There is a fundamental conflict in parenting, and from the moment my first child was born, it has eaten away at me. The conflict is this:
I am responsible for making my children responsible. But I also love their lack of responsibility.
For example, I sent Isaac downstairs last night to brush his teeth and get ready for bed. On any given night, one can expect mixed results from this command. On one night, he may charge downstairs and be back in three minutes, breath minty, pajamas on and book in hand; on another, he may trudge slowly down the stairs and disappear for thirty minutes or more, putzing around.
Actually, that last phrase is a perfect way to describe the conflict. To me, it’s putzing around. But to him, it’s creating new video game monsters and figuring out their moves, or exploring abandoned castles, or creating entire worlds and characters out of paper bits and string.
Every single last one of those behaviors are behaviors I want to encourage. I see myself in him; I remember wheedling away countless hours doing precisely the same thing, even into my twenties. I love that he does that; I want to hear about the new enemies he’s created for “Mega Man X 10” and the rules of the new game he’s created.
But dammit, I also want him to go to bed.
The problem is, these inspirations don’t just strike him at opportune times; they strike him at all times. Left to his own devices, he would never put on his pajamas or brush his teeth. He would chatter, and extoll, and leap, and shoot lasers (read: throw things at the walls).
No, that’s not exactly right. The problem isn’t that the ideas come to him at all times. The problem is that I’m the one who needs to teach him that sometimes, you need to put all those awesome ideas away and do a job. It is not always okay to ignore your responsibilities and do whatever takes your fancy. My goal isn’t to crush his imagination or his spirit. But learning to channel those urges is the same as learning to suppress them, to some degree. His wild spirit and inventiveness are damaged by my interference, however hard I try to spare them.
In a very real sense, as his parent, I have an obligation to ruin some of the things I love about him the most.