Parenting in the Pandemic: What kind of human are we raising?

Every day, as we deal with the world, struggle with our demons, and celebrate small victories, I always wonder, what is this teaching our son? How is this moment, here and now, making its mark on him? How will this influence his own reactions and opinions, his ways of interacting with the world?

I think about this very often. I think about this when I teach him how to help in the kitchen, and when I scold him for ignoring me after the nth time I ask him to do something. I think about this when (okay, probably after) I go on a rant about this idiotic government or decisions and judgments made by other people that I feel are incredibly wrong. I think about this when I beg off from playtime because I need to work.

Very often, I worry about what kind of adult he’s going to be. I look at behaviors and biases other people have, and I think very hard about how to make sure my son is a decent human being. I look at people around me (well, virtually) and their privilege and their experiences, and I wonder how people who seem to have had the same upbringing end up being so different. I see people whose life experiences have been worlds apart from my own history, and yet our values and preferences are eerily aligned. I think about how the pandemic has hit so many people in different ways, and how the circumstances of nearly two years of COVID-19 seems to have brought out the worst in some and the best in others.

I surround Lucas with books and blocks, Play-Doh and plants, cats and a dog, a bike and a ball. I vacillate between insisting he learn things all the time, and leaving him be to figure out what he wants to do. I am torn between letting him browse YouTube and trusting he won’t end up a zombie, or forcing him to sit down and read a book.

I suppose all parents struggle with these questions and decisions. I’m sure all parents have ideas about the kind of person they want their kids to be, and I’ll bet they’re all wracking their brains too, trying to figure out how to make their ideas a reality. Maybe that parent wants their son to be a doctor. Maybe this parent wants their daughter to be a dentist.

Oneal and I used to joke that we wanted our son to go to Mars.

But really, I just want Lucas to be a decent human being. I want him to be tolerant of people who are different from him, who speak different languages and grew up in vastly different circumstances, who have different beliefs and stand by different values. I want him to recognize injustice when he sees it, and to stand up for those who can’t. I want him understand why people do and say the things they do before judging them. I want him to respect boundaries, both his and other people’s. I want him to give when he can, but to protect himself when he can’t. I want him to recognize his own privilege, and to use it to lift up others.

I do not want him bound by toxic gender roles. I do not want him to become arrogant because of his intelligence, and I do not want him to be a hypocrite who preaches one thing but practices another. I do not want him to believe everything he reads on the internet, but I also do not want him to be a cynic. I do not want him to be lazy or entitled, short-tempered or overly self-deprecating.

I suppose all parents have some sort of wish list like this–and moments when they agonize like I do.

And then he surprises me. He says, randomly, “I want to do math!” He picks up his small giraffe and cares for her. “This is Sunshine’s milk!” he says, holding a stormtrooper bottle. He asks the most curious questions. He runs into my office and asks, “Are you sad?” He giggles with joy as the cats climb into his lap, and later asks if he can take the dog for a walk. He remembers that I don’t like snakes, and my brother doesn’t like spiders. He rattles off facts he learned off YouTube, and asks to build crafts like he saw on Slick Slime Sam. He asks if I can make him “a sandwich with a scrambled egg, with ham under it, and cream cheese on the bread.”

We have to remember that for all our efforts, our fears, and our hopes, our child is also his own person, with opinions and preferences, and an excess of wit and personality. We have to remember that there is only so much we can do, and the rest is up to him.

I can only hope we do all that we can, so that he can be all he wants to be. I suppose that’s all any parent hopes for.

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