Conflict is Implicit

Parenting is its own endurance event, and sometimes things get hard. If I had begun to capture some semblance of an idea of how to do it in How to Get Your Kid to Love Mountain Biking, the truth came out more properly in The Grit and the Quit, but the whole thing was still bothering me. My head still wasn’t straight. I still felt so angry that my kids refuse to embrace outdoor adventure, outdoor effort, that they so easily quit when the going gets tough.

The wife and I talked it out on Saturday. I think this is the missing piece (but am probably wrong). At one point, she definitely said, “You’re right,” which was like lightning bolt hitting the tree I was standing under. I was momentarily blind, and now I can’t remember what I was saying that she agreed with.

We settled on the simple possibility that conflict is implicit in the parenting process. It’s not necessarily a sign of failure. Conflict causes the fight or flight responses that you want your kids to go through. Failure is also implicit in this process, and the sooner you can accept that, the sooner you can move on to the next conflict and the next place to fail.

We both have the experience of being taught what hard work looks like by fathers whose standards seemed impossible, unreasonable, and sometimes jocularly cruel. We spent inordinate time resenting them and their lessons, but in retrospect value all those lessons as the cruel-to-be-kind building blocks of our (relative) success as adults.

It’s supposed to go this way between parents and kids, but it’s possible we have been misled that parenting is wholly different than when we were kids. Obviously, I think, parents no longer hit their kids like our parents hit us, and that’s a good thing, but that change implied that, not only did we not believe in physical abuse, we also didn’t believe in conflict. We somehow inferred that our kids should love us from birth to launch, and that if they didn’t go along merrily, every step of the way, then we weren’t parenting them right.

But ’70s dads and moms knew some things intuitively. It’s not failure when you struggle. It’s process. Kids aren’t supposed to like growing up, learning to work and take responsibility. Adults don’t even like those parts of adulthood.

It’s ok that the kids don’t like it. It’s castor oil. It’s cooked spinach. It’s brushing your teeth regularly and reading a goddamned book.

This is nurture.

I am in a double bind, because I’m out there choking down as much spinach and castor oil as I can. I have the knack for suffering, and I want big doses. The kids not only aren’t at this level. They’re not interested.

So I’m frustrated that I can’t stretch my limits when I’m with them, and they’re frustrated that they have to be with me. Outside. Where the bugs are. And this is all okay, because we’re together, and over time this conflict resolves into a more patient me, and tougher, more outdoorsy kids.

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