This refrain from the old movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid for me captures an essential aspect of parenting.  People tend to talk about “raising” kids, but for me kids are not so much raised as “discovered.”  I remember driving in my car with my younger son who would then have been around sixteen.  I was listening to a classical radio station and an aria came on.  I don’t remember the name of the aria or the name of the tenor, but the aria was beautiful and the tenor was good, really good.  I remember thinking, “Should I force my teenaged son to sit through some opera or should I switch to a rock station that he will enjoy?”  But the aria was too beautiful.  “To hell with him,” I thought, “he can suffer through one aria.”  When the aria was finished my son shook his head.  “Dang,” he said, “to be able to sing like that!”  I looked at him in disbelief.  “Who is this kid?  Where did he come from?”  You can’t “teach” that to a kid.  You can educate a child about music.  You can take him to violin lessons (as we had with our son), but you can’t teach that kind of an ear, that ability to be deeply moved by a beautiful voice.  That comes from within.  And I discovered it in my son as he was discovering it in himself.

If parents can only passively (and appreciatively) discover our children, so too can we only passively (and appreciatively) watch (and celebrate) as our children create themselves.  Logically, creating and discovering are opposites of each other.  If something is created, it is new.  If it is discovered, it has been there all along.  But tell that to a growing child.  In reality, self-discovery and self-creation are merely opposite poles in the wonderful dialectical dance of growing up.  Both my sons discovered in themselves at an early age a love of nature, and both became ardent backpackers.  But my younger son always stashed a book in his backpack.  While his older brother is creating himself as an environmental biologist, he is in the process of creating himself as a writer.  And, of course, his favorite subject: the outdoors.

Is that all we do as parents, passively watch our children create/discover themselves?  Is the best we can do to merely cheer them on in that process?  No, of course not!  We also teach our children, we discipline our children, we serve as role models for our children.  Parenting is not and should not be a hands-off activity.  But I submit that the passive sides of parenting are under-appreciated and the active “parenting” functions that we usually associate with raising kids are often over-valued.  As a clinical psychologist I have worked with adults who have had the life nearly pruned, shaped, and guided out of them.  It is not negligent to allow our children to discover themselves and to create themselves.  It is kind and it is respectful.  And in me it was the source of wonder, awe, and delight.


By Bruce R. Brodie,  Ph. D.

Director Emeritus