Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Other Parents

“But Joey’s parents let him play Call of Duty!”


We’ve hit the age at which our biggest parenting obstacle is other parents.

TB is almost ten, and we’re discovering that different parents have very different ideas of what that means. The catch is that ten-year-olds talk to each other and compare notes.

Bedtimes, acceptable tv shows, violent video games, trips to Hooters -- we’ve had to deal with variations on “but my friend...” for all of these.

It’s a terribly difficult balance. I don’t want TB to be entirely illiterate in peer culture. Learning to navigate the social world matters, and when conversations turn in these directions, they turn in these directions. And it’s certainly true that as he gets older, the range of things he could handle grows. That’s a good thing.

But I also can’t help but think that some things just aren’t appropriate for his age. It’s just hard to explain that to him.

He called me on it the other night. He was upset that we had said “no” a few times in a row -- no Family Guy, no Call of Duty, etc. He wanted to know why.

It would have been great if I had done some research and come up with the perfect thing to say, but that’s not how it played. It was bedtime, he was upset, and I needed an answer on the spot.

I told him that although he doesn’t know it yet, he’s really only with us for a short time before he goes out into the world as an adult. He’s an amazing kid, and he’ll be an amazing adult, one I will be proud to call a friend. When he’s grown, he’ll be able to make all these decisions for himself, and I’ll know he’ll make them well.

But until then, my job is to make sure he doesn’t get messed up. Letting a great kid get lost would be a crime. I need to protect him from things he isn’t ready for, and things that teach bad habits.

I told him that he will be tall, handsome, smart, and successful as an adult, and that I want to make sure that he’s not a jerk about it. That means avoiding games that teach that shooting people is fun, or restaurants that teach that women are decorations. It means staying away from certain things until he’s old enough not to get lost in them.

I told him about a time when he was about three. He was helping TW pull weeds from a flowerbed. It was a hot day, and we told him he could go inside if he wanted. He refused, and, looking directly at me, said “I want you to be proud of me.” That was a guilt-bomb, of course, but I was also impressed that a three-year-old would put that together. I told him that I’ve never known another kid capable of that, and that the thoughtfulness and maturity he showed then has only grown. It’s my job to give him enough room to grow into himself, and not to get distracted by the dumber aspects of life.

He asked why other parents let their kids do those things. I shrugged, and said that parents have to make choices for their kids, and those parents made those choices. I disagreed with those choices, but couldn’t do anything about it. But I knew he was special, and I had to do what I thought was right to help him grow into himself. I knew he was frustrated sometimes, and that was okay. Over time, he’ll get more room to move. Eventually -- sooner than he really appreciates -- he’ll be able to do whatever he wants. For now, though, he just needs to focus on all the good stuff he can do.

He seemed to accept it. I don’t know how much was comprehension and how much was humoring, but I’ll take it. It won’t be a whole lot longer before I won’t even get that. By then, he won’t ask to do objectionable things; he’ll just do whatever appeals to him. The choices other families have made will be facts on the ground to him.

But until then, it’s my job to shape his sense of what feels right as best I can. No, TB, you can’t play Call of Duty or go out to Hooters. Someday you’ll laugh at me for that. But someday later, I hope, you’ll get the point. And I’ll be proud every step of the way.