Maybe it’s all Whitney Houston’s fault. The singer famously reminded us that “the children are our future” and now it seems we’ve lost sight of the fact that they’re anything else.
In newspapers, magazines and social media outlets, parents often begin political rants with a question that their kid allegedly posed to them. “Why is Donald Trump a racist?” “Why don’t Republicans care about the future of the planet?” “Will I be shot by a police officer when I go to the park?” More often than not, their children have asked no such thing. Or if they have, it’s only because they have been prompted by hours of harangues from their parents first. Increasingly, we see our children as vehicles for expressing our political points of view and trying to ensure that the next generation behaves differently.
In principle, this is nothing new. Parents didn’t start indoctrinating their children when Twitter came along or when the 45th president was elected. But we have gone too far down this road—which is why it was refreshing to see the Facebook post that Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan wrote upon the birth of their second child, August:
The world can be a serious place. That’s why it’s important to make time to go outside and play.
You will be busy when you’re older, so I hope you take time to smell all the flowers and put all the leaves you want in your bucket now. I hope you read your favorite Dr. Seuss books so many times you start inventing your own stories about the Vipper of Vipp. I hope you ride the carousel with Max until you’ve tamed every color horse. I hope you run as many laps around our living room and yard as you want. And then I hope you take a lot of naps. I hope you’re a great sleeper. And I hope even in your dreams you can feel how much we love you.
When your sister was born, we wrote a letter about the world we hoped she and now you will grow up in — a world with better education, fewer diseases, stronger communities, and greater equality. We wrote that with all the advances in science and technology, your generation should live dramatically better lives than ours, and we have a responsibility to do our part to make that happen.
There was nothing wrong with the first message, of course, though it read more like a press release for the couple’s philanthropic goals than a personal letter to a newborn child. But the first letter seemed to come with so much pressure. It was as if Max was a kind of vessel for all of Zuckerberg’s and Chan’s hopes and dreams—not just for love and family—but for the future of politics, economics, science and who knows what else.
It is too much. Maybe the couple have learned something since they had their first child about how important it is to let their offspring actually live in a kid’s world before they are forced into what often seems like the serious, exhausting, polarized grown-up one. As the couple wrote to August, “Childhood is magical. You only get to be a child once, so don’t spend it worrying too much about the future. You’ve got us for that.”
Image: Mark Zuckerberg/Facebook