Monday, June 7, 2021

The Battle of Peer Dependency: Chapter 5 - Part Four

 Hello on a hot, dry day in Michigan!

I've been a bit spoiled the last few years because we've been getting decent rain amounts during the growing season.   This year feels different, though, because our grass is already going dormant in patches three weeks earlier than usual..   I've started carrying water out the six fruit trees and four fruiting shrubs we have; I haven't done that since the year I planted the trees when Spawn was a baby.  

Spawn's old enough that he finds all of this fascinating - but not quite coordinated enough to be much help yet.   Instead, he will take some toys and play in a spot where he can watch me until I'm done.   I appreciate that - and he's old enough that when I say something like "Please move your trucks so I can walk down the steps" he knows which toys to move.   He's getting more and more mobile every day.  Spawn can walk several city blocks with one handed support so we've been going to more and more places together.  (The fact that the number of COVID cases locally has dropped to less than 10 per 100,000 helps as well.) 

After four years of being nervous about the cows on our property, he's decided they are the best toy he has.   Every day, he collects a handful of cars and we walk out to show the cars to the "mama cows" and the "baby cows".    The cows seem duly impressed and some of the older ones have started to moo in response to Spawn asking them questions.   Today he collected pieces of corn and wheat to put into the bed of his toy pickup truck so he could pretend he was driving a feed truck.  

We are slowly making our way through Marina Sears' parenting book "The Battle of Peer Dependency".  I've been a parent for a relatively short time - but nearly every advancement Spawn makes drives home how very little I like any of the ideas that Mrs. Sears shares.   The fifth chapter is about how parents and children should form a tight-knit, indivisible group that fulfills the emotional and social needs of the family.   Honestly, her ideal family sounds claustrophobic as hell.   In this post, we'll look at an example that Mrs. Sears shares that manages to both undermine her theory while being used as a guilt-trip towards her older sons: 

An older brother or sister who invites a younger sibling to go with him or her on an outing and stays involved with them as the activity progresses will assure the younger sibling of the older sibling's love. This became real to our family at the camp in Michigan. Ben, the son of the camp pastor had just turned 16. This meant that he had recently acquired his driver's license, something that every young man anticipates. The day before camp started been lost his driving privileges. This saddened him, but he kept on and fulfilled his duties at the camp very well. At the close of camp, my youngest son Jeff, was approaching the bus which would take him home. He was nine at the time and as we reached the bus, Jeff noticed Ben was walking towards us. What Jeff didn't know was that parked across from the bus was Ben's family vehicle. He had just been given back his driving privileges, and was eagerly approaching his vehicle for the drive home.

Jeff yelled out to Ben, " Hey Ben, are you going to ride in the bus?"

Ben then said the most amazing thing. "Jeff, do you want me to ride in the bus?"

"Sure,"  Jeff said. 

So Ben, smiling, put his keys in his pocket and got onto the bus with Jeff. (pg. 73)
This story to me is fairly average and rather sweet.   There have been plenty of times where I was a kid who appreciated spending time with a teenager from another family - and plenty of times where I was the teenager.   Like the idealized youth minister from the previous post, the main benefit of having a relationship with a person from a different family is that both parties are enjoying the relationship without the normal stresses that occur in family life.   

The weird bit is that this entire anecdote points out all the flaws in Mrs. Sears theory that nuclear families should be self-contained.   

First, Mrs. Sears is the person who brought her four children to a camp situation in the first place.  I'm assuming she was working as a lecturer or something like that - but that doesn't change the fact that she's profiting from other families choosing to interact with other families.   Even worse under her theory is the fact that she is the instigator of bringing her family to the camp in the first place! That's the wages of sin!

Second, her family seems to be fairly integrated into the camp structure.  Mrs. Sears knows a whole lot of background information about Ben and his driving practices.    Either she was talking with other adults about raising their kids and succumbing to peer dependency herself or one of her older sons picked up that information from Ben himself and they were being peer dependent.   Really, even knowing Ben's name is dangerous; an ideal family wouldn't need to know Ben, right?

Third, we have no information on what her other three kids are doing during this time.  Maybe Chris, David and Camille are all deep into peer dependency - or maybe they are each hanging out with other multi-age groups.    Maybe they are asleep on the bus.   Maybe Chris is hanging out with Ben's younger brother who has taken a shine to him.    

Last unrelated point: Mrs. Sears is comparing apples to oranges again.  Earlier, she was disturbed when Chris and David as pre-teens wouldn't bring their five-year old brother to a volleyball game for preteens.  I still think the boys made the right decision; a five year old isn't going to do well at a junior high volleyball pickup game.   Meanwhile, Ben's a shining example of sacrifice for riding the bus instead of driving his car - but in this case - Ben is delaying a solitary pursuit for an hour or two instead of dragging a kid to an age-inappropriate activity.   This is a rare situation where I am very confident on this point because Ben and I were both teenage drivers in Michigan around 1994.   At 16 with his first temporary license, Ben wouldn't have been able to drive with any minors in the car with him.  (This was a statute to limit teenagers from driving with other teenagers.)  Ben's choice was certainly sweet - but Jeff wasn't asking him to tag along to a high school pick-up basketball game, either.

I stared at him in astonishment and with a broken heart. I was amazed that young man would be so sensitive and understanding with a nine-year-old boy. I was amazed to see that he understood the need of Jeff's heart. What Jeff was truly asking Ben was if he wanted to ride with him. The sensitivity and picking up the need of Jeff's heart was incredible. The sadness came as I wondered if Jeff's own brothers and sister would be so kind. Did they understand the needs of each other, and did they even care?  Were their own brothers and sister important to them, and did they desire to be with them, regardless of the activity, circumstances, or what age group was there? 

I realized in that instance what a tragic mistake I've been making. I had actually trained and encouraged my children to prefer people outside of our family to be their best friends. My heart was broken as I thought about the state of my family, and what I was going to do.  (pg, 74)
Mrs. Sears' plaintive wails about how she's lead her family into peer dependency AGAIN has gotten old.   We've had it happen when she joined a home-schooling church when Jeff was 2 or 3 followed by the volleyball game when he was five and now she's screwed up again by the time he was 9.    That's not a ringing endorsement of the ability of any family to live this lifestyle.

Mrs. Sears often brings up transient, mild distress on Jeff's part - or equally transient and mild pleasure - as a rationale for keeping her family on a tight leash.   I don't think that's because she's particularly in-tune with Jeff's feelings or that she favors him.   No,  Jeff is the youngest and most dependent especially compared to Chris and David who are 7 and 5 years older than Jeff.   Being extremely solicitous of Jeff's feelings covers slightly Mrs. Sears' long-term plan of keeping her children dependent on her for as long as humanly possible.

Why do I think this?  Well, in her hand-wringing story, she's equally critical of the ability of her two older sons and her one daughter to be perfectly in tune with Jeff's needs.   Since Chris is around 16 and David roughly 14,  I can see how she could make the argument that the two boys should be more able to suss out what Jeff wants and needs even if I find the argument faulty.   Her daughter Camille, though, is one to two years older than Jeff so she's 10 or 11 when Jeff is 9.   Why is she being held liable by her mom?   Shouldn't Jeff be more in-tune to Camille's wants and desires?  Jeff will be the leader of his own family after all.    

Mrs. Sears may seem more invested in Jeff's needs - but she is using Jeff's needs to camouflage her desire to keep her family isolated and dependent.   


  1. Not surprising you're a teacher, you have an excellent grasp of human psychology. And that description of Spawn and the cows was one of the cutest and funnies things I've read for some time!

  2. Honestly the pressure she puts on her kids to be some ideal she's made up is ridiculous. I feel sorry for them that they are published examples of what not to do.