I dropped my grade-nine son off at school this morning, and as I’m listening to him chatter, I noticed a difference from previous years. Amongst the predictable griping — about getting up early, teachers who sleep-instruct while they mark the years until retirement, and his limited lunch menu — were the audible stirrings of personal ambition. He’s decided this is the year he’ll apply himself. He wants to get outstanding marks. Most critically, he doesn’t wish to obtain them for the ToolMaster and I, or the educational staff, but for himself.
Then it struck me: we’d moved from one type of life literature to another.
When children are young, most of them require external consequences to modify their behavior. They want to eat a purple popsicle over Auntie’s white carpet; we say no. Depending on their age and our abilities, we might explain our rationale, distract, or offer alternatives. For some time, we might even retain control of the situation. But depend up on it; at some point they’ll test us and we’ll need to impose external consequences. (Or else the hairless spider monkeys will have us cranking the organ grinder for the next several decades.)
This is genre fiction. Our children possess a clear external goal, we directly oppose it, and depending upon the family, conflict is visible in tantrums, purpled sofas and time-outs. Tired kid meets grocery story. Our red cheeks come from the drumming heels, the screams and the judgemental whispers.
At some point, though, if we’ve done our jobs, our kids internalize the rules. The tension that arises is now from the gap between their own expectations of themselves and their performance.
“There will be no video games until you’ve done your science project,” becomes silence on our part, for the gap gives them room to think. And into the vacuum they begin to feel their own discomfort. Maybe they think: “I feel like crap right now. I’ll get that science project done, then reward myself with video games.”
There. Genre parenting just became literary parenting. 🙂
So what kind of parent are you? A thriller parent? A literary fantasy? An I’d-never-write-romance-in-a-thousand-years-Nicholas-Sparks?