Last night for dinner, I served butternut squash. Despite the fact that I drizzled it with olive oil and seasoned it with salt and pepper and then roasted it until the flesh caramelized slightly and got all tender and yummy, I subsequently had to force-feed my four children to consume this delicious, nutritious vegetable.
Later in the evening, I chased two of my teenagers off to bed. I have to chase people to bed because if I don't, they would stay up until Conan O'Brien waves goodnight. Despite the fact that bed is a warm and comfy place where, once ensconced, these same teens would remain for upward of 14 hours at a stretch, I must still nag them to go there.
This morning, on the chance she didn't hear her alarm clock, I tiptoed through the dark into my daughter's bedroom to be sure she was up in time to finish her extra-credit trigonometry assignment.
Parenting is ever thus. We nag about food and rest and responsibilities because, even though nagging is unpleasant and even frustrating, it's the right thing to do. It's how we moms and dads implement our evil strategies to bring unhappiness upon our offspring - unhappiness disguised as good nutrition, ample sleep and academic achievement.
Every parent knows that doing what's good for our children doesn't always feel good to us. If you doubt this, think back to when your pediatrician first told you about rectal thermometers and why they were best for accuracy in diagnosing fevers in tiny babies.
Up to a point, we might agree that aspects of parenting that seem to cause discomfort to our children simply are necessary and no matter, because children don't really know what's good for them in the first place. We wrestle toddlers into car seats and chase wee ones to the end of the driveway and remove sharp objects from their grasps, but never regret foiling their desires to do whatever they please. Right?
Somewhere in between "buckle your seat belt" and "eat your squash," America's moms and dads have discovered guilt - and not guilt for doing a bad job with their kids, but guilt for doing a good job. Sounds screwy, but it's true.
Here's how it works: You create a policy in your home that reflects your values and that you think is best for your child. Say you decree no texting after dinner or no Facebook page for your middle-schooler. Perhaps you monitor your child's media choices more strictly than the parents of her peers, or you encourage her to pursue hobbies such as reading or crafts, rather than incessant text messaging as a way to pass the time. Sometimes, you even say "no" to social events in favor of family time or other activities.
You chug along happily enough until one evening, your sixth-grader lets you know that she's the only one at the school lunch table who missed last evening's barrage of text messages. Or she whines about not having a Facebook page while "everyone else" has one.
Suddenly the very policies you are certain contribute to your daughter's good grades and general sense of wholesomeness now have you feeling sheepish and even guilty - not because you think your policies are wrong but because your little dear must endure the social consequences of your good parenting.
At this point, you have two choices: Give in and enjoy the dysfunctional moment when caving makes you feel like a hero to your kid; or hold fast and remember that good parenting won't always feel good.
Ah, but nothing worth doing well is ever easy. Why should parenting be any different?