Learning Through Parenthood, A Humbling Experience

Parenthood is a humbling experience. It is a rewarding experience. It is a growing experience. Children are a reflection of their parents. Maybe that’s why parenting can be so frustrating.

I’ve gone through different phases of parenthood. Of course, there is the “overwhelmed stage” as a young parent. We had our two boys 11 months apart. That was physically taxing, especially for my wife. I quickly realized how different points of views can be about child rearing. We had a Korean live-in “nanny” when the boys were babies. Once, when my older son, Jeffrey, cried and wouldn’t go to sleep, I left him in the crib and restrained the nanny from picking him up. Next day, she was packing her things, saying she would not stay around and watch a baby die from the cruelty of his father. My wife pleaded with her to stay, promising that I wouldn’t do that again.

I wanted to teach my sons independence in the Western way. The women in their lives wanted to nurture them unconditionally in the Asian way. That unconditional love, of course, has a price later of tremendous family pressures and obligations.

As my kids grew older, I was completely absorbed in my career, especially in building ARIS. I traveled constantly and played only a minor role to my wife in raising our boys during their elementary school years. I remember hearing somewhere that a mother’s role is make children feel nurtured and safe, and a father’s role is to prepare them for the real world. I took that too literally. For their elementary and pre-teen years, I was a strict disciplinarian.

My younger son, Jeremy, especially had a hard time with my approach as he was very sensitive. Even as a big chasm developed between us, I was determined to treat both boys the same. That was a big mistake. After all, I was an adult and he was a child, and I was being unreasonably stubborn.

As the boys hit teenage years, Jeffrey became everything that I tried to instill, a very independent person — but to an extreme. He got into the punk culture while living in London. He played in a rock band. He got in trouble in school and with local authorities. No parenting method worked. By then, I had matured enough to know that the cold disciplinarian tactic did not work. I was trying be a more engaged father. Even that, I messed up in my typical fashion, getting too involved with his band and giving input that wasn’t wanted, nor needed.

Looking back, the problem was that my boys weren’t meeting MY expectations. I initiated most of the conflict. Now, I agree that parents need to set guidelines, but we need to determine whether our expectations for our children are good for them or for the parent. If it’s only good for the parent, then the problem obviously is the parent.

Here is a story that changed my perspective. There was a young man who had social anxiety issues and met with a psychologist. He was raised by a single mother who never let him out of her sight. She developed her whole life around him. She drove him to school, picked him up at school, even as he was going to high school. When asked if he perhaps thought that his mother had acted selfishly, the young man responded, “Oh no, it’s because she loved ME so much.”

Obviously, real love would have been to let her son grow and develop the skills necessary to function in society, regardless of how painful that may have been for the insecure, single mother. Letting go sometimes is the truest form of love.

We just finished a family vacation over the holidays in Southern California. While we had the usual moments of conflict when trying to coordinate a group decision, our time together was very pleasant. My perspective on parenting has changed a lot over the years. I’m not big on imposing my will on my boys anymore (it never worked), but now want to find their individual strengths and nurture those. I’ve learned to appreciate the personalities of each.  I must say that they are both very street smart, despite all the craziness I had injected into their lives.