You can't manage children

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, March 1, 2017, 10:56 PM | comments: 0

If there's anything funny about living next door to Walt Disney World, it's to think of my visits there long before we lived here, and before we had Simon. Diana and I would see all of the kids and wonder what ours might look like, and not knowing if the plumbing worked, we were always warmed by seeing parents who adopted. I'm not proud to say that I also was super judgy toward parents who seemed incapable of "controlling" their kids, presumably because of some fundamental parenting failure. Yeah, so when I would be standing on the monorail platform with a kid melting down because we weren't going to ride in the first car (chalking that up to ASD), I felt like a real dick for even having those perceptions of parents back in the day.

As Simon turns 7 this weekend, I've certainly come around to the fact that you just don't know the situation that other parents have. It's not just that I sometimes question my own parenting abilities, it's that there are too many environmental and developmental variables to possibly know how things are going to go. Every kid is different, so even if you have more than one, there's no guarantee that everything you learned about the first will apply to the subsequent kids. You just have to figure it out.

There's still one thing that I get judgmental about though, and that's the idea that you can manage your kids. This isn't prompted by any particular observation of anyone in particular, but I do recall seeing it a little in my coaching days, and an article I read recently about directing you kids to certain things (as a means for long-term success) made me think about it. By "manage," I mean treat them in the way that you would a business unit or professional relationship. In those situations, motivations and situational context tends to be far easier to define. When it comes to your kids, a lot of the time it seems impossible.

Concrete example: You want your kid to limit some particular activity for some arbitrary reason. The problem is that your arbitrary reason likely has nothing to do with the desire to perform the activity. We tend to forget that the "problems" of a child seem insignificant compared to our grownup problems, but they have nothing else to compare to. I struggle with this all of the time. I'm quick to invalidate because even the most fundamental problems of having to provide for my family seem enormous compared to Simon's need to have a snack before bed, but to him, they're the same level of importance.

In the broader sense, it's the kind of thing they always show in the movies, where Dad is busy and important and directs the children to adhere to some structure and the nanny's direction or whatever, but sometimes they just need their father. Or Neil's father in Dead Poets Society. That guy was a dick.

I'm not saying that you don't set limits for kids, but I do think it's important to think about what makes them do what they do. You can't manage their motivation away, and I think it's important to try and understand it and acknowledge it, even when setting limits.

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