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What if We Thought of Parenting as a 1UP?

·450 words·3 mins

A while back, I received reader mail from parents sharing how much fun they have when their children play with toys they’d never had.

They said it squared the circle. They got to experience things they missed out in their childhood with their own children.

All the joy, all the fun. But no feeling of silliness that they might have if they were an adult buying those toys to play with on their own.

(For the record, I think it’s perfectly fine for adults to buy toys from their childhood even if they have no kids. Some of them are collectible, yes, and nostalgia is ageless. Here’s an essay in which I did just that, which is what prompted the followup letters from people with children.)

It was a nice letter. As I’m a person without children of my own, this never occurred to me.

I had never thought of having kids as presenting an extra chance at one’s own childhood. Like Mario getting scoring the 1UP green mushroom and earning an extra life. A way to keep going even if he falls into the pit at first.

It’s cute, but it also makes me nervous.

The Future Cheerleader Trap

Part of this, I think, has to do with my wariness at the idea of parents pushing too many of their own personal interests onto their children. Treating a child not as a young human who will eventually grow into their own person with their own personality and interests but treating their children as an extension of themselves. A replacement.

I’m rather sensitive about this, I think, because my own mother had ideas about who she wanted me to be. She had a grand plan for me and who I would become. She was a pretty introverted popular cheerleader, and I was a chatty artsy nerd. And while she was generally quite introverted, she wasn’t at all shy in my childhood about letting me know how much my every move violated her expectations for me.

I was doing life wrong just by being me. Even when those deviations from her plan were generally socially acceptable, for example, getting good grades and winning academic competitions (as she put, “You need to tone it down or you’ll die alone. Boys don’t want a girl smarter than them.”).

It’s now wonder, given this, that I reflexively cringe at shirts sized for babies that say “Future Cheerleader” on them. Or even something that more aligns with my social circles — “Future Artist,” “Future Hacker,” “Future Geek.”

I think there’s a fine line between getting the most out of your parenting experience and living through them.

And I’m not sure where that line is.


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