Below is a chapter from Rule #2: Don’t Be an Asshat: An Official Handbook for Raising Parents and Children. Over time we will be posting most of the book, though, should this inspire you to buy a copy, we would not be offended 🙂 Posted chapters can be found in the Table of Contents.
Dear Twenty-Six-Year-Old Bruce, from Old Bruce
Oh, 1996—the “Macarena” is all the rage, Major League Baseball approves interleague play, Rent opens on Broadway, Friends is beginning its epic run, some company called Amazon starts making waves, and New Edition finally releases their reunion album.
These are the days—and the days before offspring.
Well, my friend, all of that is about to change.
Not only did you somehow find a person who is willing to partner up with you for life but she is open to the possibility of producing and raising offspring with you. Yeah, dude, go kiss Robin. She is pretty awesome.
But now, as the kids say, “This shit is getting real,” and you all are having a baby human. Daaaaaaaaaaaamn.
So, here is the thing: you are probably pretty well-prepared. After all, you have three younger siblings and multiple cousins, the communities that have raised you will continue to support you, and yeah, your mom has provided a positive and grounded model for parenting. I have faith that you will do fine. That said, dear Bruce of 1996, now that I am nearly twenty years the wiser, let me offer us a few words of encouragement and wisdom to keep in mind as this adventure unfolds.
Raise strong girls.
Yep, three girls.
Contrary to what many would have you believe, this is not a tragic twist of fate that can be cured with the birth of a boy, nor is this some kind of karmic payback for past acts of heartbreak or indiscretion. You simply have girls, and it is wonderful. Sure, there are nuances and challenges specific to raising daughters in the world, but trade for three boys? Not in a million years.
The hardest part of raising girls is that you get a glimpse into the world that women have to deal with: a world that objectifies and sexualizes, a world where there is gender-based pay inequity in the workplace, a world where femininity is equated with weakness, and a world where sexism is still pervasive. It is your job to do everything in your power to provide a counternarrative and encourage your girls to be strong women, equipped to navigate and thrive in the world. There are many ways to do this: support activities where women are taking the lead, don’t confine them to “girl” things, allow them the agency to make choices in their lives, and most important, be a good male in their world: one who builds them up, supports their risk taking, and is always learning how to be a better man in the world.
You will be changed; embrace it.
Do not parent with fear.
Oh, Bruce, you had a crappy stepfather. Let’s call him The Big D. While your mom eventually found the courage to leave him, he parented you for a long time and during your formative years. To pretend that you don’t have some of his wicked anger embedded in your DNA is foolish and risks being the kind of physically and emotionally violent parent that he was. So check yourself at all times. Do not parent with fear, intimidation, or threats of physical harm, but at every turn, be sure to parent in a way that creates and nurtures a relationship where your children respect you, trust you, and know that you represent safety, support, and love.
This does seems a bit obvious, but there will be times when you will rely too much on tricks and tools in order to deal with the stress and struggles of parenting. During these times, remember that the best thing you can do is simply love them. That love will look different depending on the situation and the child. Sometimes it will mean binge-watching cheesy television when stress is overwhelming her; at other times it will be taking her out for a late-night ice-cream run without the sisters; and still at other times, it will mean saying, “I’m sorry. I love you.”
It’s going to be a wild and wonderful life. Enjoy the ride.