I've spent a lot of time thinking about being a parent and what that really means to me, and to those like me. I'm a techie, so while I haven't read many of the best sellers on parenting out there, I'm a regular at any number of fatherhood blogs and forums. The advice on them always ranges from the old school "a spanking never hurt anyone's chances in life, and keeps the little buggers on the straight and narrow" to the new age "our children need the freedom to make their own choices and by disciplining them we might stifle their ability to make their choices" and the full gamut in between.
I struggle with making these sorts of decisions myself. With my family background, I am always torn - anger and physical punishment are always my first reaction, and in an effort to not fall prey to those patterns, I sometimes think that I'm not stern enough. But when I do have to unleash "evil dad voice" as I did this morning, I feel guilty all day. Certainly not as guilty as I would presumably feel if I disciplined as my step-father or mother did (you all know that sad tale, so no more details here) but still sick to my stomach with the memory of the reaction my kids have when I resort to yelling.
I recently heard the best parenting advice that I have ever heard - the most non-bullshit thing from the unlikeliest source. While watching an episode of Supernatural (yup, told you it was crazy) one of the main characters said something extremely profound. 'Bobby,' as he lay dying, was having a visit through his oldest and most painful memories. As he faced his alcoholic and abusive father (which resonated with me quite well) his father called him an "ungrateful little bastard" and Bobby replied, "Children aren't supposed to be grateful, they're supposed to eat your food and break your heart." And then he shot his father.
Now, excepting the last part (bullets are too good for abusers, and I won't apologize for that sentiment) I hadn't heard anything that ever summarized what a parent's job is quite so well. Kids love to trot out the "I didn't ask to be born" and they are 100% right. If we, as parents, made a decision to have (or to keep) children, then they don't owe us a damned thing. Some respect would be nice, some gratitude would be fabulous, but at the end of the day, they really didn't ask to be born, they didn't enter into any contract with us, their parents, for anything.
That knowledge, of course, does nothing to help when a six year old is refusing to put on his jacket in the morning, or when a three year old is crying because he doesn't want to go to daycare. It doesn't help when you are at the end of your rope after a long day at work and it sure doesn't do much when you step on a piece of lego at 3 am. But it is something to keep in mind. We owe everything to them, they owe nothing to us.