Jennifer and Kelly kicked off our round of final report presentations last night with their own hard-won reflections on what it means to be an enlightened parent of enlightened children.
But as has been observed, in the spate of recent books on the subject (including, I'm amused to note, guidance from my inverted namesake Oliver James in How Not to F*** Them Up): parents aren't just raising children, we're raising future adults. The stakes are high, for civilization and future humanity. Mistakes will be made. No pressure, right?
Well, maybe that is right. I was reminded of Judith Rich Harris's The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do, which purportedly "explains why parents have little power to determine the sort of people their children will become." I guess that would be news to the poet Philip Larkin...
I was also reminded of Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. Our children are not John Locke's hyper-impressionable tabula rasa, they -- we -- are genetically pre-loaded bundles of natural aptitude and predisposition. That's why we're subject to any nurture at all.
It's natural for us to be molded by our peers as much or more than by our parents. Harris says more. In his foreword to Harris's first edition, Pinker says "one gets a sense of real children and parents walking through these pages, not compliant little humanoids that no one actually meets in real life."
Having tried to imprint my own notions of proper parental nurture on two now-grown humanoids myself, I'm much more inclined to favor the Harris-Pinker line than I was back when The Nurture Assumption first challenged my thinking about what I was up to with Older Daughter back in the mid-to-late '90s. I saw my role then, as an at-home dad, as "the most important job you'll ever have" etc.
Well, I still think time spent in the company of younger persons--increasingly that's just about everyone- has been the best time of my life. And will be again, when we get back to school and (fingers crossed) off of zoom in August.
But I'm also increasingly relieved to realize that they and their cohort are perfectly capable of screwing themselves up, and of lifting themselves up, with no particular assistance from me and my generation required or desired.
Like Richard Ford said, I'm just trying to stand vigilantly by. Like the lamppost. I'll offer whatever illumination I think I've found. They'll take it or leave it.
But it is finally a bit comforting to realize that everyone, at every age, has the opportunity to cast light. Or to block it. Get your enlightenment where you can.