By NICK CHILES
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.