My favorite Vermont story is about the city kid and the toad. A youngster comes up to Vermont for a couple of weeks one summer and, as he is walking down a dirt road, spies a large green toad. He soon starts to poke it with a stick. A local boy happens by and says, “Quit poking that toad!” The city kid shoots back, “Well, he’s my toad, ain’t he?” The country boy responds, “Nope. Here in Vermont, he’s his own toad.”
And I guess if anything in the world sums up our parenting philosophy, it’s that — “He’s his own toad.” We happened upon him, and we’re grateful to have done so. But he’s his own toad, and we have no right to poke him with a stick. The analogy isn’t perfect, of course, because he depends on us for certain things, including cues about how to act in the world. But in the main, we’d like to treat him like he’s on his way to being a guy with autonomy, someone who makes his own choices about things, knows how to reason his way through a problem, and can make cogent and persuasive arguments in favor of a course of action.
This is not some hippie bullshit, either. Well, maybe it is — but it’s hippie bullshit backed up by science. To wit:
Adolescents who held their own in family discussions were better at standing up to peer influences to use drugs or consume alcohol. The best protected of the group were the teens who persuaded their mothers with reasoned arguments, rather than with pressure, whining, or insults, when talking about topics like grades, money, household rules, and friends.
Let him be his own toad at home, and he’ll have the tools to be his own toad among his peers.
(I should state candidly that I do not live up to this parenting standard, and sometimes I yell at him or rudely make him do things, because I’m easily frustrated, and because the number of hours I have to spend investigating spots on the sidewalk is limited. But this is what we’re shooting for.)