Professional Parenting Pessimist
Becoming a parent means eternal warfare between your eternal optimist and your darkest pessimist.
The thing of it is, though, there’s good reasons to take both sides. Which, of course, makes no one happy.
Whenever I would look at any of my sons, all I could see was how bright, how wonderful, how funny they were at that moment. All I could envision was the sunny and wonderful future that awaited them as they grew.
That was my optimistic side coming out.
And then there was my professional, parental pessimist side. That was the side that worried about how letting him stay up late one night would lead to him being tired the next day in school, getting a bad grade and that grade leading to a bad blemish on his record, which would keep him out of the college of his choice, which would lead to him not going to college at all and having to choose from grade digger to sewer drain unplugging specialist as a career choice, but not being able to get either of those for being underqualified.
The optimistic side was warm and fuzzy and full of ill-defined, but wonderful giddiness. The pessimistic side was appallingly detailed and full of the sort of specificity that came only from dwelling on the negative with precision.
Optimistic me encouraged my sons to try new things, confident that they would enjoy it, do well in it and gain a new life-affirming self-confidence booster to carry with them into the next challenge.
Pessimistic me covered the electrical outlets and secured the cabinet doors, forced my sons to wear helmets when riding bikes or skateboards, kept warning them of the danger of riding on a motorcycle and always made them wear their seatbelt correctly, no matter how short a car ride it was supposed to be.
Because, you see, it was easy to imagine that one of my sons would be crawling along the baseboard with something metallic and shove it into the electrical outlet, or, even worse, decide to see how far he could stick his tongue down in those holes. Or go exploring in the under-the-sink cabinets and find those bottles full of stuff that looked delicious.
I’ve heard it described as hoping for the best, but planning for the worst.
Mostly because none of my three sons have a functioning brain between them (nothing against them, but actual, real scientific evidence shows that the male brain doesn’t mature until — on average — age 25 or so), I’m always on them to think about the potential consequences of their actions. They are, it seems, completely oblivious to these issues while they are all I see.
Their basic sense of personal invulnerability fostered by their age and gender almost guaranteed them to be too optimistic in thinking that everything would come out all right. For instance, if they had a paper due on Friday, they would plan (when I could force them to play) so they finished the evening before the paper was due, leaving no margin for error. And if there’s one thing we know about boys in high school and younger, errors will creep in and set up some plenty wide margins.
This constant tug of war between their innate optimism and my well-earned parental pessimism has been going on for so long and in so many different situations, I’ve actually seen them flinch when I say, “But what if. . .”
My middle son, Zippy the College Boy, has managed to talk his mom and me into allowing him to join the International Student Association and study at the University de Duesto in Bilbao, Spain. He wants to live on his own in an apartment (in a foreign country where he’s not near fluent in the local language or customs), while we’re barely hanging onto our sanity thinking he’d be with a host family.
“Dad, I know it’s your job to think about all the things that might go wrong because you’re a parent. . .” he said to me before going on to several specious arguments for the apartment.
I consider that a step in the right direction. Even though he still was pushing for the wrong thing (clearly optimistic that everythign would be fine), he had the awareness to realize that I would see things differently and to consider what some of those things might look like from my point of view.
The balance point between optimism and pessimism is a delicate one that requires a constant dance atop a slippery, thin rod capable of breaking at any time. Not very far past the area of offering yourself a realistic assessment of your chances lies pessimism, where nothing ever works. Just past the area of being optimistic is complete fairy dust, which looks pretty but has no substance to it at all.
Being the bearer of bad news isn’t something that gets easier with repetition, but, as parents, it really is our job to look out for the pot holes in the road ahead so our children can steer around the danger.