Sunday, November 16, 2008

Pride and Joy

(I wrote this several months ago, and it got lost in my files. I discovered it and decided it might be worth putting up here)

I suspect that there is no way to predict with certainty the outcome of raising a child. Just look around you. There are untold examples of children of decent parents with lousy kids. It is the stuff of proverbs. Of course there are proverbs that say differently - that parents shape children, either intentionally or unintentionally.

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

A chip off the old block.

Yet, if you look around you, the truth of these other proverbs is also apparent. You can look at a child and every once in a while, the veil falls away and you can see the parent -- in a gesture, in a turn of phrase, in an approach to a problem. Of course, this cuts both ways. Bad apples fall as close to the tree as good ones. 

The outcome of child rearing is not predictable but I am pretty sure that that how a child is raised has some effect. The interplay between nature and nurture is complex, and very far from being a straight line thing. It isn't so much an simple expression ( 2+2 = 4) as a complex equation with many variables.

Much (perhaps even a majority) of the influence is unintentional and below consciousness. I'm not sure how it works, but it is really something to watch. Every once in a while I see something in my girls that just amazes me.

Today, my Bride took our youngest to her Girl Scout meeting. This included a trip to the library -- a big treat. I was home when they arrived. After kissing everyone hello, I noticed that Little Bright Eyes was not in the house. "Where is she?" I asked. "In the car reading some of her new books from the library" I was told. I looked out the door and sure enough, she's still sitting in the car, happy as a clam in the sand, looking through her new stack of nice fresh books. I watched her for a second, thinking, "That's my girl! Brought her up RIGHT. Yes I did." 

You see, I love books. Books are among the greatest joys of my life. I was truly excited to see that joy transferred to her. It was a little moment of pride.

But I fear such pride is misplaced. Really. There must be thousands of examples of parents who read and read to their kids, and yet the kids grow up to hate reading. And just as many examples of brave and prolific readers who rise out of families who don't even own books. The transfer of such things from one generation to the next is neither sure or predictable. I believe that I did influence my girls' love of books, but my influence alone is insufficient as to be thought of as a primary cause. It's all just too complex to be reduced to any kind of "just that" or "merely this."

So I can't take pride in it really. But I can take joy in it.

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