Parenting Lesson

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One of the hardest parenting lessons I’ve had to learn since the birth of the boys is to let my sons be the people they are. There were times when I thought that this or that aspect of their personality was going to make things harder for them in life, so maybe I should try to teach them/steer them in a different direction. This was a mistake. They’re not me. They don’t have to be like me. They are, you know, them.

Don’t misunderstand. I still try very hard to present a model of (I like to think) honorable manhood, and I (obviously) provide them guidance when they need it, but I try to do that now while recognizing the fact that they’re very different from me, from each other, from everybody, and that’s wonderful.

As an example: One of my sons is (and I mean this quite literally) one of the kindest, sweetest human beings I’ve ever met. It’s just his nature. It bothers him enormously when other people are in pain; he wants to comfort them. It hurts his feelings deeply when someone is mean to him, and it hurts his feelings still more if he inadvertently hurts someone else. He has almost no aggression in him at all. And his emotional attachments are very deep. He just feels things, feels everything, very strongly.

There was a time when I thought: “Oh my God, he has to toughen up. The world is full of assholes and it’s going to eat him alive.”

That, in two words, was completely wrong. He doesn’t need to toughen up. Hell, the world would benefit greatly from the presence of more people just like him.

Of course, I know that given his depth of feeling, he’s likely in for some disappointments. He’s going to have profound friendships, and he’s going to fall head over heels for someone. And those experiences will be wonderful for him because the feelings will be so rich and fulfilling. But invariably, he’ll someday be betrayed by someone he thought was his dear friend, spurned by someone he thought loved him back, and it’s going to hurt him more than it would someone who feels things less acutely (like me, say). That’s okay, and accepting that it was okay was a big step for me. I don’t need to toughen him up or otherwise try to change him in preparation for those difficult days. To do that would be to take away one of things most beautiful about him in an effort to spare him pain. That’s stupid, and wrong. He’s a sensitive soul and a lovely person, his own person. In his life he’ll probably experience some sharp emotional pain because he’s also going to experience some deep emotional connections, and the one often comes along with the other. But that’s who he is, and it’s wonderful. All I can do (and all his mother, brother, and soon to be born sister can do), all I should do, is be there for him when he slips. That’ll be enough.

Meanwhile, his nature enriches our whole family. It’s certainly made me a better person, though he doesn’t know that yet. For that, I thank him. It’s going to a joy watching him grow up.

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11 thoughts on “Parenting Lesson

  1. Just a week ago I learned a similar lesson in parenting. My son is very much like yours in that he has a wonderful and gentle heart, so much so that I worry he won’t be ready for the rough world we live in. You’ve given me something to think about for sure. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Great thoughts on this Paul. I think the fact that you recognize that they are their own person and still know that you have to offer guidance puts you years ahead as a parent. So many parents just let their kids be and forego the guidance part.

    Have you ever done the Jung Typology test? I think they have versions for children as well. While I can’t testify to the validity of the children’s test, I think it is always interesting to know the personality types of family members:)

  3. Paul, I’ve been chatting with you on and off now for about 5 years and I can honestly say it’s been an honor watching you grow as a person as well…father, husband and author all continue to be shining examples of how people in general should act and behave. You, too, have always been kind and extraordinarily helpful to others, even if you haven’t seen it. Obviously, your boys have absorbed and sponged up those aspexts of their parent’s personalities and adopted them to their own burgeoning psyches.

    You’re lucky…and so is your family. No, that isn’t right. Luck has nothing to do with it. Simple love and care, as well as a healthy dose of patience, make your parenting skills…your humanity skills (+5)…a touch above the rest.

    Personally, and just a little selfishly, I can’t wait to see how you incorporate all of these wonderful new experiences and feelings into your stories. They can only get that much better with each passing day.

  4. Would that there were more parents in the world that could come to this realization. I respect you all the more for it, and I know that your son, and your family as a whole, will be better for it–and deeply grateful in the long run.
    I’ve got a daughter on the way, and I can only hope that I can handle the lessons of parenting, each in turn, the best way possible…

  5. Thanks for this post Paul. It reminds me of my Dad a bit. He never tried to change me, but always set an excellent example for me to follow. Somehow, I turned out just like him. Sometimes, just knowing someone is going to be there for you no matter what happens is all you need. Thanks.

  6. I identify with your situation and have struggled with how to resolve this very issue. Like you, my top priority in life is doing right by my family. However, I have come to a somewhat different conclusion than you on this matter. In a better world, one populated more with folks like you and yours, then sensitive boys would not need to be “toughened up.” But we don’t live in that world. I have lost lots of sleep anguishing over whether my disinclination to toughen my boy up, and instead just let him be himself without interference, would result in a lifetime of him being bullied and manipulated. I decided that it would, or at least that it was likely. So, as much as I don’t like it, I am trying to prepare him for the world as I see it. Doing so, without changing his fundamentally kind and sensitive nature, is hard. I want him to be strong but not tyrannical. Compassionate but not weak. I try to be a great role model. I put him in martial arts. So far, I think I am succeeding. I hope so.

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