Mistakes I May Have Made, Or Maybe Not

Watching my kids parent their kids is fascinating.

They are all doing a phenomenal job, but I can’t help but notice the profound differences between their parenting style and mine.  (Yes, we were a parenting unit, but I’m going to make this one about me.)

Thinking back, I seem to have valued the fostering of their independence above all else.  I felt that if a child was capable of doing something for himself, he should be expected to do it.  Now I wonder if I overdid that; for instance, should a six-year-old ride his wee little ten-speed bike across a busy street to get himself to swim-team practice and back?  He did it without disaster, but was it right?  Should the last kindergartner have had to walk himself home alone, a lot of blocks and also across a busy street?  In both cases, I gave them instruction and then turned them loose, and I’m sure this was typical of many of their experiences.  Did it make them feel unprotected, vulnerable, not cared for?  Geez, what was I thinking?

Back then I thought that childhood should bring with it a lot of freedom–to play according to your imagination, to roam within your neighborhood, to hang with the friends you chose yourself, to read books you were too young to read, to be respected for your opinions, to make your own decisions and suffer the consequences, good or bad.  All within your level of maturity, of course.  But in hindsight, did I dish out a little too much freedom?

Take religion, for instance.  In adulthood, the kids have expressed regret that they were not raised in a specific church, saying that this would have given them something to believe in and rely on, perhaps even something to rebel against.  They say it just would have made growing up easier.  I was very interested in raising good caring compassionate citizens, but did not feel loyal to any one spiritual denomination.  My intention was to give them the freedom to choose, but I may have given them only confusion instead.

The desire to allow my children freedom also spilled into their school lives.  For some reason the fact that I was a teacher myself made me hesitant to do anything that might be seen as interfering at school.  Consequently I did not become friends with the kids’ teachers, did not volunteer in their classrooms beyond baking the occasional cookie, did not communicate closely with teachers to track my child’s progress.  I did attend scheduled conferences and any special events or performances, and lots and lots of swim meets, soccer and baseball games, and Scout events.  Even fairly early on I think that I thought school was largely their own business, that they were pretty much in charge of their own success or failure.  (It must be noted that they were all very capable scholastically.)  This approach seemed perfectly reasonable at the time, but maybe it was expecting too much?  Did they feel unsupported and did it seem to them that I just didn’t care?

Did my children know I loved them?  One girlfriend of one son did convince him that he had suffered a profound lack of hugging in his childhood.  As they grew older,  maybe I wasn’t as openly demonstrative as I might have been, which came from my relationship with my own parents, who offered little in the way of affectionate touching.  The truth is, I loved them deeply, then and now.

Don’t get the idea that this is a guilty confession of regrets or an apology or anything like that. I am fine with knowing that I was a thoughtful parent who did my best. My kids are spectacular adults and great parents, and I am beyond proud of them.  But I think my grandkids are benefitting from the differences in style, for they are growing up in such warm environments with such explicitly expressed deep love and support and interest, they are simply bound to be exceptionally well-prepared to cope with the world they are inheriting.

Good job, guys!



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This entry was posted on Saturday, October 22nd, 2011 at 3:12 pm and is filed under Things to Think About. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

3 Responses to “Mistakes I May Have Made, Or Maybe Not”

  1. martha bailey on October 24th, 2011 at 8:23 am

    I have often felt this same way and I feel my kids are doing all right now. As you said, It’s not wrong, it’s just different.

  2. I, Rodius on October 25th, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    If I was the kid with the girlfriend, she didn’t convince me of anything. Remember she knew nothing but what I told her. I think it’s fair to say we weren’t a family that was very physically demonstrative of affection, though you and Dad were very expressive of pride. I understand far better now as a parent than I did then as a child how human you were through those years, with so much of your own story going on simultaneous to my own story, which was the only story I knew then. Developing our independence was a valuable (and successful) goal, and prevailing parental philosophy on unsupervised time is far different today than it was 30 and 40 years ago.

    Would religious indoctrination have helped me? Maybe. But I can’t see myself indoctrinating my son in a religious view I do not share. Indoctrination into a belief in the value of housework might have helped me in my adult, married life, but I can’t see myself driving home that particular lesson in my son, either. We all do the best we can. You did far, far better than most, and better than I could ever have hoped for or expected. Thanks.

    The Baby Boy

  3. Purelight on October 25th, 2011 at 9:09 pm

    Thanks, Baby Boy, for your thoughtful response. Sadly, perhaps, I am totally incapable of indoctrinating anyone into a belief in the value of housework. It’s just never made it to the top of my to-do list, but since I did manage to keep you all relatively healthy and fed, I’m okay with that. It’s good when your kids do better than you did, right?