I had the wonderful experience of going to a musician's memorial the other night. Dave Conant, a mentor to my partner and a friend to my partner's family, passed away ten years ago. His daughter, widow, and friends decided to hold a wild night of music and memories in his honor, providing a large part of Seattle's music scene an opportunity for remembrance and celebration of his life at Hale's Palladium, the venue for the local Moisture Festival. I only knew a very few people and was initially uncomfortable to be the odd man out, but quickly found myself enjoying the music and feelings of camaraderie I found there. It was a very touching tribute, telling me as much about his friends and family as it did about the man himself.
Last night, my partner and I got to talking about what he wanted to pass on to his son. I was thinking in terms of tangibles and he meant values and lessons. This led us to a discussion about parenting, me questioning the best ways to pass on lessons to kids at different stages of development, what values are important to pass on and how to get the message across. These kinds of discussions are ones I cherish the most with my partner; I learn more about him and come to respect him even more each time we talk about serious issues because of his thoughtful and thought-provoking musings. He had recently watched Pearl Jam's documentary "20" and came away with the idea that we, as parents, try to instill a set of "guard rails" to help our kids survive and thrive in society, but it's the kids who push against the guard rails at an early age that become breakout stars in their field.
I look around and see so many parents struggling for the fine line between being overly permissive and being resented by their kids by being too strict. I struggle with my own experiences with finding my niche in our combined family, developing a relationship with my partner's son is on my mind a lot. I love him to pieces, I want to be of support to him as he grows into a young man, I have the best intentions. Hell, I even have a degree in Human Development (with a focus on early child development) and a minor in Psychology and some of the time, it doesn't help a damn bit because I'm fumbling in the dark when it comes to our interactions. It's not my responsibility to raise him, to teach him my values. I understand that, but I also believe that as a human being I have a responsibility to be a good role model for any child in my life, be they family, friend, or patient. I feel honored that I have an opportunity to share experiences with some pretty special young people and I want to be a positive influence, something that helps them as they grow and learn to be good people.
Growing up, I thought my parents and grandparents knew everything there was to know about raising kids. I never questioned whether I was loved, I never was abused, I rarely even THOUGHT about disobeying them (though it's true that if there wasn't an explicit rule for a given situation, I might be found carving my initials in the bathroom door and blaming my sister for framing me). Now, I find myself missing my deceased grandfather because I feel he would be better able to get a handle on things in our house, he would know what to do to restore order. Or questioning my mother at dinner the other week, trying to find out what her secret was, how she got the three of us girls to do what she said almost every time just by lowering her voice and narrowing her eyes. How my father could tell us we were going to do chores and we just DID them. I never resented them and never questioned that they were doing the right thing, but I find myself envying them sometimes. How will I ever get a two-year old to put on clothes that are appropriate for the given weather? How will I keep a ten-year old from starving to death when he won't eat vegetables or food that doesn't come from a box? And, dear lord, what in the world can I do when my kids get old enough to date, to drive, to sneak out at night, to have SEX?!? What kinds of values can I instill in them that will keep them alive, happy, and successful in whatever way they define? How will I prepare them, share the best things that I've learned with them to help them in their lives?
Maybe it's too soon to be worrying about these things, without a child of my own yet, but I think it's good to have these discussions with myself, and with my family and friends, to continuously develop ways to live a life consistent with my values so that I can honestly say when I leave this world that the kids in my life knew who I was and what I stood for and that I made a positive difference in their lives.