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In Which I Realize the Secret to Parenting

Tonight while my family was running around the BYU indoor track, and my five-year-old Ariah was whizzing along at her own pace, lap after lap (as barefoot as her dad), catching wide-eyed glances from everyone she passed, I found myself reflecting on her formidable running career.

We first started taking Ariah running when she was only two. We ran around the Orem Community hospital, where I motivated her by pretending that the large riding lawnmower was a monster coming to eat us. As time went on, we played Cinderella, and I would run behind her tiny legs saying, “Princess, you dropped your shoe!” for sometimes literally miles on end. She hardly ever grew tired of the game.

Of course, she wouldn’t run the whole time, so it was nice to have a jogging stroller. When baby Aspen came along, we had to figure out a way to fit both girls into a single-seated stroller. Ariah would climb into a cramped compartment over the front wheel while Aspen would enjoy the luxury seat. All the old ladies at the track would gush over our cute, little family and comment on what wonderful parents Teresa and I were. Apparently not many families run together like we do. Yet these old ladies were overlooking the reality that we were really just too poor to afford babysitters and another jogging stroller.

Also as I was running tonight, I thought about the future and wondered if our family-bonding time will go downhill when our children become teenagers. I tried to imagine our kids as wayward, as mom and dad becoming “uncool,” and the whole mainstream-American-family thing taking over. I thought about strict curfews rules and disciplinary lectures. Then I thought about an old Jean Val Jean trying in vain to hold on to his maturing Cosette, of old parents wishing their children would call more often, of Little Boy Blue and the man on the moon.

And from all these nebulous thoughts, I formed a question: “What is the secret to parenting?” And I had a ready answer: “This question’s bunk, because it entirely misses the point. On the other hand, one could well ask: what is the secret to painting? Through knowing the right combination of tools, technique, and practice, one could, indeed, become a master painter. But children are not blank canvasses waiting to be brought alive. Kids invent themselves. In nearly every way, they cannot be forced or manipulated (unless you wish to break them). And … I guess I should be done with my ‘answer’ now.”

Consider the question: “What do you want in your future spouse?” The problem with this question is that it puts the focus on some mystical concept of a person that could never exist while taking all of the focus and responsibility away from the very existent you. The better and non-hypocritical question is: “What kind of person will I be for my future spouse?” When you’ve actually become that person, there’s little question about finding your ideal spouse, because such an idealistic beauty will naturally be attracted to you.

While the question “What kind of parent should I be for my children?” may seem a noble inquiry, it may also be misguided, because the focus isn’t actually on what kind of a person you should be but on what kind of guardian, overseer, or shepherd you should be. And why does that matter so much? Because no child is going to be inspired by your management skills. If anything’s going to inspire them, it’s you, the you beyond your roles, titles, and functions.

Even if there was a secret to parenting, it would be of no lasting effect to your children if you, yourself, were anything short of an inspirational human being. So without being duped by the vices of selfishness, focus less on parenting your children and more on being the type of parent your children would want to have. Don’t expect them to run miles if you’re not willing to do so with them.

In short, because we all love pithy axioms, I’m going to contradict my assertion that there is no secret to parenting (also because that doesn’t jive well with the title of this post) and just give to you. Ready? Here it is:

“The secret to parenting is to be so awesome that your kids won’t want to hang out with anyone else.”

Were my mom and dad “cool”? Well, let’s face it, I don’t think most of us could honestly give our parents flying colors as far as being hip, groovy, funky, or “down with the times.” And yet, there were many times in my upbringing that I recall feeling empty in the society of my peers and preferring to spend an evening with my family. So in that regard (and many regards), yes, my parents were cool. I wanted to be with them more than I wanted to be with that cool guy with the greasy hair and black jacket who wanted to offer me cigarettes and booze. And if, today, I’m slightly less backwards, messed up, and hopeless than I otherwise might have been, I attribute my success to my parents’ … well … non-standard coolness.

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