With Father’s Day still on the brain, I’ve been thinking about the new Avengers movie. (Which may make sense to you if you’ve seen it.)
I saw Avengers: Age of Ultron a few weeks ago and this post may contain light spoilerage. Mostly, I’m more concerned with some of the movie’s themes than its plot, but even that might ruin your day if you want to see it with a blank slate. Consider yourself warned.
For some reason, Avengers: Age of Ultron made me think about the limits of a parent’s ability to decide the sort of person their offspring will be. In the film, Tony Stark manages to create life, but the result is never exactly what he’s hoping to achieve. To a degree, having children is like picking up a stranger from the bus station and bringing them home to live with you. You don’t really know who this person is but now they are a part of your life. Of course, it will take years for you to discover what sort of person your baby will be, which gives you a very gradual learning curve. But even from the outset, you don’t know if your bundle of joy will be a “good sleeper” at night or a colicky mess — or, Heaven forbid, have some as-yet-undetected medical condition. They are who they are, you don’t get to pick. That is true whether your child is adopted or as close to you as both nature and nurture can make them.
I recently realized that my expectation for what a two year old is like was set by RU and I’ve been waiting for MeToo to grow into that mold. But MeToo is her own person. She’s already grown into her two-year-old self. RU and MeToo have been different since they’ve been in the womb, as different as Ultron and the Vision (thankfully, neither of my girls have shown genocidal tendencies yet).
You will have an enormous amount of influence on your children. But we parents can only influence, not determine, who our kids will be. What’s more, your influence isn’t restricted to just what you want your kids to learn from you. They’re watching and recording how you act and what you say all the time. Those words you said to the guy who cut you off in traffic? They heard that. The way you rolled your eyes behind your spouse’s back? You’ll see that look projected back at you one of these days. And just as when Ultron’s consciousness is forming and he fixates on an off-hand comment Stark made, interpreting it in the worst possible way, you never know just how children will perceive what you’re doing.
On the other hand, even when children seem determined to go their own way, they can never totally shake the influences that molded them during their formative periods. Ultron may despise his progenitors but no matter how many times he recreates himself, he always mimics the form of a man (even though he’s a digital consciousness and could give himself a robot body in any form imaginable). As Ulysses Klaw points out (to his regret), no matter how much he hates his “father,” Ultron sometimes still talks (and therefore thinks?) like Tony Stark.
Young children are learning machines. They come into this world as a blank slate and need to be taught how to be a human being and a member of society. So even though you can’t control what they will become, be mindful of the examples you present to your children.
The world may depend on it.