Welcome to ‘Unsolicited Advice’ – the weekly column in which I offer advice to people who never asked for it and don’t know who I am.
Last week I advised a Florida mom to stop coddling her idiot son after he made death threats online. This week our adventure in advice brings us face to face with an interesting survey.
The New York Post covered a study in which 80% of the parents surveyed said they think of their school days as the best time in their lives. I realize that this is a bit of a departure from my usual structure, but this study has prompted me to forgo giving advice to just one person and instead address one large group….PARENTS.
I must admit that the percentage of parents who believe school was the best time of their lives stunned me. My first thought was –
“How tragic is it that so many people feel they peaked in high school?”
My second thought was –
“No wonder there are so many shitty parents out there”
It all makes sense now, why so many parents around me seem to have trouble controlling and guiding their children. A larger portion of you than I ever would have imagined probably wish you were your children. The “cool mom/dad” is a very real phenomenon. I know because I live in “cool-mom” central in southern California. I once thought it was just about parents wanting to be liked by their kids, but now I believe it is more about parents wanting to be their children.
You see those children as peers. You see those children going to school every day where you imagine them living their best lives, just like you did when you were that age. You can call it living vicariously or just being your kid’s best friend, but I call it wishful thinking.
First, your kid is keeping all kinds of things from you no matter how close you think you are. You are not best friends…not yet. That is an adult relationship and no matter how hard you try you cannot be peers with a child. Second, the reason you are pushing your child so hard to achieve those perfect grades or that perfect look or that perfect extracurricular activity is because you are projecting your own childhood fantasies onto your child. Their achievements don’t just make you look like perfect parents in your minds, but they also satisfy your own unfulfilled fantasies of having the perfect school experience.
This is becoming so clear now. I see so many parents making so many immature, fearful, half-ass decisions for their kids and now I know why…you just never grew up yourself.
If you think you peaked in high school, that tells me your life was too good. You didn’t have enough challenges. You didn’t struggle enough. You didn’t have enough boundaries, because boundaries as kids are what make us appreciate the freedom of adult life so much.
What a sad, sad thing to believe your best days were behind you the second you walked off campus. That means your “best life” ended around 18-21 (depending on post-secondary choices, of course). But the average American lives about 80 years. That’s a hell of a long time to be feeling that you blew your best years during the tiny portion that is your school life.
So here’s my advice to you. Spare your children the burden of being your personal therapy project. If you are a parent who thinks their best days are behind you, find some new joy in your life. Don’t tell me, “Oh, well my kids are the center of my world and I have time for nothing else” because if that’s true then you have a big problem! Your kids were born into your life, not the other way around. You can love them wholly and unconditionally without making them the center of the universe. They don’t belong there. It’s unhealthy and it destroys the family hierarchy which ultimately destroys healthy egos in children.
Love your kids and be awesome parents. And also find a hobby. Find a book club. Join a cycling club, a political discussion group. Start a blog. Go back and get that degree you always wanted. Find that new job. Volunteer at that place you’ve always admired. Transform your body into something you love. Rekindle that passion with your spouse that may have been lost to the day to day grind. Make a plan, then execute it.
My point is, no matter what your life was like as a child your best years are still very much ahead of you, but only if you choose to see it that way. You live in the greatest, wealthiest, most prosperous country on earth. Your worst days are still a mere fantasy for 98% of the rest of the world. The truth is that life almost everywhere else outside of the West is a daily struggle. You are blessed. Act like it.
Stop pining. Start living. Grab everything in front of you. I’m betting your kids see you express a lot of regret (which can sometimes read as regret for their presence). Give up regret and model hope. Show your children that when you look forward with gratefulness and curiosity and when you’re willing to take risks, your best days will always be ahead of you.
School is out. Deal with it.