All parents have it, right? That one thing that we absolutely will not let our children experience. Whatever the thing is, it’s rooted down deep and impacts you– the parent– so deeply that it causes you pain to think of your children going through it. So we do everything in our power to prevent it; more often than not, we overcorrect. The baggage we hand our children is the worst heirloom we can pass down. It transforms, taking different shapes as it moves from one generation down to the next. We try to turn our own issues on their head, to make sure our children don’t experience the world in the same problematic way we did. We don’t want them to have the same scars, and they don’t; the scars just appear elsewhere.
My father is an immigrant whose family fled the Soviet devastation that Stalin brought through the Baltic states. I know only snippets of my dad’s experiences as a child, guarded is he about the details. I am able to extrapolate a few things he wanted to shield us from based on what he passes down to my siblings and me about what he values. His main theme of parenting: opportunity borne through education. He beat the drum of education loudly, and probably steered a little too hard into the skid, leaving unintended imprints on each of us in different ways.
This is not my blaming my parents for anything; it is part of the normal parenting experience for everyone. My dad’s experiences are unique to him, but his desire to want the best for his children is certainly not. It just doesn’t always work out the way we expect.
My Cross to Bear
My biggest personal issue: a broken relationship with food. I have struggled with my weight for more than 15 years. No too long ago, I ballooned to 321 pounds before getting a bit of a grip, losing 115 pounds, and then gaining almost half of it back. Today, I hover around the 250 lb. range and have for long enough to know that I can maintain my current weight indefinitely, or probably lose some with some marginal changes in daily behavior. Food is a tough subject for me to figure out. I love food. I love to eat and have recently discovered a love of cooking. I refuse to subject myself to culinary asceticism, but I choose my battles carefully.
Kathleen, on the other hand, has a complicated relationship with money. Before becoming an advocate for saving and frugality, she spent the better part of five years digging herself out of $20,000 of credit card debt. This experience has enriched her life in some unexpected ways, but it still impacts on how she approaches her everyday life.
These issues are going to impact a lot of our parenting decisions. They will impact how we behave around the dinner table, what foods we keep in the house, when we buy toys, how we dole out allowances. We will be seeking out interesting strategies for how to introduce basic health and economic concepts to Creature at an early age. Things like delayed gratification, moderation, trade-offs, and scarcity.
The Best Intentions
Kathleen and I have, as you might imagine, the best intentions, but our child is not a computer program where we can enter a line of code and get an expected behavior. As much as we want our child to develop a specific relationship with food and money, Creature will be a person with opinions and preferences that develop in the context of the entire world. After the food and money battles have been fought, I have no idea what the collateral damage will look like. Plus, it’s not like those are the only two things we care about.
I wrestle with the fact that whatever structures we place on our family, something will leak out, and our child will develop complex relationships with things that we had never thought of. I don’t think there’s much I can do about it, and if I’m going to prioritize areas of life, it’s something that probably needs to be accepted. You can’t control everything.