Paradoxes in Parenting

There are days when I wonder if I have my head a mile up my keister. I worry so damned much about the welfare of my kids, about not simply the lessons that I’m trying to teach them, but how I’m imparting those lessons. And then I worry about all of the external influences, and where we live, and how we live.

I worry. And now I’m starting to think that I worry too much.

Maybe this started as part of being a “stay-at-home” dad, when I had a lot of time to think about these things. I never had enough time to get anything appreciable completed – an hour and a half unscheduled a day – but there was enough unplanned time where I could start to obsess over things over which I had no control.

No, however, the title of stay-at-home dad has become an errant idiom. Yes, I am at home, but I’m also trying to put in 30 hours of work a week for my clients. Really, I’d like that to be 40 hours, but that’s not going to realistically happen until the kids are back in school and I’m no longer dedicating my days to being the director of our kids’ swim team – something that could take as much time as a full-time job if I let it\, which I almost do.

My wife and I talked about my angst for a while yesterday morning. It was an off morning in that it was the first in a while – at least a month – where I didn’t have some block of time that I needed to dedicate to swim team activities. So we were standing around the kitchen slowly moving through preparing a leisurely Sunday morning breakfast when my wife said, “so, let me try to get this straight…”

I paused, waiting for her to slip into either being sarcastic, or patronizing. She didn’t do either.

“You’re all wound up because you’re afraid, not because your kids are gifted and are not going to get the attention they need, but because you’re afraid that they’re just average, maybe a little above average if that, and are going to slip through the cracks.”

Well, yes.

“And even more so you’re concerned because you’re a total intellectual elitist who’s concerned that not only will his sons not go to a school like Cornell, but even worse they won’t even be inclined to apply to schools like that.”

Right on.

“But you can’t force on them your desires of what you want them to become.”

No, I can’t, and really, that’s not my intention. I do, however, want them to strive to do their best at anything they try with one exception: academics. While everything they try outside of school is something that they want to do, school rarely becomes that thing that most kids want to do; it’s usually an obligation.

Well, this is one obligation that I’m going to hold them to, and I know why I’m pressing them as hard as I am; I did not perform as well academically as I could have, and only in my late twenties did I realize that the “rebellion” that I was exacting on my parents, the slacking that I did in school did nothing more than hurt me personally, and eventually professionally.

I never started to rebel against my parents until my senior year of high school. What did slacking in Calculus and getting a D do to them? Nothing. Well, maybe it made them a bit exasperated. What did it do to me? Limited my options for college.

And what did floundering in college do to my parents? Maybe make them throw up their hands and wonder what the hell was going on, but they were going through their own struggles.

Me? Limited my options for graduate school, and even for pursuing jobs immediately after college.

On one level I wouldn’t trade how I went about things because I did learn a lot that had nothing to do with what you learn in classes. But goodness, what a knucklehead. The schools I went to, and the minds to which I had access, and the academic resources I had at my disposal; I wasted most of them.

So my approach with my kids now? Drilling my kids not to do what I did?

No.

My boys are only seven and nine, but I’ve already started telling them about the mistakes I made, and the changes I could have made in my life, and the effects that those decisions at relatively young ages had on the rest of my life.

I know that when I talk to them about these things half of the time they’re looking at me cross-eyed, hearing nothing more than “blah, blah, blah.” At least that’s what I think when we walk away from a lovely little conversation about what it was like for dad when he was younger. I tell them about my warts and blemishes. I tell them how I screwed up. I tell them how long it took me to realize that I was hurting no one but myself.

I do believe, however, that some day they’ll remember how they’re dad said that he screwed up when he was young, the same way that I’ve surreptitiously heard them parrot to their friends the exact words I’ve said over and over about one life lesson or another. Those have been those little guarded moments when I realize “I guess they are listening.”

So I think about these moments – both the ones of my own youth, and the ones my boys have before them – and I realize that I need to both continue with my vigilance and be a little less concerned.

Paradoxical? Absolutely.

But I trust that as a concerned parent you’ve found many moments in your life that are quite paradoxical. Or am I the only one?

I may just be the only one who continually runs up against parenting situations the answers for which I find infuriatingly paradoxical, but if I am the only one, I’m finally OK with that.

I’m OK with the prospect of pushing my children hard to be the best students they can be, but I’m also looking forward to helping them find the paths to what brings them the most joy. I don’t pretend to know what that’s going to be; I can only speculate. I do, however, look forward with excited anticipation to see who these boys choose to be. I just hope for their sakes, and my nerves, that they don’t make too many knucklehead choices on their way to finding themselves.

 

RJ Lavallee is the author of IMHO (In My Humble Opinion): a guide to the benefits and dangers of today’s communication tools on sale at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and lulu.com.

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