I spent a few hours of my weekend, that cherished time in between when my 2-year-old son goes to sleep and when my husband and I go down for the night, watching the Netflix docuseries “Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez.” The three-episode series was based on the life of the former tight end for the New England Patriots who was convicted of murder and ended up killing himself in prison. As a work of art, it wasn’t noteworthy.
I found the work lingered too long on some aspects and didn’t focus quite long enough on others, but there were elements of it that grabbed me in the way only a cautionary tale can.
Here are three parenting lessons I picked up watching the Hernandez story:
Parenting lesson No. 1: Keep my child’s secrets.
There is a scene in which audio recording of a phone call Hernandez had with his mother from prison was played, and in that scene, Hernandez told his mother he never could confide in her. He would test her by revealing certain aspects of his life, and the secrets he told would always make their way back to him from outside sources. That struck me as a powerful parenting lesson at exactly the perfect time in my motherhood journey, when my son is too young for me to have shook his faith in me so severely.
That said, I can admit that I have been careless with sharing details others tell me. Sometimes I forget that the things I willingly share about myself may actually be considered private matters to others. I don’t want to break my son’s trust just being careless with our conversations. I want him to be able to confide in me no matter what he has to share and to know that his secret is safe. I don’t want him to feel alone in this world.
Parenting lesson No. 2: Never let one element of him become him.
I also don’t want him to ever place too much of his self-worth in one characteristic. I think that’s why I’m so apprehensive about the idea of my son stepping into the athletic world. I’ve seen time and time again how football or basketball consumes children. One talent becomes the only thing people compliment, talk to them about or even notice about them, and that is as unfair as it is burdensome.
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I’ve always had the freedom to chase whatever curiosity came to me, and I want my home to be a safe place for my son to do that. If he’s like his father, he’ll be strikingly tall. There’s no escaping the comments and assumptions people will make about him just because of that characteristic, but I don’t want it to be the only thing he sees when he looks in the mirror. Athletic ability, height, skin color, etc. do not define any one person, and I definitely don’t want those characteristics defining my son or limiting him.
Parenting lesson No. 3: Let him feel his falls.
One of the reoccurring themes in the Hernandez story that I found important parenting lessons in was this flawed system of actions and consequences. Because of the football player’s talent, he was allegedly allowed time and time again to bend the rules without consequence. The obvious parenting lesson in that is to fight the urge to shield my son from everything. Now, I’m not saying I want him thrown in prison if he ever feels the urge to steal a candy bar, but I would be lying if I said I think it’s valuable for him to get away with all his transgressions. I want him to feel what it means to do something wrong, come face-to-face with his actions and have to apologize. That anxiety, that fear of the unknown, create lifelong lessons that aren’t easily forgotten.
Making decisions and appropriately dealing with the consequences have been the most difficult and telling aspects of growing up and parenting for me. Sure, I could tell my son what to do at every juncture of his life, but if I have to do that than I’ve failed as a parent. I want to raise a thinker, a problem-solver and a man of integrity. Those are not lessons you learn after never having failed or done anything wrong. Integrity is about how you fail and how you succeed. I want my son to learn the how part.