I'm nothing if not a futurist, so as we explore here the nuances of postmodern parenting, we look ahead to what kind of parents our own offspring will one day be: well-meaning pushovers or total tyrants?
"I'm going to be such a Nazi," the daughter of a co-worker announces.
"I'm going to be the perfect compromise of the two," predicts my older daughter, lovely and patient and — at 30 — eager to start a family of her own.
Not even a mother yet, and you can spot my daughter's maternal instincts starting to kick in, softening her feisty, bossy-pants exterior.
She starts conversations in the giddy-up cadence of an overly techy young adult. Then, as if lecturing a golden retriever that gnawed a favorite shoe, she sees the confusion in my eyes and slows down so that I can maybe comprehend her. I respond by tilting my head and dropping my chin to my paws, feigning sleep. I don't fear for her future children, I rejoice in them. She will be a magnificent mom — eventually.
As most older parents know, time brings clarity and wisdom and little lines in the face where — as Twain once noted — smiles used to land. And that's why, to my mind, no one should have children until age 30. Even then, there should be a psychological exam. Nothing is so life-changing. You can marry, you can unmarry. But you can never un-parent. And the sacrifices — in the jargon of my 11-year-old — are "epic."
My lovely and patient older daughter, now so eager for this moment, says that her parenting style will be about listening well and "instilling a certain amount of trust in your children, so that you can back off later.
"And it needs to start early," she says.
My daughter's intent to be both tough and nurturing is echoed by many her age.
"My son's comment regarding parenting: 'A hybrid, probably. The Prius of parents,'" says Charlotte Saydah, a family friend and mother to two young adults.
Megan Lane, an education major at Cal State Channel Islands, believes a person's own childhood is the greatest indicator of future parenting philosophy.
"Either someone has fond memories ... and respected their parents' styles or they hated it, rebelled and have sworn to 'never raise my kids like that,' " Lane says. "I think the two options provided, 'pushovers or Nazis,' are two extremes on a variance scale that are rare compared to all the in-betweens."
True, in the Facebook poll I took for this story, I could've picked less-loaded terms. Just trying to make a clear and provocative distinction.
On a hopeful note, Beverly Hills clinical psychologist Nancy Kumetz Lee believes the current crop of young adults has benefited from nurturing parents, and they are likely to emulate them.
"They have as role models loving, richly involved parents," Lee says. "This in contrast to our own typically stern 'silent generation' parents, whose rigid parenting we arguably were rebelling against.
"So psychology would predict that ... millennials will embrace this accepting, not-so-stern parenting style with their own children," Lee says.
Here's my honest reaction to the tough-yet-tender approach my daughter and others espouse: After four kids, most of my regrets have to do with inconsistencies — being a hard-liner one moment, gentle and compromising the next. Even when well intended, can you really be both?
Such a notion is eased by the realization that all children are different, and what works for one won't work for others.
"One thing we have all learned from parenting is that as soon as we think we have a good method figured out, the other kid upends the whole thing," notes Jay Exner, who raised two daughters, now 21 and 24.
"They don't understand what they do to us," says one colleague of the agonies of parenting.
My co-worker says she felt like a jilted lover when her daughter was a teen, going back again and again for emotional beatings, even as her daughter continued to break all her promises.
Raise your hand if you've been there. Count your lucky stars if you haven't.
Had a fine dinner the other night in South Pasadena (of all places), and one of the topics was how your kids can drive you bonkers even after you've completely dedicated your life to them.
"My sons almost killed me," one father confessed, as he was discussing their bad behavior.
Yeah, they'll do that. Not always sons, sometimes daughters. Then one day they will become parents themselves and what — be exactly like you? Or exactly like you weren't?
Such is parenthood — a little haunted, a lot humbling — yet a road map for future generations. And far more than living trusts and family heirlooms, it is our most precious and defining gift.