Noah Brier | April 23, 2024

The Parenting Rules Edition

On projecting, gaslighting, and the school run.

Noah here. I’ve got two kids, and before my oldest was born, my wife and I came up with a simple rule we would try to use to guide our parenting: “Don’t put your shit on your kids.” Of course, we would love and protect them, but first, we would try our best to do no harm by projecting our own identity and insecurities onto these small and malleable humans. 

Have I delivered on that rule as a parent? Not close. I do my best to keep the directive in the front of my mind, but projecting in this way is incredibly human, and I still regularly catch myself practicing some version of this behavior—even if it’s as simple as trying to nudge them away from the most expensive items on the adult menu.

One place where I feel this acutely is the stress of getting out the door. Ask almost any parent about their morning school routine, and their eyes will widen as they tell you of the battles they have to get moving. As I’m stressing out around 8 a.m., I often wonder whether I’m breaking rule number one.

Why is this interesting?

A recent New Yorker piece on gaslighting reinforced this thought:

I eventually told [psychoanalyst and historian Ben Kafka] that, as I worked on this piece, I had started to wonder about the ways I might be unintentionally gaslighting my daughter telling her that she is "just fine" when she clearly isn't, or giving her a hard time for making us late for school by demanding to wear a different pair of tights, when it is clearly my own fault for not starting our morning routine ten minutes earlier. In these interactions, I can see the distinct mechanisms of gaslighting at work, albeit in a much milder form: taking a difficult feeling—my latent sense of culpability whenever she is unhappy, or my guilt for running behind schedule and placing it onto her. Part of me hoped that Kafka would disagree with me, but instead he started nodding vehemently. "Yes!" he said. "Within a two-block range of any elementary school, just before the bell rings, you can find countless parents gaslighting their children, off-loading their anxiety.

In a way, it’s a relief not to be alone in this particular situation, but on the other hand, this was another reminder that I’m not entirely living up to my number one rule. Parenting, I’ve found, is as much a journey of self-discovery as anything else. It’s also a race against time: a job you need to try to master before your kids leave the house, at which point you can only hope you’ve given them whatever they need to find their own happiness. (NRB)

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

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