Today was a wonderful, exhausting, wonderful day.
I had no other agenda besides spending the full day with my children, and with the sun finally starting to shine in earnest, we made the most of it. There was a tiny bit of a chill wind, but far from cold enough to prevent a trip to the park, a pizza dinner, and a trip to the local favorite ice cream store. They chased dogs, climbed playground equipment, made about a billion new friends via other families doing the same thing we did. They got hurt a few times, which sounds bad but doing some rough play is essential for growing up healthy.
If I had to define the role of the parent as succinctly as I could, it would be thus: the role of the parent is to provide opportunities to grow to their children. That’s the whole of it, right there. Your job isn’t really to teach – you will teach, but largely as a by-product of living a good life with them. Your job is to provide opportunities to learn, and that’s adjacent but not the same. I play with my kids because I want to, selfishly, because I love and adore them and they’re hilarious. But a sizeable part of their life needs to be spent gradually growing away from me, testing out new relationships, encountering the world on their own terms, and picking up knowledge I never even had in the first place, and thus could never teach them.
If I may get VERY nerdy on you for a moment… when I first learned I was going to be a parent, I had this idea that I would be like Link from The Legend of Zelda. Always protecting and rescuing Zelda (my kids) from danger, always adventuring on their behalf to give them whatever they desired. The reality is that the kids are Link. As the parent, you’re the old man in the cave that says “It’s dangerous to go alone, take this,” gives them their first sword, and then takes no part in the sprawling adventure that awaits.
You provide them with the tools for success, not the success itself. You don’t show them the right way to do things – you give them ample opportunities to safely mess up and learn it themselves. You don’t teach them what you think is important – you build trust so they’ll ask you what they think is important. And then you watch them flourish.