. It's entirely possible to live a happy, comfortable, enjoyable life.

As far as pop culture being stupid, yeah. There's nothing you can do about that, except make sure your daughter is exposed to quality stuff.
posted by delmoi at 6:37 PM on February 24, 2010

My mother-in-law said something similar when my son was born, that the world was such a horrible place that she didn't know how our baby would survive. And my father-in-law just said, "What are you talking about? When we were growing up it was World War II! That was a lot worse than now!" So I think the idea that the world is awful is a matter of perspective.

That being said, when I have doubts about my son's future, I concentrate on the good things in the world...medical breakthroughs, acts of kindness, environmental awareness. And I concentrate on my son...I have years before I have to launch him into the world, and that launch starts small, with four-year-old kindergarten. Nobody can tell the future, so I concentrate on teaching him well now, to give him the best start possible.
posted by christinetheslp at 6:38 PM on February 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

My father feels much the same way you do. He believes that peak oil is right around the corner and will cause the collapse of civilization as we know it. He has made it very clear to me that he believes my life will be horrible and desperate in the future. It makes him really sad to imagine me not having the opportunities and rosy worldview that he had when he was growing up. Fortunately I have a more optimistic view of human nature and ingenuity. You said:

And while I'd like to tell myself that she'll grow up to fight to better the world, as someone with quite a bit of historical training, I know that this has been a loooong time coming, and I have no illusions about one person being able to turn back the march of Western civilization.

I guess it's a good thing that my dad didn't say this sort of stuff to me when I was little, or I might have internalized that life is hopeless and it's not worth trying to do good things. Because I really do believe that individuals have great power to effect change either by themselves or as part of a greater movement. And in some ways it's my anthropological training that makes me feel pretty optimistic, because I know that no civilization proceeds indefinitely. We are constantly experiencing change, often unpredictable change. But as long as humans are alive, nothing ever completely ends- it just changes. You may not like what you see on the horizon, but keep in mind that history will record what we do when we are confronted by these changes and will note if we sit on our hands or if we try to find solutions for the problems we face. And I for one would rather be busting my ass than sitting around waiting for the end. It's up to you to decide how you want to raise your daughter, but please don't count her out of the fight just yet.
posted by Mouse Army at 6:48 PM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Roger that, christinetheslp. Anytime I get depressed, I cast my mind back to what it must have been like to live through the 1930's: first hammered by the Great Depression, and then the looming inevitability of a horrendous war. Yeesh. In comparison, we have nothing to complain about.

Also, Steven Pinker's argument that human violence is declining may be found here.
posted by mojohand at 6:53 PM on February 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

A shorter version of what I wrote above:

- don't read the newspaper
- allay your anxiety by taking concrete steps to minimize and prepare for risks you see, but within reason*
- find ways to promote your psychological health
- focus on how you can be the best parent you can be

As someone who often indulges in apocalyptic environmental imaginings, here's my description of an approach that is "within reason." Start with those steps that are also beneficial if nothing happens. For example, if your concern was food scarcity, then keep your pantry stocked, or buy a fruit tree: those are beneficial if food becomes scarce, and beneficial if it doesn't. Then, move onto doing things that really will have big positive benefits if something does happen and therefore allay your concerns in the present, but that don't have a downside. So, whereas the first category are actions that are objectively beneficial in the present, as well as the feared future, this category are those that are objectively neutral in the present but become beneficial only because they relieve your anxiety. For example, you could use some disposable income to buy and preserve a bunch of seeds that you probably won't plant. But don't do anything that has a negative impact under status quo conditions just in case something does happen, like instead of buying seeds, buying barrels of water that take up the entire kitchen, or spending your retirement account to purchase and fully stock a bunker. :) In other words, do all the actions that are win-win, some that are win-neutral, and none that are win-lose. Try not to do anything to prepare for a speculative future that won't also have benefits in a future that is exactly like the present.
posted by salvia at 6:53 PM on February 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm in the middle of Victor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning in the moment, thanks to a recommendation in another AskMe thread. Frankl is a Holocaust survivor and psychologist, and the book is half an account of life in a concentration camp and half a discussion of the human response to suffering. Frankl makes a compelling non-religious argument that life's virtue is in its being lived, even in the midst of great suffering. The measure of our humanity is our ability to respond to suffering with greater humanity and endurance.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 6:58 PM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's Getting Better All the Time
posted by kittydelsol at 7:02 PM on February 24, 2010

I'm not looking to be persuaded that things aren't as bad as I think (especially since I'm guessing my specific concerns differ from those of most of the community members here), but pessimism is so common across the ideological spectrum today that I thought perhaps someone could share some ideas on how to deal with these kind of thoughts.

The day after my daughter was born by emergency c-section (performed by the excellent surgeon's at London's Royal Free), I walked through one of the 19th century churchyards in Hampstead. I had done this many times before, but this time I noticed the gravestones of dozens of women aged 17, 18, 19 years old whose infants were buried along with them. They died in childbirth.... and it stuck me: 150 years ago my wife and daughter would have died yesterday.

It's not that things aren't as bad as you think, but the appreciation that some things - a lot of things actually - are much better now than before.

The worries of my generation are nothing compared to the worries of previous generations. It is far better to worry about what kind of life your daughter will lead, than to worry if she'll live to adulthood at all: at least a similar number of gravestones mentioned smallpox - another scourge we parents no longer fret about.
posted by three blind mice at 7:05 PM on February 24, 2010 [6 favorites]

You need to get excited about all of the things you get to tell her and teach her that she's never even heard of before. Waaaay before she's at the point where she'll find out about all of the horrible things in the world, there are a lot of delightful, wonderful things that she's never seen before in her tiny little life that she'd love to learn about from you.

You say you have historical training. Share that with her. Share a knowledge of how to make new things, how to enjoy life with limited means, how to make arts and crafts and survival tools, how to enjoy nature and sunshine and air while they're all still here. If you haven't explored one of those categories all that much—or wish you could still pursue a certain hobby or pastime from your childhood—take this as an opportunity to do it. She might not like all the things you like, but it should be enjoyable just to see how she takes in and reacts to the framework of each activity.

Look at her and watch her tendencies and her features and her predilections over time. Delight in those things with your husband—who is she acting like now? Whose nose does hers resemble? What does her voice sound like? What reactions and responses does she elicit from those around her?

So people are arguing on the Internet and everyone's a jerk and civility is disappearing and the environment's dying and there are car crashes and recalls and bailouts and thieves in big office buildings. It's good that you care—both about those things and about helping your daughter overcome them. The part you need to focus on is the part you can control: How you raise your daughter. Help your daughter understand how to be better and how to help the world be better—not by pushing her or exposing her to the horrors of the world too early or worrying away her childhood, but by teaching her and guiding her and giving her broad access to books and games and puzzles and music and athletics and culture and art supplies and everything else you can. Expose her to the world and along the way she'll figure out a lot of its problems, as well as ways of dealing with them, herself. Guide her to better ways of coping.

You can't control the world, but you can control how you react to it, and help shape how your family deals with it as a unit.

Get off the computer and just talk to your daughter, record pictures and videos and audio snippets of her, write down what she says, help her look up answers to her questions, help her become a social being. As she gets more involved in school activities, and as you get more involved right alongside her, you'll find no shortage of behaviors to be exasperated about from her teachers and peers and peers' parents—and no shortage of things you'll do well to try to change specifically for her sake. It's good to be conscious and aware of the injustices in the world, but you can simplify things a lot by remembering that the ones you really need to focus on in your day-to-day life are those that directly affect your daughter and your family. I'm not saying you need to adopt a sort of provincialist mindset—but you're going to have more than enough on your plate. Worry about the rest only if you really and truly have time to.
posted by limeonaire at 7:08 PM on February 24, 2010

Yes, Pinker argues-- and my co-author and I do as well in our forthcoming book about empathy-- that over time, empathy and compassion have increased. If the wars of the 20th century had been as lethal percentage-wise as typical hunter/gatherer wars, there would have been millions more deaths than there actually were. Murder rates have also declined dramatically over the course of history.

This doesn't mean we don't have an enormous amount to deal with-- but as others have said above, this is the best time ever to live in terms of health, life expectancy and being a woman in the Western world.

Every civilization thought the apocalypse was nigh-- and yes, there's horrendous crap in the world, climate change, etc. But we can do something about it and if we come together to actually make the world better for kids (not just say we will the way Americans often do: we live in a child and family unfriendly country and we need massive improvement there), we can make a difference.
posted by Maias at 7:20 PM on February 24, 2010

Tags: ... Depression Anxiety ...

Teach your daughter not to make decisions while anxious or depressed.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:27 PM on February 24, 2010

Not sure how old the 'baby' is, but might post-partum depression be an issue here?

Remember that, in spite of the macro-level forces at play in the world which affect the citizenry who come into play with them, the vast majority of most people's day to day life is spent in the simpler sphere of their home and family. Working to make a stable, loving home for her and exposing her to the simple pleasures of life, irrespective of politics or world forces, is the best thing you can do for her (and yourself). Enjoy nature together. Remind yourself of the simple pleasures of life. One of the best days I ever had in the year I spent traveling was a simple hike through a beautiful canyon with a good friend. We talked, enjoyed the beautiful scenery and broke out a box of granola bars when we hit the waterfall. People get joy from things like this.
posted by JoannaC at 7:38 PM on February 24, 2010

True, I had a pretty rad childhood, but the world is different now in so many ways from when I was growing up.

Every generation thinks this. They were saying this back in Plato's day! The reality is that the world seemed different when you were growing up because you were a child, and you were probably sheltered from/unaware of a lot of the scarier/crappier things that were happening. If you'd been an adult you'd have had a completely different perspective about the same times. You probably grew up in the 70's, right? And think of that as a more innocent, idyllic time -before thongs were made for 8 year olds, before anyone had heard of Osama bin Laden, before the glaciers started melting. Yet think of how the 70's must have seemed to someone whose childhood took place in the late 40's/early 50s. With the Son of Sam, the oil shortage and stock market crash, the Iran hostage crisis, Etan Patz going missing, etc. etc. Seriously, adults of every era think the world was safer in their childhood but it wasn't, they were just blissfully ignorant.

I know you said you didn't want to be persuaded that things aren't that bad- and I do think that they are bad, that there are a lot of problems. But every other time in history was just as bad, if not worse.
posted by Ashley801 at 7:39 PM on February 24, 2010 [4 favorites]

Maybe I just spend too much time on the damn Internet, but a lot of what I see and hear these days makes me think we just may be approaching the shrieking, cacophonous end of of rationality and responsibility, truth and beauty and order and inquiry and growth-- in short, a whole lot of what, to me, makes existence worthwhile.

I genuinely wonder, as a person with historical training of my own, how someone with your background can have such a seemingly rose-colored view of the past. My ancestors going back several generations lived through this "era of enlightenment" barely surviving as they witnessed a hellish carnival of the worst of the human spirit, a nightmarish cycle of constant pain that was broken scarcely decades ago. If I was born any earlier, I doubt I would be alive to type this message. I don't mean to be overly harsh, but I think the best thing that you would be able to do for your daughter is to ensure her view of the past is broad enough to encompass possibilities you yourself might not be able to see at the moment.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 8:05 PM on February 24, 2010

I am compelled to go semi-devil's advocate on this...

It's true. The world does suck. But... when DOESN'T it? We always live in some varying degree of suckitude. It's always a horrible time to bring in a child.

Inversely, and in light of the disturbing amount of fail we encounter daily, there's a lot to really like... even if most of these happy things are on a microcosmic level.

Yesterday, like most days, I watched the news and was, well, more than a little peeved at the stupid amount of hand-wringing going down about things like health care and education reform. I'm running dangerously low on synthroid and the clinic I was going through isn't returning my calls to book an appointment to get a new script and I'll probably have to go in and annoy someone until they freaking book me (which in itself scares the smoo out of me-- I like my current doctor but his nurse lackeys and receptionists are jerks and totally revel in dragging their feet on doing ANYTHING, and my social anxiety just shoots through the roof at the thought of having to bother them).

But... I also made some people laugh REALLY HARD, by drawing someone staring down a giant stack of pancakes after said person (a small-time celebrity, no less) and his wife tweeted about going to IHOP for Pancake Day. And they replied and plugged my goofy doodle to their Twitter followers. Everyone profit in the happy.

This is probably the daily reality for most people; the world at large may (and always) suck, but often times it's the tiny victories that make life worthwhile. Of course, it's even better when you can nab a bigger victory (for me, one such thing would be to get my freaking driver's license) but it's not possible or realistic to think you can pull one of those on a daily basis.

There are those who would take this kind of thinking to an extreme... there are some who would advocate ignoring what goes on outside your immediate space (e.g. not reading the news). I advise against this. It's sticking your head in the sand and doesn't really do you any favors-- my mother does this all the time and lavishes her attention on her bulldogs-that-she-can't-control, writing off all of humanity as being unfit for her consideration based on the prior actions of coworkers. You do need to see the crappy world for what it is, because otherwise the happiness that's buried there would be lost with it.

You know that phrase "for every rule, there's an exception?" We live on the epitome of this. Embrace this rule and try to trigger as many exceptions as possible. We may not really ever be able to get to the threshold at which the rule is canceled out, but we can damn well try.
posted by Yoshi Ayarane at 8:06 PM on February 24, 2010

I look at it this way. My (sister's) pre-school kids will be adults in one of the most intensely interesting times in the human experience. I believe they will be around for the end of poverty, the development of sustainable energy sources, space tourism, the cure for many diseases, and be free to follow their individual tendencies and interests more than at any time in human history.

Doom and gloom makes news much more than stories of positive potential. Choose where to place your focus, look where you want (your children) to go, and that's where you'll end up.

BTW, I felt like you once. I had been spending the past year watching the forests I was trying to protect be torn down. My hope for the future was buried under 2 million tonnes of woodchips and I didn't like humanity very much. I was physically and emotionally depressed. You may want to find a mothercare nurse to talk to about your mistrust of the future.
posted by Kerasia at 8:15 PM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Not sure how old the 'baby' is, but might post-partum depression be an issue here?


The general tone of your post is really suggestive of depressive thinking to me (I am not a psychologist, though).

Seriously, your perception of the state of the world is somewhat out of kilter with reality. In addition to the arguments up-thread about the decline of war, crime has never been lower around the world than it is now – even over the last decades it's been dropping steadily.

Your child will most likely live a longer and healthier life than the typical person of your generation. They're going to be able to take advantage of all of the gradual increases in technology and medicine and comfort that will accrue over their lifetime. The list of diseases she'll never have to worry about is as long as your arm and (slowly) getting longer. All sorts of institutional sexism that has affected you and your mother (even if you haven't really noticed them) will not be an issue for your daughter – she has a wider range of opportunities open to her now than at any point in history.

All of this stuff should be relatively self-evident, except you're focusing on all the negative stuff that is really not representative, but is noticeable. Nothing bad happens to most people pretty much most of the time, but because of that it's not newsworthy, so you don't hear about it.

I really think you should find someone to speak to about depression, but failing that, spending less time exposed to information that makes you anxious about the future (be it the mainstream media or internet sites) might not be a bad start.
posted by damonism at 8:41 PM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your throwaway email address compels me to plug my probably-out-of-print-by-now novel:

As I recall, there's even a line in there about rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic!

Meanwhile, I have a 5-month-old little guy, and I feel fortunate in that I find myself desiring not so much a bed-of-roses future for him as an interesting one. I dunno, maybe I worked out the big-worries stuff by writing the aforementioned book.

I don't see my mind changing on the global prognosis

Well, of the two things in that sentence, your mind is the one you might be able to change.
posted by staggernation at 8:56 PM on February 24, 2010

OK, stop reading so much of the internet and news and start reading more books to put this portion of history in perspective. Read some classic novels, like, for example, Crime and Punishment. Here's one of my favorite quotes from a very minor character in the book, about the terrible state of the world. Keep in mind this book was published in 1866:

"Not to speak of the fact that crime has been greatly on the increase among the lower classes during the last five years, not to speak of the cases of robbery and arson everywhere, what strikes me as the strangest thing is that in the higher classes, too, crime is increasing proportionately. In one place one hears of a student’s robbing the mail on the high road; in another place people of good social position forge false banknotes; in Moscow of late a whole gang has been captured who used to forge lottery tickets, and one of the ringleaders was a lecturer in universal history; then our secretary abroad was murdered from some obscure motive of gain. . . . And if this old woman, the pawnbroker, has been murdered by someone of a higher class in society—for peasants don’t pawn gold trinkets— how are we to explain this demoralisation of the civilised part of our society?”
"We’ve grown used to having everything ready-made, to walking on crutches, to having our food chewed for us. Then the great hour struck, and every man showed himself in his true colours.”

Also, pick up a Vonnegut or two also, and read those. Read Slaughterhouse-Five, especially, and Cat's Cradle. Both were probably written before you were born. Read about the causes of World War I and how that all panned out and led to World War II. For crying out loud, we dropped two atomic bombs on Japan decades ago. I can't even imagine living through times like that, or the Civil War, or the Revolutionary War, etc....

Your daughter's childhood will be in the best world she's ever known, just as yours was. Our younger years only seem so great because we didn't know any better at the time. Stop exposing yourself to the things that trouble you so much. Learn some stuff about the past, and don't freak out about what may or may not happen in the future that you can't control. Do the best you can with the life you have, and help your daughter do the same.
posted by wondermouse at 9:38 PM on February 24, 2010

I just noticed the part of your post where you said you've had "quite a bit of historical training"... then you should know better than to think the world of your childhood was so rad!
posted by wondermouse at 9:42 PM on February 24, 2010

end of of rationality and responsibility, truth and beauty and order and inquiry and growth


No, really?

I am not even sure when such things actually existed en masse in most societies, except among a very small few, and during very brief periods. If you mean the end of our recent past (1900's), this was possibly the worst century of violence the world had ever seen. Torture, war, poverty, me one person who thought his or her childhood years were the golden years, I'll show you ten people whose relatives died in armed conflict, were treated horribly because of their skin color, were abused by parents who had undiagnosed mental illnesses... And if those alone don't concern you, consider the amount of groupthink worldwide that allowed the sweeping cruelties wrought by Nazism and Communism to devastate innocents...

If you mean pre-1900's, well, I'm sure there were over millions of people who were enslaved or subjugated who would readily disagree with you.

As for the inevitable march of Western Civilization... well, not everyone is exactly thrilled with how Western Civilization was marching before: which was namely on their heads. The merits of Western Civilization depend on where you stand...

I'm not looking to be persuaded that things aren't as bad as I think (especially since I'm guessing my specific concerns differ from those of most of the community members here),

I certainly don't subscribe to a very liberal version of world history. My education in history is solidly pre-revisionist Western. And even so, it does not seem the world has ever been an enlightened place. Humans are beasts, especially in groups.

I guess what I'm telling you is that your perspective seems weirdly nostalgic. If you learn enough about the world to realize that it has been a pretty difficult place for the majority of human beings, since the beginning of history itself, maybe you won't feel as pessimistic, maybe just a little less delicate, and a little more "maybe I'll survive this too." And maybe even, "life isn't perfect, but I'm looking at my kid smiling right now and laughing--I am alive to see this. I am one of the lucky ones." To me it sounds like you are taking for granted the things you already have; wanting more and being, well, greedy. It doesn't matter if its greed for something non-material--you are still wanting something that is something of a fantasy.

How do you not get overwhelmed by big worries, so that you miss the joy of parenting? And how do you hold out hope for your kids, when you don't have much hope for the world?

Stop watching the news. News is about bad things--if it isn't bad, nobody watches it.

Enjoy your simple pleasures and share them with your children. Count your blessing everyday; start a daily list of things you are grateful for.

You have idealized civilization and I think you are pining for something that really never quite existed, if at all. Why does the world owe this idealized version of itself to you?
posted by thisperon at 3:23 AM on February 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah throw therapy/money at it.... I went through something similar when my son was born.

Its a phase, and stop watching the news - especially in the US, that shits not good.

If you feel like that genuinely, if I were you, I'd move to another country. If its bad, you'll love coming home, if its great, hey! New home!

Listen to really good music everyday.
posted by daveyt at 3:43 AM on February 25, 2010

There will be parts of the world that aren't crappy. Help her acquire the skills/knowledge/credentials that will allow her to be mobile and choose where to live and what to do.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:37 AM on February 25, 2010

You know one thing that people forget a lot of the time that they are already perfect, and "whole" as you say. I think all the crap that goes on in the world influences us to forget that.

I'd like to leave you this Helen Keller quote, she says a lot more with fewer words:

Security is mostly a superstition.
It does not exist in nature,
nor do the children of men
as a whole experience it.
Avoiding danger is no safer
in the long run than outright exposure.
Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.
posted by bam at 5:06 AM on February 25, 2010 [7 favorites]

The "world" has always been crappy. As it stands, the world is actually less crappy at this point than it was at many times in the past, at least from a western POV.
posted by JJ86 at 7:17 AM on February 25, 2010

Anxiety is part of wonder of being alive. Every animal has to keep glancing over it's shoulder for predators and top predators have to worry about food supply and disease. This anxiety increases multifold when you have kids to look out for.

It's inescapable biological conditioning.

You're just feeling overwhelmed at the moment. Think about therapy but first, cut down on any coffee and alcohol.

On preview, what Helen Keller said.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:26 AM on February 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

I haven't read all the comments yet, so maybe this has been said, but to put it in perspective, when I was in high school, I knew kids who didn't think it made sense to go to college because the inevitable nuclear holocaust was due any day now.

I graduated in 1983. I've had 27 years of happy, good, non-radiated life since then.

I had a friend who, 20 years ago, didn't bother to save money because the complete collapse of the US economy was imminent, in his view.

I am an anxious person and sometimes have thoughts like you're having. What helps me is to yes, not read newspapers or view a lot of news (I get my information more from books and some higher-end magazines that tend to be more analytical and less hysterical and fear-mongering), but also focusing on the here and now. I have three young kids (the oldest is 8), and they are living a really good, happy life right now, which is really all anyone can expect or hope for.
posted by not that girl at 7:40 AM on February 25, 2010

If you really think the world is as bad as you think, be grateful. Yes - be grateful for the opportunity for your kid to grow and better than she would otherwise be.

'A calm sea does not make a skilled sailor' - African proverb

She might not save the world. She might even fail. That is depressing thought - but I'll leave you with another quote from Teddy Roosevelt:

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.
posted by 7life at 10:04 AM on February 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your question seems to be one about control, and specifically the lack of control you'll have over your daughter's life as she gets older and her world expands beyond your house, your neighborhood; your city. You're projecting that the world she will be entering into is likely be vastly different from the world you grew up in, or even the world as it stands presently. Aside from a vague reference to the "cultural environment" your post is a tad ambiguous about specific concerns, which means we'll have to fill in the blank. Maybe I'm wrong and you're just referring to bullies she'll encounter at school, but I'm going to go out on a limb and assume what's on your mind is economic stability, climate change, energy shortages, water and food supply, nuclear/terrorist attack or whatever else you want to throw into the soup of modern angst.

Firstly, I think that your concerns about the world are actually quite legitimate. The line that you'll hear (and it's parroted upthread) is that "the world's always been a tough place but we've always found a way to get through it in the long run". The problem is that this argument doesn't prove anything. The fact is that we are and will be facing a host of extremely difficult and unprecedented challenges. We are collectively off the map of our prior experience and thus we have no idea what the outcome will be in the long term. What I'm saying is that all this contributes to a general sense of uncertainty that a lot of people are feeling. And this feeling of uncertainty becomes very stark when we think about future we've made for our children.

Secondly, I don't think you need a therapist any more than anyone else needs a therapist. I think you need to reflect on the things you can control in your lives and the things you can't. Focus on what you can control. Accept whatever you can't control as being beyond your power. You can't change the world, but you can live your life in a way that will serve as a model for your daughter regardless of whatever the "cultural environment", etc. may be. And in terms of uncertainty, the only way to remove fear is to understand it. So while it might be ok to unplug from the 24 hour news stream that is contributing to your anxiety, I'd suggest you take that time and invest it in stuff that matters. Stuff that gets you closer to feeling less uncertain.

Sorry this hasn't been a pep talk. I feel for you and I hope I understood your concerns correctly. The only advice I can give is to make your immediate world, your home, the best place it can be for your daughter. Action is better than sitting idle and worrying. I can't promise you'll feel better but at least you won't be standing still.
posted by quadog at 2:15 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm going to take your pessimism at face value and suggest that you take it a step further. The general consensus of modern astronomy is that the Earth will, in about five billion years or so, be engulfed by the Sun. If there's any truth to that view, then we have always already been doing little more than arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Yet, given that life ends, human beings still seem to enjoy, to one degree or another, what pleasures exist.

Anxiety is a natural part of parenting. You want the best for your child, of course. You are rightly fearful of dangers that exist, and you realize that there are limits to your ability to protect your child from them. All of that, I think, is quite natural.

Maybe I just spend too much time on the damn Internet, but a lot of what I see and hear these days makes me think we just may be approaching the shrieking, cacophonous end of of rationality and responsibility [. . .].

There never was a golden age of rationality and responsibility. I'm not sure what you mean by "quite a bit of historical training." All of the historical research I've ever been exposed to indicates that, at any given point in history, life sucks for a pretty large percentage of the population, and said sucking is based, in large part, on economic inequalities. At this very instant, while I have the liberty and resources to respond to your post, many people are contending with conditions the misery of which I can only dimly imagine.

Don't get me wrong, I'd really like for there to be an age of rationality and responsibility. I'm not saying that human beings are incapable of either or that we should abandon them as goals. They're worth working toward. And working toward them can be a source of hope. But, if either exist for us, they exist in the future, not in the past.

[. . .] I don't hold out a lot of hope for what the next century will bring.

Speculation about the next century is likely above your pay grade and mine. There are more pressing and more practical considerations to attend to. Quite a lot is known about child development, which brings us to my final quotation from your post:

How do you not get overwhelmed by big worries, so that you miss the joy of parenting?

Simple: by ignoring the big worries, which you can little about, and focusing on the small things that you can control and which will have an impact on the life of your child. Think of it this way: even if everything you assume about the world its future is true, your child will be happier and better prepared for it as a result of your active interest in his/her daily achievements and challenges. If you believe in rationality and responsibility, instill those in your child through reward and example. If everyone did that, we'd be better off.

If you require a more literary answer, you can't do better than the grandest of pessimists, Schopenhauer, whose "On the Sufferings of the World," should be on your reading list. Its concluding paragraph is, ironically, one of the most comforting in all of philosophy.
posted by wheat at 11:12 AM on March 1, 2010

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