I read the Madeleine Levine column that KJ Dell’Antonia remarks upon in The Ego in Raising Successful Children. There is, to be sure, a tremendous amount of ego involved in thinking you can affect the success of another, namely your child.
Your ego, after all, takes over when you’re doubtful or nervous. Your ego drives you to seek control of the uncertainty in a situation, and restore your own sense of calm. (Parenting is a lot of things, but mainly, it’s uncertainty.) And when our egos are fragile, it’s not, as Dell’Antonia concludes, the best idea to offer unsolicited advice. It can make a parent question herself.
But sometimes, that’s a good thing.
When I became a parent, I was working full time. My boss was tough. She set incredibly high expectations and sometimes changed elements of those expectations rather suddenly. She was quick to vocalize displeasure, rather sharply, loudly, and redundantly. But, when she was happy, or pleased: life was golden. She was generous, funny, curious about you, and flattering.
Thankfully, for 99 percent of the time I worked for her, she was pleased with me. She allowed me to bring my infant daughter to work with me, for pete’s sake! But that 1 percent? It felt like 100.
My ego took a beating.
She has three grown children–two sons and a daughter. I knew her daughter: she presented herself as self-assured, smart, and warm. Whenever I questioned the mental health impact of continuing to work after our daughter was born, the thought of her daughter calmed me.
I’d remind myself, “My boss really is a good person, she’s reasonable and kind, she raised that wonderful woman, after all.”
But then, at her 60th birthday party, my boss said:
“I’m going to give you young parents some advice,” as two of us were new parents, with children under age two. In fact I had my five-month-old daughter in my arms.
“As you child grows, whatever your child does that may disappoint you, you can’t take blame. But more important: all of the wonderful things your child will become and do, you can’t take credit.”
It’s the best advice I’ve ever received, but certainly not in the manner my boss intended. I resigned three months later.
My ego didn’t need to be bruised anymore. Our kids are better for it.
Of that, I am certain. And for that, I insist on full credit.