You may think I’ve been ragging on parents lately. That’s totally unfair. All I’ve done is write three consecutive posts (here, here, and here) detailing every single thing that parents can do wrong. Why so sensitive?
But seriously. I don’t mean to blame parents. For many evangelical cynics, their cynicism is more about their their own attitude than their parents’ mistakes.
That’s how it was for me. My parents weren’t ultimately responsible for my cynicism–I was.
Regardless, dealing with parents can be stressful. It’s even worse when you’re struggling with cynicism and doubt. So here’s my advice to kids when their parents are driving them crazy and they want to be cynical.
- Your parents have probably been in your situation.
Here’s an obvious truth that’s easy to forget–your parents used to be young. And all the feelings bubbling through you from high school to college to early career, they’ve felt too.
Here’s an example of why this matters. When I was in college, I obsessed over whether God exists. I read stacks of books, filled notebooks with doubt, and wandered to the creek by my dorm to reason through every nuance of the Unmoved Mover argument.
While I was obsessing, I was irritated that my parents didn’t seem concerned about the issue. Until my dad told me that when he was my age, he went through the same thing. This shocked me. My dad was once my age! He had doubts too!
And after my period of doubting ended, I realized why my dad wasn’t obsessed anymore.
The same thing happened to me.
It’s not that I stopped caring, or put my head in the sand. I reached the point of diminishing returns. I’d likely encountered all the major arguments for and against God’s existence I would ever encounter, and had thought about them as deeply as I possibly could.
So rather than spin my wheels, I decided to get on with life. And 25 years earlier, my dad decided the same thing.
- “You’re not as smart as you think.”
During my cynical stretch, I read “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins.1 Carrying it around made me feel dangerous and edgy. I was prepared to approach the question of God’s existence with fresh thoughts nobody had ever had before. But when my dad saw the book, he basically shrugged. He said I could read whatever I wanted. But then he warned:
“You’re not as smart as you think.”
I was offended. How dare he question my intelligence? I was going to grapple with the greatest thoughts from the greatest minds in history, dissect and critique them, and reach an indisputable conclusion on life, the universe, and everything!
Years later, when I was flipping through my old philosophy books and cringing at the “profound insights” I scribbled in the margins, I realized Dad was right. Dang.
- Don’t burn bridges.
I know people who actively alienated their families during their cynical periods. They relished exposing their family’s inconsistencies, they picked fights at every turn, and eventually withdrew from them altogether.
Don’t do this.
Even though it doesn’t seem like it, your frustration at “knowing so much more than your family” will likely pass.
And when that happens, it’s nice to go back without the baggage. Besides forcing you to mend fences, the embarrassment may tempt you to never go back at all. Then you’ll be stuck holding your position out of sheer stubbornness.
And holding a bad position by stubbornness is what you accused your parents of doing in the first place.
To my fellow recovering cynics out there: is there any advice you’d like to pass along?
1 I know. I’m embarrassed about it too.