July 13, 2022   

Downside of Do-What-You-Love Parenting

During elementary school, my parents forced me to go to swimming school almost daily in the evening. I hated it. In my 20s, I confronted my parents and aired my grievances. I think they were surprised by how angry I was.

Naturally, when I had my own child, I was determined never to force her to do anything she didn’t want to do. “Do what you love” was my parenting motto, and it was in line with many of the parents I met in the East Village.

Maybe this is how parenting works. You try the opposite of what you hated about your parents only to find that it’s not any better. The problem with the do-what-you-love parenting style is that many meaningful things in life have steep learning curves. If you leave the choices up to kids, naturally, they won’t stick to anything that is initially hard because they have no reason to believe that it will become fun eventually. They will try it a little, decide that they don’t “love” it, and move on to something else.

Even though I hated swimming, I became quite competitive, winning a lot of prizes for my school. It became natural for me to assume that if I keep doing something, I’ll eventually see the benefit or beauty of it.

For instance, in high school, I forced myself to drink Dr. Pepper every day for a month because I found it disgusting and could not understand why many people loved it. Sure enough, I ended up loving it and could not understand why I thought it was disgusting.

In my 20s, my writing was barely readable because English is my second language, but I didn’t care. I just kept writing because I assumed it would get better over time. Being bad at something initially doesn’t discourage me because of this sense of certainty.

You just need one experience in your childhood where you overcome the initial challenges. After that, you’d assume perseverance will eventually solve most problems. At 55, I finally saw the benefit of what my parents did.

Perhaps the greatest lesson of being a parent is that you can never be right about life because time changes how you interpret cause and effect.