Monday, May 10, 2010

The Joy of the Parenting Do-Over


One of the unequivocal joys of parenthood is re-living some of the most exciting events from our past through the eyes of our children. Essentially we get to have do-overs. Kids give us an opportunity to perfect something we might have screwed up when we were kids. Of course, this isn’t always a good thing—in the wrong hands, that chance to re-do your high school football years through your son or your stint with the high school drama club through your daughter can quickly morph into the worst stereotype of the controlling, monstrous helicopter parent, pushing your kid into situations and activities where their main motivation is keeping you happy, rather than enjoying and expanding themselves. In the right hands, the do-over can make you and your kid two very happy (and proud) campers.

I thought about this recently when we were trying to decide where we would go for our family vacation this summer. Traveling is the area where the do-over is probably most sensibly applied. After visiting some fabulous corner of the earth, we get to go back and experience those first-time joys all over again through the eyes of our kids. While I was leaning toward my favorite city in the whole world, Paris, as a vacation destination so that I could show my kids why I love it so much, my wife wanted to go somewhere she had never been before. In front of us was a fundamental existential parenting dilemma: When we have kids, do we put our own lives and desires on hold for their sake, or do we continue to plunge with abandon into that crazy stew called life?

Of course, most parents will answer that we do both, that having kids shouldn’t mean our lives end, that we need to be fulfilled as adults in order to be good parents…yada, yada, yada. That is certainly the ideal, but we all know it’s not always that simple. Even in the area of family vacations, if we are always striving to explore new frontiers, our kids won’t get to see some of our favorite places until they’re adults and go on their own. So repeats are going to happen; going back to places we’ve already been, doing things we’ve already done, is always going to be part of the parenting contract. What we all seek is some sort of balance—adding enough new grown-up adventure into the mix that we don’t lose our edge and become parenting robots with no conversation at the dinner party that doesn’t involve little Johnny.

In our case, we put the issue up for a family vote. Three options on the table: Paris, London and Puerto Rico. Everybody got one vote, like a true democracy, with no special consideration given to the people with the biggest bank accounts (clearly not the kind of democracy we been practicing lately in the U.S.!). And we didn’t allow any lobbying before the vote. Not even whispered conversation. Interestingly, the children all picked Paris, while Denene and I both voted for a place we had never been (London in my case, Puerto Rico in hers). So we tried for some new adventures—and they dragged us into a repeat. Oh well, Paris here we come. Maybe next time we’ll try American-style democracy—lobbying, scare tactics and influence-peddling will be fully encouraged.

About our MyBrownBaby contributor: Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Nick Chiles is the co-author of seven books, including his latest, "The Blueprint," written with gospel superstar Kirk Franklin.

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  1. When I was young, we could not afford vacations to Paris. My parents did manage to scrape out a couple of vacations to the Jersey shore and we had a ball. When my daughter was little, I also managed a couple of vacations to the shore. While it was nostalgic for me, I never thought of it as a redo. Imagine how disappointed I would have been if she hated it.

    When I was 12, my father bought me a tool set and workbench for Christmas. I hated it. My dad wanted a real boy, one who liked sports and working on cars. I, however, was a soft-spoken wimpy boy who liked theater and writing poetry. Instead of taking an interest in my interests, he simply gave up.

    As a parent, I swore I would never do that to my child. As a result, my daughter was able to explore a wide-range of interests. And while I hoped she would show interest in things I liked, I encouraged those activities that seemed the most important to her.

    She did manage to pick up my love of old movies and movie stars from the 30's and 40's. I was able to instill a love of reading in her, which still exists today at the age of 30. But she has enough of my genes to make her like me without my forcing it.

    I also never thought I put my life on hold when I had my daughter. As a parent, life simply changed and moved me in a different direction. Raising my daughter became my focus. I didn't lose me. I simply found a different me, the "Dad" inside me. I wouldn't trade those years for the world. Thanks for a very thoughtful post.

  2. I love the fact that my son is in a summer program that allows him to travel to a new destination each summer. This summer he is going to Boston and will be whale watching. While I am envious I am so proud and happy for his accomplishment and hope my other 2 sons get the same opportunity.

    Peace, Love and Chocolate


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