We start today with a bit of a parenting Rorschach test.
Your son, who is recovering from a nasty bout with the flu, is out playing with his friends. You had agreed that he would come in at a set time to allow for a good dinner and sufficient rest. When you go to call him in, this is what you hear:
“C’mon, Dad. I’m having so much fun playing with my friends. Don’t make me stop. I feel fine. Let me play just a little while longer. PUH-LEEEEEEESE.”
What is your response?
A. “Sorry, son, we’re not going to discuss this. Come in now. I know what’s best for you.”
B. “Oh gosh, I can see you’re having so much fun and you haven’t had a chance to play with your friends because you’ve been sick. Stay out, but if you start feeling bad, you come straight in, okay?”
In Washington parlance, are you a Mike Rizzo parent or a Mike Shanahan parent?
The debate over Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan’s decision to leave quarterback Robert Griffin III in a playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks despite a knee injury that required later surgery has dominated the Washington landscape for the past 10 days. Many have seen a telling contrast between that decision and the one made last year by Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo to shut down a healthy Stephen Strasburg in early September to help ensure that the pitcher made a full recovery from Tommy John surgery.
I certainly realize that Rizzo is not Strasburg’s dad any more than Shanahan is RGIII’s. Strasburg and Griffin are star athletes who are, by all accounts, fine young men. But they also represent multi-million-dollar investments made by even larger multi-million-dollar businesses. To be crass, Strasburg and Griffin are more commodities than kids to Rizzo and Shanahan.
But still, their decisions were not unlike those we as parents make every day. And unlike some others, I am a little less willing to damn Shanahan for giving in to a plaintive plea for “just a few more minutes of playtime.”
On many levels, it’s easier to be the Rizzo kind of parent. You make all the decisions under the mantra, probably true, that you know best. You protect your kids from making bad decisions. You keep them safe. Isn’t that the fundamental job of a parent?
But if that’s the case, as kids get older, you also ensure that they never experience the relatively small-time consequences of a relatively small-time bad decision. A lost cellphone. A mistake in a teen relationship. A late term paper. You can protect them for only so long. And the child who hasn’t learned the consequences of a bad decision on a small scale seems destined to discover those consequences on a much bigger stage as an adult.
The Shanahan school of parenting has its appeal — and its drawbacks. These parents want to be their child’s best friend, build trust with their children, give them space and empower them to be the best they can be. But too often they are also the parents unwilling to toe the line and utter the phrase, “My house, my rules.”
The reality is, as parents, we have to be a combination of Rizzo and Shanahan. The tricky part is knowing when to be Rizzo and when to be Shanahan. None of us knows whether Rizzo’s tough-love approach on Strasburg was the right call. If, 10 years from now, the Nationals haven’t been close to the World Series, will we look back differently on Rizzo’s call to jeopardize the shot they had this past season? If RGIII recovers fully, leads the Redskins back to the playoffs for multiple years and says that he will never play for anyone but Mike Shanahan because Shanahan believed in him, will we look back at the last 10 days as a tempest in a teapot?
On a daily — perhaps hourly — basis, I find myself toggling between Rizzo (“No, you can’t drive the car to school in winter”) and Shanahan (“Yes, you can go to the movies even though you have exams on Monday”). It’s all part of the dynamic dance of parenting. And just as with Rizzo and Shanahan, we are unlikely to know whether we made all the right moves until years in the future.