Not long ago I wrote that I spend half my life looking for things. That’s true. And the other half I spend worrying about my kids.
Well, check that. I spend half my time worrying about some of my kids: their health, their happiness, their safety and their prosperity. And this even though they are all well out on their own, out of the army, and forging their own paths in the big world.
The others I don’t worry about. Not because there is nothing to worry about. In fact, objectively, I should probably worry more about them than their siblings.
But they just share less. And since they share less, I know less. And since I know less, I worry less.
“Is that a bad thing?” I scratched my head and asked The Wife one morning after troubles impacting a couple of the kids kept me from directly falling asleep the night before.
And all this raises a variety of penetrating philosophical questions about parenting. How much do you need to know? How much do you want to know? How much is it good to know? Which leads to the follow-up philosophical question: How much should you be involved?
On the one hand The Wife and I are thrilled that some of our offspring, even though they’ve moved out, moved on, found jobs and gotten married, still involve us very much in their lives, and share with us their problems.
That’s very satisfying as a parent, giving you a triumphant sense that you’ve done your job, that even after they move out and don’t have to tell you everything – because you wouldn’t know if they didn’t – the kids continue to want to share their trials and tribulations, and even seek your advice. It’s wonderful being a part of your kids’ lives, even when they don’t need you for food, money or a ride.
On the other hand, do I want to know everything? Do I need to know everything? Maybe it’s just better to know a little bit about some of the problems at the beginning – to be kept in the loop – and then to hear how it all worked out in the end. Since they are no longer under my roof, do I really need to know every step of the way, do I want a play-by-play of everything going on and bothering my adult children?
Me, I kind of lean toward the “let me know when it all works out” school of thought. As my father used to say: “What you don’t know won’t kill you.” And the unstated continuation of that folksy bit of wisdom: “What you do know might.”
Truth be told I wasn’t like this when the kids were small, living under my roof and subject to my authority. Then I wanted to know everything going on in their little lives, including their problems, so I could step in as the omniscient father figure and help solve them. Back then, of course, the problems were all relatively minor, and my ability to actually solve them – such as do their English homework – was major.
But as the kids grew up, got married, started college and real jobs, their problems became more significant and got much greater. At the same time, so, too, did their ability and capacity to deal with those problems on their own. What also grew with them was the likelihood that whatever advice I gave would go unheeded.
So who really needs it, I thought, before again scratching my head and asking The Wife, “Is that bad?”
WITHOUT MAKING a judgment call, The Wife did point out what she called an annoying habit I had, although she softened the blow by calling it a “sunny” habit. When talking to the kids on the phone, she noted, or even when just meeting people on the street, I won’t open the conversation with a traditional “How are you?” but, rather, will say, “How’s everything, good?”
With that, she noted, I was signaling the interlocutor that I really didn’t want to hear the whole story, just the bottom line – and only if that bottom line was positive.
The truth of her words hit me soon after when, upon greeting our cleaning woman one morning, I chirped, “How are you, life is good, yes?”
To which the cleaning woman replied, “not really” and then proceeded to tell me why, which kind of broke my heart. I felt miserable. Both for her problems, and for the unfeeling way in which I phrased the question.
“How’s everything?” at least when addressed to one’s children, is generally a genuine question. But “how’s everything, good?” is a leading question in search of only one answer: “Yes, everything is fine.”
I can rationalize this line of questioning by arguing that since I spend my life following the news, and since I’m saturated all day with bad news in the paper and on the radio, all I want to hear from my kids is that everything is okay. As a result, I phrase the question in a way that will elicit the answer I want to hear, the one that will make me feel better. As I was taught long ago in journalism school: “The question is the mother of the answer.”
There is, of course, a catch-22. On the one hand I have, deeply ingrained in me, that parental reflex to kvetch that the kids don’t call enough. Yet after they do call – or at least after some of them call – I kvetch to The Wife that I know too much, and that knowing too much just gives me more to worry about. And then I kvetch that those who don’t tell us anything, don’t tell us anything.
To which The Wife replies: “You know the real problem? The real problem is that you just like to kvetch.”