As parents, we spend a great deal of time teaching our kids. We militantly sing the alphabet, count things and identify colors for pre-talkers. We resort to bilingual flashcards and post-its with simple math problems for kindergarteners. And we hound our schoolchildren to do their homework lest they fail to absorb the study habits that will catapult them to success. But is this a reciprocal educational relationship? Can we ever learn something from them?
The obvious answer is of course. After all, we learn a great deal about ourselves from children who reflect our behaviors. (That snotty snarl your 5-year-old flashes when he’s annoyed? Yep, that’s exactly what you do.) But the lessons we learn from our kids can run deeper, too, and affect our entire parenting philosophy. This is exactly what happened to me during my vacation a few weeks ago when I took my three kids back East. Somewhere between the excursions to museums and holiday-induced indulgences, my 7-year-old son said something to me that stuck.
“Dad, you do not control me.”
Now I’m willing to bet almost every parent in the world has heard something along these lines before, but perhaps it was the time and place that made me stop and really listen. I was on vacation with my kids but without my wife. I was in charge. I was responsible. I was also in that part of the country where I grew up, albeit I grew up on a 100-acre horse farm in rural Pennsylvania, not New York City. Still, something about my son’s observation made sense to me.
We all read a great deal about how our generation has bred so-called helicopter parents, how we are all neurotic and overbearing. And there may be some truth to this. I think the real issue is that my generation tries to parent the opposite way of how we were raised. In my case, I was raised with a great deal of freedom. My parents were simply not as overprotective as I tend to be. Granted, it was a different time and a different place, but isn’t there a kernel of a truth there that still applies? Aren’t children—whether in the country or the city, in the ‘70s or in 2012—still people with certain rights and needs that must be respected?
I realize that this may strike some as woefully old-fashioned (“Give them space!”) and others as despicably progressive (“Nurture your child’s free spirit!”). I intend it, however, as simply and honestly as my son said it to me. There are no surrounding philosophies to this. There is no guidebook to parenting hinged on this premise. It’s simply an observation that no person can control another. We can guide and shape and suggest and even require, at times, certain things from our kids. But control is off the table.
As a parent, I know I can be a bit overbearing. Sometimes I find myself getting too involved in my kids’ lives. It comes out of love, but what good is it if it pushes my son further away? Acknowledging a child’s inherent independence—which must be granted in degrees relative to his maturity—can be difficult for parents. But, at the end of the day, I discovered that loosening up the reigns a bit transformed my parenting experience for the better.
Tue, August 14, 2012
by Chris filed under