Most people believe the parent-child relationship is very much one of master-apprentice, with the parent spending the majority of their time imbuing their children with their hard-earned life lessons. Or perhaps dictator-subject, with the parent focused on imposing their specific rules for life onto their offspring under the assumption of knowing best.
But I believe it's a little more balanced than that.
Sure, with 30+ years of experience in this world I have a few things I can teach my daughter but the reality is that all too often I find that she is teaching me. The big difference is that she probably doesn't intend to teach me anything, and in most cases is simply playing out the thoughts in her head, but somehow her actions manage to highlight important life lessons for me.
Let me introduce a little friend of my daughter. His name is Froggy.
Yes that is a picture of a turtle.
No that is not the wrong picture.
Yes that turtle is called Froggy.
Let me explain how this situation went down...
On a recent holiday my wife and I took my daughter to Underwater World - a magical place for
everyone to explore and learn about sea creatures.
My daughter loved it and particularly enjoyed pointing out the turtles so, as we exited through the gift shop, we bought her a soft stuffed toy turtle. As she strutted back to the car with the turtle firmly tucked under her arm we had a conversation about the turtle.
Me: Do you like your soft toy?
Me: Do you know what animal it is?
Her: A turtle.
Me: And what do you want to name it?
Pretty cute. But being the lesson-giving parent that wanted to make everything a boring learning experience I decided to step in and correct her mistake and help her make a better choice of name for her turtle...
Me: No darling, it's a turtle. Do you understand?
Her: Yeah, turtle.
Me: We can't call a turtle Froggy.
Me: How about Tony? Tony the Turtle?
She's persistent huh? But I didn't like the name Froggy because it didn't make sense to me. I was gearing up for another round of convincing her to pick a new name when a simple thought occurred to me - it doesn't matter.
The name my daughter choses for a soft plush toy literally does not matter. It has such a negligible effect on my life that it is not worth me worrying about. Not even for a second.
It got me thinking. How many other things in life are like this? How many other things do I care too much about, or try to impose my own view on? How much of my energy do I waste on things that are literally so inconsequential in the grand scheme of my life that they are not even worth a second thought?
That was the first lesson I learned that day - things do not matter as much as you think they do.
The second lesson dawned on me a little later on when I was introducing Froggy the Turtle to other adults. The name was always met with a raised eyebrow, a burst of laughter, or any other demonstration along the lines of "What an odd name for a turtle."
Everyone seemed to agree, even if they didn't actually say it to my face, that naming a turtle Froggy was a little bit weird. You probably even had that thought before when you were reading the story.
But why? Why is it weird? Where is the rule of life that says you cannot name a turtle Froggy? When Moses descended Mt Sinai with the commandments did he accidentally leave a 3rd stone tablet behind that had rules like "Thou shalt not call a turtle Froggy"?
Why is Froggy the Turtle so weird?
The answer is simple. It's not weird. We are weird. Us adults - we are the weird ones.
My daughter chose Froggy the Turtle without any preconceived notions of what she 'should' do, or what was expected, or what other people wanted. She had a (nearly) completely unconstrained set of options for naming that turtle and she chose Froggy. She chose Froggy the Turtle and she did it with a beautiful beaming smile.
The only weird thing about that is that we find it so odd.
It made me realise how much of my creativity I have lost as an adult - how my quest for money, success, and other adult concepts has resulted in the quietening of the child within. I used to love to run around, screaming loudly, inventing stories, or imagining I was saving the world by beating badies with my magical powers.
I feel sad writing that and remembering how much crazy fun I used to be able to have with nothing more than my mind. But it also inspires me to try to bring out that crazy little fella inside me more often. I know he's there and dying to get out, but he needs me to loosen the shackles of adult-thinking and let my mind run free.
And that's the second lesson I learned from my daughter that day - enjoyment comes from thinking with a creative and unconstrained mind.
How often do you free yourself from adult constraints and allow yourself to think and act freely?