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Do or do not...there is no try

You would think it would be the other way around. Becoming a parent is supposed to make you warm and squishy. More caring, feeling, understanding. More patient. More sensitive to the needs of others.


Becoming a parent has made me a cold, hard, calculating, unfeeling Clint Eastwood of a man. Towards my kids. Towards other parents, especially.

I've become a Yoda-esque "either you are or you aren't" kinda guy where there is less shaded grey middle room for discussion and explanations. The world is more black and white...and that's a good thing.

Don't get me wrong, I haven't gone full-Republican turning into some pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps everybody for themselves robot. I have emotional wiggle room for the difficulties others face still.

It's more like being a parent has made me less tolerant of all the whining, complaining, and shifted focus in our society where we like to talk about things rather than actually do them. In practical terms, I'm becoming less and less patient when it comes to things where my son should know better. He's a toddler and I don't expect him to march around the house Von Trapp style with military discipline. We wrestle, cuddle, hug, and play--and are usually very silly. He knows he is loved.

The other side of that, however, is that there are certain areas of behavior and routine that I'm beginning to draw a hard line on. And I don't feel at all guilty about it. My job as a parent is to socialize, teach, manage expectations and self-awareness. It's not all gooey "look how cute my kid is." And when it comes to lessons my son needs to learn sooner or later, a little crying and negative feelings isn't so harsh.

Kelly and I just watched the episode of the British series Doc Martin where new neighbors--psychologists, mind you--take a very hands off approach with their school age son. When he keys the doctor's car, they reply that they don't wish to focus on his negative behavior unless there is a potential for development. On the other side is the doctor and schoolteacher arguing about social norms and the duties of parents.

Call me mean, but my kid sinking down on the floor in raging tantrum or disappointed because I expect him to honor a perfectly reasonable request of an 18 month old is all in a day's work for me. An angry toddler, at this point, has become a badge of honor that I'm doing something right in showing him some of the lines that exist in life.

We thought about letting our greyhound raise him completely--in the absence of wolves--but that just seemed like lazy parenting. And my expectation right now goes no further than him realizing there are things that are "have to" and things that are choices up to him. And maybe I'm just being reactionary to our out of control society and my own strong independent streak as an adult.

But I'm finding more and more that "freedom" is not some natural rights philosophical human nature thing we're born with. My own experience as a parent is that babies are helpless and unware until...they're not. Somewhere along the way my son started being a sentient being. My apologies to Rousseau, Huck Finn, and the churches believing in Original Sin, but I'm finding--at least for my own kid--that he has a largely biological sense of right and wrong, that he inclines toward moral behavior, but that the role of the outside world is to put a finer detail on it. In short, to civilize our children.

This realization from observation has made me a whole lot less touchy-feely about my role as a parent and made me a lot more interested in what's going on in his little brain. Because in the world where he and I now live, "do you want a carrot or a piece of cheese" has become about so many other things. His wanting a cookie instead, the power struggle over putting a shirt on, the events of the day are actually quite interesting when seen through the lens of a small, tiny human learning about self-reliance, the limits of his abilities, consequences of actions, etc..

Call me crazy, but some days he reminds me of the Raptors in Jurassic Park testing the fences. Learning. Poking for holes and weakness. Kids aren't innocent, helpless creatures so much as little curious scientists trying to figure out how the world works.

The big question in 21st century America is how we treat those inquisitive little we encourage their passion for independent thought? Nothing delights me more as a parent than seeing my kids do something responsible on their own without prompting from me. Our latest development is helping...carrying plates to the kitchen, fetching requested items, picking clothes.

Maybe I've come back to Rousseau, afterall.
The noblest work in education is to make a reasoning man, and we expect to train a young child by making him reason! This is beginning at the end; this is making an instrument of a result. If children understood how to reason they would not need to be educated.