I want my children to know that they are the most important people in the world to me, but not the most important people in the world.
I want them to know that they deserve love and respect, but that doesn’t mean they’re automatically going to get it.
I want them to know that their opinions matter, but not to everyone.
I want them to have everything they need, but know what it is to work hard and earn something.
I want them to accomplish great things, but know that the world is filled with countless people accomplishing great things.
I want them to feel loved, safe, and confident, but to use caution and clear thinking as they go out into a world that is not always loving or safe.
It’s not going to be easy. Almost all of the responsibility for making sure kids turn out to be confident and kind instead of entitled and demanding falls on their parents’ shoulders. It’s a heavy weight to have to carry around, and sometimes I just want to drop it. To give up and hope for the best. Parenting is so relentless. You never get a rest and I fully understand why kids end up watching too much TV or eating too much junk food. Sometimes the weight of good parenting just gets so heavy that you have to let it go for a little while. I know because my kids have watched too much TV and made a meal of graham crackers and cheese on more than one occasion.
I’ve learned that parenting is about constantly making choices. How big of a deal is it if I let them watch two episodes today when yesterday I said no? How strongly am I going to enforce the eating of this particular dinner? Is two more bites enough? Should she eat it all? Yes or no to cereal bars for breakfast for the 42nd day in a row? Do I really have enough energy to even care?
And these are just the choices of the parent of toddlers. The choices become much harder and the stakes much higher as the kids get older. More people are involved. Precedents are set and boundaries are tested.
In the midst of this constant decision-making, when I have a moment to rise above basic survival mode, there are big issues lurking in the corners of all the choices I make about my kids. Issues concerning what kind of parent I want to be and its impact on what kind of people my children will become.
I don’t want to be a 1960’s-style laissez faire parent. I don’t want to send my children outside immediately after breakfast to roam the neighborhood and fend for themselves until dinner time. Some kids do okay with that kind of parenting, but some most definitely do not. I feel like there are people all over the place reminiscing fondly about growing up this way and maligning modern parents for molly-coddling and over-indulging. They love to say things like, “My mother never knew what I did all day. I sure as hell didn’t wear a helmet when I rode my bike all over town every damn day. I turned out fine!” Yeah, well, I say no. No you didn’t. Or maybe you did because you’re naturally a tough guy, top dog, leader of the pack kind of person. But guess what? Your little brother? Who was also sent out by himself every day? That didn’t really work for him. He needed more. More encouragement, more togetherness, more love.
There are good lessons that kids learned from this kind of parenting though. They learned self-sufficiency. They learned resilience. They learned to speak up for themselves because Mommy wasn’t there to do it for them. They learned how to resolve conflicts with their peers, although I’m sure plenty of that conflict resolution looked a lot more like juvenile vigilante justice. Some kids thrived; others didn’t. Survival of the fittest.
So then the pendulum swings. We now have “helicopter” parenting and parents hover over their little darlings and make sure they’re always, always, always safe and warm and protected and that they know above all else how incredibly special they are. And while we mock this kind of parenting and we all know it’s not going to do the kids any favors when they reach adulthood, I do believe that it’s coming from a place of love. It’s parents wanting to do their best for their kids and wanting them to be happy and successful, which is what we all want.
It’s easy to point fingers and say, “You’re doing it wrong,” but it’s not easy for any of us to do it right, or even to articulate what “right” is.
I know what I want for my kids. I even think I know what I have to do to help them get there. What I don’t know is whether or not I’ll be able to do it. I mess up all the time. I yell when I should speak firmly. I say yes when I should say no. I don’t do enough or I do too much. Sometimes I’ll make the right choices and sometimes I won’t. I just hope that in the end, it all balances out.