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What My Parents Did Wrong (Or So I Thought)

When trying to correct your own parents' mistakes backfires

Published on: May 25, 2018

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father and son

My mother and father did a good job of raising us. You can put a checkmark in all the big boxes: My siblings and I attended good schools, we were encouraged to follow our interests and we never really wanted for anything.  

But, like all parents, there were some things that they could have done better.

My folks were so busy providing for us that they didn’t spend as much time with me as I would’ve liked. I was a bit on the chunky side, and I always wished they had helped me do something about it. And I was always shepherded out of the room so the grown-ups could chat, even though I was often very interested in what they were talking about. Going to college ended up being a huge culture shock for me when I finally discovered just how sheltered I really was growing up.

It turns out that trying to correct my parents’ mistakes might have been a mistake.  

So, when I was finally blessed enough to become a father, I decided to fix these problems. I promised to spend as much time as possible with my kids. I vowed to carefully monitor their diets so they would grow up healthier than I ever was. And I pledged to educate them about life, making sure that they understood why the world was the way it was.  

It turns out that trying to correct my parents’ mistakes might have been a mistake.  

I spend a ton of time with my kids. That’s what we’re supposed to do, right? But now I worry that my being with them so much has been at the expense of their learning to be more independent. They seem to have trouble being by themselves, and whenever there’s a problem, their first instinct is to come running to Mom and Dad, rather than trying to see if there’s something they can do about it.  

My kids don’t snack too much, and they eat balanced meals … but I may have been too uptight about their diets.  

Recently, my wife and I discovered a pile of empty junk food wrappers hidden in our basement. My 6-year-old son had apparently been sneaking treats for quite some time; we found stashes of empty wrappers squirreled away throughout the house.

Similarly, our kids were never allowed soda. It became this mythical substance that they schemed to obtain whenever Mom and Dad weren’t looking. When Childless Uncle took them to a fair last summer and let them pick whatever they wanted to do, they chose the snack bar line over and over so they could choke down as much soda as the human stomach can hold. Childless Uncle was only too happy to oblige.  

In my efforts to open up this great big world around us to our kids, I read them newspaper headlines over breakfast and recapped what was happening. I also let them listen in on some grown-up conversations to help them learn that people have different thoughts about things. But it’s one thing to explain Deflategate to your kids and quite another to give them an age-appropriate recap of Sandy Hook.  

In trying to “fix” the things our parents did wrong, do we sometimes overcorrect? Definitely. But I always try to keep in mind that my three kids seem to be turning out fine. And that it’s okay to adjust our own thinking as parents.  

Now, I let my kids order soda at restaurants, plus I started setting timers to encourage them to do stuff by themselves. I still read them headlines in the morning, though, because when they ask me questions about the world and we can talk about it, that’s one of my favorite things about being a parent.  

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