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Monday, March 21, 2005

Living In a Fishbowl: Part IV of the series on family factors that increase the odds of an abortion.

Part I: Introduction: Pro-life women, and daughters from pro-life families, do have abortions.

Part II: Families that don't recover.

Part III: Rage, anger, contempt, scorn.

Michael Yapko wrote a good book a few years ago on how certain family traits can raise the odds of children in that family becoming depressed: Hand-Me-Down Blues: How to Stop Depression from Spreading in Families.

As he says:

Parents introduce their children to various life experiences and inevitably reveal their own values, perspectives, and biases. Children typically learn to interpret life events in the same way their parents do, and their interpretations can be a basis for depression.
Yapko uses the word "depressogenic" to describe families that, because of the way they habitually respond to life events, inculcate thought patterns and emotional responses that lead to depressed kids and teenagers.

One chapter struck a real chord with me. In this chapter, you're asked to imagine that you're a nine-year-old boy. You're in the back of the family car, driving home from a party. Mom and Dad are talking about the people at the party. They go through each person they interacted with or saw at the party, and make comments about them. Most, but not all, of the comments about the host and the other guests are negative: didn't dress properly, didn't keep their kid from terrorizing the dog, the food was lame, Mr. and Mrs. Jones seemed to be in the middle of a little marital squabble, didn't you think? etc.

What impact does this have on you, the nine-year-old boy?

It makes you think that when people spend time with you at a party, what they are doing is absorbing all kinds of information about you, mostly with a negative eye--they are mostly noticing the bad things about you, cataloging it, and they will repeat these unfortunate observations about you to the rest of their family when they are driving home.

That's because we assume that what our parents do is what everyone does.

This chapter resonated with me because my mom and dad did this when I was growing up. Of course, not just after parties, but after pretty much any interaction with people. And until I read this chapter, so did I.

As we know, it's not Christian to do this, but I have to say, it was a really hard habit to break. I read Yapko's book around the time that I was developing an awareness that many of my daily habits of personal interaction were significantly un-Christian, and this was probably the worst.

When the scales started to fall off my eyes, I looked around and noticed that some of my friends did this, too (negatively dissecting people after we'd been together with them) and some of my friends never did. My assumption is that, like me, some people learn this terrible habit at the knees of their family and some people are blessed to never have picked it up.

How this relates to abortion.

When I talk with women who have had abortions about their family styles of talk--what did your mom and dad talk about at dinner? etc.--much more often than not, the family seems to have practiced a fair amount of this bad habit of making negative observations about other people. "My mom was very, very critical" usually means that "My mom said a lot of critical things about other people."

If I ask, "When you were a kid, did you ever hear Mom or Dad talk about a girl who got pregnant or who was thought to be sexually active? Maybe someone in the family or in your church?" and often, there is a memory of that. And when there is, that memory is invariably that Mom or Dad let loose with some very scornful comments about that girl and her family.

There are several ways that this style of chronic negative gossiping increases the odds of an abortion:

1. It makes a girl feel like she is living in a fishbowl: that anything she wears, says, or does is going to be fodder for negative commentary in society. (Because the things that other people wear, say and do are fodder for negative commentary in her family and we believe that what our family does is what every family does.)

2. It makes her feel that society will condemn her in an especially painful way if she is known (because she is pregnant) to have been sexually active.

3. It also increases the odds of an abortion, because this family dynamic reveals a family that has not yet absorbed God's good graces. Having pro-life beliefs does not mean that we have said "yes" to God's good graces.

Consider how different a pregnant daughter would feel if, when she learns of her pregnancy, she can reflect back on all the kind, understanding and supportive things she has heard her mom and dad say over the years about others:

"Those Rasmussen twins are rambunctious, aren't they? We should ask Nora if we could have them over once in a while."

versus

"Those Rasmussen brats are holy terrors and Nora doesn't have a clue what she is doing with them."

or:

"I enjoyed talking with Jane. She visits her grandmother in the nursing home at least once a week."

versus

"Someone should tell Jane that it's not obligatory to wear jeans and a t-shirt wherever she goes."

or:

"I understand that Sally is pregnant. A pregnancy is a gift, although I know Sally must have an extra burden of care and worry about this baby since her boyfriend is not in the picture at this point. I know she can handle this, and I hope we can help."

versus overhearing your mom say on the phone:

"Sally is pregnant? Her parents must be absolutely furious! Does anyone even know who the father is? Well, no more cheerleading for Sally! She always seemed really stuck-up to me. And her mom, too."

Take-home lesson: Your kids listen to every word you say. They absorb your attitudes. They assume that the way you talk about others is the way everyone talks about others. The world feels much less safe if it seems to be a world where we chronically notice and repeat bad things about each other. An unsafe harshly critical world is not a good world to be pregnant in.

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