As a child, I never understood the idea of a parent living vicariously through their kids. I had seen so many sitcom episodes about little Billy being forced to play baseball just because his dad never made it to the Little League finals, or similar stories of parents learning to let go of their expectations for their children, but I was never able to fully process the parents’ emotions. How could your child’s achievements possibly make up for your own regrets and shortcomings?
Fast forward to today and I can totally understand where the TV parents of the late 2000s were coming from. I’m still far away from having my first kid, but I already have a mental list of hopes and expectations for my future offspring.
My kid has to be well-spoken and thoughtful like me, but more charismatic and outgoing than their shy father. Academics will come naturally, but they won’t be snobby or conniving to try and get ahead of their peers. My child has to speak Korean, but it won’t be at the expense of their English. Obviously, they’ll have to play tennis, preferably with a one-handed backhand, because I’ve always wanted to play with a one-handed backhand. My kid will be everything I’m glad that I am, and everything I wish I was.
Sounds like a fool-proof plan, no? Certainly not setting myself up for any disappointment or resentment down the road. Little Noah Jr. will come straight out of the womb a fully bilingual, social butterfly, top student with a backhand as buttery as Federer’s.
…or perhaps my child will be their own individual with unique gifts and desires. And maybe I’ll have to contend with the fact that my child is not a canvas for me to project all my insecurities and failures onto. Noah Jr.’s life will be in Noah Jr.’s hands, free to exceed and fall short of my expectations.
I’m thankful that my parents didn’t have the same kind of parental baggage I’m satirizing here. They made an effort to discern my strengths and push for success in those areas, but they never saw my life as an opportunity to live out their unfulfilled dreams. Unless, of course, I don’t get into medical school, in which case I can expect to be written out of the Do family will in a heartbeat.
If anything, I’m the one who assesses my childhood with the most critical eye. I often give my parents a hard time about parts of my upbringing that I wish were different or experiences that I feel I missed out on, especially after being at Cornell, surrounded by high-class-living, unlimited-Korean-barbecue-eating city dwellers.
If I take a step back, though, I recognize that every aspect of my life up until now has played a role in shaping who I am. As enticing as the fast-paced, big-city life might seem, that environment would create a Noah that hardly resembles the person I am today. I am the direct result of my parents’ decisions and values, often in ways that I can’t fully appreciate as someone who’s never raised a child himself.
My expectations for my future child are, in many ways, a reaction to how I was raised. I never spoke Korean or had Korean friends, so I want that to be different for my kid. My parents always made an effort to push me in my academics while allowing me to have fun in my free time, a balance I can only hope to achieve nearly as well as they did.
My future son or daughter will be the recipient of all of my observations about my own upbringing. Inevitably, my child will find things to complain about that I never could have seen coming, just as I do to my own parents. I’ll teach my kid tennis, and they’ll wish they had learned basketball. I’ll pass on a second language, and they’ll regret being stunted in their first. No amount of parenting will be able to override the fact that life is never quite what we want it to be.
It’s a good exercise to think critically about your upbringing, and to consider how your parents’ intentions and actions can materialize in talents, weaknesses and various personality traits. My future partner and I will be the largest influence on our children, a responsibility that leaves no room for me to vent my own misguided expectations and wants onto the blank canvas of my kid’s life.
Noah Do is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected] Noah’s Arc runs every other Sunday this semester