Friday, December 21, 2007

Just get 'em to 50 

I was reading Bryan Caplan distinguishing his views on parenting from Steve Levitt's, and not finding myself really lining up on one side of the other. I'm not entirely sure it's necessary that my kids like me when they grow up, but I care about how they turn out, and I wouldn't mind it if they were willing to provide some support in my final days on the planet (if I turn out to die in a way that one could foretell by a few weeks or more.)

I have two children. Most readers know about Littlest, but Oldest (from my first marriage) is not often mentioned because he is older by a decade and does not live at home. We do not talk every day like some parents do with their twenty-somethings. He walks to work from his apartment here in town, and I see him some days and we wave. We both like to text. But get together? Maybe once a month. He's pretty independent and I want to respect that. A measure of my success or failure as a parent is not in my view how many times a month I see him.

In the comments to Caplan's post someone mentioned an article from last year by Orson Scott Card that says two very important things: "good is good enough", and take the long view:
What is the measure of happiness? I suppose everyone has their own idea, but species-wide, the prevailing notion might run something like this:

When your kids reach the age of 50:

1. They're married to somebody they like and trust.

2. They're supporting themselves.

3. Their own kids are growing up decently.

4. Everybody in the family is speaking to each other.

5. They're all good people -- contributing to society and living by the rules.

That's an achievable standard, isn't it? It doesn't look so hard.

Of course, your kids can make horrible choices that put the kibosh on some of these things. But if you teach them what's expected of a good person, and show it in your own life, you can't force them not to make bad choices. That happens, and it's sad, and all you can do then is help them work through the consequences of those choices and try to salvage happiness at the end of the road.

In fact, raising kids who are hardworking, self-supporting, reliable, kindly people who get along with each other is hard enough that I think any parents who achieve it have a right to be perfectly content with the job they did.

Why, then, do so many parents set impossible standards for themselves and their children, guaranteeing that they -- and their children -- will fail, and making everybody miserable in the process?
There are times where Mrs. S worries Littlest will be harmed in some way, that we cannot assure her safety. We worry about the choices our kids make, and perhaps that's wise if it turns out they are lousy risk-assessors. We would like to be sure they can MAKE IT TO 50! That seems worth worrying about, though understanding there are some risks you can't reduce to zero. But what your kids do for a living, whether they are the best they can be, may not be as important as just getting them to be self-sustaining people in families that care for each other when they hit the age you are. When someone says to me about my child "She's a good kid" or "He's a very nice young man" I sometimes hear a 'but' as in "but he could be ..." To which I would like to say, "yeah, so could we all. Your point is...?"

So this the first Christmas season in which I am over 50, and I'd like to congratulate my parents on going five-for-five with me (assuming I'm capable of judging #3 and #5). If I'm lucky, I'll live long enough to see if I did as well.

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