Dear Fiona: Be Yourself

Dear Fiona,

In my last few letters, I’ve talked a lot about the fact that, while I hope to raise you to make wise choices, I also know that those choices will not always coincide with mine.

And that’s a good thing.

Too many parents try to raise their children up to be younger versions of themselves. Too many parents try to hold their own choices up to their children as a moral “good,” and insist that any other choice is therefore wrong.

That’s not what I want for you. I don’t want you to be a mini-me.

I want you to be yourself.

To be honest, that’s a harder road to travel than the alternative – for both of us.

It’s harder for me because there are going to be times when I want what I want . . . when I want you to do something that makes my life easier or less complicated. In those moments, having a daughter who is trained to act on my behalf and do what I tell her to do right away without questioning or hesitating would be . . . advantageous.

It would also be doing you a disservice. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t want you to learn to rely on external motivations – to be guided by fear of punishment or desire for reward. I want you to act out of what you know and believe to be the wise course of action.

I want you to be yourself.

But I can tell you from personal experience that it’ll be harder for you, as well. Living for other people is easy. It sucks, but it’s easy!

It’s easy because you don’t ever have to think. You already have all the “answers” right there in front of you, or if not, someone will be more than willing to tell you what they think your answer should be.

And when you’re driven by extrinsic motivations, you’re more than happy to let them.

I know . . . I’ve been there.

It sucks, because if you do that long enough, you lose the sense of yourself. You begin to wonder if you have any preferences, any desires, any motivations that are truly you . . . or if they’re merely a reflection of the people you’ve allowed to speak into your life.

You begin to feel like you’re not really there at all . . . like you’re nothing more than a conglomeration of other people’s thoughts and opinions.

I’ve been there, too.

Please don’t misunderstand me to be saying that you shouldn’t ever trust or rely on anybody else’s thoughts or advice. I’ll get into that a bit more in another letter, but I’m not saying that at all! To the contrary, I hope you surround yourself with the voices of people who know you, value you, and want what’s best for you, enough that they’re willing to offer you candid and sincere advice for those times when you need it to make a better decision. And though I’m sure you’ll choose such people for yourself, I hope to always be one of them.

But there is a difference between relying on the advice and experience of others who have been where you are, or who have insight into the decision you face, and relying on others to tell you what you ought to do, simply because they believe you ought to do it.

It’s a tough balance to hold onto . . . relying on others who might have more insight than you do in a particular area, without relying on them to make your decisions for you . . . without giving your self over to their control.

It’s a balance I’m still learning, and one that I’ll probably continue learning for the rest of my life. I hope that by starting you out as young as I possibly can in learning how to think, do, and learn for yourself, I’ll save you many of the heartaches and heart-breaks that I’ve had to deal with in this area.

And if not . . . because at some level heartache and heart-break are a necessary part of human experience . . . I hope to help you learn how to deal with them, take them into yourself, learn from them, and come out stronger on the other side.

I love you.

Love,
~Dad

Dear Fiona: I Hear You

Dear Fiona,

As I write this letter right now, you’re just 14 months old, and already I can see in you a strong desire to make choices for yourself. You have strong and specific preferences, and are adept at communicating them in ways your mom and I can understand.

Despite your lack of verbal language, you’re quite skilled at letting us know what you want in vivid detail.

In my last post I wrote that I hope you baffle expectations . . . mine and everyone else’s. I wrote, there and elsewhere, that I want you to learn how to choose for yourself, even – and perhaps especially – when it means your choices are not the same ones I would make. I wrote about how hard it is, in those moments when your preferences and mine collide, to get past my desire for something to happen right now and instead focus on building your decision-making skills in a way that will benefit you for the rest of your life.

But even in those difficult moments, I want you always to know this: I hear you.

Even when I can’t give you what you want, when you want it, I hear you.

Even when you don’t understand me – or when I don’t understand you – I hear you.

Even when you’re upset or angry with me – or I’m upset or angry with you – I hear you.

That doesn’t always mean I’ll always give you what you want in those moments, or even that I’ll always try. And it doesn’t mean I’ll always make the right decisions, or that I’ll pick the right times to insist on them – or for that matter, the right times to let you make them for yourself.

What it means is that your decisions – and your ability to make them will always mean something to me. It means that even at 14 months old, those things have weight . . . that they are something worth taking into consideration and factoring into my own decisions and preferences. It means that even at this stage of your life, I will ask for your input in decisions that affect you, and that I will not make decisions for you without first regarding your input – to the best of your ability to give it.

That doesn’t mean I’ll always get it right, but it does mean that the times I screw up won’t be for lack of trying.

A very wise friend of mine – one who is in the process of raising two kids of her own, and from whom I have learned a great deal about what I consider to be parenting well – once gave me some advice that has stuck with me ever since: She said that it is not my job to make sure all my children’s needs are met. It is my job to make sure my children know that their needs matter!

I want you to know that. I want you to know that your needs matter to me – always – and not just basic needs like food and safety and health, but more complex needs like independence and self-expression and understanding.

I want you to know that just because I may be unable to meet your needs or desires right now, or just because I may fail in the moment to empathize and care for your needs as I should, does not make those needs unimportant or subordinate to my own needs or anyone else’s. It just means that navigating the stuff of relationships is hard. I want you to know that it’s ok to need these things, and ok to express those needs in ways I may not always understand or be able to fulfill for you.

I want you to know that I hear you.

Because I love you.

Love,
~Dad

Dear Fiona: Baffle Expectations

Dear Fiona,

In one of my letters to Tristan a few years back, I wrote about expectations. I wrote about how expectation dehumanizes, coerces, and focuses on behavior at the expense of relationship. I wrote about the fact that I hope to have no expectations with regard to him and his behavior.

I still believe everything I wrote in that letter, and my hope for you is the same – though I realize now that my expectation of myself expressed in that letter was unrealistic. I have, and will likely continue to have, expectations of both of you, simply out of habit, or urgency, or just the fact that I’m sadly not as good at this stuff as I’d sometimes like to think I am.

So despite my best efforts, there will be times when I burden you and your brother with expectations. And there are certainly times when others will do so as well . . . sometimes for no other reason than that they haven’t thought through the ramifications, but most of the time because they simply don’t care.

And in those moments when someone is placing such a burden on you – whether it is me or anyone else – I hope you baffle them.

Continue reading Dear Fiona: Baffle Expectations

Dear Fiona: Do . . . just do

Dear Fiona,

When I wrote my series of letters to Tristan a few years ago, I titled one of them “Be . . . just be.”

My point to him then was the same as the point I’ve repeatedly tried to make clear to you throughout these letters: You are – both of you – loved, and valued, not for what you do, but for who you are.

Nevertheless, this is one of those areas in which our culture, sadly, treats boys and girls very, very differently. So despite wanting exactly the same things for you both, my message to you is a bit different.

Continue reading Dear Fiona: Do . . . just do

Dear Fiona: No Shame

Dear Fiona,

In my last letter I talked about treasuring the now and empathizing with your past selves in order to avoid letting regret and overwhelm you and take away from who you are.

That notion of regret and its impact on how we look at our past selves is a small piece of one of the most powerful motivating forces known to humanity. It’s a force I hope you never have to face . . . and yet, one which I know you will at some point: It’s shame.

Continue reading Dear Fiona: No Shame

Dear Fiona: Times and Places

Dear Fiona,

In my last letter I wrote about some of the difficulties regarding this particular time of life, and how I haven’t done as well as I’d like in dealing with them.

In those moments, sometimes I have to just sit and remind myself that this is one season of life. It had a beginning, and it will have an ending . . . and when that ending comes, there are things I will miss (like rocking you to sleep), and things I won’t (like waking up at 3am).

And that’s what I’d like to share about today.

Continue reading Dear Fiona: Times and Places

Dear Fiona: I’m Sorry

Dear Fiona,

I wrote in my last letter about what it means to me that you’re my daughter, and my hopes and intentions for our relationship as we both continue to grow and mature throughout our lives.

I also wrote that, sometimes, I will fail to live up to my hopes for what it means to be your dad.

Continue reading Dear Fiona: I’m Sorry

Dear Fiona: On Being a Sister

Dear Fiona,

I’ve written a lot in my last several letters about love. In my most recent letter, I wrote about learning to love yourself.

In the next couple of letters, I’d like to share some thoughts about the people who love you the very most in the world, starting with your big brother, Tristan.

We’ve had a lot of conversations with Tristan, starting before you were born, about what it means to be a big brother. In this letter I’d like to share a few thoughts about what it means to be a little sister.

Continue reading Dear Fiona: On Being a Sister

Dear Fiona: Love Yourself

I’ve talked at length in my last several letters about love, but I’ve only barely touched on one of the most important people in your life . . . someone I hope you will learn to love as completely, fully, and unconditionally as you do anyone.

I hope you learn how to love yourself.

Continue reading Dear Fiona: Love Yourself