The parent’s responsibility

“. . . it’s not the child’s responsibility to teach the parent who they are. It’s the parent’s responsibility to learn who the child is . . .”

From “R2, Where Are You?” by Tig Notaro in All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown edited by Catherine Burns
VIA train to university

Right after we returned from dropping our son at the train station for travel to his final university semester, I sat down to indulge in some morning reading time. That’s when I found the quote above.

Our son is about to finish his studies, but he’s not sure what he wants to do after. As parents, we want to pick him up like when he was a child and set him down in what we think is his safe, right place. But we can’t.

We have to watch and learn as he sorts out what works for him.

Our daughter graduated last June and is still searching for more solid ground under her feet too. As parents, we want to pick her up like when she was a child and set her down on what we think is her safe, right path. But we can’t.

We have to watch and learn as she sorts out what works for her.

After reading the quote I sipped my coffee, stared out the window and contemplated how often parents impose—or try to impose—inappropriate behaviours, activities, careers, clothing or partners on a child because they haven’t learned who their child is.

How often that imposition breaks the relationship.

Telling our kids what to do with their lives feels so much like the right thing to do because we have their best interests at heart, after all, and we want to save them the pain of mistakes.

Sharing the wisdom of our experience is a right thing, but it’s not the best right thing.

The better right thing—our responsibility—is learning who they are.

6 thoughts on “The parent’s responsibility

  1. marianbeaman

    You are a wise parent, but I know from experience it’s hard to resist hovering over our children with well-intentioned advice.

    Our children have way more possibilities to choose from in the career world than we did, or so it seems. That’s another variable that makes their choices so hard. Yes, self-discovery is difficult, but rewarding. Thanks for this, Arlene!

  2. Carol

    I love that quote and believe in it wholeheartedly. There have been many times in past years when my kids have asked what I think about something, and I have always couched my answer carefully into neutral, telling them they had to decide what was right for themselves. Sometimes it caused irritation on their part, and my innards would scream at me, but it was my job to encourage them to be responsible and independent. Sometimes being a parent is not easy.

    1. Arlene Somerton Smith Post author

      Oh indeed! Parenting is not easy. Funny how if we give them too much advice it can be resented, but they don’t always like it when we don’t provide advice either. Quite a balancing act.

  3. roughwighting

    That quote (and your response to it) is so RIGHT ON! But it’s the hardest thing to do – not tell our (grown up) children what’s best for them. After all, when we are raising them, it is our job to teach them right from wrong, good from bad, how to behave and how to be their best selves. But at a certain point (18? 16? not sure), we need to let them figure themselves out without our push and shove.


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