Everyone has regrets, things about their lives we wish we could go back and do again. And then we have kids.
Kids are a wonderful opportunity to shape the future. After all, they’ll be running the world someday, so might as well make sure they turn out alright. Right?
But hold on: You also know that guy. That father who pushes his failures and insecurities onto his kids–usually his sons–and tries to vicariously atone for his past mistakes using his children.
My goal is to not be that guy.
Children are not an opportunity to correct the past. They are an opportunity to shape the future for the better.
I was lucky enough that my father did not do this. Sure, his parents were stricter to him than my parents were to me–for example, my dad was never allowed to play the guitar or drums or listen to rock music, so he let me and my siblings do all three–but my parents let us become our own people with our individual likes, dislikes, wants, fears, needs, and desires, and for that I thank them.
Yet there are certain things about my personality and certain life choices I have made that I definitely do not want my son to have or to make. I want him to do what will make him happy, but I really would prefer he doesn’t go to law school–not because I myself am not 100% “in love” with the profession (as though that’s a prerequisite to taking a job), but because, unless things change, I don’t see a career in the legal profession as having the most opportunity for growth and success.
And another thing is that I want him to be a risk-taker. I want to provide for him, but I don’t want him to live in a cage of safety. I want him to struggle and overcome and be a light unto the world.
It’s a balancing act, one that requires constant vigilance to maintain. It’s the tightrope between being a helicopter parent and a laissez-faire one.
I’m just a man, a regular guy trying to make his way in the world and do right by his children. But I also have a secret identity, one that exists only to my son.
A big part of making sure my son–and any other kids I hope to have–feels secure in taking risks and imposing his will on the world is that he sees me as Superman, capable of everything.
Parents, especially fathers, need to be seen as invincible to their kids.
Obviously, I am fallible. I’m only human, after all. But he can find that out later. For now, he needs that example of dad not being afraid so he won’t be afraid.
This goes towards encouraging risk-taking: If dad is afraid of something, why wouldn’t he be?
Of course, there are things I do not like that I’ve already had to suck it up and deal with. But by putting on this facade for my son, I’ve actually helped myself become more fearless. Not only that, I’ve had more fun.
But this also means letting your children fail and making them do things on their own.
Does this sound harsh? It is. It doesn’t feel good watching your child struggle at something that you could easily do for them with barely a calorie burned. But that look on their face when they overcome a challenge is worth more than gold.
I had this experience teaching my son–not quite four–how to play catch recently. He grew frustrated when he couldn’t catch the ball and wanted to give up. I encouraged him to stick with it and explained the concept of practice to him. And after ten or fifteen more frustrating minutes, he was catching the ball every time. Now, it’s one of his favorite games.
Another time at the playground, he climbed up on some equipment and wanted some help down. Looking at the configuration, I knew he could get down by himself. Instead of lifting him off of it–as much as I wanted to, because he was afraid–I calmly explained that he could do it and I instructed him how. When he made it down, he was so happy he climbed right back up and did it again.
I had to overcome my own natural inclination to be a protector and let him figure it out on his own.
Little things, but they make a big difference.
There’s no magic formula for this, and it’s a constant work in progress. As with most parenting things, the most important factor has been trying to keep the future in mind. For every decision, I think : How will this impact my son going forward? Here’s what I mean:
I had a tendency to tell my son we can’t do something if it’s something I don’t personally like to do. What this does is transfer your own dislikes and fears into your children. Bad idea! I’ve had more success–and more fun–just telling my kid “Sure” and rolling with it.
Your fears, mistakes, and regrets are your own. Why push them onto your children?
It’s not easy, but as with many things in life, the “fake it till you make it” strategy starts to bear fruit when the “make it” part kicks in. Acting fearless and capable in front of my son has started to make me feel fearless. And it’s been a blast watching him run around like the high-energy madman that he is. My job is to make sure he stays that way.
There’s so much chatter about the West getting “soft,” especially our boys and young men. I see the truth in this, but I also see the exaggeration. But kids don’t turn out a certain way in a vacuum.
Parents–not school, not pop culture, not the government–have to take the wheel.
If there’s one overriding lesson I learned from my parents, it’s this.
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