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Confessions of a Driver Dad

John's picture

Parenthood is a learned skill.  Everyone does it differently and I reserve no judgement on those that take a different approach from my own.  Most people act out of the purest, natural love that exists as humans.  We love our children with an instinct to protect them even to the point of sacrificing our own life to save a child.  However, I firmly contend that being a good parent is a learned skill that changes over time with both success and failure. This is a self-reflection about my own journey that may encourage others to do the same.

Let’s clarify my terms of choice.  Drivers and farmers are analogous to the agrarian society that existed for most of humanity.  Drivers live by the success of livestock.  This can be sheep or cattle.  Farmers live by the success of plants.  This can be rice in some cultures or corn in another.  Both approaches are very different and work well for the message I am attempting to communicate.  I also conclude that parenting styles tend to be situational depending on the child and his or her personality.  However, we tend to default to one style or another.

As the father of 22 and 15 year old boys, I am still evolving as a dad.  With boys born over seven years apart, I can tell that I am slowly changing my approach.  One might conclude that I am learning from my mistakes and hopefully getting better in this role.  If my boys were closer together in age, I may not have been able to realize the difference in my own growth as a parent.

I now completely own the fact that I was a “driver” dad with my first son.  Drivers push the child into every next stage in life.  We push them to walk, play ball, read, and achieve.  In retrospect, I believe this style is the genetic default.  When humans did not live as long, survival required children to mature at a much faster rate.  Drivers feel an overwhelming urge to push children to be better sooner. 

The down side to instinctive driving as a parent is that motivation can become extrinsic for the child.  In other words they are doing things to please others rather than themselves.  According to Verywellmind, extrinsic motivation refers to behavior that is driven by external rewards such as money, fame, grades, and praise. This type of motivation arises from outside the individual, as opposed to intrinsic motivation, which originates inside of the individual.  Researchers went on to say that too much extrinsic motivation can actually lead to a decrease in intrinsic motivation ("Intrinsic motivation occurs when we act without any obvious external rewards. We simply enjoy an activity or see it as an opportunity to explore, learn, and actualize our potentials."). 

My experience is that too many young adults are still trying to please a parent or someone else rather than finding the internal motivation to succeed.  I asked a twenty something (friend of my son) why she picked a certain major in college and she said she didn’t know.  She had to pick something to please her parents.  Insert big-eyed emoji here!

I am slowly evolving into the farmer dad.  Farmer dads tend to grow rather than drive.  In other words, these parents work on the environment for success.  Please don’t conclude that I knew I was changing, because I did not realize I was doing so.  Call it maturation or call it wisdom, I simply learned what worked and what seems less effective as a parent.  Following are ten examples (aka confessions) of the distinction between drivers and farmers:

  1. Drivers push a child toward an activity the parent knows and loves. Farmers allow the child to pick (or not) and encourage.
  2. Drivers push for good grades. Farmers encourage mistakes and learning.  (Note: not every child wants to go to college immediately after high school…if at all – I know this is blasphemy to most people…forgive me please.)
  3. Drivers are disappointed in failure. Farmers appreciate the life lessons in failure.
  4. Drivers are coaches in life (I am definitely guilty of this). Famers are fans in life.
  5. Drivers insist a child have a direction in life. Farmers encourage the child to experience life.
  6. Drivers demand excellence from a child. Farmers nurture improvement.
  7. Drivers are involved in the details. Farmers help the child learn from outcomes.
  8. Drivers compare children to others. Farmers encourage being different among peers.
  9. Drivers are reactive. Farmers are reflective.
  10. Drivers ask why. Farmers ask how and what.

Since we are acting upon instincts as first time parents, it is not surprising that we often struggle as we learn.  If my boys were born closer together, I would have likely been the same parent with both of them.  If I am indeed better as a dad with the second son, maybe I will be an even better grandparent someday.  I was discussing this concept with a colleague and he openly admitted that his older child is known as the “practice child” in the family.  I think there is wisdom in this reflection.

Driver Dad
I'm right there with you. There's no manual on this parenting thing. So, yes, a lot of it is learned "the hard way". My boys are 5 years apart and so different. I'm sure that's some of the reason we're parenting them a bit different, but I hope it's also that we've learned from the first...not that we messed him up (too much!).
(August 02, 2018 ~ 7:53 AM)
By Sean Nelson