I spend an inordinate amount of time worried about the trivial aspects of child-rearing. As a confirmed bachelor a decade ago, I would have though my concern laughable. Only soft-headed parents sat around worrying about their children hearing Mozart in the womb and being exposed to ecologically sound psychologically pleasing alphabet posters. The idea of grooming children for greatness seemed stupid. Care to debate breast-feeding, anyone?
Now, after spending more than three years with two small children, I’ve been through the fire and back over to the other side. I spent years thinking that if my kids whimpered in their sleep, they needed to be held. If they couldn’t figure out the difference between two fingers and three fingers, they needed to be TAUGHT … NOW. For a while, every moment had to be a learning moment or it was a lost moment. The simple fact is that children are rough beasts, and little we do can really influence the humans they will be.
Extremes exist, of course. Extreme abuse can hurt, and extremes of nurturing can help. Wealth and influence help. I have no doubt that the children of the Bushes, Kennedys, Clintons and Obamas of the world have more access to better experiences and tutors and influences than I can hope to provide. But I have seen children of caring, loving, involved parents turn into low, desperate adults. I have seen children who had no positive parental influence at all turn into amazing, positive and caring adults. I have seen the opposite – caring, loving, involved parents who raised caring, loving, involved kids. What I have never seen in my life – to date – is a pattern. Kids are gonna vex ya.
We are all shaped by a multitude of influences. I count things as grand as my years in Moscow as an influence, but I would argue that I was just as deeply and permanently influenced by reading The Lord of The Rings when I was young. Digging back further, the time spent listening to my father read chapters from “The Hobbit” opened up an intellectual curiosity in my mind. I can count the momentary influences in my life that left deep impressions on me just as easily as the long-term influences. An evening spent playing Titanic with my parents might have had as deep an influence on me as my college education.
If you don’t have children, I think this lesson still holds true. Don’t worry too much about the influence you think you have – or don’t have – over others. We overestimate our own influence, because we are human. No matter how in touch we are with ourselves, WE are the universe. It soaks into everything – I write about personal finance because MY personal finances OUGHT to be the subject of praise/disdain/etc. Some basic principles hold true: in personal finance, don’t go into debt; in life, don’t hit women (for example – an inarguable principle). Core values are unalterable. We all want to be important, and the hero of our own lives.
But don’t worry about your children’s future as much as you do. Do what you can to be open, happy, and present. Everything else will be a bonus. The best college? Extra. The best cars or stuff? Extra. Even that extra book at bedtime? Extra, to be honest. Don’t worry about your friends or your family – do your best to be present above all else with them, and let them do what they can with that. If you put the best YOU out there that you can, you’ve done a good job. Your children can feed off of that better than they can a million trips to the mall.