I generally find boastfulness unbecoming, but my wife and I have the perfect child. Really.
Whitney, our only child, is on my mind today for a couple of reasons.
First, her 21st birthday is coming soon when we lose her to adulthood.
Second, a YouTube video that’s gone viral has shown a parent-child relationship at its worst. The video shows an unhappy father of a teen girl excoriating her publicly. It goes something like this:
* Man finds Facebook post from daughter, decrying her unfair treatment by her parents who force her into performing simple chores.
* Man gives her the what-for, quite publicly. (As of this writing, over 25-million people have seen it. If it hadn’t touched a nerve, it wouldn’t have been watched by 8% of our nation’s population.)
* Man shoots her laptop computer – literally – with bullets from a handgun.
My first reaction to this was despair and sadness. I mumbled to myself as I watched it, “This father and daughter have a problem, and I’m not sure whose is worse.”
My second reaction was puzzlement, as my own parenting experience couldn’t be more different.
When Whitney was conceived nearly 22 years ago, her mom and I lived in Seattle, Washington. We counted as friends several voluntarily childless couples, and would have been content not to have children of our own. But as Jane reached the upper end of her reproductive years, our minds changed. She had several miscarriages before her successful birth. Whitney was a beautiful baby with wisps of blonde hair and bright blue eyes. She was seldom fussy and easily calmed.
We relocated to Blacksburg when she was only six months old. Blacksburg is the only home she’s ever known.
When she reached the “terrible twos” she remained pleasant and eager to please. She swept though the “tantrum threes” and the “fiendish fours” way too fast, but remained a joy to be around. We never hesitated to take her to restaurants or shows as she always behaved, even as we saw other kids making their parents miserable. We heard so many times, “Yeah, she may be fine now, but wait until she turns X,” but when she’d turn X, she was just as wonderful as she’d been before. I don’t ever recall disciplining her.
People have often praised my wife and me for doing such a good parenting job, but I think most of the credit goes to Whitney. We did have some guiding principles, although we never codified them.
We always treated her with esteem and love.
We always respected her opinions and desires. We let her know she was an equal member of our household, not a guest, and would always be treated as such.
We always cut her some slack. Millions of beds around the world aren’t made every day and if she didn’t feel like making hers, it wasn’t that big a deal.
We always let her make all but the most potentially dire decisions in her life and helped her to understand that she would benefit or suffer from the repercussions.
We always tried to expose her to the grand variety of cultures, landscapes, art, music, and adventure the world offers us. She’s been in over thirty states and a dozen foreign countries.
When I asked her what she thought about her upbringing, she said, “You and mom taught me to be independent and to make my own mistakes. You were always very supportive. You pushed me to do well but didn’t make me feel unworthy or ashamed if I couldn’t do something. I learned to always be nice to people no matter who they are. I have never really been interested in misbehaving.”
See? I told you!
She’s a junior at Tech this year. She’s stressed with multiple demands of her schoolwork, part-time job, boyfriend, sorority, hobbies (mostly horses) and other assorted activities. She’s worried about getting a good start with her career when she graduates, cognizant that our job market is not the best for new entrants. Okay, she’s not really perfect; she spends more time than I’d like with a cell phone in her hands, she curses like a sailor, and her burps would wake a corpse. But she’s still tiny, still gorgeous, and still great to be around. As far as I can tell, she has no enemies; everyone adores her.
We finish every conversation with, “I love you.” Every day I’ve had her in my life has been a blessing. Gosh, wouldn’t the world be a better place if every parent felt that way about their kids?