0278 – parent yourself

So that was the big insight. As a young adult [1], my job is to parent myself.

Now this is an interesting way of framing the problem. I’ve always suspected that REAL adulthood really sets in when you’re well and truly responsible for the life of another human being– when you become a proper parent. But having a baby just so you’ll grow up feels like an incredibly selfish, dangerous thing to do. You owe it to your child to be a capable parent before you have them.

But parenting myself, now that’s something that I should be able to tackle. If I screw up, I’m the one who suffers. If I do it well, I’m the one who benefits. As I get better at it, I’ll be able to have more of an impact on others. [2]

At this point, as always happens whenever I find myself using a word over and over, I get curious about the history of the word– it’s etymology. How did it come about, where did it come from? Parent came from Latin, “parere”, meaning “to bring forth”. [3] So your parent’s job isn’t simply to take care of you, but to encourage your expression, to bring you forth into and through the world! Your children are not your children, they are the children of Life itself.

The point is– I should learn to parent myself. I should acknowledge that that is my current role in life. Manager of self, Parent of self. I have to listen to me, figure out what my wants and motivations and desires are, pay attention to subtle non-verbal cues, all of that good stuff. And I have to acknowledge that I have been very presumptuous when it comes to myself. All of my criticism of parents in general– my own and of others– apply to me too, with regards to myself. I allow other people’s ideas and perspectives to color my own ideas and perspectives about what my child (me) wants. I ought to be paying more close attention to myself.

What do I know for sure? Well– again, nothing, really, but I have some good ideas about some things that I really like. I really like writing. I really like reading. I really like having written. I really like having read. I like annual conversations with smart people. I like hitting the gym, which I haven’t done in a while. I like eating good food. I like walking around in nature when the weather is pleasant. I like the shower after a hard workout. I like solving problems. I like helping people, so I ought to frame more problems as “help this person do X”. I want to be helpful and useful, but I don’t like feeling like I’m under pressure, like I am obligated to do things for people. I’m nobody’s slave, I tell myself. (Though… in doing that, I enslave myself in a certain way– by keeping myself contained to a certain area of reality. It gets exhausting after a while.)

I’ve been asking myself what I’m curious about, what I’m interested about. I suppose it’s stories. I’m interested in seeing how tropes play and morph and change. I’m interested in understanding why some stories succeed and why others don’t. I’m definitely endlessly curious about etymology, and I’m curious about the etymology of story– of heroes and villians and mentors and motivations and interests. I suppose I should remind myself of that when I feel like I want to watch movies but not really.

That’s it– as with predatory thinking, as with how to win friends and influence people, my problem has been that I don’t treat myself as a person with interests and needs and desires and curiosities. I simply attempt to impose my will on Me, as though I have the right to speak on behalf of Myself. [4]

So I have more reason to listen and meditate now. It’s not just about staring into space, it’s about allowing the repressed little boy inside of me to come out and play, that I might listen to him and be a better parent.

[1] I realize that “Young Adult”, because of “Young Adult Novels”, typically refers to people from ages 14-20 or so. I’m 25. When I say Young Adult, I guess I’m contrasting that with “Full Adult”– which I suppose I reserve for people with more responsiblities, people with children, people who have experienced real hardships in their lives like cancer and miscarriages and elderly parents. I feel like I’m not really an adult until I have to deal with all of that. But from a “14-20 Young Adult” perspective, I’m someone who’s married, who has a full time job, who has a mortgage and bills to pay. That’s more than most of my colleagues, actually. So the whole thing is a bit of a clusterfuck, and makes you realize how the terms we use are very loaded and ‘poisonous’ – not necessarily bad, but they influence and shape our thinking far more than we ever realize.

[2] It’s interesting to me now how this phrase wouldn’t make much sense to me if not for the fact that I live with my wife in a house that we pay for ourselves. We could totally have a child if we wanted to, and we could have a bedroom for it, and so on. We don’t plan on having kids anytime soon, because– again, we ought to parent ourselves first before we even think about it.

[3] An aside about etymology– it’s really interesting. All sorts of words have all sorts of interrelated relationships across many languages. The word “friend” has its roots in words that mean things like “to love” and “free”, and words in general just have much more interconnectedness and rich relationships with one another– even across languages!– than we realize. It’s really very beautiful stuff.

[4] There’s a difference between the “I” of the ego, and the Me that is broader, subtler, richer, fuller– the subconscious, all of Me that I am not aware of. I first richly encountered this idea in Tor Norretranders’ The User Illusion.

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