Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Mysterious Notions of Parenthood

When I was growing up, I was allowed to participate in just about any activity in which I showed an interest. I played soccer and guitar, shot bows & arrows, enjoyed swimming, boating, and all the other things that little boys tend to enjoy. Perfectly normal, right?

What baffles me is that today's parents feel an obligation to be involved with all such activities. I had a great childhood, and never once minded coming home and telling my father what I'd done all day. He rarely came to watch a soccer practice, almost never came to see me at camp, and we did not take (that I can recall) any vacations centered around what I wanted to do.

That doesn't mean my father was ego-centric: he simply had his own life. We went to Disney World, but as part of a larger vacation that involved a few days spent with his long-lost friends in Florida. I got most of my swimming, shooting, and ribaldry out at various camps, whether they were associated with the Boy Scouts, religious camps, or just Summer day camps.

I don't think he felt compelled to intrude on my play time. Yes, he and I went and kicked a ball around, and we threw the frisbee, and we swam together, and had a great time. But he respected my need to interact with other children, and in fact pushed me to have such interactions.

This method of parenthood is all but lost. I've had countless people tell me how much of my free time is going to be lost to my child's activities. Why? Did today's parents so utterly fail in their own childhood that they feel compelled to relive it? Do they feel that their children will be stunted and retarded if they're not forced into supervised competition? Do they fear they'll miss that one golden moment when Little Johnny makes his one & only goal? Waah: get over yourselves.

I got a great sense of pride from having something to come home and brag about. If my dad had seen me make the big goal, it would have ceased to be my accomplishment and become his. And that's what I see in my co-workers: they take the credit for their children's accomplishments, simply because they were there to observe them. What a crock!

I want my child to grow up with a feeling of self-empowerment. You want to go to soccer practice? Get a ride or ride your bike! You want to go swimming over the Summer? Fine, we'll take weekend trips to the beach, or send you to camp, but we're not going to take weeks on end to travel the country in search of Alastair's secret ingredient to happiness.

He should grow up learning what adults enjoy: a sense of culture and belonging in something larger than a soccer team. The world will not revolve around him as an adult, and the sooner he figures out how to make himself happy, the sooner he can figure out how to be successful as a human being.

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