Saturday, May 17, 2008

Rules of Parenting

My sons are now 14 and 11 years old, which i figure gives me 25 parent-years of experience. Being a father is not something i've ever studied or practiced; i think the skills that make you a good parent are the same skills that make you an adequate human being in general (and the lack thereof, etc., etc.). Still, beyond the obvious elements of providing your kids with food, shelter, and clothing there are many things that you have to learn from trial and error. The following are some things i believe in, even if i don't always adhere to them:

Your kids need an activity that they don't have a choice about

Like many parents i wanted to give my kids an opportunity to do anything they wanted to try. However, often this means that kids will go from thing to thing with never any focus. We decided that our kids would have at least one activity that they would do for as long as they were our legal responsibility. In our case it turned out to be a musical instrument, but i don't think that's so important as the experience of developing a deep skill over a number of years.

Kids can survive without constant television

My kids still get more screen time than i'd wish, but i've seen people literally amazed to find that my kids don't watch TV on school nights, and they don't have TVs or computers in their own rooms.

Quality Time is Bullshit

The idea that you can get away with spending less time with your kids so long as the time you do spend is structured and productive is absolute crap. Your kids are not a project.

Kids Can Do More Than You Think

Probably the biggest mistake i've made with my own kids is that i have not sufficiently encouraged their *big* ideas. There are many cases where i wish i had allowed their curiosity to draw them into an inquiry of some subject rather than just explaining to them the flaw in their logic. (For example, my older son "invented" perpetual motion a couple of years ago). Fortunately both of them have still done things on their own when they didn't get my help.

You Don't Have That Much To Do With It

You can screw up kids who would have otherwise been normal, but your kids' success in life will not be affected very much by either the genes they inherited from you or the behavior you try to instill. This is probably the hardest lesson to learn as a parent. Your children are completely separate people, experiencing the world and learning in their own way. They are not your chance to fix everything that you regret about your own life.

Allow Them To Fail

My parents were great, and they always stressed the idea that i could do anything i wanted to; but for a long time as an adult i wished they had put more emphasis on self-discipline so that i would have had the tools to work harder for those things that i wanted to do. It took me quite some time to realize that this was my fault, not theirs. Now as a parent i really want to try to impart the things that i've learned the hard way to my own kids. However, they don't call it "the hard way" for nothing. About the best you can do, i think, is to challenge your kids. People use this word often, but few people really mean it in the sense it was intended. A challenge needs to be something that is slightly beyond their capabilities; something at which they might fail but not something at which they are guaranteed to fail.

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