Congratulations. You now have – or are about to have – a child. You are about to embark upon two decades of experiences that will frequently seem like a forest for the trees experience because of appointments, practices, events, homework, trips, activities and chores. It will seem as though you’re sailing through weeks and months and you think that you’ll have these children forever…but you won’t. The typical child born today will live approximately 80 years and you will have him for perhaps the first quarter of that period. So maybe it’s appropriate to consider a simple question before you enter the undergrowth of parenthood.
What is the point of raising a child?
It seems like a stupid question on the face of it. You take care of them and they go out when they’re adults. I’m not a guy who overthinks things, but is it – should it be – really that simple? It isn’t. Given the complexity and costliness of modern American society, it’s important to have a sense of what you want to accomplish. It’s eye-opening to hear young people say such things as…I wish someone had told me that I should dress a certain way for an event…I wish that someone had explained the terms of my student loans before I took them on…I wish that someone had told me that I couldn’t get a decent job with a bachelor’s degree in Western Civ Studies. You hear enough of these things and it occurs to you that providing a roof and food is insufficient. Granted, those are critical but it doesn’t have to be a slate roof and haute cuisine, either. What matters is two-fold: that your child have guidance and an ongoing dialogue about what’s happening both to – and with – her; and teaching her how to think and navigate her way through adult life.
Consider this. The cost of raising a child born today is now more than $230,000 and that’s even before any higher education. It’s an expensive proposition. Now suppose that you were going to build a new house that cost $230,000 and would be taking out a mortgage with a twenty year term. Anyone would give forethought to the process at the outset, about placement and design and materials. This isn’t to say that just as countertops should be granite or the flooring a rich hickory hardwood, so your baby should be directed to play in the school band, join a particular activity or take a specific class. However, it is to say that just as you have a concept of what you’re trying to achieve in a house, you should have a concept of what you’re trying to achieve in raising this child.
So, what is the point? If you sit back and listen to people – one of my favorite hobbies – you’ll hear those who are parents say some amazing things. They want their kids to have a particular occupation or attend a specific type of college. They raise their children to have more than they had growing up, or live in a particular style house or neighborhood. They only want their children to date others of their own race. They want their children to grow up to be devout Christians. Or Jews. Or Muslims, for that matter. But they forget one simple fact: this infant that just puked on your new suit is a completely unknown quantity and it’s impossible to predict who she will be and how she will wind up. Certainly, there are genetic factors, parental traits and family influences, but you don’t yet know what they are and you can’t account for how the outside world will impact this baby. You have no way of knowing that this bundle might someday:
Attempt to set a new land-speed record;
Go to the local Ren Faire while cross-dressed;
Spend idle time using his bedroom wall for knife-throwing practice;
Run a simple errand to Kmart and within an hour, flip an ATV;
Satisfy the entrepreneurial urge by selling outmoded electronic games for a sizeable markup on Ebay;
Win a science fair, graduate with honors and become bilingual;
Graduate from Cal Tech;
Win a national award for high school theatre (yes, there is such a thing);
Hit home runs and provide support for a female friend who has been accosted;
Become a successful oil trader that can buy and sell you thrice over.
Make any bet about such events at this age and you’ll lose.
So again, what’s the point? My own take long ago was to keep it simple: I wanted to see my children able to walk out the door into the great wide world as productive adults. They should be able to think for themselves and be able to provide for themselves. My wife and I weren’t going to raise Republicans, Christians, heterosexuals or lawyers. We would raise them to make their way in the world and if they wound up as gay Republican Christian lawyers, then that would be on them. I’ll grant you that that would be a particularly tough combination, but it would be their combination.
Take some time to consider what you think is your own point and use that as a simple guide going forward. Look for experiences and opportunities that help support that point and be prepared to talk – a lot – with them with that simple point in mind. Then enjoy the adventure of seeing who they become.
And yes, the instances noted above have all occurred. Welcome to the adventure.