Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Over the weekend Shona shared with me the thought experiment of 'If you could take your parents and put them on a wheel with every other parent in the world and spin that wheel would you take that chance?' and you know whatever your stance is on probabilities or understanding of worldwide demographics, I think it is useful to comprehend where in the spectrum of really great to really bad parents yours lie.

They have no idea what they are doing

Kids reach some point when the comprehend their own mortality and it is part of forming their identity, I believe in well adjusted individuals there's a similar point of maturation when you realise your parents had no idea what they were doing when they became parents. "The problem with parenting is that by the time you are experienced you are unemployed."

My parents never, I feel, successfully conveyed any real attitude towards money, they never set up a working pocket money system. Despite the relative wealth of my upbringing I spent the first 19 years of my life with no real money. I find it hard to be motivated by money to this day, I either have it or I don't. This could certainly have been done worse though, it is just one aspect of all the things, the values parents have the option of conveying to you in your upbringing. Many children are done a great disservice for example by their parents misrepresenting the importance of money which instead of being something we earn, is in fact the cause of all their sorrows because they simply didn't have enough.

We are all accidents

So many of my high school friends confided that they were accidents that I began to suspect my own parents of lying to me that I was planned. I have come to accept that I was, for reasons I don't understand.

But then earlier this year, I had the revelation that there's just no fucking way my parents could have planned to have had me. This compounds the probability that our parents will mess with our head, on top of their lack of experience, you just don't know what you are going to get. Any second hand experience parents have of parenting from their own are not necessarily going to be useful when it comes to raising their own kids, my own parents ad no useful role modeling for raising a kid with aspergers, particularly since the condition didn't become widely known until well after said kid reached adulthood.

Bad parents can produce wonderful children

When Claire dumped me years ago, it was so rash, so bold, so out of character that I struggled with it. The sudden collapse of a relationship I'd felt in total control of was shocking to me. Furthermore the exciting new life Claire was pursuing made me feel tired and old, old boring news. Serendipitously 'The White Masai' was the latest piece of shit book to be taking the world by storm. In an attempt to understand what Claire was doing, I tried to read it, and found it more than I could bare. I skipped to the end and discovered that leaving your long term boyfriend to pursue a Masai Warrior whose culture and way of life you don't understand ended predictably badly.

I felt somehow vindicated by this, and mentioned it to my housemate Damian, who commented that despite the collapse of the ill-fated marriage to a Masai warrior, she possibly didn't regret her recklessness because it had produced a child that she loved. (this is the author not Claire).

I don't know the details, but however regretable your parents union was, they are still capable of producing and raising wonderful human beings. Individuals can overcome massive adversity, typically parents help when they love their children and are capable of expressing it, they hinder when they don't but an individual can still overcome this setback. There is hope for us all.

It is not a relationship of choice, but it can become one

I don't like the idea of 'family groups' because they tend to blindly believe in the unity of a family. I'd like to see estrangement from parents become destigmatised. I have seen some people thrust back into the clutches of their families when they are the very people destroying their lives.

'It's a shame' when people don't like their parents, but it doesn't mean it is always worth the effort to reconcile. Some parents are just bad, they are parents that are too self absorbed to express their love for their children, nor for their children to ever be convinced they do.

Expressions like 'I'm sorry I was born.' and 'I didn't choose to be born' are seen as childish outbursts, but they are fundamentally true. Children get no say in who their parents are, and almost anybody can become a parent. If parents were wonderful, they are simply living up to expectation, if they are bad they are falling short. But children owe their parents no loyalty or debt, as they mature into adults they can redefine their relationship with their parents as it becomes one of choice. But few consciously make the choice, they just assume they should pursue their parents love for the rest of their lives rather than more worthy candidates of their time, energy and affection.

An Ideal that can be lived up to

I had the opportunity recently to actually intervene in a common parental blunder. I managed to demix a message before it was sent from father to son. Basically the son had confessed he had screwed up his life, and the father wanted to express both concern and anger/dissappointment in response. I convinced him to cut out the anger and just send the concern and love.

I would agree that parents have little influence over their children except for the worse, but here are the achievable ideal qualities of a parent:

1. They love their children, and leave them in no doubt. - My observation is people who don't doubt their parents love tend to have a natural resilience to adversity, failing doesn't daunt them in the short term.
2. Convey a sense of optimism about the future - This was pointed out by the book 'Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart' my parents are not great at it, but I no doubt cause them a lot of stress. If you believe that things can work out okay, you are less likely to become a victim of circumstance, fatalistic and a reader of Andrew Bolt columns.
3. Take responsibility - in case of divorce, avoid blame games and concentrate on moving on, avoid at all costs bringing your children into it.
4. Be present - My own father does this really well, he is not an expressive or emotional person. Yet he came to all my basketball games, he didn't convey any enthusiasm or passion for my performance. He just watched quietly and exuded a warmth. Despite his stoic demeanor I've never doubted that I can't call him up and he wouldn't be there for me. It's a call I've rarely had to make, yet take risks knowing I can.

And that's it. Pretty simple, and pretty achievable. And all things an individual, as parent can control.

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