There is a younger mom in my yoga class. She has a bad case of First Time Parent Syndrome (FTPS). We older moms were discussing and laughing over predicaments our now grown children found themselves in whilst “maturing.” She rather superiorly stated that she would be raising her children in a way that would prevent any overt misbehavior and/or problems in the teenager/early adult years. HAHAHA!
I believe our offspring are destined to be who and what they are, with all the benefits and drawbacks that come with it, from the moment of conception. For example, elder son, while living under my heart, made me constantly aware of his presence through nausea, constant kicking and restlessness. He even tried to come into the world feet first, but was discouraged from this entrance at the last moments. He proved to be a restless kicker throughout his childhood and early adulthood. He always tried to do things differently from everyone else, and continued to cause me a bit a nausea through his early twenties. He is now studying for the bar exam and has a fantastic job awaiting him that will allow him to get paid for being restless and kicking against the norm.
My younger son was an easy pregnancy. There were a few moments of sickness and worry, but mostly he and I grew big and healthy together. The first night home from the hospital he slept six hours, such a strange occurrence for me that I had to get up and check on him multiple times. Although his road to adulthood had the usual bumps, he handled them with aplomb. He is sensitive, loyal, caring, forgiving, and always considers his effect on others. He is also athletic, competitive and hilarious, he has been all his life. First joke, age three: He is at Poppy’s lake house and proceeds to stack himself with every life jacket, colorful floatie, goggle and fin within reach. He grabs two neon noodles, waves them joyously above his head and proclaims “Wook, Ima clown fish!”
These two young men are their unique selves. They are an amazing combination of a genetic material that cannot be replicated.
Then we come to the nature vs. nurture debate. Both of our sons were raised in the basic same nurturing environment, yet they are completely different men. It reminds me of a friend who had two children, one overweight and one not. She was constantly criticized and given unwarranted advice about the bigger child, but never given credit for the healthy weight one. Sure parents can help their children make good choices, but ultimately body frames are unique. Perhaps they were just destined to be what they are?
Recently I have seen a spate of parental self-congratulatory Facebook postings along the lines of “My son is so amazing because I was a great parent and did this …”
The uglier side to this rationalization: the parents who react so badly to tragedy of others; the child run over by a car, the baby snatched by the alligator. Some parents want to feel they have such control over their children’s outcomes that these tragedies would never happen to their family, because they are such good parents. It’s a crazy illusion. As parents, we really don’t have that much power.
You know what? I give myself little to no credit for my offsprings’ accomplishments. In fact, I think perhaps some of their achievements have been in spite of me. I did not make my elder son so driven and goal oriented, God knows I’m not. I did not teach my younger to be such a sensitive soul and care so deeply about others and the world. I have more of a take me or leave me outlook, and tend to judge first, and ask questions later.
Dear dads at Little League games: You did not create your child’s athleticism, and it’s not a reflection on you, but him. (Also, he won’t make to it to the Big Leagues or probably even D3, trust me.)
Dear mom of the brainiac: It’s not you, it’s her. She is the one with the perfect SAT score, not you. This did not come about because of superior mothering, it came about mostly because of genetic combinations, so at most kudos to yourself and maybe your spouse for carrying smart genes? Yes, I am sure you encouraged and assisted, but SHE had the raw material to do this, and she chose to excel, not you.
Parents are really great at taking credit for their children’s successes, not so much the failures. “Despite everything we did, this happened.” So which is it?
I think, as parents, our job is really to recognize who and what our children are destined to be, celebrate their uniqueness and support them with unconditional love. Sure, we can give usually unsolicited advice, and make sure they realize there are consequences and rewards attached to behaviors and decisions. We can show them through our own behavior how we think people should act and react in the world. We can encourage them to set goals, take chances and live a full, love-filled life.
But ultimately, no one said it better than that sage philosopher Popeye, who noted “I yam what I yam and I yam that I yam”.