The Kids are All Right

Seriously, folks, can we all stop panicking about our children?

Let me level with you: there are many things about your children and their experience in life that you will never be able to control or prevent.  You have the most ability to control their lives and experiences when they are tiny babies and even then?  Yeah, you’re not actually in charge.  But most of the time it turns out okay, anyway.

Things in Your Children’s Lives that You Cannot Control

  • When they wake up and fall asleep.  I know that the parenting books promised you otherwise when you were reading up on the importance of “routine” and “structure” in anticipation of your baby’s birth, but they lied to you.  Parenting books lie all the damn time; get used to it.  You can’t control when your kids wake up and fall asleep by any method short of pharmacological– you can make suggestions, you can provide conducive or non-conducive environments, but you are not in control.
  • When, what, and how much they eat.  I know, parenting books again.  You can model eating habits, you can shape diet by what foods are available, and you can make suggestions about mealtimes, but the fact is, kids won’t eat if they don’t want to eat.
  • How they feel.  Nope.  You just can’t.  You can’t control how anyone feels, not even you.  Feelings aren’t subject to logic and they certainly don’t respond to what other people wish they were.  Yes, that even means that you can’t control whether your child is sorry for his misdeeds or whether hit likes your weird relatives.
  • Who their friends are.  See above.  You can’t control how they feel about other people, not even their peers.  And unlike some of the other items in this list, you can’t even really make suggestions.  Because as soon as you say “I don’t want you to spend so much time with Ashley”, guess who is suddenly your child’s BFF?  You can say things like “I wouldn’t want to spend much time with somebody who said things like that to me” but only if you’re very cautious.
  • Who they fall in love (or like) with.  See above.  You can’t control it.  You can’t.  Stop trying.  The harder you try to shape your child’s relationships with others, the more dedicated your child will be to proving you wrong.
  • When they start dating, wearing makeup, etc.  Your child will lie to you, sneak around, steal, and cheat to do things they feel they must do.  If you forbid it, they MUST try it.  If you say they aren’t old/mature/experienced enough, they do it to feel grown-up.  If you say it’s not safe, they do it to prove that they are strong!
  • Whether they encounter “bad people”.  Pedophiles, rapists, violent abusers, and serial killers exist in the world.  And obviously, until they are caught, they are at large.  They could be anyone!  Nothing short of raising your child in total isolation from all other human beings will protect them from bad people, and if you did that, the child in question would likely end up pretty bad hitself.
  • Whether bad things happen to them.  If nothing ever happens to them, nothing ever happens to them.  Not much fun for little Chico.  If good things happen to them, bad things will, too!  You can’t keep your children safe from everything.  You can’t.  You can help prepare them for things that might go wrong by warning them that they might need to stand up to a friend because something isn’t safe, or talking about bullying behavior and how to recognize it and defend against it, or by making sure they know how to swim, etc.
  • Whether they tell you things.  I would think this one was pretty obvious, but I hear parents say things like “If my teen got pregnant, she would tell me!” or “If my child was gay, I would know!”  Bad assumption.  You can’t force people to be open and honest with you, not even your children.
  • Whether they are happy.  Go back and re-read the one about not being able to control their feelings.  Happiness is a feeling.  You can’t control it.  You can create conditions that make happiness in others more or less likely, but that’s about it.
  • Whether they experiment with sex, drugs, rock and roll, and other things.  You can’t control this.  Remember that the parenting books lie.  If you literally locked your teenagers up in chastity belts and they wanted to experiment with sex, they would become infamous in their peer group for oral skills or date cute locksmiths.
  • Whether they make stupid choices.  Life is riddled with stupid choices, and a big part of childhood and especially adolescence is making mistakes.  Offer your advice, unsolicited when they’re too young to ask and then only if solicited once they’re older, but resign yourself to the fact that these are not your choices to make, and act accordingly.
  • Whether they are interested in math, or are gay, or want to go to college, or vote Republican.  Children are their own people.  Sometimes you’ll agree with them, sometimes you’ll see yourself in them, sometimes they’ll exceed your expectations.  But sometimes you’ll be surprised or maybe even disappointed when you don’t recognize some aspect of who they are.  Take deep breaths and accept your children as you find them, because you can’t control who or what they are– that’s an emergent property of their entire lives from the moment of their conception to today’s lunch.



“The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.” — Princess Leia, unwittingly giving awesome advice to parents of teenagers