Stop Making Everything Perfect for Your Kid
There was a kid running at the neighborhood pool the other day. The pool attendant asked him to walk, as pool attendants have done since pools existed. The boy’s dad — a big-chested, serious kind of guy — came over to the attendant and told him that, as the child’s father, he’s the only one who gets to tell his kid what to do. If the attendant had something to say, it should be directed at him, not to his kid. He’ll decide if his kid needs direction.
I would have rolled my eyes, but the attendant kept his cool and carefully replied that it was his job to make sure people follow the pool rules, and “no running” is pretty much the universal pool rule. The dad pushed back and added some aggressive posturing to intimidate the pool guy. He didn’t see anything wrong with what his kid was doing, so, as far as he was concerned, the pool guy needed to back off. The kid was free to run at the pool because Dad said so, so fuck the pool rules. This is America! Nobody tells my kid what to do except me.
There’s a strange fear spreading amongst reasonable grownups. My sister’s family had some friends over. One of the adults gave one of my sister’s kids some polite direction about sharing, or something basic like that. You know, stuff people tell kids. Then the grownup realized the grave error she had made, and apologized to my sister for shamefully overstepping.
“Are you kidding?” my sister said. “I absolutely want you to tell my kids if they’re doing something you don’t think they should be doing! In fact, do more of it! They need to learn to hear things from people other than me.”
If I’m the only one who can tell my kids what to do, I’ve failed them by giving them completely unrealistic expectations of the world. Also, I can’t ever die or leave their side, because my kids won’t be able to take care of themselves. Following Big-Chested Dad at the pool’s logic, a lifeguard can’t lifeguard, teachers can’t teach, coaches can’t coach and, later in life, managers can’t manage. You see where this is going, right?
If I’m the only one who can tell my kids what to do, I’ve failed them.