The Daddaist: The Value of Overestimating Your Kids

I've been a parent in Portland for just over a year now, which means I've been around a lot of other parents and a lot of other kids.

I've noticed a disturbing trend in Portland parenting. I'm not talking about being anti-vaccination or any other parenting trends. I definitely lean toward the Love and Logic/Western medicine isn't trying to poison your children/Stop breast feeding your child because he's trying out for JV baseball camp, but I also see a lot of value in the parenting philosophies commonly found in urban middle-class liberal enclaves. The problem isn't the philosophies, it's how those philosophies are implemented, and the one thing I've noticed in the last year is Rose City parents are severely underestimating their children.

My daughter, Lana, is three and a half. I think she's the best little girl in the world, but whatever, I'm her dad. I think she's charming and funny and intelligent and has a very clear sense of self and she's just the cutsie-wootsiest! But for all you know, she's a budding sociopath who tortures cats.

Just know I'm trying to be as objective as possible here: she's well-behaved and witty and she gets compliments for her behavior from total strangers on a weekly basis. She's had hiccups, of course. She's kind of bossy and she told a boy he couldn't come into the girls' playhouse at the park one time and he got the most devastated look on his face that I almost laughed even though I was actually mortified. But mostly she's nice to other kids. She is an only child, though, so I'm the kid she hangs out with most.

You can chalk good behavior up to all sorts of things: genetics...not getting vaccines that could save your child's life...how much sleep the kid gets...but I also expect Lana to be well-behaved. I expect her to greet adults and look them in the eye, even if she doesn't always do this. I expect her not to hit other kids. I expect her not to flay that cat alive, even though the voices are telling her it's totally cool.

She also has an extensive vocabulary, because I talk to her like an adult and I expect her to understand. It's not like I'm laying out a dissertation, but if she asks me a question, I try to provide an honest, considered response. I've found this isn't exactly common. I can't tell you how many parents I know who treat their kids like idiots. Here's an example:
KID: "Why do people fight each other?" 
PDX PARENTS' ANSWER: "Well sometimes mommies and daddies get upset with each other, and when they get vewy upset, they hug each other really hard! Here, watch this episode of Pingu!" 
MY ANSWER: "Because of Total Depravity? Is that something I believe? I'm not sure. Anyway, it's sad and people kill each other, but I think we should be against war if we can because it's always avoidable no matter what anyone says. Here, watch this episode of Pingu!"
It's mainly the tone. My response might not be all that important, but I don't deliver communication to my daughter in some sing-songy, "Aren't you a little scamp?" voice. I talk to her in a voice that says, "I think you're smart enough to understand this." She might not understand the words and context every time, but she might get it next time, and she usually asks the meaning of words she doesn't know.

(I should add here: I don't use sarcasm. I think it's confusing, demeaning, and promotes dishonesty early on, even if I use it often when talking to adults. Maybe I'm underestimating my daughter. Or maybe we should all be less sarcastic. Maybe a little of both?)

What's especially mindblowing is kids know they're being talked down to, and they subsequently adapt to those expectations. When you talk to a kid like a baby, they will respond like a baby, but what they're actually thinking is, "My parents don't realize how smart I am. I can use this." AND THEY DO.

I get not trusting kids because they hurt themselves sometimes and spill water all over and then I have to pick it up, dammit. But part of the reason you let them hurt themselves is so they'll learn how to do things right. I don't know why Portlanders assume their kids can't climb small ladders, understand complex issues, or play with children without parental oversight (I'm guilty of this last one). But I do know I appreciate when people assume I'm not a moron, and so I assume kids are the same way.

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