Courtney Ball

Are My Kids Too Tame?

This morning my daughters chose to read a book together for fun!

My father grew up in a house full of kids. He had four brothers and one sister, as well as several foster kids his parents took in for varying lengths of time. His dad was a United Methodist preacher. Methodist ministers are itinerant. This meant that every few years, the Bishop of the Iowa Conference would assign my grandpa to a new church, uprooting the entire family and relocating them, usually to some small town in southern Iowa.

They were a wild bunch at times. My dad told me a story once about my uncle Vern and the way he would fight. They could all be rowdy, but when Vern got in a fight, he absolutely refused to lose. “You didn’t want to fight Vern. He would play dirty if he needed to,” my dad recounted. As I remember it, Dad told me their family had just moved to a new town, and the next day grandpa got a call from the police to come pick up Vern. He had been outnumbered in a fight and gained the advantage by picking up a two-by-four and whacking someone in the head. This wasn’t the introduction Grandpa was hoping for as the new minister in town.

I grew up in the city of Des Moines. I never had a pet fox or raccoon like my dad and his siblings. I never butchered meat or did much hunting or tough farm work. Instead, I had city adventures and rites of passage. I skateboarded, roamed the neighborhood at night, took on dares I shouldn’t have. I played and fought (both poorly) on the basketball court.

Overall, I was a nice, gentle kid, but every boy needs to test his limits (or so I thought). I got into enough trouble to respect myself, but not so much that I ever went to jail. (The only time I went to jail was on the night of my bachelor party, but that’s a different story for another time.)

My Girls are Different

My daughters never get into trouble. Ever. Sure, like any kids, they do things that annoy me sometimes. But that’s different than engaging in dangerous or criminal behavior.

Sometimes, like my dad did with me, I tell them stories about the shenanigans I used to get up to. I told them about the time my friends and I broke into an empty house down the street (it was for sale) and turned it into our temporary clubhouse, how we worked out the best way to steal cigarettes from the local convenience store, the illegal cliff-jumping at Red Rock State Park, the crazy/stupid things we did with fireworks or, later on, automobiles, and many other things I never told my parents unless I got caught. I’m not proud of most of these things in a right/wrong, moral-judgment sort of way. But if I’m honest, I do take a little pride in my sense of adventure, my willingness to take risks. It’s a big part of who I am.

So I worry sometimes that my kids are missing that part of their childhood. I wonder if I keep too close a watch on them and limit their exposure to risk. What will they turn out like if they never get into real trouble once in a while? Will they be too timid, too scared to break rules that need to be broken? If they’ve never truly tested their limits, will they be tough enough to handle all the crap that life will eventually throw at them? I don’t want them to be afraid of life. I want them to see life as an adventure, no matter what it brings.

The other night after stewing on this for a while, I voiced these concerns to my wife, Emmy. She listened patiently for a while and then stopped me to ask, “Well, what about me? I never did all the crap you did when I was younger. Do you think I turned out all right?”

And of course, I do think she turned out just fine. She is a far better person than me, actually!

Then I thought about a lot of the friends I spent time with when I was growing up. I realized the deciding factor on the kind of people they became didn’t have much to do with whether or not they took risks. Instead, what made the most difference was their family. No matter what kind of crap they pulled, if there was a healthy, loving home for them to come back to each night, that is what allowed them to become strong, decent adults who are able to live life well.

So, I’m going to stop worrying about my well-behaved kids. Instead, I’ll try to just make sure that no matter what they get up to, they have a dad who loves and supports them, who is there when they need him, and they’ll be just fine.

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Courtney Ball

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