Exactly one year ago, we took Johann on our first backpacking trip as a family. Just a few days before we left, we were speaking with a couple we had recently met. They have a kid who is only a few months older than Johann, so I was expecting some sort of reaction when we excitedly shared our weekend plans. After the initial response of “Oh, you’re so brave for attempting to take a baby backpacking,” the other mom immediately said that she would never do this with her own child, and would never even go camping either. We asked why, and she shared a few stories from her childhood, when her parents had dragged her and her siblings along on long uncomfortable backpacking trips. She recalled that one of those had been a thirty-mile trip over five nights, and she had been ten or twelve years old at the time. It was easy to see that she had not enjoyed any of this as a child, even if it had been great fun for her parents.
The conversation with this other parent was a year ago, but it left an impression on me. It made me question my own motivation for bringing Johann along on the activities that Ryan and I enjoy. After all, I remember plenty of times from my own childhood when I’ve had to go along with stuff that was fun for my parents or extended family that I had no say in, found absolutely boring, and sometimes dreaded. So does Ryan. So do a lot of our friends. Sure, now that we are parents ourselves, we get it. But that also means we know how miserable our kid is going to feel when he gets dragged along to do something and he’s still too young to understand its purpose. And, I’m not talking about the boring things we all have to do to keep our lives running smoothly. I’m talking about good stuff. The hobbies and activities we pursue, ways in which we replenish our souls and derive joy.
What if my kid grows up to hate the stuff we do? What if my kid grows up to hate my ways?
Every parent asks this question at some point in his or her life. Maybe you’ve got older kids, or fully grown kids, and are facing this question in a different way. Or maybe you don’t worry about it. Or maybe your wisdom and perspective in parenting allows you to have peace about it. But it keeps me up at night.
What if the things we find most meaningful are absolutely boring to our kids? What if the choices we make, the lives we lead, our very values, end up being completely rejected by our kids when they grow up? As responsible parents or parents-to-be, we take a huge leap off a cliff. We pour our hearts and souls into our children, making immeasurable sacrifices of our own for them, with the same end goal in mind, hoping they will fly the coop someday as responsible, capable, ethical adult citizens who have a solid foundation, and whose choices make us proud. And there is absolutely no guarantee of how things will turn out. It’s a huge risk we take, becoming parents. Probably the biggest risk we’ll ever take.
But we do it anyway. Why?
Because it’s worth it. Because our kids are worth it.
Ryan was less rattled by the woman’s story. He pointed out that in the world of a very young child, fun is paramount. Sure, it makes sense. Before children can understand the purpose of an activity, they need to be somehow engaged in the activity, and they won’t stay engaged in the activity if they’re not having fun or being properly challenged. Eventually, Johann will have opinions of his own. He will have hobbies and interests of his own that may very well turn out to be entirely different than our own. And, eventually, he will have a say in the things that we do as a family. How we listen to, encourage, and support our kids, and how we do family adventures then will be a good test of parenthood.
Right now, Johann is only eighteen months old. So, when we’re out, he is fascinated by everything. His entire visible world is one amazing place simply waiting for discovery. On hikes, he spends long minutes gazing up at the forest canopy in wonder. He is happy to play with sticks, dirt, and mud especially. (What’s up with the mud fascination, anyway?) He squeals with glee every time we see a waterfall or rushing river. He gets very excited and flaps his arms when we see wildlife, heck, he even loves on the dogs we see at the park or on trails (whether or not they reciprocate). His world is very simple right now. He has no choice but to come along with us on our adventures, and fortunately for us he seems to be enjoying them as much as we are.
I’ve been wondering when things will get more complicated, as I know they will.
It seems silly, really, to worry about things over which I have no control. Because, at the end of the day, would I really change what I do, how I parent, out of fear?
I do what I do because of my values, my core beliefs. My why. Exploring, appreciating, and being a good steward of the world around me are key components of those values. These are things I greatly hope Johann will value someday, too, when he’s old enough to understand. Until then he will be growing up as an active participant of his parents’ world. And so, we’ll keep exposing him to the things we reasonably can, big or small, while trying to balance our sanity. But I see families who swing the pendulum too far to the other extreme, too. And that seems unbalanced. We personally don’t enjoy running around a lot. My husband is a classic introvert and, while I am not, we both truly enjoy being home and like our quiet evenings! But we do want to give Johann the chance to sample things even Ryan and I have no strong interest or ability in, things like organized sports, and things that we enjoy and appreciate but did not seriously pursue, like drama and music. Of course, we’ll teach him the things we enjoy. Ryan can’t wait to give Johann his first set of woodworking tools, and I am waiting to teach him basic cooking. Of course we’ll keep getting outside. We’ll keep traveling. We’ll keep exploring. We’ll try to make sure Johann is still enjoying himself, learning, having fun, and discovering his why along the way. So when he is old enough to have his own opinions and forge his own path, we hope to be able to guide him well. And, maybe then, the question that keeps me up at night will be a mere memory.
Have you asked yourself this same question? How do you handle it, and how do you curb the fear it induces?