Once in a while I write a post that stirs someone to the point where they want to send me a private email about it. I guess that yesterday's post was one of those times. I didn't see anything controversial of even challenging about the post, but one reader latched on to something that I needed to sit down and consider for a while. To paraphrase, the feedback was something like this:
"You write about how your kids love life, and how you give them so much. I would love my life too if I got to do whatever I wanted all day long, with a parent around to wait on me hand and foot. Yep, if I got to choose what to do, when to do it, and who to do it with, with no consequences whatsoever, I'd probably meet your perfect definition of childhood."
Now, once I let my blood cool a little bit, I had to think about how to approach this note. In all candor, there were several possible approaches I could have taken. First of all, my kids don't "get" to do what they want, they "choose" to do what they want and we do our best to support those choices within the confines of attempting to meet multiple needs of multiple people. Second, the opposite of "get to do" is "be prohibited from doing", and I work hard to ensure that I never say no arbitrarily or reflexively. Of course, I do not wait on my kids hand and foot; I do things for them because I want to or because it is helpful to them, but I don't do everything - and when I ask them for something, most of the time they will do it because they have seen small acts of kindness modeled for them. And to suggest that my kids act without consequence is ludicrous; everything they do has a consequence of some type. Our consequences, however, are not punishments - they are simply the natural, logical extensions of what is, with the parent alongside them to coach and support them through.
I could easily have approached my response in one of these ways, and if I looked hard enough I'm sure that I have written about each one of them in depth before. But these issues were not what struck me; what struck me most was this:
"I would love my life too if I got to do whatever I wanted . . . "
Yes, that is precisely my point. You would love your life if you could do what you wanted, because most of us would never choose to so something that did not bring us joy or relief. And yet, we all do just that to some extent. Now, I could write forever about how and why parents should pursue what they want; I think I already have written about that several times, too. But I'm more concerned with the kids in this case.
I can only assume that, as parents, we want our kids to have a better and easier life than we did. You can define "better" and "easier" in a variety of different ways, but I think that a "better" life means a happier life, a life that you enjoy, a life that is fun, a life that gets up every morning and pulls you into it even when you think you'd rather not. If I don't have one of those lives myself I can make changes to get there, but I may have a ton of reasons why I shy away from doing that much work. I may have to sacrifice my possessions, my security, or the way I am perceived in order to pursue a life that I would love. But kids . . . . kids don't have that baggage yet. They can choose joy and fun and happiness without feeling like they have to sacrifice anything to get it, because they're often not as intellectually invested in the trappings of life - their sole interest is in living and enjoying it.
When my kids grow older, I hope they never say "I would love my life too if I could do what I wanted." Instead, I hope that they do love their lives, that they are pursuing their passions, and that they feel unencumbered by convention and compassion for people who are unable or unwilling to make choices to pursue joy.