Friday, May 18, 2012

Prime Directive

A friend of mine, on Twitter, asked, "What is the Prime Directive of parenting?" For those of you living in pop culture limbo, the Prime Directive is from Star Trek. It's the first rule of Starfleet, the quasi-military organization that runs the good guys' part of the universe. The Prime Directive, in a nutshell, states that a Starfleet representative should never, ever interfere with a planet's normal development or political situations, until a planet has been deemed advanced enough to request Starfleet membership. In other words, "Do no harm." Don't stop at a planet with medieval level technology and leave a couple of phaser pistols or automobiles lying around.

Before any arguments start: I'm aware that Captain Kirk violated the Prime Directive is practically every episode. That's true. It's evidence as to why zero-tolerance laws never, ever work: every situation is different. Every sentient being does require different treatment. You'd like to treat your kids the same, but you can't. They are different people, and your family situation is different as well.

My response to her was: "...try not to let your personal issues and prejudices impact your children." To put it more succinctly, don't f*ck up your kids with your mental and emotional baggage.

That's a pretty broad brush with which to paint. At an extreme level, look at cases of child abuse and neglect. Usually (not always, I know, but usually), there is a family history going back several generations of abuse and mental illness in a family. Just often enough, you read about an individual that gets the help needed to break the cycle of abuse for the next generation. From a more subtle arena, look at many of the example of racial and ethic prejudice that exist in society. How many people develop severe prejudices without those prejudices existing at home?

(Mental illness, here, does not necessarily count. It can happen, frequently, that a person develops a mental or emotional illness that didn't exist in their parents. Different situation, here. Here, I'm just talking about a parent's duty.)

I have been blessed in my life. I have been given three beautiful, healthy (now), smart, and creative little boys. They learn at a frightening rate, My children do not need me to draw conclusions for them. They do not need me to tell them how the world works. They do not need me to fill them with my ideas, my philosophies, my limitations, and my emotional issues.

My children need me to guide them towards their own conclusions. My children need me to point out the flaws in their logic, to show ideas that they can challenge, to give them a stable enough home life to explore the world on their own. In short, they need me to get out of the way and allow them to develop their own personalities. They don't need me to catch them when they fall. We all need to fall sometimes, we all need to fail sometimes, and we all need to scrape our knees or break our arms in order to learn lessons about life. They do, however, need me to pick them up, brush them off, kiss any boo-boos, and get them running and laughing again.

I've done an awful lot of therapy for my emotional issues, and it took me a really, really, really, really long time to grow up. I've also read an awful lot of stuff about personality development, and philosophy development, and how beliefs and societal mores are imprinted on one's personality. In other words, I am deeply aware of my own personality flaws and the gaps in my own philosophy. If I possible can, I would like my children to avoid some of those pitfalls and issues that prevented me from growing up for as long as they did.

Think for a second. What are your personal issues? What are the things that make you really, really angry, and why do they make you angry? Do they make you angry because they challenge parts of your personal philosophy, for which you have defense but "That's how it is!" Do you know where your prejudices are, and what's your rationale behind them? More importantly, are you passing them on to your children?

I know that, no matter how careful I am, I'm going to pass on some of my own issues and shortcomings to my children. However, if I strive to become more aware of those shortcomings and pitfalls, then maybe I can give my children the tools they need to overcome them. Look, for instance, at the racial issues during my parents' lifetimes: the Great Depressions. World War II, with its worldwide anti-Semitism. Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. Brown vs. the Board of Education. White Flight. Race Riots in the 60's. Fast forward: Barack Obama gets elected president. My parents' generation, and my generation, has moved the bar somewhat in the right direction. If Obama is re-elected, my oldest son will be 9 by the time a new president is elected. This means that, for the first time in American history, he will have no memory of any American President that is NOT black. Isn't that amazing? I'm not saying things are great, rosy, and equal. I'm just saying that things are better than they were 100 years ago.

My children deserve to grow up without my personal issues. I think that your kids deserve the same right. (And, don't get mad at me because you think you have no emotional issues. You do. It's part of being human. Being unaware of your issues is worse than knowing what they area.)


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