True Wisdom, according to Socrates, comes from embracing the realization that there is much we don't know, and that we will always need to seek knowledge of the most important of these.
My kids show me this all the time. From my failure to grasp the complex social world of Bionicles to my Vulgarian lack of appreciation for the whimsical artfulness of 'Yo Gabba Gabba,' my bottomless ignorance is a source of constant amazement to my kids. Parenting is one of those commonly acknowledged "meaningful things" we do. Yet, it's also a huge challenge, and is pretty regularly linked to lower levels of subjective well-being. Like many of life's most important things, the rewards of parenthood seem directly related to the value we place on it, and our struggle to surmount its challenges. And, it's frequently humbling.
So, I readily acknowledge my ignorance. But, for some reason, I still maintain that I am a generally rational person, capable of making well-planned decisions that move me along the path lit by my purpose and passions in life. My kids are helping me see that this, too, is a delusion. If it isn't obvious by now, I want to make it clear that my children are much, MUCH better human beings than I am, but none of us are perfect.
Case in point: After a full, last-day-of-summer, kid-a-palooza-fest filled to the brim with cutting and gluing paper airplanes, bike rides, staging fierce battles between Transformers and mermaid princesses, prancing around in blanket-capes, dancing at make-believe balls, putting puzzles together, and more social activity than I typically achieve in a month, I was pooped and pressed for time to make dinner. After a paying lip service to the appeal of quiet activities like reading, my kids revealed their actual plan was to argue, stomp around, and fiercely compete in the who-can-yell-loudest-and-gallop-around-the-kitchen-most-erratically Olympics.
I tried to intervene in the typical way. You know, start intoning a reasonable sentence about playing quietly, please no yelling, please vacate the kitchen - then observe that there is no audience for my discourse and ramp up quickly to the Wrath of Poseiden, bellowing GO TO YOUR ROOMS AND PLAY QUIETLY!!!!
Thus having already lost my personal, daily battle not to be a reactive, emotional, loudmouthed moron, I should have been able to take some consolation - perhaps even pride - in the stolid, dignified demeanor of my little ones as they looked at me, said OK, and trotted up to their rooms in an instant. Look how far they'd come since the days when any such "redirection" would have elicited whines and moans of injustice! At least that's what I should have been thinking.
Instead, I was put out by their apparent lack of gravitas for the situation. Didn't they realize they'd been banished? So, realizing the stupidity even as I uttered it, I added a Dickensian "...while I think about whether I'll send you to bed without any supper!"
So, what went wrong? I had a plan, had previous experience rationally doling out appropriate consequences, had successfully navigated rational behavior modification with these kids before. Yet, there I was, Ahab howling absurd threats to the whale's maw!
If something like this has ever happened to you, here are three strategies for getting through the little behavioral bumps in the road of parenthood.
I'd suggest two other things, but I fear they are unique to my situation. First, have kids with the kind of person I'm partnered with. Between the two of us, we equal two parents, but I only count about a half a parent. Second, write a column about how awful of a parent you are - it's super motivating!
I'd love to hear questions, reactions, and tips from parents and kids out there, so please leave a comment!
© 2009 Michael F. Steger. All Rights Reserved.