Monday, June 8, 2015

Swingers on the Parenhood Pendulum

God forbid that we, as a human race, should maintain anything close to a rational and un-affected perspective on anything, or that everyone's perspective not be dangling on the end of a pendulum...

It all started with people gently reminding married couples not to "lose the romance" when they have kids; to remember one's self during the selfless years and through the selfless instincts of parenthood. Very good advice. But I have seen this to the extreme when, in a conversation about education with a friend, he said that the idea that "family comes first" is one of the worst things that has happened to our society.

Not everyone is as extreme as this, but I have noticed a lot of articles that now lean away from "leave some time for yourself" and toward "you are more important than your kids." This is bad.

When one has kids, one needs to put them first. The job one signs up for is to prepare kids for the world in which they live. Doing this requires attention to that child that supersedes one's attention to one's self. (This, of course, does not imply that parents should sacrifice the essentials -- we're no good to our kids if we are dead.)

People like my friend would argue that, in the old days, parents were less focused on their kids and it was better for society as a whole. I would argue, however, that parents focused on different aspect of parenthood, but they still focused on their kids. The ancient hunter trained his kids to hunt; the farmer taught them how to bring in the crops; that warrior taught his sons to fight... All of these parents were preparing their kids for the world they would need to enter. In this way, we are the same as they were: we are to prepare our kids to. someday, function in the outside world without our help.

Parents, in modern times, are preparing their kids to venture out into a raging tempest of varied moralities and ideas and beliefs all driven by a raging, constant flow of information, both good and bad. We are preparing their kids to find their way through a world that offers them innumerable choices of ways in which to live their lives. It's no longer a question of eking out daily survival or of passing down the village blacksmith shop. Preparing modern kids for a modern world requires us to be constant teachers, in terms of helping our kids learn how to deal with myriad uncertainties. This means we need to watch our children; to interpret how they deal with a playground confrontation; to instruct them on manners and mores; to help shape them into sane, rational creatures who make good decisions and follow societally beneficial paths.

My paternal counterpart in the Celtic tribe focused on preparing his sons to defend against the neighboring tribe's attempt at a cattle raid, but he still focused on his son. He needed his son to be fierce, strong and relentless. This was focus on family -- just a different kind of family. It was an internal focus that resulted in a benefit to the tribal society. In strengthening the family, many have said, we strengthen the society -- in this case, things become quite literal.

In not-so-extreme terms, the father who owned a shoe repair shop in 1915 focused on fixing shoes, bringing in money and, perhaps, training his kids to repair shoes in order to keep the business going... This was still focus on family.

Our parental jobs, today, are more complex but no less vital. If we turn out kids who are lost and ineffectual in the world, we have failed. We need to focus on them until they are ready to leave and stand on their own.

What people need to do, though, is to stop giving themselves up completely for their kids. I have known and still know parents who give up every free moment by going to kids' games and various other activities. This is the opposite side of the pendulum swing from my friend's perspective. Cheering at a game, however, is no substitute for talking and spending real time together... I

In the end, our kids can be our focus without completely erasing their parents' lives. By sometimes not focusing on my kids, I give them an opportunity to understand that everyone deserves his own space. I also give them an opportunity to watch me in action and to learn from that.

When I leave a comfy house on a winter's night to go play with the band, my boys see that their father is continuing with his passion and that he is willing to work hard to pursue it -- something I want them do do for themselves. When I say "not now" to one of my sons because I am reading a good book, it shows them how important books are...etc. How can they learn by my example if I'm always following them around? How can they watch me do stuff if I never do stuff? -- if all I do is watch them do stuff and criticise them for how they did stuff?

But, when my sons truly need me, I forget myself -- I drop all consideration of what I might rather be doing...

My kids might displace my personal time, but they certainly won't erase it, because, when they grow up and move on, where will I be? If, on life's personal journey from point A to point Z, I had stopped at, like, J when my first son was born, how am I going to, after my boys move out, make it through K-Z? Given the choice, though, I'd rather croak at W than live through Z knowing I turned out a couple of ill-adjusted, self-centered, entitled boy/men.

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