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On leading your children

January 10th, 2010 Posted in Fatherhood, The Art of Parenting

Joanna Moorhead offers another example of surprisingly good advice flowing from disastrously poor premises. Among her flawed bits of wisdom: “Our children are entirely different from us. . .”; and “. . . the more you hold things to be important and significant and – worst of all – improving, the less they will care about them.”

Of course both are false on their face, and demonstrably so from a casual survey of parent-child data around political, ideological, and religious beliefs, as well as social activities. Parents who are Lutheran Republicans tend to have children who grow up to be Lutheran Republicans. Fathers who watch NFL football every Sunday tend to have sons who watch NFL football on Sundays. Mothers who do lots of cooking tend to have daughters who cook. Men who tend to be milquetoasts tend to raise wimpy sons. Women who are always right tend to have bossy daughters.

We shouldn’t be deceived by their different tastes in music, or by the inevitable and numerous deviations from complete mimickry, into thinking that our children are spontaneously generated. Nor should we think that because we butt heads with them, this is proof of their individuality — quite often it’s proof of the reality that they have adopted the very same personality traits that make us hard to get along with.

Moorhead’s advice for parents fits the current trend, which is that adult self-indulgence is actually a form of enlightened parenting. She calls it “leading from in front”: “Put simply, leading from in front is all about enjoying your own life as an adult, using your talents, and working out solutions to problems in a healthy and productive way.”

Go live your own life, says the new wisdom. Indulge your dreams, and your kids will be better for it. A soothing balm for the busy career parent.

Still, I think there’s wisdom here, as Moorhead writes: “We’re all a lot better at working out what others should be doing than in putting our own houses in order, and that’s every bit as true of our relationships with our kids as it’s true of our relationships with anyone else.” That certainly resonates with me. If I’m not happy with the behavior of my children (and often I am not), then I should look inward first, because the person they are watching (as Moorhead tacitly acknowledges with her advice) is me.

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