“I’ve come to realize that making it your life’s work to be different than your parents is not only hard to do, it’s a dumb idea.” — Paul Reiser, Familyhood
Lucy is just three years old and Ben is only three months, but I already wonder about what kinds of choices they’ll make in life. How much control do I have in shaping those decisions? How much of the values I try to get across actually do? And how much will they absorb without me even realizing it?
My aim is to raise them to be independent thinkers, but what if they do everything the OPPOSITE of what Kim and I have done? And what does it mean if they do?
Interestingly, on the surface, it would appear as though I’ve completely veered away from many of my own parents’ choices:
- After getting married, both of my parents started their life together just miles from where they grew up, and still live in the same town today. After we got married, Kim and I moved two hours away to a whole other state.
- I grew up with my mom doing all the cooking in the house. Today, all of the cooking (and grocery shopping) is my job.
- My two brothers and I were born in a hospital. Neither of my kids have been. (You can read Ben’s birth story here.)
- My two brothers and I went to a traditional Catholic grade school. Kim and I are planning to home school.
These are just a handful of the decisions that Kim and I have made that turned out differently from those of my parents. And because I know those decisions were often made after much thought and with great sacrifice, I can only imagine that my parents must sometimes wonder, “What the hell?”
Surely it must seem to them that I think they made terrible choices.
But I am reminded of something our midwife once said, “When it comes to life, there are a thousand right ways.”
I think she’s right. Although many of the decisions Kim and I have made are quite different from those of our parents, they are weighted more heavily because they are so…visible. However, the invisible ones, the choices and values that make up the foundation of our marriage and our parenting, come directly from our parents and are completely unchanged. Here are a few:
Staying home with the kids. It was with great sacrifice for my parents to live on one income so my mom could stay home with us kids. They had to say no (to us and to themselves) to many things that they simply could not afford. But I lived the benefits of that decision, and it made such a big impact on me that Kim and I have committed to do the same. Although we share childcare duties, our decision to make sure our kids have a parent as a primary caregiver is non-negotiable.
Managing money. My parents have been expert stewards with their money. They limited debt and didn’t spend more than they made. Not only did their habits enable them to help us out when our business was struggling, but their example was something we modeled to help us get through lean times.
Communication with each other. My parents are famous for going on “rides.” They hop in the car, drive nowhere in particular, and just talk. They talk about everything. I grew up watching that, and knew it was important. Communication is the key to a happy and long-lasting marriage. It’s become the single most important ingredient in mine.
Discipline. I have absorbed many of my parents’ views on the importance of discipline, both in terms of raising children and in managing oneself. My brothers and I were always applauded by others for being so well-behaved. It was simply what was expected of us, but I know — especially now — that it didn’t come about by magic. I am stealing many of my parents techniques in the hope that my own kids will also be similarly commended by strangers. And in the “managing oneself” department, my dad is like Cal Ripken Jr, in that sick days may as well be non-existent. And the stick-to-itiveness that helped me to persevere for the five years before our business could support us? I learned that from him, too.
Of course, there are more. The importance of family, of doing the right thing even when no one is looking, of doing what you said you were going to do, of taking the time to appreciate what you have. These are all gifts that have been given to me by my parents.
So yes, there are many external choices that Kim and I have made differently from my parents. I like to think of them as alternative “right ways” to do things. But the big values — the most important things — those have and will always be the same.
And for that, Mom and Dad, I thank you.
Lucy and Ben thank you, too.
P.S. Yes, that is Lucy picking her nose. Thanks for noticing.