What We Teach is What We Are

I’ve been reading some interesting stuff online about what is being called objective parenting. This piece on parenting resulted from a thread I followed from John Galt all the way back to trying to remember the philosophical specifics of Ayn Rand (which for me was 40 years ago).

The idea of how Ayn Rand would raise a child – albeit theoretically – was too damn fanciful to ignore; hence the cookie crumb trail to objective parenting which led to a very interesting YouTube video, Parenting like Ragnar and Kay: How to raise an individualist with high self-esteem. 

The single most important sound bite here came at the 40 minute marker when the speaker said, ‘Regardless of what a parent tries to teach with all of their force and control, what we really teach is what we are.’ And she goes on to say, ‘We cannot give our children what we ourselves do not possess – this is psychological economics.’

Somewhere else in the video she says, ‘We can’t give what we don’t have,’ which is another way to say what she just said. I am writing this down because this is so very important to me because it helps explain so much.

First, because I remember on several occasions having a conversation with my mother on questioning what it was exactly that made for some children to think, act and grow up independent (and not others). This conversation took on increasing importance when I too was to become a parent, as in how could I pass that independent trait on to my child?

The other big takeaway for me here was to help undo the mystery of growing up essentially a fatherless son. I have never been able to reconcile until now, why my father never bothered to spend any time with me as child growing up (his buddies were more important) and as a result never taught me anything more than ‘stick up for yourself and hit back’, followed a few years later with the specific but directionless advice of  ‘get a job.’

I am seriously not kidding. That is the sum total of what I learned as a kid from my old man. Consequently most everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned on my own. And I am not embarrassed to say at this stage of my life (age 63) that many of the decisions I made along the way – while most thankfully self-correcting – were fundamentally wrong.  And from this perspective, if I could go back and change anything, I’d go back and change just about everything.

Don’t misunderstand. This post isn’t a big whine, or a big tearful confession. If anything I am happily relieved that the net effect has turned out to be so simple. My father didn’t teach me anything because honestly, he didn’t know anything. And arriving at this understanding now is most relieving as the question of why has been something that has been nagging at me for a long time.

I’ve asked myself over and over, as in why did so many people of my parents generation even bother to have kids, if the only thing they could (or cared to) teach them was ‘get a job’? And I still don’t have an answer to that question but I now have some light (however small, however dim) with which to examine my parent’s parenting; which simply put – was highly adversarial, the rulers vs. the ruled.

My daughter is now thirty years old and we were talking just the other day on the phone and part of the conversation was regarding their (her and her husband, Ryan) trip to visit friends in Seattle. And that topic swayed into an uncomfortable lane as Sarah told me how their friends’ essentially micromanaged (aka helicopter parenting) the entirety of their two children’s lives; albeit lovingly and happily. But we both agreed that there could be future problems with the whole issue of autonomy and personal systems like self-start/self-drive.

Now this topic of parenting is especially getting real interesting as Sarah and Ryan are in the present actively pursuing building a baby of their own (my turn of the phrase :).

And I have no doubt that Sarah is going to be a great mom. She’s patient, thoughtful, and forgiving. I’ve often watched her deal with the intractable nature of others – like in her pets, especially with her pain in the ass – needy, nagging 20 year old cockatoo, named Daisy, who angrily (and ironically) turned out to be a boy – with a wry, warmhearted humor.

The older I get the more I realize just how simple the understanding of our life really is. There is no real mystery. And truly, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. We give what we are.

The secret – as individuals, and as parents – is to try and become the best possible version of ourselves.

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