As I send my daughter off to kindergarten, I notice that the level of stress, separation anxiety, inappropriate behavior, and general immaturity has reached unprecedented levels in my home, and around town.
The kids, on the other hand, seem to be taking the whole situation in stride.
The only sign of stress our daughter has displayed is the mini-tantrum she threw on the ride home from Corn-A-Palooza when she wanted to hear Sia and Momma wanted to play Adele.
As I take in the whole parent-child “off to school” dynamic, something occurred to me that helps me make sense of some of the not-ready-to-let-go behavior, and one way that I’ve – up until now – unconsciously been dealing with the tremendous responsibility of raising my own daughter.
There are lots of ways that parents have been dichotomized (Helicopter/Free Range, Authoritative/Nurturing, Rational/Batshit Crazy, etc). Here’s another: There are parents who think they made their children for themselves, and parents who think they made their children for the world; those who regard their children as belonging to them, as opposed to belonging to the world.
Now, I’m really not the back-to-the-earth, Paleo-Parent, “It Takes a Village” type, but in this case, I’m of the latter persuasion. My daughter is the world’s child. Of course she belongs to me, in almost every sense of the word. I created her, I take full “ownership” of her in the sense that it is my (and my wife’s) full responsibility to help her live as noble and enjoyable a life as possible. And, if it needs to be said, I enjoy having her around more than words can express.
But did I “make” her for me? In hindsight, not really.
Perhaps when I was considering having a child, and then when she was born and through her infancy, I felt that she was for me. We had a baby. We were now “people with a baby.” We joined the club of baby-making people. Her existence was all about us. She was a defining part of us, but not much more.
Now that she’s a talking, socializing, thinking little person, I look at her differently. Her role in my world is different. It’s only part of her role in life. She not only has a role in my world, she has one in the world.
Holy shit, that’s intimidating.
Is your child really the world’s child? Things to consider:
- Your children will be legally independent from you for much longer than they will be under your legally-imposed guidance and care.
- Let’s be honest, somewhere around 15 or 16 years old, they stop listening to you altogether, legally independent or not.
- Under normal circumstances, our children will be alive for approximately 20-30 years longer than we will be. So for a significant portion of their lives on earth, we won’t even be around.
We don’t often think of preparing our kids for their adulthood, golden years, retirement, etc. but we should. These years are as important to them as their childhood, maybe more so. And in these later years, we will not be as big a part of their lives as we are now.
We need to prepare them for being a part of the world, not just our world. It’s not like having a pet that you train to behave in your house. You need to train your kids to behave, and successfully exist, in the world. A good way to do this is to shift your perspective; you have not made your kid for you. You have made them for the world. And that’s okay. It’s more than okay. It’s why we are here. It’s kind of amazing.
What does all this mean in practice? For a vast majority of their lives, your children will be at the mercy of, and dealing with the ways of the world, not you. You should prepare them for that. Does this new perspective make raising a child more or less difficult? Well, one parenting benefit I see is that you don’t sweat the small stuff as much. Like worrying if those chicken nuggets are cruelty free. Because, although your family life may be free of cruelty, the world is not. And you are preparing your child for that world, not the magical utopia you might like them to exist in forever.
Worried if her teacher is the best in the grade? Well, neither you, nor your child will be able to pick their college professors, landlords, or bosses in the future, so they should get used to someone out of their control being in charge of things. Instead of worrying if she has the best teacher, worry if she has the best parent.
In terms of discipline, ask yourself, are you trying to change your child’s behavior for any reason other than that it will not be acceptable or productive as they grow into adulthood in the real world? If so, maybe reconsider if it really needs adjustment. I’m looking at you, bed-makers.
Don’t be sad when she gets on that bus for her first day of kindergarten, or walks into that classroom with her tiny hand in someone’s besides yours. That’s her job. That’s why she’s here. That’s why you had her. This is what you prepared her for. This is her first step to fulfilling her ultimate destiny; becoming one with the world, which is exactly where she belongs.