One of my biggest mistakes that I learned to correct early on as being a parent was the image of wanting any of my kids to be something or someone that they are not. It really did not take much effort to realize that this unhealthy mental attitude of imposing my dreams on my children was as much a bad idea for them as it was for me. As far as I am able to tell, we are who we are and very little of our parental wishes and desires is passed on genetically. I might be able as father to contribute beyond the gene swap by nurturing and offering my children a conducive environment towards education, religion, and good health. However, I now know that I need to keep my mental bar of their success grounded on reality and not fantasies. This has nothing to do with me allowing them to dream to be anything they want to be in life. I can and encourage them to do that all the time. What this has to do with is my ability to be supportive, loving, and nurturing of their own dreams and not mine.
This all might sound like a simple concept to grasp, yet what is tricky is not the part about understanding it, the challenge is executing it. In my life, I have found myself to be very lucky that my own parents had this concept pretty much worked out by the time I was growing up. It really did not matter what path I decided to take, at every turn my mom and dad were completely supportive of my decisions. I could tell that sometimes they were doubtful of my reasons, but even so they always gave me a two thumbs up when I made up my mind to do it my way. My mom tells me that when I changed tracks from pre-med and I left Puerto Rico and transferred to Texas A&M, my father was totally excited about my decision to become an engineer instead of a doctor. Interesting though that I never saw that in his even keeled attitude towards my decision. Less than a month later I was calling from Texas telling my parents that I did not like it there and wanted to come back home. Over the phone all I got was support, encouragement, and love. However, my mom tells me that once the phone call was over she looked into my fathers eyes and saw him do something totally out of character for him, he cried. I learned about this moment years later when I had already graduated from college and my father had passed away. This story grounded me early on to realize that as a father I needed to be there for my children even if their decisions felt wrong at any given moment. Seriously, my father never tried to talk me into changing my mind. To me, this is one of the most important lessons I have learned from my father.
I give you this advice not just because it makes sense, but also because it works. I need to allow my children to be themselves. I cannot force my dreams on them no matter how tempting it might seem at the moment. I need to lead them by example and then allow them to make their own mistakes because this is how boys turn into men, and girls turn into women. Of course I do want to set the appropriate environment for them to make healthy decisions, but I don’t expect them to do what I would do in their shoes all the time. Did I do what my parents expected me to do all the time? When I see them making the same mistakes that I made, I know it is hard to hold my tongue, but if I survived those mistakes they will too. The time to teach them about the things that I did wrong in life was early on, when they were still receptive to my opinion and wisdom. I can still reinforce the right ideas, but I cannot expect them to be as effective if I waited until they were teenagers to do so. Fortunately for me, I learned this lesson a long time ago and I think that I did a good job planting good seeds early on. Now, even though it is sometimes very painful to watch, I have to allow them to make their own mistakes.
I think that it would be wrong of me to try to change my kids, to make them something that they are not. Just because their personalities are sometimes hard to deal with, this does not make them bad in any way shape or form. From the beginning I did what I thought was the right thing to do and showered them with love and attention. So no matter how rough their character might seem at times, I know that deep inside they are tender and loving too. Surely they will ultimately find their way to being good men themselves, why should I doubt that? Something that I have noticed and sometimes felt confused about is watching how some children that have been neglected by their fathers after their parents get a divorce, tend to gravitate towards the neglecting parent. I see them idealizing the irresponsible parent and seeking their attention and approval more than other children from divorced parents in which both parents have stayed true to their parenting responsibilities. I can only assume that this gravitation towards the not so good parent is a cry for their love and attention. I can also only assume that the parent has no idea of how damaging this role behavior might be by the sad lesson that is being learned by the child. If you fall under this category, you might want to re-evaluate your parental role. In fact, I hate to say it, but according to some friends that have been on the other end of this dilemma, no parenting is sometimes much better than bad parenting. It is like saying that no influence is much better than a bad influence. I am not certain if this is true, but it makes a lot of sense.
If I was only allowed to use two words to describe my kid’s personality, I think I would be in a really tough spot. Every individual is an entire universe full of so many characteristics that make them entirely unique. It is this uniqueness that allows so many people to find someone else to share their lives. However, given the challenge of the two word limitation I would venture to say that my youngest son would be best described as being “happy and good hearted.” For my oldest son I would probably pick “brilliant and moody.” Each of them has their own way of dealing with life’s challenges, yet both were raised in the exact same environment. My challenge is to allow them to be themselves when dealing with their life challenges, while at the same time I provide them with the assurance that I am always here for them. Just yesterday I asked my youngest son how he felt about what in my mind is his older brother’s bad influence because of his smoking habit. He had a brilliant answer that really made me think and understand him better afterwards. He simply said, “Dad…I am not impressionable.” Meaning that what others did around him, including his brother, would not change who he is himself. Wow, that reminded me so much about myself. From a very early age nothing that any of my friends did around me had enough impact on me to make me change who I was either. I believe his self assessment and will take his words to heart. In fact, I am happy that I asked him that question since this gives me an even stronger reason to step aside and allow both my son’s to simply be themselves.